Breaking into a Modeling Career Without Breaking the Bank!

My fifteen year old daughter is a professional model – a reluctant one at first, having been a very good athlete and somewhat of a tomboy all of her life. After years of being asked by agencies to work with them, all of a sudden, at 14, she decided to give it a go. The past year has been extraordinary: she has appeared on national and live television in New York City, has had her taped segments run in 86 countries, and has had some extraordinary opportunities presented to her along the way. Best of all, we’ve managed to break into a tough agency without breaking our own piggyback. If you or your child is really motivated to pursue a career as a model, hopefully our own experiences will help you along the way.

My daughter’s ‘big’ advantage is not only does she have cheekbones to die for, thick, straight dark hair, very large eyes and legs that go on forever; she is also 6′ tall at 15 and still growing. Height is an important factor in high fashion/runway modeling. But if you’re 5’2″, don’t fret – there’s also a place for you in the modeling world as well.

We first started when a local agency here in South Jersey had seen her photograph in a local newspaper and called us. And called us. At first, my daughter politely declined an offer in an interview when she was 12. At 14, for whatever reason, she really was ready to give it a try. If you child doesn’t have the heart and the desire to work hard in this business, save yourself the time and money and wait until she/he is hopefully ready to make the commitment. Do not, I repeat, do not push your child into the industry. The lack of desire and competitiveness will show through in every casting call, open call and interview, and the child will truly resent you for making them do something that they honestly have no interest in pursuing. Don’t waste your time and money making a child into something that he or she is not – my first tip, learned from personal experience!

When we first started out, we chose to go with the agency who had initially pursued her. We signed up for $700 worth of ‘classes’. In our case, because our daughter was somewhat gawky and had not yet grown into her own skin, we felt that the classes were worthwhile; she learned how to walk a runway, how to apply her own makeup and make hairdo changes, how to take care of her skin on an ongoing basis. Our case was again somewhat unique in that she was very tall and felt that she needed the coaching. I can honestly say that in 70% of all aspiring models, these classes are unneccesary. They can learn how to walk the runway, quite truthfully, by watching “The Style Network”, which runs fashion shows on a pretty continuous basis. They can practice in their room, hopefully accepting feedback from a family member. The runway walk is actually quite simple: place on foot in front of the other, your hand on your hip (usually the left hip); walk eight to ten steps, stop, swivel the hips so that one is jutting out, and pause. Do a quick turn, looking over your should as you do, and repeat the process back up the runway. The length of steps will vary depending upon the length of the runway the model will be walking. Also, another important tip is to make the model aware that she should have the attitude that she is walking into the wind! This will push back her shoulders, forcing her into a forward, forthright stance. Again, practice, practice, practice! If you have a full length mirror, do it in front of the mirror. Do it in front of friends and family, and accept their feedback. The New York runway walk is more of a ‘stomp’ attitude, while the European runway is more fluid. You don’t have to pay anyone how to teach you this; just practice it over and over.

Also, most girls and women know how to care for their skin, but if they are still somewhat uncertain, visit the cosmetics counter at your local department store. Ask for and get a free makeover, and watch what the cosmeticians do as they apply makeup to your face. Ask questions! “I have dry skin; what kind of product should I use?” “My skin is oily; what can I use to keep it not so shiny?” You don’t, and I repeat, don’t, have to purchase their own products. Listen carefully to what the cosmetician tells you; if you feel the need to purchase one or two of their products because it works really well for you, then do it – or go to a discount beauty supply store like Sally’s and purchase them there, or browse around for a less expensive brand of the same product. Write down as much information as you can! Get as many free makeovers as you can! You’ll learn something new every time. Sephora is also a great place to try out different products for free. Sign up for emailed special promotions with your favorite beauty products line. Perhaps most of all, remember to remove all of your makeup each and every night at bedtime! Not washing your face off properly will cause all kinds of blemishes and skin conditions; it’s a simple fact that should be honored religiously!

