Let me start by saying this…I am no longer modeling much at all as I have lost interest and desire. Between agencies and castings telling me I am too short, too old (ugh), and the general hustle of auditions and castings it was emotionally exhausting me, not mentally stimulating me, and no longer fun. However, I have been in the industry for 8 years and while not signed with the top agencies like Wilhelmina, Elite, etc. and not gracing a bunch of huge magazine covers, I do think I have some insight on the industry through my own endeavors, common knowledge, as well as my friends experiences.
I started modeling when I was about 19 years old. It happened by accident. I was living in Canada at the time and couldn’t find work (thanks, worthless work visa) so I spent my days browsing the Canadian version of Craiglist – Kijiji. I saw an ad for a photographer wanting to take some test photos. I had never taken a professional photo in my life besides a school photo but I set up a time slot and drove over to his house anyway with my then boyfriend because obviously, safety first. We did the shoot and when I got the photos back I thought they were cute. The photographer suggested I join a website called Model Mayhem to find more photographers and build a portfolio. Within a year I had test shot with a handful of photographers and got increasingly better with each shoot. It is a great idea to shoot as much as you can before going to an agency to practice posing and facial expression.
Here are some hilarious photos from that first shoot:
Throughout college I started working gigs here and there. I signed with an agency called Prestigious Models working car shows and also booked gigs independently. After I graduated I knew that I wanted to live in California and give the entertainment industry a try. And that’s exactly what I did. I packed up my car and drove 30 hours to LA and moved in with a stranger who 5 years later is still one of my best friends. If you do not live in a big city, you’re going to have a harder time making it as a full time model (I never was regardless and had a part-time job while taking actings classes, etc because LA is expensive).
When I got here I had zero idea of how anything worked. LA is a completely different world and lifestyle from the midwest. I booked a lot of amazing gigs (including a music video that was filmed in Hong Kong, holla!!) off of a website called Model Mayhem. IT IS FREE! You can submit yourself on their castings tab. You can also create casting calls or search already posted ones to find photographers to shoot with to build your book. A lot of them will do what is called TF which is a trade shoot — no one is paid because it is mutually beneficial. If you live in LA, you can shoot me a message and I can send you a list of talented photographers you can pay for. Bonus: You also can find a boyfriend on there! My second boyfriend was a male model I met on MM. hehe.
With that said, I want you to learn from my mistakes and create a release form for every single shoot you do that is not booked through your agency. EVERY SHOOT. If the photographer does not want to sign it, don’t shoot with him. You can write in any details you’d like (ie. images are for website use only, photographer must have permission before posting photos, etc.) Never do anything you are uncomfortable with. I am telling you this because in the past I made this mistake where I took photos that I had agreed upon with a photographer not to be released without my permission and he posted them anyway. Because it was an oral and not written agreement, I had no legal power to do anything. While most people are good humans, it is always better to protect yourself and not get taken advantage of.
Here is an example of a release.
The agencies in LA are a lot bigger and stricter with their in-take. However, being 5’6.5 I was very limited anyway. I do lie and say I am 5’7 because my legs are 80% of my body and i photograph tall. I do not suggest lying anymore than a half of an inch although they rarely pull out a measuring tape. If you are not at least 5’9 you are going to have a hard time getting in with a high fashion agency (runway) such as Wilhelmina, Ford, etc. but there are always exceptions. I tried and kept getting told that as 23 years old I was too old and too short. That’s another thing, most fashion agencies prefer you to be 16-21 years old. All hope is not lost because actually sometimes it is worse to be with the high end agencies anyway because you get lost in the shuffle. Boutique (smaller) agencies can be just as good if they work hard for you. If you are 5’5+ you will qualify for commercial or lifestyle divisions. That means print ads, commercials, etc. In that case, I recommend you take a couple commercial classes if you have never acted just to be prepared. They care more about a warm happy appearance as you will be usually selling a product. Throughout my 5 years in LA I was (and still am) signed with multiple commercial agencies but I choose to not go out much anymore. One my agencies I was too short to qualify but I am signed to their hair division (hair shows, hair mags, etc.) If an agency is not sending you out as often as you would like, you need to talk with them or switch.
Once you figure out which market you fit into you have 2 choices:
- You go to the agency website and find when their open call is. Do not call them unless it says to. Pay attention to the instructions on the website as every agency is different. You can bring professional shots but really all they care about is polaroids. They will most likely take some of you there. Wear very little make up with your hair down and clean. Simplicity is bliss. Here is a good list of things you should do and wear at an open call.
- You can submit online at the agency’s website. I recommend going to the open call but if you live far or can’t make their time frame, this is another option. Again, follow the instructions exactly as they are given.
Do not be discouraged if no one takes you. It happens. You can also book a lot of work on your own once you start marketing yourself and then you don’t have to pay anyone their % ;). Anyone in any part of entertainment will tell you that a big part of success is being prepared and creating your own opportunities. You cannot rely on your agency to do everything for you. They won’t, especially if you’re just starting out. If you truly have what it takes and have the passion for modeling, don’t give up. However at some point, you also have to reassess and be realistic if you are meeting industry standards for what your market is. It IS A HUSTLE and it can be draining. You’re competing against tons of other people and being judged by your looks. You have to stay in shape and be on top of your game at all times. This industry is not for those with a weak or soft heart. Your feelings will get hurt one time or another. It happens to everyone.
Once you get signed your agency will make you a comp card that looks similar to this that you hand in at castings:
Yes, I realize the shoe size is wrong but it won’t let me upload the corrected one. PDF woes.
When you go to a casting you sign in and wait for what can seem like an eternity with tons of girls in a room. It doesn’t matter if it says you were scheduled for 11am, just like a doctors office sometimes you won’t go in for 1-2 hours, so be prepared to bring a granola bar and put a sufficient amount of money into your meter. It’s okay to be nervous, castings always gave me massive anxiety for whatever reason but usually it does get better the more you go. The hardest part is showing up. Usually within a week if they like you they will send you in for a callback and then you repeat the process. No matter what the outcome just always know that you tried your best. Sometimes they want a certain look and it has nothing to do with you.
It is now 2016 and unfortunately social media (primarily instagram, twitter, and facebook) has spread like a disease and many agencies/castings want you to have a certain number of followers or they will ask your number. I got turned down by a bikini company AT a casting because they said I didn’t have enough followers. Many contact forms now include filling in your follower count. The music video I booked in China wouldn’t allow you into the casting unless you had at least 5,000 followers. Gone are the days of just being talented alone and for now, social media is here to stay. Youtubers, Viners, Instagramers are now not only making ridiculous amounts of money but also moving to the top of the list for entertainment jobs because of the ability to promote for brands and projects. You can increase your follower count by using popular hashtags, posting consistently in a specific niche (ie. fitness modeling), take quality photos, cross-posting with other big accounts, or you can find a social media manager (like me) who specializes in building accounts. This can take time and sometimes money but it is worth it.
It can be really fun and rewarding experience, you will get to do some super cool things. I was cast to be on a TV game show and won a few thousands dollars. I was grateful to travel to places I never thought I would go and get paid to experience other cultures. I got to meet some celebrities and even sing in front of one of my lifelong idols, which by the way, I was so starstruck and nervous I messed up all the lyrics. It has helped me become a strong person and accept rejection gracefully as well as be confident in my body and its imperfections. You will blossom and be forced to come out of your shell. It is a journey that even though it is time for me to move on to other endeavors, I will never regret nor forget. And I wish you luck on your own 🙂
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