Should My Child Be a Model?

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All the facts you need to decide whether you and your child should pursue this potentially lucrative and satisfying career.

Editor’s Note: We’re asked questions again and again by parents who want to know how to make their children into professional models. They want to know how to get started, how much it pays, and if they need to spend hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on fancy portfolios.

Here are all the facts you need to decide whether you and your child should pursue this potentially lucrative and satisfying career.

You’ve probably got loads of fabulous photos of your beautiful baby Sally spilling out of the album and drawer where you keep them. You’ve mailed spare prints of Sally to all the relatives, and still those great pictures of her keep piling up. The question is running through your mind: “Little Sally is so cute and looks so poised in those photographs. She looks as good as the babies in the magazine ads, maybe better. Could she be a successful baby model?”

The good news is that the answer is . . . Maybe!

To get some good advice, we went to the best sources we know. One of them is Drew Pacholyk, whose New York agency, Kid’s Power, is devoted exclusively to booking children from infants to age 18 for photography assignments. While many of the big-name fashion agencies have children’s divisions, Kid’s Power is one of the few agencies that handle only kids.

Parents, Are You Ready?

According to Pacholyk, the first question to answer is whether or not you—Sally’s parents—are prepared to take on the responsibilities necessary to make modeling happen. “The success of a child as a model depends on whether the parents can learn to be professionals,” he says. Why? Because the parents have to get the kids to the studio on schedule. And many well-intentioned parents are incapable of doing

There’s a big problem in the photo industry with child models that miss scheduled appointments or show up late for shooting sessions. While it’s true that kids can come down with a cold unexpectedly or have a bad night’s sleep, many professional photographers who book child models for advertising and editorial work complain that late appointments are far more common with kids and babies than with adult models. This is a problem says Pacholyk.

“It can be a nightmare for the photographer,” explains New York photographer Roy Weinstein, who has handled advertising assignments with kids for many top companies during his 30-year career. “For most advertising jobs there’s a whole crew waiting for the child and the parent to arrive at the studio,” he explains. “Remember, it’s not just the photographer who runs the risk of being caught off guard if the child is late or cancels at the last minute. Weinstein adds that you have to remember that there are also the photographer’s assistants, the make-up artist, and often a stylist, the agency’s Art Director, and possibly the client. “It’s a real problem in the industry,” he says. “

That’s why a successful career for a child model depends on whether the parents have the available time and are willing to make the commitment to take on the responsibilities that come with the job. While the fantasy of seeing little Sally on the cover of a major magazine is enticing, the work that’s involved to get to that stage can be overwhelming for many parents who don’t realize what they’re getting into.

How to Get Started

If you’re still not scared away, let’s look at how the industry works and how you can launch a child’s career—again, if you decide that you’re willing to undertake the demanding career of parent of the model.

First of all, it’s important to realize that there is a wide demand for all types of kids as models. “Clients are not just seeking beautiful children,” explains Pacholyk. “There is a big market for all types of children who are photogenic—that is to say, children who come across well when photographed. Photographers and agents agree that in today’s highly visual world of print and television advertising, there’s room for kids of all shapes and sizes and ethnic backgrounds, provided they photograph well and have the right attitude for the rigors of the work.

So that means any child who looks great in photographs might have a career opportunity. There is one limiting factor, however, and that is that the bulk of advertising and illustration photography takes place in only a few major cities. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami are the most active centers. Most children who get work as models live in or near one of these four cities.

While most of the jobs are in these cities, there’s still a possibility if you live elsewhere. While you’re unlikely to find agencies in Seattle, Minneapolis, or Charlotte that specialize only in child models, there are still some opportunities at the larger general modeling agencies in these other cities.

Finding an Agency

How do you find them? The place to start is by researching the agencies that advertise in the local Yellow Pages. Whether you’re in one of the Big Four cities or anywhere else, this is where to start. But be prepared—the competition is fierce.

