1. A modeling agency may have a clause in your contract requiring you to pay back all or a portion of their initial outlay from the money you earn.
This is not common but it is also not unheard of. It is a more common practice in small market agencies than in large market agencies. Small market agencies are usually local without an affiliation with a major agency and the work they get for you will likely be limited to your home town. Since the potential for work in one city is small these agencies will seek to recoupe some or all of their initial expenses in signing a model. A legitimate modeling agency will never ask you to pay for your own start up costs but they may try to get their money back once they start getting work for you.
2. Another seemingly crazy thing a legitimate modeling agency may ask of you is that you do some work for free… at first.
It may seem strange that they ask you to volunteer your time and talents but there is a method to the madness. A legitimate modeling agency may ask you to work for free in order to build your portfolio and gain exposure. This is a cost effective way for modeling agencies to build a models portfolio as well as establish contacts within the industry. New photographers, stylists and designers will often ask an agency for volunteer models to use when building their own working portfolios. It is a win-win situation for all parties; new models get pictures and experience while the photographers, stylists and designers get free labor. Also, agencies get to establish a good working relationship with people who may some day be powerful influences in the industry. A legitimate modeling agency won’t ask you to volunteer for long, just enough to build a portfolio and have a bit of runway experience under your belt.
3. When a modeling agency is interested in developing you as a model they will not ask you to pay to build your portfolio or to take classes but this doesn’t mean they’ll break the bank to get you ready for the fashion world.
When building a portfolio it is normal for an agency to send you on a test shoot and only pay for the photographer, this means you will have to bring your own clothes and do your own hair and make up. Asking you to style your test shoots yourself is a very common practice. Just remember that make up for film and make up for every day life are very different. Photographic make up should be bold and heavy handed. Don’t be afraid to ask the photographer for pointers as they will have an understanding of how the make up will look under the lighting they are setting up. Also, before the shoot talk to the photographer or your agent about clothing and color choices as like make up clothing that looks good in real life may not look as good on film. Bottom line, if you are asked to do your own styling it’s normal but don’t be afraid to ask for help from the experts.
4. It is totally reasonable for a modeling agency to want you to change your looks to meet their needs.
You’ve seen it on America’s Next Top Model and it’s not just for dramatic effect on TV, the makeover. Models have to have a ‘look’ and if yours is rather generic or dated an agent may ask you to under go a makeover. The makeover may be subtle or dramatic, it may be targeted toward your landing a specific job or it may just be a change. The agency may have enough blondes on the roster and want to make you a brunette or vice versa. They may be looking for edgy models or androgynous models and want to make you over to fit that mold. Regardless of what an agency wants to do to your looks asking you to get a makeover is not unusual. Remember, what makes a model stunning in photographs are things like bone structure, facial symmetry, and posing angles. What makes a girl pretty in the real world may not translate to pretty in print or on the runway. Agents are experts at recognizing raw talents but may make you over to fit with the look of the moment. A good model must have a versatile look and that means that they should still look good even when their looks are changed.
5. Along the same lines as the makeover it is also common for a legitimate modeling agency to ask you to lose or gain weight or to tone up your body with exercise.
It is a touchy reality that mainstream models need to be thin, after all models are human clothes hangers, so the fact that a modeling agency may ask you to lose weight or tone up is probably not surprising but what may seem surprising is that an agency could ask you to gain weight. Super-waif models as they have been called may be trendy but even the fashion world has acknowledged that things may have gone too far. In 2006 the fashion industry bureaucrats in Milan, Italy addressed the issue or emaciated models by setting a standard that all runway models must have a body mass index (BMI) of no less than 18 which is half a point lower than the 18.5 considered the healthy minimum. Even though a BMI of 18 is slightly below healthy setting this standard is an important step in the right direction for the fashion industry. If you are very thin or not very toned an agency may push you to get healthy before signing you.
6. If you get signed to a modeling agency you should expect to travel, and some of the destinations may be exotic and far, far away.
Not only is travel a normal part of being a model it is essential. The most successful models travel, it is just a part of the job and if you’re not prepared to travel then you won’t have much of a modeling career. It is common practice for legitimate modeling agencies to send green models overseas, most often to Asia or Europe, in order to build a portfolio and gain practical experience. If a modeling agency wants to send you away it is a good sign not a bad one. Things a legitimate modeling agency would never ask of you when you travel; to turn over your passport, to go away without parental consent, to pay for your trip OR agree to pay them back for the trip or expenses, or to do hostess work or any work that is not traditional spokesperson, print or runway modeling.
