Thursday, July 28, 2016

NYT writes about "summer kids" and I respond.

Ahhhh…summer kids.  Whatta topic!  The New York Times published a story yesterday about summer kids in the New York City modeling market and I can’t resist responding!  First of all, here’s the link to the story – it may be helpful to read it before you read my response:  Link here.

It’s no secret that New York is a prime center for child print modeling.  Name a brand…any children’s brand or store/catalog that sells children’s clothes…and chances are good that they shoot in New York.  And, historically, NYC has been *the* location to shoot over the summer: decent weather, great studios and locations, and tons of beautiful kids.

It’s also no secret that year ‘rounders – the NYC models and their parents – have probably rolled their eyes at least once and said, “Ugh…a summer kid booked that job.”

The truth is, the NYT article kid of rubbed me the wrong way.  Not because I thought it would recruit even more summer kids, but because I thought it kind of both skewed the realities of the industry and skewed the realities of the summer kid experience.  Hopefully, I can clear up some of that.

First of all, the NYT did a good job with their sources.  FFT/FunnyFace Today and Charlie Winfield are highly respected in the business.  Everyone I know who has worked with Charlie says he’s a great agent and, above all, a great person. My daughter started freelancing with FFT for her first foray into the business and, while we didn’t work directly with Charlie, the agency and their reputation were nothing but professional.  More notably, they have been around a LONG time, and they know the business inside and out.  So, score one for the NYT on choosing an agency to profile.

Now I’m going to say score ZERO for the NYT’s choice of parents to profile.  They chose summer kids and parents to write about because they wanted to show the extreme of people throwing thousands of dollars at…potentially…no return.  Notice how they did not profile any returning summer kids nor did they profile kids who are regular bookers in their home markets (such as Florida).  They seemed to profile these people as chasing some fruitless dream…spending thousands of dollars they probably didn’t have (notice they didn’t profile a child whose parents are investment bankers, for example) on some dream of MAYBE making $20,000.  More on this in a minute.

I feel the article portrayed both child modeling and “summer kids” in ways that didn’t give an accurate picture…and in ways that were pretty elitist (typical for the NYT; full disclosure: I read it daily and respect its historical value as a national newspaper of record, BUT I believe most of its feature stories err on the side of the white shoe) and pretty “surface” in their overview of the industry.

Many parents I know wonder why agencies even take summer kids – why wouldn’t they show more loyalty to their full-time talent?  There are a few reasons why an agency may want to have some new faces on hand for 6-8 weeks in the summer.  Traditionally, the summer has been THE busiest time in NYC.  Now, I would say, from my experience, the busier end of the summer is June/July.  Guess what: NYC schools, and schools within a two-hour radius (considered the “local” distance to NYC) run through almost the end of June.  And what happens during June?  Field trips, sports banquets, concerts, playoffs, tournaments…all reasons why local talent “book out” (let their agents know they are not able to work).  Southern and Midwestern schools tend to get out mid-May…and if they want to come work in New York, that’s a busy time for photoshoots…and a time when many NYC kids are not available…it makes perfect sense that an agency may want some new faces to fill their rosters during those busy times.  Couple that with the extra work in the summer, and you can see why agencies might be interested in taking on some extra kids during the summer.  On the flip side, there are many local kids who work primarily in the summer because of school and activity schedules.

Many local parents have been speculating that there isn’t as much work as there used to be in the summer, so having the extra kids in town may not be as necessary for agencies as it once was.  One of my friends (shout out!) keeps a spread sheet of each go-see/casting/audition and job her kids work, and she has the evidence that it’s not quite as busy in the summer as it once was several years ago…yet others say that there is the same amount of work per year, but it’s spread out throughout the year rather than being summer-heavy.  There are new brands popping up all the time, and this year I can think of a couple of west-coast companies that shot in NYC for the first time back in the spring.  So, overall, it seems like coming just for the summer may no longer be as advantageous to hit the super-busy time.

Back to where I take MAJOR issue with the NYT article.  It focused on a handful of families that appeared – according to their description – to not necessarily be in the best financial position to make such a big gamble.  Joey Hunter’s estimation that a busy child model can POTENTIALLY (emphasis mine) make $20,000 a year is true – I know a top booker can make $50,000-$60,000 (and by top booker, I mean TOP booker who works constantly) but it’s also possible that a regular booker (2-3 times a month) could easily make under $10,000.  That’s all based on 52 weeks.  If a family is here for 7 weeks…well, the math shows the reality…there is almost no opportunity for a financial windfall.  Child models get paid SIGNIFICANTLY less than adult models…and remember, most adult models don’t make much either.  (Here is a past post I wrote about what child models earn.)

