Interview with Yvonna Lynn of Charisma +2
Article by: Leen Isabel|
Leen sits down to chat with Yvonna Lynn, head of talent agency, Charisma +2. Learn about the company's history and her passion for video games and her mission to bring talented gamer & geek girls to the work at gaming tradeshow events.
1. Tell me a little about your company and how it started.
I'd returned to the states after modeling and acting in Europe. It had been several years worth of photos and reels I was waiting on to get coverted from PAL to NTSC. For you youngins born in the 90s, that was what we had before DVDs :) During the time awaiting my demo material for my agent, I was told by a new found friend that I'd probably be interested in doing this "'promo gig for this geeky gaming thingy convention in LA" that she was going to be working in June. I frightened her with a gasping squee of "E3 ?!?!?!?!" to which she replied, "Yes! That's it, you've heard of it." You must understand, at the time, 2005, G4, may it rest in peace, was not the widespread cable giant in gaming it once became. Originally ZDTV, bought by G4 a year earlier, did not do huge E3 coverage. There were only a small number of us who were loyal fans of the ever evolving tech show since its beginning.
It was a no-brainer, I applied to work the Nintendo Legend of Zelda booth that my friend suggested. The agent kept calling me to verify that I was really working it because it did not make sense to her as to why I would work a show that did not pay for flight and hotel since my pay would not cover my expenses incurred. Sending her the copy of my reservations helped ease her mind. Upon arriving at the gaming Mecca, I was completely shocked that there were not more gamers working the booths. You have to understand, I did not even know what a booth babe was. I then realized that they are the pretty girls who get in the way of car photos at a car show... well, that is the way I saw them. Game con booth babes were essentially untelevised on a widespread basis back in '05.
Once I arrived for the orientation for the Nintendo booth, I soon discovered that out of the 100 girls, there was only one other girl who gamed. We were thrilled to be picked to work the end of the booth inside the walk through demo to hand out shirts. We arrived early and stayed late playing Twilight Princess on the Gamecube, which, for this game, I preferred to the Wii on which it was eventually released. I did interviews in several different languages before finding out that I was not supposed to speak to press because I was not a product specialist or Nintendo employee. I met a ton of people and even found the group for which I would end up being a journalist. I knew nothing about protocol. I had no idea we were not supposed to give out our cards. The agency that hired me set me straight as soon as they found out. Of course, I quickly abided by the rules. If you are unfamiliar with this rule or why it exists, let me explain. I did not meet these people on my own, I met the contacts through them, their gig which allowed me to even be there, and the contacts were actually the agency's contacts, not mine to be used. I really get that fact of importance now, but also did not steal any of their contacts once she explained it.
During the 3 day event, I cached my two 15 minute breaks with my 30 minute lunch break so I could have an hour to run like the wind to the other halls and check out everything I could while munching on trail mix I had brought. I was astounded to see that out of the hundreds and hundreds of booth babes, there were only a handful of gamers. Instantly I thought, "that is why the girls in the dressing rooms were all whiney and complained about everything. They don't really want to be here. It is just a paycheck to them." Then voila! The seeds for Charisma+2
were born. I just knew there would be a ton of gamer girls who would love to work this event. They just needed to learn how to shed their tomboy ways, even if just for show for a bit, and I could easily teach them how with my modeling background.
That summer, I became a QuakeCon girl in addition to becoming a journalist for AMN after meeting Ken Cauley, who gave me a chance to write for his site. For the next few years, I spent every dime I had, slept in bathtubs of friends' hotel rooms, and worked my rear off because at that time, it was a very big uphill fight to be taken seriously as a female gamer and talent. There were a few, like Morgan Webb, who was an inspiration to me, and contemporaries like Jessica Chobot and Becky Young, but the field for females was still in its infancy.
2. Do you ever face any criticism or negative comments from people suggesting that your models are not "real" geek girls? If so, how do you respond to them?
Ya know, I really don't. I am just now, like as 2013, starting to get a teeny bit of feedback from gamers who might have those feelings. Though, by now, almost all gamers know some females who are true gamers so it is less obscure than it once was. Up until now, I have only been talking with developers and publishers. I do not have throngs of fans or people who even know who I am. Truth be known, most of the people I work with regularly are only facebook if they are in a social marketing position at their studio. The people I know, making the games, are busy making games. By in large, social media guru devs like Cliff Bleszinski are quite a rare breed.
