Megan Nakata: From Marketing Assistant to Up-and-Coming Model in Under a Year

Megan NakataTaking action — it’s what we all need to do succeed and accomplish our dreams. We talk about preparation, doing our research, and being ready when the opportunity knocks, but sometimes it’s just about taking the leap and making it happen. A little over a year ago, Megan Nakata was living in Seattle, working the standard 9-5 grind, and  trying to figure out what she wanted to do in life. Things can change quickly. Now this 25 year-old is an up-and-coming name in Los Angeles modeling scene, posing for clients including Nike, Roxy, Bebe, and Young Fabulous & Broke — in exotic locations all over the world. Last week, we took the opportunity to sit down and ask her about learning to work with photographers and her execrated journey to success.

When did you know when you wanted to become a model?
Modeling is something I’ve been approached about for a few years, but having known very little about the industry, I was more concerned with focusing on school at the time. It wasn’t until about a year and a half after graduating from Washington State University that I gave it serious thought. I was working for a company that designs and manufactures shoes, and I befriended one of our shoe model girls who encouraged me to give it a shot… So I did, and I haven’t turned back!

Megan Nakata
photo credit: Mike Monaghan

What big brands have you worked for/ posed for?
In Seattle, I worked for Amazon, Zumiez, Nordstrom, Nintendo Wii, and then I decided to move down to LA where work opportunities are much more abundant. In LA, I’m signed with Ford Models and LA Models. Since moving down here, I’ve shot for clients such as Nike, O’Neill, Tilly’s, Roxy, Bebe, David Lerner, A&F’s brand Gilly Hicks, and Young Fabulous & Broke to name a few recognizable brands.

What did you study in college and was it hard for you to switch gears, take the leap and become a model?
I went to college at Washington State University and got my degree in Hospitality Business Management. After graduating, I ended up switching gears and ended up doing a marketing/pr type job for a shoe company in Bellevue, WA. When I signed with my agency in Seattle, Heffner Management, they weren’t so keen that I had a full time job as modeling can be anytime/anywhere, but they still took me on under the agreement that if I started making more money modeling, that I would leave my job. Around the same time, I was considering quitting my job to backpack through Southeast Asia.  In short, the timing was perfect for me to sign, leave my full time job and go travel. Upon my return three months later, I jumped right into the world of modeling. I was a bit nervous at first not having a regular job, as you never know when you’ll be booking modeling jobs so that was a bit of a nerve racking transition.

Did you start out working for free and how did it feel going from working those first few jobs to getting paid to do what you love (modeling)?
I’ve actually never worked for free. I signed with agencies, so from the get-go I was being paid. Although it’s been a learning experience as now I work for myself (the agency works for the model), paying state and federal business taxes, and receiving paychecks sometimes 6 months after I’ve worked jobs.

By now you’ve worked with plenty of photographers, what are the keys to working well with them?
I think the key to working well with photographers is communication, keeping it light and fun, and get to knowing them and whoever else you’re working with. Many times you’re working close with each other all day long, so it’s much more of a pleasant experience if they’re fun and easy to talk to.

image (2)
photo credit: Luis Anthony Chavez

Tell us about your worst and best experiences thus far.
My worst experience to date has probably paying for a test shoot with a photographer and not getting any usable images for your portfolio. As a model, it’s important to keep your portfolio updated with new and diverse images, so you do “test shoots.” These shoots sometimes are free — as you and the photographer both benefit from these images for both of your portfolios — or you can opt to pay, typically a few hundred dollars, to work with recommended photographers the agency sets you up with. My worst experience was with a photographer I paid for; we didn’t do any normal/usable shots, and the images I received back from the shoot were not very flattering and my agents didn’t use the images. It was a waste of time and money.

The best? working with and meeting so many new people and traveling! I’ve loved having a schedule that is constantly changing, every week, every day, it’s something new/different. I love meeting new people and learning from them. Traveling for shoots can be very fun (or exhausting and confusing), but when you’re with an awesome group of people going somewhere cool, it’s a lot of fun. Working for myself, the best perk is having control of my schedule. I’m able to take time off as needed. So I’m able to take a couple weeks off to go back up to Seattle to spend the holidays with my family and friends!

If you could give advice to up and coming photographers on working with models, what would you say?
When working with models, be easy-going, friendly and fun to work with. You’re going to spend a lot of one on one time with whoever it is you’re shooting with so make it an enjoyable experience for both of you. One of my least enjoyable shoots was working with a photographer who thought too highly of himself, hardly spoke to me, and made me feel uncomfortable. Needless to say I couldn’t wait to finish and I have not recommended him to any of my friends who model. And don’t push a model too far. A model doesn’t always need to be half naked for good shots, especially when the photographer is intimidating or creepy. So don’t be a creep.

image (3)What are the pros and cons of working with an agency?
Pros: They have the hook ups. They are the ones clients come to looking for models, so they are sending models out daily on castings. They are the ones who make sure the client pays and if not will take legal action for you. They represent you, will negotiate pay rates for you, and make sure you’re taken care of.

Cons: Yes, they work for you, but they’re also working for many many other models. So sometimes you can feel a bit lost in the shuffle. It can be a shady industry, so sometimes it seems they’re trying to slip payments past you, or you get charged large amounts for unclear things.

What is expected from you on a big shoot with a client like Nike vs. a smaller boutique clothing line?
In most cases, a big client vs a smaller boutique client holds higher expectations. For a bigger client, where your images will reach a much bigger audience, there is more pressure to be on your A-game. If you’re not, and the images don’t turn out well, many more people will take notice than if you take mediocre shots for a smaller company where far less people will see. Before I shot for Nike and before I did a swim campaign for O’Neill, I made sure that I was maximizing my workouts, eating healthy and getting a lot of sleep in the week leading up to those shoots, where as I’m not as strict for my other standard e-comm shoots.

Where can we view your work?
Heffner Mgmt

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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.