Professional Agency Modeling: How it Works
If you are reading this, it’s because you have been signed by a model agency or you want to know more about what professional agency modeling is really about. The links below tell you what you need to know to be successful in this business. These pages are written from the perspective of the New York City commercial print market, although much of what is said here also applies to other markets.
In the smaller markets most real model agencies service the entire range of modeling. The market doesn’t allow specialization; the overhead of an agency means they have to try to book every kind of modeling job they can. But in a market as large and diverse as New York City, agencies tend to specialize. Either they service niche markets or they have divisions that specialize in markets segments. Most “commercial print agencies” (or commercial print divisions of an agency) for instance do not do fashion work, don’t staff music videos or national TV ads, at least as a major part of their effort. Other agencies or divisions do that – and the model (or model/performer) may need to be represented by more than one agency for different market segments that they want to target.
In New York City it is also generally true that commercial print agencies do not sign their models to “exclusive” contracts. Print work is much less intensive than editorial fashion work: they know they probably cannot keep you busy. They also know that commercial clients tend to call more than one agency; that they get some calls but not all of them, and that it is usually in the best interests of the model to “freelance” – to work with more than one commercial print agency if they can. This can lead to some potential conflicts, so procedures (discussed below) have been worked out to deal with this. Generally the agency would prefer that you not be listed with several others, but they also understand that from your perspective it is a reasonable thing to do.
The first step in getting a modeling job is normally a “go see”, where you meet the people who are actually doing the hiring. When you get that First Call to go to one, what should you do? What do you need to do at the go-see? We tell all in Before and At a Go-See. Then it’s wait and see if you are lucky. Sometimes it’s hard to tell: After the Go-See. Sooner or later the miracle happens: they are interested in you, and you get booked! Then you get to do what models do: The Shoot. And finally you get to the payoff for all this hard work. You get a paycheck! What should you expect about Getting Paid?
Your First Call from the Agency
Usually the first time you will hear from your agency after your comp is done is when you fit the requirements for a modeling job, and you are sent out on your first “go-see” or “casting.” This is the beginning of the process - and if you handle things well from the point of that first call you greatly improve your chances of success.
When you get a call from your agency, you need to call them back quickly. Jobs often arise and are cast in a matter of hours – if you haven’t returned your agent’s call, you may lose the jobs, even if you have been specifically requested by the client. Sometimes clients select several models for a single assignment, call them, and give it to the first model that calls back to confirm. If you don’t have a way (beeper, cell phone, good answering service that will track you down) to find you quickly, you run the risk of losing a lot of jobs you otherwise could have.
So, what do you need to do in that call? Make sure you get all the information you will need to be successful at the go-see. Your first problem is whether you even want to take the job (sometimes you may not). So you need to know:
1. What is the job for: who is the client and the product?
2. When is the shoot?
3. Where is the shoot?
4. What does it pay?
5. Does it require wardrobe that you don’t have?
6. What will you portray, and how will it be used?
If you get through all that, don’t have any conflicts or objections, you need to know about the go-see itself.
1. Where is the go-see?
2. When is it? (Usually it is a range of several hours - you want to be there near the beginning if possible.)
3. What role will I be playing, and how do I need to be dressed?
4. Who should I see at the go-see?
You should ask all these questions and any others that may occur to you when you talk to your agent. If you don’t have a conflict with the go-see time, and tell your agency that you will be there, you are on your way to the next step in your modeling career.
Please bear in mind that you have just been given privileged information. You should not share it with other models or agencies, and you should not take other people along with you to either the go-see or the shoot (unless you are a minor and need an escort).
Before and At a Go-See
If you get a call from more than one agency for a go-see, the general rule is that you should accept and tell the photographer/casting director that you are represented by the first agency to call. That is the standard practice in the industry, and should be accepted by all agents. There are some exceptions: when you have a contract with an agency that gives them preference (if you are called by several agencies for a job, and one of them has that preference clause in your agreement with them, you should tell the photographer you are represented by that agency regardless of what order the calls were received in. You should also tell the other agencies who call you that you are doing that, since they may know that they called you first. Another exception is if an agency gets a “name-request” from the client specifically for you. In that event, you should accept the go-see as represented by that agency, even if you got a call earlier (not a name request) from some other agency for the same go-see.
