13 June 2013

The Not So Simple World of Child Modelling

By Vanessa Williams

I wanted to take this month to step away from talking about simple living for a minute, and talk about something new we are pursuing in my household - child modelling. Since much of this blog focuses on photography I thought there may be more than a few of you out there who are curious about it; if not, move along and we’ll connect again next month.

Still here? Good. Let me first begin by saying that although modelling can be a lot of fun - it is work! Keep that in mind at all times.

The modelling world is an interesting place. I have been somewhat involved in it for years, as I work in advertising. I’ve set up and run photo shoots, so I had some idea of what we were getting ourselves into. However, we have never been on the “talent” side of the coin, so to speak.

Photo: Holly Webster

A word of caution: modelling isn’t for everyone. You need a child who is easygoing and isn’t afraid of strangers. They will be in a room full of them, and you may or may not be in the room. Kids that are good at parroting what you do, and can follow directions are great.

Missed naps are almost guaranteed as you are working with a production crew’s schedule - not your child’s. Much of your time at shoots is sitting around. There is a lot of hurry up and wait to this industry. Schedules get off track. Creative changes their mind. It’s just the nature of things.

As a parent you need to have flexible availability during the week. Shoots can come together quickly (in a matter of days) and you need to be ok dropping everything. This is not a good fit for parents who work full time. And you need to show a level of professionalism and be on time. Typical parenting excuses do not apply here.

If you still think this is a good idea, your first step is to find an agent. Child modelling in particular is a very tough industry to break into as there just aren’t as many opportunities for kids versus adults, and therefore not many agencies handle them. You want to get with a reputable agency (no, the agencies at the mall are not reputable). Agencies are groups of people who’s sole job is to find work for you. They do this by taking a percentage of your payment as a fee - usually 15-20%. In other words, if you don’t get paid, they don’t get paid.

Finding a good agency is really the hardest part. Ask around is the best advice I can give as Google won’t help you here. More work, and thus agencies are in major metros. Here in the United States, the modelling world revolves around Los Angeles and New York. Once you find a few good agencies submit three to four photos. For children, they do not have to be professional. What each agency likes and doesn’t like varies but they are all looking for a number of similar things:

1. Hair and eye color - Don’t send pictures with hats.
2. Clean, clear skin - Many agencies want pics of very small kids just in a diaper. No mealtime pics!
3. A child that connects with the camera and has personality - Got a pic where your child is looking directly at the camera? Great! Use that one.
4. Keep it simple. - Use plain backgrounds, with no toys or props.

You have a better chance of breaking into the industry if your child has a unique look - red hair, or minority children are a few that come to mind. That’s not to say All-American kids can’t get jobs. My daughter is blond-haired and blue-eyed and she has been successful.

Right now is the “high” season for child modeling. Photo shoots for catalogs are in full swing for back-to-school promotions, and then they roll right into Christmas. This works well too for school-age children who are off for the summer. Many parents specify their children will only work in the summer when school is out - this is perfectly fine. But if you have a school age child who is very serious about Hollywood, expect to pull them out of school for work and deal with the consequences.

So what can your child expect to earn? In general, jobs usually pay $50-$200, and you are not compensated for travel time or expense. The "real" money is in commercials and TV, but most jobs are in print. How many jobs your child lands is up to your child, and the success of your agent. You could have three jobs, and then none for a while. However, it’s safe to say if you don’t secure work in a month or so, it’s time to switch to a new agent.

If you do get booked for a job, don’t expect to have a lot of information about it except what you need to know to do your piece of the puzzle.They will not know if they will use your child’s image or when - so don’t ask. Often, with very small children two or three sets of kids are used to get the same shot because kids are unpredictable. Only time will tell if your child’s shots get left on the cutting room floor.

I hope this has shed some light onto the mysterious world of child modelling and helps you decide if it’s for you. We are only at the beginning of our journey but my daughter loves people and likes to be out. Since I am home most of the time, we have the flexibility. If modelling ends up being too stressful or no longer fun, we will stop. Until then, we are going to enjoy the ride.
Vanessa Williams is the author of A simply good life where she explores how lower standard of living doesn’t mean lower quality of life. After her decision to  get off the beaten track and forge new paths she has found that living with less actually means living with more. Vanessa explores the luring and dangerous grounds of the consumerism trap and offers a solemn and wise account of her real life experiences on the quest to finding what truly matters in life. Connect to Vanessa via twitter and facebook.