As far as overcoming criticisms, my real challenge came in the first few years of convincing clients that my girls were not escorts, as well as, that contrary to whatever preconceived ideas they had about booth babes, my models were actually avid video gamers. Much to my surprise, even to this day, the majority of developers and publishers do not care whether their representatives game or not. After sending complimentary Charisma+2 2009 Calendars to my list of developers, publishers, and potential clients, we received more attention as a professional, innovative talent agency specializing in only gamer and cosplaying talent. The calendar showed the talent modeling or cosplaying on the top photo of the month and gaming photos under the calendar grid beneath.
Being new to the general public world of gamers, when I do get criticisms, which is rare, I usually just ignore it. I have a model with over 100K achievements, girls who have sponsored by NOS to compete in MLG, and as of this year have a stream that the doubters can view for themselves. I don't claim to have only pro-level gamers. That is just not sound business since I already have a very narrow niche clientele. Casual games are an enormous part of our future as you know. When the Wii, Kinect, and Move came out, the growing fan base of casual gamers grew. So because I do not staff every kind of convention (plumbing, boat, and furniture shows, etc.) under the sun like 99.9% of the agencies out there, I am happy to accept all kinds of gaming clients, hardcore AAA studios to casual game developers. The girls don't seem to mind either. I mean, getting to be a part of an exhibitor staff at E3 or the GDC floor is cool and is something outsiders dream of doing. The fan based cons like PAX and SDCC are equally as fun in a different way. Charisma+2 has been my only source of income and is completely professional, so making sound business sense is a necessity. Street cred is a distant and not important focus that can easily be proven by watching the C+2 girls and guys on our stream and at tournaments.
3. I understand that some modeling agencies only look for a certain body type. Height, weight, facial features, etc. What do you look for?
This goes back to me having to bear in mind that the agency is a business. I have not restricted my talent pool to be only Maxim looking girls, though regardless of my efforts, I will not be able to reverse the fact that sex sells. Traditionally the “Maxim” type is what is most in demand. What I can do is try to help modify what is considered sexy.
If you have ever been to a game con, you will see that the majority of booth girls are not really all 11s on a scale of 1-10. A great deal of it is presentation. I can help with that. Admittedly, two of my groups, guys and plus size girls, do not get nearly as many offers as the slender girls. However, I do submit the ones who have been accepted into C+2 to every audition I can. I believe with the evolution of public perception through curvy stars and role models, even the game marketers are open to other options from time to time.
What is paramount for us at C+2 is that the talent, regardless of appearance, is a gamer.
4. Where are your models based?
What is paramount for us at C+2 is that the talent, regardless of appearance, is a gamer. As I mentioned before, I do have clients who are not hardcore gaming clients. First to come to mind is 2K play. The first time I worked with them was at E3 showing off a Dora fitness game. I had a model, the wife of a game developer, who loved fitness games. I needed someone who could play a fitness game for 8 hours/day for 3 days in a row. Her KDR did not really matter at all. Make sense? Deana was so well loved they flew her across the nation and put her up in a hotel to work for just one day at the Gamestop conference. Since then, I have had numerous events with them, sometimes the guys and girls have a great KDR, sometimes not, but they can definitely help promote the product for which they are hired with enthusiasm because heck, they are getting to work in the game industry for a bit!
Primarily in the United States, but I have a few worldwide as well. The Browse link, in fact, all of the model browsing on our site is only a partial list. We have suffered from growing pains and are yet looking into another upgrade and overhaul. However, since its inception, it seems clients do not want to browse, they want a list catered to their product, which I fully understand. I submit for all clients with a listing of pertinent links to their casting.
5. It's pretty awesome that you can provide gaming companies with models who are passionate gamers! Are you a gamer as well?
I am! C+2's first gig hired me as a model to play shoot outs with devs at GDC using a peripheral. It is a vest that gives you the ability to feel when you are shot. It is by TN Games and lots of fun. I was put on camera with Major Nelson for Xbox’s coverage. I was able to beat the majority of devs that day much to my surprise. This may go back to the fact that most devs are actually making games rather than having time to indulge in playing them like they once did when they first entered the field.