Bring your portfolio! If you have a wide selection of portfolio pictures, make sure to include some that show you as the casting director will want to shoot you. Do not include pictures that may be inappropriate for the client (for instance, don’t take a portfolio full of lingerie shots when “young mother” is what is being requested.)
You should arrive near the beginning of the go-see period. The mechanics of the selection process often favor those who are first seen; don’t let an opportunity slip away because you chose to go at 5:45 for a go-see that runs from 4-6 PM. Yes, you were “on time”, but as a practical matter you may be “too late”.
When you are at a go-see you are being evaluated for a particular role, usually very specific, that the client wants a model to play. Your agent should give you the details they know of for the shoot. If it is for “young mother” or “executive”, “sporty” or “active retired” or some other type you need to put yourself in that frame of mind and remember that you need to project that persona from the moment you open the door. The photographer or client needs to be able to visualize you as what they need to shoot – you should give them all the help you can. That means to dress in a way appropriate to the role, and take on the demeanor of a person in that role. You still need to be friendly and courteous, but always while acting as the person they are casting for.
If a mockup or drawing of the shot they intend is available, you should inspect it and practice (subtly) assuming the position and attitude shown. If they take a Polaroid, try to take on as much of the appearance and posture as possible of that drawing. Clients don’t always have great imagination; try not to require a lot of it from them to see you in the role they are casting for.
Usually what counts is what you look like, not how old you are. If the job requires the client know your exact age, your agency or the casting notice should say so. If not, do not list your exact age or birth year on the data sheet. Rather, list an age range appropriate to you in the role you are being asked to play (for instance: 27-32) and if birth year is required, select a year in the middle of that range. Exceptions include people under 18 (who should indicate exact, true data) and ads for tobacco or alcoholic beverages, which require that the true age of the model be over 25.
For contact data on the data sheet, list your agency phone number. Do NOT list your own phone or service. If there is a reason for the photographer or stylist to have it (sometimes there is) it will be provided by your agent.
Sometimes a photographer will attempt to renegotiate the terms of the deal (different start/stop times, different pay rates, additional usage of the pictures) either at the go-see or later, when you have been booked. In all cases you should decline to any such agreement and refer the question to your agent. Frequently these seemingly innocent questions have the effect of costing you a lot of money; it is your agent’s job to recognize when that is true and to protect your interests (and the agency’s interests as well).
It is not unheard of for a photographer or client to ask to book you direct, not through your agency. That is unethical, and they know it, but they will sometimes ask anyway. In all such cases you should politely decline and report the matter to your agency as soon as you can. Models who accept such offers may get that job, but agencies who find out about it will drop them immediately – and the word gets around.
Under no circumstances should you sign a release of any sort at a go-see. If asked to do so, politely say you have to call your agency for permission. Normally the photographer will back off at that point, but it is best to allow the agent to take on the “bad guy” role when this kind of thing happens. The model should remain friendly and polite at all times.
After the Go-See
What happens after the go-see? Most often, nothing. For most go-sees or castings the number of models sent by their agencies greatly exceeds the number who will be hired, so mostly the casting director will tell you they “will let you know,” and then you will never hear from them again.
But sometimes something better happens. You may be called back (you made the short list) one or more times, you may be put on “hold” (also called "option"), or you may be booked.
A call-back is simply another go-see for the same job, but this time knowing that somebody liked you well enough that they want to see you again. It isn’t time to break out the champagne, but it is time to start getting more optimistic. Your agent will advise you of anything special you should do to prepare for the call-back.
If you are put on hold, you have a very good chance of being booked. That means that the agency has selected you for the job but the job itself still may not happen, or may be postponed. It is also frequently true that a client will select more people than they really intend to use; you may be the first, second or third choice. Sometimes your agency will know when this is the case, sometimes they will not. If you accept the “hold” you give that client a “first right of refusal” on your services for that time slot. If something else comes along, you can have your agent call them and ask if they want to book you or release you, and they are obliged to do one or the other. If the “hold” hasn’t been released within 24 hours of the shoot it is customary for you to be paid for the job even if you didn’t do it.
Being “booked” is the brass ring you are in this business to grab. It involves an offer to your agent for your services, which is relayed to you. If you accept, you are obligated to do the job, though you may be able to cancel with 48 hours notice (sometimes less) without liability. The client is also obligated at that point, and once the time for the job nears you become eligible for cancellation fees if the job doesn’t happen.
You have been booked, the appointed time is near, and you are about to have a lot of fun. You should be relaxed and enjoy yourself – you are about to get to do what models all want to do.