I was looking back through some of my daughter’s tear-sheets that I’ve posted on Facebook, and I found a comment on one picture that suggested I should quit my job and live off of her salary. Obviously it was a light-hearted remark made by a friend who was genuinely happy for my daughter’s accomplishments – and I took it as such, but commented back to make sure everyone realized that child modeling is NOT about the money. REALLY, it’s not.
Many of us think that talking about money is tacky, and generally I agree, but I also work in a municipal job and my salary is public record. Model moms talk about the “rates” of jobs all the time, but what does it all add up to? I know that people outside of the biz who may want to consider getting their kids into modeling legitimately wonder what kids make…so here goes.
A basic booking for a typical job is $100-$125 an hour with a two-hour minimum (there are some exceptions…more on those later). Agents expect you to accept that basic rate and not turn down the job because it doesn’t pay enough. Some kids who are top bookers and work during the school day may be able to ask their agents to negotiate a four-hour minimum, and that makes for a better rate for missing a day of school. By “typical job” I mean clothing and department stores or catalog/online companies. Some of these jobs may also offer a day rate, which is probably in the $600-$800 range (so can actually be less than the typical hourly) and maybe as high as $1000-$1200 for the day. If a company is in town for several days doing a shoot, they may use your kid five times for 2-hour bookings, so you may have to go into the city five times for ten hours, or they may book you in an 8-hour chunk and a 2-hour chunk or whatever combination. A mom (shout out!) of top repeat booker for a company told me last summer that her daughter had worked 80 hours (that’s EIGHTY hours) for a company during a two-week time period. NICE, right?!? Cha-CHNING!!!
Some companies pay hourly and then provide a usage fee for the kids who go to print. That tends to be more common in commercial print, which is the type of ad you see in a magazine, say, for a car company or laundry detergent. Sometimes these ads pay the usage bonus because there may be exclusivity involved – for example, if you are in a Ford ad, Honda may not want to use your kid for an ad within the next few months. That’s not usually a big problem over on the clothing side, but I do know of a few companies that want exclusivity. Since that exclusivity expectation can take you out of the running for similar campaigns by different companies, they really should pay more to make up for your lost opportunities. Pharmaceutical companies typically expect exclusivity, and will make you promise in writing five times before you even show up to the casting that you haven’t been in a pharmaceutical ad in the past whatever amount of time. I’m not even really exaggerating here.
The print jobs that tend to pay the best are campaigns done for products or companies by ad agencies themselves (as opposed to in-house creative departments that produce catalogs and store signage). These gigs can be clothing but can also be things like insurance companies, watches, jewelry, and the commercial print products I mentioned above. They usually have an account from the client to develop and carry out the ad campaign, so their budget tends to be bigger. These often pay well in relation to other print jobs but not as well as the adults get paid, which seems really unfair – especially when the kid and adult are in the same shots and on set for the same amount of time. I take that back – it doesn’t seem unfair, it IS unfair. Note to self: explore class-action lawsuit. Anyway, these jobs are often up over $1000/day, and it’s really awesome when your kid books one.
On the low end of the pay range is editorial work. Editorial is magazines (either printed or online) and can be a little as $50/hr or sometimes even free/unpaid. The free/unpaid work does not usually go through agencies, and I’ll write more about unpaid work in the future. (Controversy alert!) One editorial job we did was $150/day, and that’s probably about as low as agency work goes. It was, however, Elle kids (Italia) and thus a great gig, but you do those for the quality of the shoot as opposed to the pay rate.
Location shoots seem like great jobs because of the travel perks, such as nice destinations and good hotels, but they are usually a day rate (and they typically work you as many hours in the day as possible) and are a whirlwind pace. Don’t get me wrong, I totally want my daughter to book some fabulous location gig someday, but they usually don’t afford you the time for a “vacation” segment of the trip. Some location shoots are a travel day, a shoot day, and a travel day back home…so not a lot of relaxing going on there. Beach shoots, in particular, can be tough for little ones, because it can be hard work to keep the kid dry and not sand-covered while waiting to shoot when the water is right there. That takes a pretty disciplined child model to be hanging out on a beach all day just for pictures.
When booking through an agency, the agency takes 20% from the gross pay and 20% from the client. Let’s say you have a 2-hour $125/hr job. The total paid to the model is $250, which the agency will receive, and take $50. The agency will receive an additional $50 from the client. Your child will receive a check for $200. That assumes, however, the client does not use a payroll system for models but hires them as independent contractors; clients that hire the models will ask for all the paperwork you would bring to the first day of a job (W-4, Social Security card, proof of citizenship) and then send a check to the agency after deductions for FICA and other taxes. Then, of course, you get far less than $200. The commission for the agency still comes off of the $250…so you do pay taxes on that and would later deduct it as a business expense.
How does it all add up? A friend’s daughter that I know made in the ballpark of $45,000 last year and she is what I would call a TOP booker. If a kid books 3 2-hour jobs a month, maybe give or take a couple good day rates and some lower editorial rates, that adds up to around $8,000-$10,000…and that would probably be considered a regular booker. (And remember, 20% comes off as well as taxes in some cases…) So, bottom line, this is NOT a big-money career for a child – and sizes are not consistent either, so you may have a great year and then a lousy year right after that. (Cough, cough…size 4!!!)
Expenses are too big of a topic for today, but sometime in the future I’ll go through the expenses involved in a typical day of work for us.
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