While she was growing up, Jessica Sweeney was often told “you’re so tall, you could be a model.”
She said she also thought of herself as “a little overweight,” but didn’t let that deter her from taking the modeling suggestions to heart. She started pursuing the idea in her later teenage years, approaching boutiques and other businesses as her own representative.
But she was unsuccessful until she discovered Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency in Polson. Under the guidance of owner Casey Pobran, Sweeney was able to use her photogenic face, natural curves and height of 5-10 to forge a part-time modeling career, signing with agencies in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York City.
Pobran’s direction provided the catalyst for her second career, Sweeney said.
“She shaped and developed me as a model. She was the middle-man between me and larger agencies, and she still has my back.”
Sweeney, a hairdresser at Amore Salon in Kalispell and a graduate of Whitefish High School, has been with the Polson agency for about six years. Her husband, Andrew Sweeney, a musician, actor and model, has been signed with the agency for almost as long.
The Sweeneys are on a list of more than 100 current clients who have signed with RMEA for representation and support in the worlds of modeling, acting, social media and more. Clients may be looking for a long-term career in fashion or the arts, or just testing their potential with intermittent jobs.
Casey started the agency with the assistance of her husband, Dalon, in April 2012. She had grown up in the worlds of modeling and entertainment, with an actress/model mother and a musician father. She was an international model as a teenager, living in industry hubs such as Southern California, Los Angeles, New York and South Korea.
The Pobrans moved to Montana partly because Dalon had been intrigued with the area since childhood, as a friend in San Diego visited Northwest Montana every summer. Casey started working with another talent agent when she first moved to Montana, but they eventually parted ways.
“We decided to open up with a few girls, and since then it’s been once success story after another,” Casey said. “We’re educating people about the realities of the business. So many come into this business thinking it’s just going to be taking pretty pictures, but there’s a lot more that goes into it. The clients are not our employees, they’re all independent contractors. They are their own businesses.”
The agency has clients from throughout Montana of ages 5 to 85, including a man who Casey said represents “the perfect Montana grandpa.” The Pobrans have found that the Montana look and lifestyle are advantageous in working with Hollywood producers looking for “authentic” talent and advertisers who want to use the rugged reputation of the state to sell products.
“They want talent who are true Montanans, not just pretty faces,” Casey said. “If they can ride a horse and shoot a gun, it’s everything that Hollywood stages and don’t have to stage here because the people are real.”
Dalon said the RMEA group stands out when they attend conventions of agents, casting directors and talent managers.
“The comments we hear are ‘What is in Montana? They’re so beautiful, clear-eyed and well-mannered. It’s so refreshing,’” he said. “That has led to talent agents and scouts visiting us here in Montana. The people are what make it so special.”
The agency been called on to cast a number of Montana-centered projects. The Pobrans coordinated the talent for the recent HGTV Dream Home competition shoot in Whitefish and have worked with the Travel Channel, H&M, Murdoch’s and Subaru.
They’re also a resource for the Montana Film Office, especially with recently passed tax incentives for production companies in search of locations. In May, Gov. Steve Bullock signed the Montana Economic Industry Advancement Act tax credit for productions that shoot in Montana.
“We’re really proud of our film office right now,” Casey said. “This tax incentive will make a huge difference for Montana talent and communities.”
The journey for many of RMEA’s most successful clients starts with one of their workshops.
Model Gillian Nation grew up in Browning and is now represented by major agencies with worldwide reach. Casey said Nation’s life changed after she attended an RMEA modeling workshop and accompanied Casey on one of the “big-city tours” of Los Angeles.
“She’s now traveling the world, calling the shots on the jobs she wants,” Dalon said.
Sophia Woodward is a young actress originally from Whitefish. After starting out with Alpine Theatre Project’s youth productions, she attended an RMEA workshop. Casey took her to an acting showcase and she has since had a recurring role in the television series “Lethal Weapon,” along with other television credits, and has appeared in Disney commercials.
Summer modeling camps are a staple of the Rocky Mountain Entertainment calendar, held on either Flathead Lake or Ashely Lake for girls ages 11 to 14 or 15 to 18. Boys are accepted during the day, but sent home in the evening.
“It’s a great slumber party when the girls get together,” Casey said. “We’ve noticed it’s more of a confidence camp than modeling.”
Camp attendees are often aiming to kick off a modeling career but some are just hoping to develop more poise.
“So many parents come back after the camps thanking Casey for how much more confident their children are in their own skin,” Dalon said. “Where before they might be shy, they’ll be outspoken, they’ll look you in the eye.”
Dalon said Casey is considered “the ultimate mother agent” for the knowledge she shares with her clients from her own years of personal success in modeling and pageants. As Casey McClain, she was Miss California Teen USA in 2001 and finished among the top 10 in that year’s Miss Teen USA pageant. In 2016 she was chosen as Mrs. Montana and went on to be named second runner-up at the Mrs. America competition.
“I have a love for pageantry,” Casey said. “Pageants are the competition form in modeling.”
She also appreciates the opportunity pageants provide to promote the values she has since incorporated into her business.
“My big platform is body positivity and self-confidence,” she said. “Inclusivity is inspiring. Our clients don’t have to fit into a little box or be a certain size or look.”
Casey’s philosophy made all the difference for Jessica Sweeney, who at one time believed the path to success was to diet until her body was traditionally model-skinny.
“She was very focused on her size and trying to become the size she thought the industry required,” Casey said. “After working with us, we had some great moments together and we really discussed that she needs to embrace how the good Lord made her.”
Sweeney, 26, said she attracted attention after she stopped fixating on her weight and was signed as a plus model. She’s been hired for online shoots for places such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Rainbow. She’s been part of body positivity campaigns and was cast in a music video for Fall Out Boy. Her favorite experience so far was one New York Fashion Week, where she was part of its first ever plus-size runway show.
Sweeney has also accompanied Casey on group excursions such as a recent trip to New York City, taking RMEA models for visits to prominent agencies.
The agency’s website states that group trips and convention participation are keys to making industry connections and signing contracts, and an important part of the agency’s promotion of its talent. Social media, networking and portfolios were the focus of an RMEA retreat to Indonesia in February 2019 and a Jamaican resort is the site of next February’s getaway.
“We took a group of models and photographers, some highly experienced, some new, to collaborate,” Dalon said of the Indonesia trip. “Some people who have never left Montana got to see the ocean and get hundreds of beautiful pictures and get an education about the industry.”
RMEA’s website has an online submission form for those interested in working with the agency. Casey said they receive a few dozen inquiries each month.
“But it’s a lot better to meet us in person,” she said. “It’s not just about how you look.”
The Pobrans’ office is in one of Polson’s oldest standing structures, a small, square building off Main Street that was constructed in 1909. One wall is lined with a display of client headshots and large glamour portraits cover the rest of the walls.
Dalon said many agencies similar to theirs are run by laptop in a home or coffee shop.
“It’s very helpful for any talent that may be considering this trade to have a brick and mortar building to meet Casey and see the work she’s done,” Dalon said.
Casey urges anyone interested in being part of the fashion or entertainment worlds to make sure they do their homework.
“Ask for references and referrals and don’t sign anything without legal representation,” she said. “We are very transparent when it comes to business. We know all the practices, we know how it’s supposed to be done.”
For more information, visit www.rm-ea.com
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.