Pacholyk says his agency gets around a thousand calls from hopeful parents every week. He and his staff tell each caller that to evaluate a possible model they need the parent to mail in three photos—a closeup of the child’s face, a full-body shot, and a picture that shows the child in a pose, but without toys, animals, hats, or costumes.

Pacholyk’s request is fairly typical of what you’ll hear from most agencies, big town or small: Don’t come in. Send some photographs.

Putting Together a Portfolio

Should you spend a fortune to have professional shots taken? We think not. Any serious modeling agency can spot a kid’s potential from a few simple, well-exposed, well-focused photographs.

Should you spend a fortune and send Sally to one of those kid’s modeling schools that advertise in the Yellow Pages? We believe strongly in the value of education. That’s why we teach photography. But we teach adults, and we make no fatuous claims about whether or not each of our students will succeed if he or she chooses to become a professional photographer. Some do. Some don’t. It is our experience, however, that many modeling schools make veiled claims that play on the parents’ sense of ego and guilt. “Sally’s got what it takes to become a really successful model. You’re not the type of parent who will stand in the way of Sally’s climb to fame and riches, are you?”

Well, what happens when Pacholyk requests those photos? He reports that he receives about 400 sets of photographs out of the thousand. That means over half the interested parents stop before taking the first step!

After reviewing these pictures, Pacholyk and his staff will schedule face-to-face visits with about 100 potential models. Only half of those appointments ever show up, Pacholyk explains. “If they don’t show up or call to cancel, they’re out because they might do the same thing again on an assignment.”

The Pay Off

OK, you’ve got what it takes. And so does Sally. You pay your dues and go to all the “go-sees” the agency sends you on. When Sally gets selected, what’s the payoff or all this work?

For magazines—say, a photo for a newsweekly to illustrate a feature on how kids learn—the fees run around $60 to $75 per hour. How many hours will it take? This really depends upon the way the photographer works and the needs of the art director. It could be one hour. It could be all day.

For an advertisement, remuneration starts at around $600 for a half day and $1,200 for a full day. Oddly, magazine covers run a little less. Magazines know that appearing on the cover is an honor, and they offer less pay for that reason.

But that’s for starters. Pacholyk has a model that made a television commercial a month ago who has already received $8,000 in residual payments, and one budding star who’s signed a $100,000 movie contract!

What does the agency get? Kid’s Power’s standard agreement is to retain 20 percent of the fees paid to the child. After all, the agency makes it happen!

With these facts in hand, if you have the desire to learn whether your little Sally—or little Scott—has the potential to be a model and you’re willing to stand up to the rigors expected of you, call a reputable modeling agency listed in your local Yellow Pages.

At this point, the thousand original requests have come down to about 50 potential models. The parents are asked to take new snapshots of their child each month and go to the local copy shop and make color-laser copy prints and mail them to Kid’s Power. Only about 25 parents actually do this. Those who do are asked to sign a non-exclusive contract for one year.

So, we’ve gone from 1,000 inquiries down to only a handful of models who meet the requirements and whose parents will take the few simple steps to actually move their child forward in this career. “They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into—that it’s a career for the parents,” observes Pacholyk.

“It’s usually the mother’s responsibility,” comments photographer Weinstein. “Dad is too busy working during the day to be actively involved. In the old days Mom, the Housewife, handled this chore. But that was years ago when most moms weren’t working. Today most mothers work, too, and they’re very busy. It’s not surprising they can’t take on these added chores and perform them promptly and reliably.”

If a child is accepted by an agency, the agency director will have the child go to appointments that aren’t necessarily paying photo sessions. The bulk of appointments are known in the business as “go-sees”—the photographer and/or art director will call in a dozen or more potential models to audition before picking the one who gets the job.

It’s the equivalent of a casting call for actors. This is the real investment of time that you—the parent—must be prepared to make. You’ll spend a lot more time on “go-sees” than on actual paying assignments. How much time? If the “go-see” is a scheduled appointment, figure about half an hour, plus traveling. If it’s an open call, figure somewhere between one and three hours, and sometimes more.

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