I see that these families have shelled out $7,000-$15,000 on their kids’ modeling and that really makes me sad and kind of angry.  I’m being judgmental here – sorry – but is that really the kind of money a family of modest means can shell out on something with a very small chance of recouping that amount?  I (and other advocates in the industry) feel very strongly that this is a profession in which children do not need to “spend money to make money.”  Are there legitimate expenses?  Sure!  Commuting expenses, meals on the road, headshots for acting…these can all add up.  Even local kids have these expenses…but for the most part, the kids are working and can cover the bulk of them out of their earnings.  But the expenses being numbers being in the thousands?  That’s just not an accurate picture of what it takes to “make it” as a child model.  (And what does it mean, exactly, to “make it” anyway?)  They quoted a child saying she was hopeful about booking a Toys R Us shoot…and you know what that pays?  $100.  Maybe $200 if things are going slowly on set.  After commission: $80 (or $160). 

And this is a HUGE reality: rent in NYC is OVER THE TOP expensive…and add in the meals (food is more expensive too)…let’s just say that’s a GIANT expense in addition to what these families have already shelled out.

I do know some families who have had VERY successful summers.  When the work was plentiful, and the kids were booking 2-3 times a WEEK, and working in TV as well as print, a good summer could bring in $10,000-$20,000.  Those kids also booked national commercials, which paid very well…but I would also say it’s somewhat unusual to be here for 7 or 8 weeks and get “out there” for many auditions.  Their chances for success increased over time because they built relationships with agents and came for a few summers, so they were probably able to get out and be seen right away when they arrived.  These kids who had these successful summers would be the exception and not the rule.

I also know many families for whom the expenses are reasonable within their finances.  I guess that suggests that coming to NYC for several weeks is an option for the wealthy, but -- I’m being judgy again – I’m kind of put off by the use of GoFundMe.  To be fair, the people contributing are probably fully aware of what they are paying for…but are they aware of the slim potential for a return on the whole investment?  Is it fair for the kids to have the pressure on them to book jobs and earn money so they can go back home and prove themselves?  Or is it going to be ok to go home empty handed?

If you noticed the ages of this children in the article, most were 11 (and I think one was 7 and one was 12).  Those ages are absolutely unrealistic representations of the "promise" of child modeling.  Obviously FFT would not have taken on kids who were unlikely to book, so their sizes matter more than their ages -- but child modeling ends, for the most part, at size 10.  There are a few jobs for size 12 (and I have seen boys go up to 14 on occasion), but it is highly unlikely that an 11-year-old would be building connections and a portfolio in this one summer that could give a jump start to working next year -- because the odds are great that they would be too big.  It's also worth noting that it is difficult to break into child acting at that point, as well, because many of the kids working at that age have been in the business for several years and simply have more experience and time working with their managers and agents.

My final criticism of the article is the title: “Kid Models (and Their Moms) Trade Summer Fun for City Auditions.”  That is total BS and shame on the Times for that.  Coming to NYC for the summer – or any amount of time – is an amazing experience.  Learning how to navigate city life – from the streets to the transportation – is something that can be a benefit to anyone.  If you can get around NYC and adjust to the pace, you can probably make it around any city in the world (language aside).  There are so many things to DO – and many can be free or low-cost.  Saying these families are only auditioning and having NO fun is just irresponsible journalism – probably designed to get the readers to shake their heads and tsk-tsk what these desperate mothers are doing to their children.  And really, castings and auditions simply do not take up every hour of every day.  You may have three in one day, work a few hours the next day, and have a few quiet days.  Even if I’m kind of down on the whole spending all that money for child modeling, these parents do deserve some props for taking the risk of leaving their comfort-zones to give their kids a NYC experience.  I’m two hours away from the city (but was educated and lived there) and one of the reasons why I like my daughter being in the industry is so she can experience and navigate the city.

So, yeah, expensive.  Probably not going to pay off much in modeling.  But the experience?  Pretty darn great.  And, hey, if you have the money, you can hit up Hamilton, right?  If not: you can’t beat Mister Softee and a good water playground.  (I know which one my daughter would prefer!)

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Did You Know...Protection for Earnings of Child Performers

According to New York State law, 15% of a child's earnings from performing (including print modeling) must be deposited into a trust account.  It can be very confusing navigating the requirements of the child performer laws!  You need to have a permit on hand to work, you need the school and the pediatrician to sign off on it...and provide all sorts of bank documents?  Whaaaaa?  Just take the pictures!

But seriously, this has all been designed to protect the earnings of child performers so that they will have access to some of that money when they become adults.  California has a much more specific structure of protecting children's earnings...probably because California is the epicenter of the film industry and there have been significant problems over time with parents, um, losing track of their children's earnings.  (The California blocked-trust account in named the Coogan account after a child actor, Jackie Coogan, whose parents lost the equivalent of several million dollars in today's money.)