Now that you’ve learned that you don’t need to pay for expensive lessons to learn the basics, it’s time to move on to the agencies themselves. Most agencies outside of those in New York, Paris and Milan offer non-exclusive contracts. This means that you are affiliated as an ‘independent contractor’ with that agency, but can sign with other agencies as well. This is really the ultimate goal – to be signed as an independent modeling contractor with AS MANY agencies as you can. If you are lucky enough at some point to be offered an exclusive contract, check out the agency first! It should be with one of the top New York City agencies, if you do decide to go that route. Otherwise, you are committed to representing just that agency alone, and you want to make sure that you have not cut off any potential future agency offers. The non-exclusive contracts are pretty basic, but be sure to read it over carefully. Generally, they are boilerplated documents that favor the agency, which will take a 20% commission. We have modified our daughter’s contracts to give a specific time period (two to three years) for any client for whom she works; after that time period, she is free to work with clients she’s met through the agency on her own! (I have an article in Associated Content on how to draw up a mutually favorable contract; it’s worth taking the time to read over.) If you are going out on your own to seek agency representation, be professional about it. Get together a listing of all of the modeling/talent agencies in your area and schedule appointments with them. Many have an ‘open call’ time period in which they will see prospective new models without an appointment (generally Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from, say, 10: 00 AM to 11:30 AM, or 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM). If the agency tells you to come to the open call, do it. Do not wear jeans! or ‘cargo’ pants! Wear an outfit that makes you feel comfortable and pretty, but one that you can wear on the street without feeling awkward or out of place. A short skirt, like a denim or corduroy skirt, that shows off your legs is great; a fitted top (not sleeveless!) in an awesome color is also a good idea. Be sure to bring or wear high heels! Don’t go out and spent money getting your hair or makeup done; the agency wants to see your natural beauty, skin tones, facial structure, not something that has been altered by makeup that is too heavy or hair that overwhelms your other assets. Feel good about yourself, go in with the attitude that you have nothing to lose, wear clothing that makes you feel good, do light makeup and clean hair – that’s your best shot!

Speaking of shots, you will need photos. There is no getting around this. Most agencies actually prefer non-professional photographs. Just about everyone has access to a digital camera. Have someone you trust as a good photographer take a variety of photos of you, and bring these with you to the agencies. Do a variety of poses and styles: street wear, a business suit, a tasteful (and I stress, TASTEFUL) swimwear shot, a shot in shorts and a tee shirt, a full head shot (very important!) taken from several different angles, an evening wear photo, a playful shot perhaps with a family pet (make sure the pet isn’t the center of attention!), a schoolgirl type shot if you are indeed a student (plaid skirt, knee highs, white shirt, school tie, blazer), outdoor shots posing at the bottom of a stone staircase, a closeup of you hugging your knees on a picnic blanket with a book pertched nearby. Be as creative as you can be! Remember, however, that the purpose of these photos is to showcase YOU in a variety of poses. Take your finished digial photos with you to the agency; have at least six to eight of them to show your versatility. Agencies are looking for people of beauty in all ages, shapes, colors and sizes; you want to show them that you have many sides to your personality. Be creative, have as many friends and family members photograph you as possible for as many looks as possible; if you really feel the need, ask a professional photographer to help you. Often, you will find photographers who are willing to take dozens and dozens of photographs of aspiring models to improve their own photographic skills in return for giving copies of the photos to the model. This concept is known as the “TFP”, ‘trade for photos’, in which an amateur or professional photographer will not pay you for taking your photos, but instead will give you finished copies of the actual work. How can you locate this type of photographer?

Ah, I’ve saved the best for last! The best friend for an aspiring model is Craigs’ List! Log onto www.craigslist.com, and click on at the left the city in which you live or which is closest to you. Go to the Jobs section and click on “tv/video/film”. There are literally dozens of photographers who are willing to trade photos for the opportunity to expand their own portfolio or build upon their skills. Be very, very careful, however, in whom you choose. Some of the folks are looking for nude or semi-nude models – avoid these geeks at any cost! You don’t want to start out your career with a stranger shooting you in the nude or having it appear as such. You can respond to anyone who sounds interesting by email. Best of all, in addition to photographers, you will also find some amazing job opportunites listed on Craigs List as well – from shot promoters (girls over 21 who promote certain liquor brands in bars during promotional events) to all kinds of modeling opportunities. As with ANYTHING on the web, be sure that you check out each and every opportunity very carefully. (We have obtained three jobs for my daughter from postings on Craigs’ List that were the real deal and very lucrative!) Don’t just stay with the ‘tv/video/entertainment’ section of the site, however. Once you’ve scrolled through that first, go back to the home page for your city and look under the following categories as well: “talent” and “creative” are two of the other best places to search as well. Craigs List can be a real Godsend; you should spend as much time online as you can each and every day looking through the variety of listings and following through on obtaining as much information about the jobs – and the modeling industry itself – as you can. And best of all, Craigs List (www.craigslist.com) is free! You’re on your way, and you haven’t had to break into your piggybank even once!

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