I had gamed since the NES but did not own one so played at the arcade. It was not until I returned from Europe though that I began playing 40+ hours/week. My first completely submerged RPG was Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance, which I played with my then boyfriend, now husband and endless hours with the FPS Unreal Tournament. I enjoy Action Adventure games most, but also like puzzle games, though I am horrific at the entire RTS genre. I primarily play on the Xbox 360 under the GT: CharismaPlus2 which is perpetually full so I started another one Cplus2 which I will be using for new games for streaming new games and playing with new friends. I also see myself getting more on the Playstation when the new one comes out.
6. What are some of your favorite titles and what are you looking forward to seeing in the future of the gaming industry?
My all time favorite had been God of War for years. Oblivion and Skyrim are way up there as well. I broke a blood vessel in my eye playing KOTOR, so that’s definitely one I played a lot. I do not play MMOs because I cannot trust myself to be disciplined enough to turn them off. Recently I am playing Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider (this last one is my favorite), CoD:BlOps2, and Dance Central 3. Off the top of my head, I’m looking forward to Watch Dogs, The Last of Us (which is supposed to be unlike Unchartered [which I LOVE] but I am sure Naughty Dog will make a great game) and Deadpool. I have known the guys at High Moon for a while and have enjoyed immensely the Transformers games. Plus, I'm on pins and needles about Deadpool... also because I have a huge crush on him.
7. Being a model requires confidence and poise. What advice would you give to a fellow geek girl or boy who has trouble with their self-esteem?
That is a big question. The quick answer would be to look at their idols without make-up, or off the set if it is a guy, and lots of before they were famous photos. A more in depth answer can be found here in an article I wrote a few years ago, “Why You Are Great : Even If No One Seems To See It”. I had enormous self-esteem issues for most of my life. Being a model may make it worse actually. People talk about how hard rejection is, well no one gets more rejection than models and actors. I just read last night that Matt LeBlanc had $11 to his name when he auditioned for Friends and his first splurge upon getting hired was a hot meal. While modeling in Europe, I had just as many tuna in a can and ramen noodle times as I did lobster and champagne. I'd pay my mortgage as far in advance as I could when I landed a great deal because I never knew when the next gig would happen.
I really like this question, Leen. It is complex and could likely be an interview in and of itself. I agree with all the things I said above, but would also like to give a word of caution. I have seen it a zillion times. I help a girl (this doesn't really apply to guys very much it seems), they learn to do make-up, learn to wear more flattering clothes, get a few photo shoots (TFCD) and suddenly they see that, "wow! I am not so bad after all!". They do a few cosplay contests or online voting things, maybe even land a booth babe gig, and suddenly they begin to believe their fan raves. They begin to expect things to be done for them. They start to think they poopoo ice cream, and the decent begins. The time varies, but they begin to realize that maybe they are not in fact the reincarnation of Helen of Troy and that perhaps, they have been asses to people who helped them get to the point of feeling good. So please read the article I linked, but bear in mind, you are important, but self-importance is not the best way of showing it. Truly felt gratitude and graciousness are always beautiful.
8. How does one join Charisma+2? Are you currently seeking new models?
Before I say How to Apply, I suggest having a fully prepared app because incomplete applications are instantly rejected by the silent partners (who ultimately decide who is accepted). I still lose out on some great gigs because I do not have enough models in some cities, particularly Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle. So if you have friends that live there and can work as a local, please apply!
1) Go to our Facebook: CharismaPlus2
2) LIKE us!
3) Go to Photos > Albums > C+2 Assets
4) Comment on that album with your Name and Major City you live near (if you don’t live near a big game con city, it is ok, just put that i.e. Louisville,KY or whatever)
5) Make a C+2 Album on your FB and we will go from there.
9. In which upcoming shows will we see Charisma+2 models this year?
We have the events listed here and of course on our FB page Calendar which is always being updated, and we also have the hardcopy of events marked on our Calendar.
10. Thank you for your time, Yvonna! If our readers what to find out more about your company, where can they find you on the web?
To learn more about us, just visit Charisma+2 to browse talent, find links to our magazine, youtube, and twitch. For more business aspects like our client list and board, click on the links at the bottom of CharismaPlus2.com/company
Like Charisma+2 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/charismaplus2
Online magazine: http://cplus2magazine.com/
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June 15 2013