Another holiday weekend down…no one got sick from too much candy and family strife was kept at a minimum. (Seventeen year old boys…anyone? Anyone? Rough species.) I hope you all had a good weekend as well!
I think I’ll dig into the topic of reputable agencies. This past Friday night, 20/20 aired a segment on the mall-trawling “talent agency” interFACE. I’m not sure they were a nation-wide agency, but basically you would be walking through the mall or amusement park with your child and a “talent scout” would stop you. The pitch was something like, “How old is your child?...because she is exactly what we are looking for!” Their goal was to get you excited to think your child was being “discovered” and then sell you a bunch of photo shoot packages (all of which are completely unnecessary to beginning a child’s modeling career). The story revealed the high-pressure sales tactics and the methods they used to prey on the dreams of children and parents. Former employees spoke to the reporter and 20/20 sent a family in, undercover, with hidden cameras, to document the actual transactions. Really, it was kind of sickening.
Sickening, for sure…but if I had a dollar for every time I heard of a friend of a friend getting sucked into something like that, I’d probably be able to buy a few pitchers of margaritas and some good guac at Dos Amigos (my local Mexican joint…come join me!). And really, other than the many red flags associated with such incredible amounts of money – thousands of dollars – how would parents know that the actual industry doesn’t work that way? Let me think for a moment about the actual amount of money I have paid to any agency from my own pocket to represent my child. Ok, that was easy…zero dollars. (That is not to say there are not expenses associated with the career itself…more on that in the future. Suffice it to say shelling out $26 to park my car is nowhere near shelling out thousands to a scam agency.)
So here’s how it works. First of all, no agency will stop you and “discover you.” Now, I say “no agency” and for 99.9% of the time that is what I mean. I am aware of one agent telling me one time she stopped one kid on the street. So, that’s one. Has it happened other times? Probably. But none of the reputable NYC agencies make any practice out of street-casting. There are some casting directors and casting agencies that will occasionally do street casting. My daughter once did a print ad for a major insurance company for which the adults in the ad campaign were street-cast in Central Park. They wanted “real” people. And the woman who posed with my daughter as her “grandmother” was a) like, my age and 2) paid five figures. Seriously, a once-in-a-lifetime lucky break. (And my daughter was paid about 10% of that amount, so…maybe I’m a little bitter. But, whatever. A story for a different day.) There is a casting director who does street casting and puts casting notices up on social media for major, major, major brand campaigns…so you don’t even need to be an “official” model (but the kids who get booked usually are anyway).
Kids who are signed with the major agencies have been submitted to the agencies by their parents. Submission is free, and I explained that process in an earlier post. If you are invited to work with an agency, they may offer an actual written contract or a verbal “good faith” agreement. The contract would basically spell out the responsibilities to each party to the contract – both the child and the agency. The most important part of the contract is the agreement that the agency will receive payment from the client – when you deal with money, you do kind of need that stuff spelled out. The contract also has some other expectations – you aren’t a party to another contract, each side can terminate the contract with notice, and a period of time for the contract to be in effect.
Listen up. According to New York law, a minor can only be locked into a labor contract (and by labor, I mean entertainment, because there really aren't any other jobs in which young minors can work) if a contract has been reviewed by a judge familiar with such matters. Worth knowing here, I’m not a licensed, practicing attorney – but I play one on TV. (Kidding. I do teach law, though…so hopefully I can at least be clear what I’m talking about.) If you have real concerns about contracts, FIND and SPEAK TO a licensed, practicing attorney with knowledge of entertainment law. The only circumstances I know of in which judges typically sign off on such contracts is when a minor is going to execute a HUGE $$$ contract – like a starring role in a movie, or something, in which both parties want to be sure everything is set in stone about payment. This does NOT mean that any contract you sign is void by virtue of involving a minor. What it means, for the most part, is that the minor and guardian can void the contract at any time. If an agent tells you that you cannot terminate your contract, they are just plain using unfounded scare tactics…and your kid must be a good booker, because they don’t want to lose you. That said, either my friends or I with have experience with every major legitimate agency in New York and NOT ONE of those agencies would hold you to a contract you wish to terminate. NOT ONE.
The final thing I will address here in relation to the interFACE story on 20/20 is pictures. None of the agencies will require you to purchase any pictures from them. In fact, that arrangement is actually illegal in California for good reason. It’s a huge conflict of interest. Modeling agencies should only be making money from your bookings: 20% from you and 20% from the client. (On-camera in New York is only 10%.) There are a few things agencies may charge that they would deduct from your earnings. These are website fees (usually $10-$15 a month; some are actually free); comp card printing fees (but I have never gotten any and they are probably totally unnecessary now; you can also make your own); and sometimes something like messenger fees (which are also out-dated and should be eliminated, in my opinion, because they date back to when submissions were made by agents piling up comp cards and sending them to clients – now it’s mostly all electronic).
If an agent expects you to shoot pictures with him/her and pay – even out of your earnings and not up-front – RUN. It’s not standard practice and it’s taking advantage of you. The only kids who probably need photos are kids who do on-camera as well as modeling and older kids (like 5 or 6 and up) who are just starting out and don’t have any good tear-sheets (the ads or catalogs in which your kid appeared) for submissions. If and when you may need some pictures taken, get a list of recommended photographers, look at their work and prices, and choose your own. When you choose your package, I really don’t recommend those packages with four looks of styled photographs, either. You really only need one set of clear, natural shots with some headshots and some full body. This is probably called something like a one-look mini-session. Agents really can’t use the highly-styled looks for submissions and they will probably end up being more for you to put over your mantle. Also: NO MAKEUP. None. Maybe a touch of concealer if necessary and a dab of lip gloss (and I mean dab). Look online at the kids on the gap, Hanna Andersson, and Oshkosh websites. You want your kids to look like that.
Brace yourselves, because here is where I’m going to get the hate mail and threats of being sued for defamation* (trying to keep myself from falling out of my chair laughing). There is an agency in NYC that appears to be a legitimate agency. They have kids that book great campaigns. But the agency does really shady things on a regular basis. Right away, they make you buy pictures, taken by the agent, and they deduct the money from future pay. If you don’t make money, you owe them whatever the cost. They make parents buy ridiculous amounts of overpriced comp cards – which I’ve said before I don’t use and have been asked for, now, exactly two times (and both times a regular 5x7 picture was sufficient). They manipulate parents into promoting the agency via social media, including a new blog about one family’s story of their daughter’s success and fame – that actually inspired me to write my own “let’s get realistic” version of child modeling stories. The agency has done photo shoots for kids claiming it was a “test shoot” (usually a free shoot) when it was an actual, paid shoot for which the client paid the model fee – but it was kept by the agency. So, with all of those red flags, the agency preys on parents – many from out of the NYC area – and their dreams for their kids. Sound familiar? It’s a lot like interFACE.
Ok, long post today. Hope it made sense – lots of distractions. Want to respond? Comment here, hit me up on my facebook page, The Bizzy Mama, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.