This can be difficult to navigate, though, since you have to be able to imagine a child making anywhere between $100 (total) or millions of dollars over the course of the child's career.  The law requires 15% (gross) to be deposited into a trust account for the child, so how do you decide what kind of account to get?  Do you do just the 15% or more?  How can the money be used?  It's a LOT!  And if you're at all like me, when the subject of money and banking come up...well, my eyes just glaze over and I can't even deal with all the options.  Sad example: my 401(k) money from my first job that I left in 2003 is exactly in the same configuration of whatever sad fund allocations as the day I left it.  I get the statement every three months and put it in a file.  I would not even begin to know how to do anything with it -- and I sure as heck don't want to pay someone to figure it out for me.  I REALLY AM THAT IGNORANT.

However...when it comes to my kid's account and career, I wanted to figure out exactly what the law requires.  What I cannot help you with are the things that make me go apoplectic, like, what banks have the best interest rates?  How should I invest for college?  No, no, no...I can just tell you about the basic types of trust accounts and how they need to be matched up with the type of work your child will do.  You get to choose your bank based on convenience and what minimum balance requirements are and interest rates or whatever...I will, however, mention which one I understand to be the most convenient.

Most states offer UTMA or UGMA accounts as a way to put money aside for youth until they reach the age of majority (18 or older, depending on your state and if you want lawyers to draw stuff up). Those accounts are structured so that a kid can inherit money, receive a gift of money -- or earn money in this case -- and claim ownership to it when they are an adult. With UTMA and UGMA accounts, there are guardians -- an adult on the account with the child who is specified as a GUARDIAN but not the owner of the account. That means I do not need to count that money as an asset of MINE, but I can have say over what happens to it while my child is under 18. (See how that is different from a joint account?)  Also note: that money is, in fact, an asset of the child and the child will need to claim such asset for things like college financial aid forms.

Now here is what the big difference is: with UTMA and UGMA, there are some semi-specific guidelines why a guardian could withdraw money in the best interest of a child. Basically, you can use money from that account to provide things beyond the necessities. YOU -- not your child -- are obligated to provide food, shelter, clothing, and basic necessities like access to school. If your child has money in those trust accounts, you could use it to provide acting lessons or ballet summer intensive or something like that...AND, the expenses related to the acting/modeling CAN come out of those accounts.  If you use the money for lavish family trips to Monaco, that doesn't really fit the definition of something in the interest of the child.  Maybe.  Who knows.  Talk to your accountant.

NYS accepts those types of accounts -- UTMA and UGMA -- as the "trust accounts" necessary for deposit of the 15% of the child's earnings.

NOW: there is the Coogan account which is the required trust account for child performers in California (and a few other states, such as Louisiana).

The Coogan accounts are 100% blocked trusts, meaning NO ONE can withdraw money from them until they become the property of the adult child. Coogan accounts can be hard to open if you are outside of California, but that's only because banking laws are done on a state basis and banks are not obligated to open any old account from any old location. There are financial institutions geared just toward performers (such as the Actor's Federal Credit Union and the SAG Credit Union) that can help you open a Coogan account from basically anywhere in the country. If you work AT ALL in CA or anywhere in the world that uses a CA production/payroll team, your child MUST HAVE A COOGAN. Any account that is a 100% blocked trust counts as a Coogan -- and because they are not common, for anyone other than child performers, they tend to be called Coogan accounts.

Since NYS also accepts Coogans as a form of "trust account" some parents may want to start with a Coogan since it can be used anywhere. However, that may not be the best option if you foresee wanting to use some of the monies deposited toward career-related expenses.  That is where you need to think seriously if you will stick with the 15% deposit required by law or deposit more.  And you can change your mind on this -- the 15% is written in stone, but the rest is up to your discretion.  Just remember that if you use the Coogan, you cannot later go in and withdraw money for, say, SAG joining fees.  Or headshots.  Period.

I have gotten into debates with parents about whether or not you need to be present IN CALIFORNIA to open a Coogan. NO -- you just need to open it from a bank that offers it (a 100% blocked trust) and will allow you to open it. Some banks make it realllly hard -- like, there's a Bank of America on every corner in the U.S., but to open a Coogan with them from CT is like a crazy highly orchestrated bicoastal procedure. (Plus I basically think they kind of stink based on them losing stuff when they bought and sold my traditional, highly desirable mortgage.)  Some banks in CA make you bring in a contract to prove that you are actually going to be paid as a child performer before you can open one. Those are the policies of the BANKS THEMSELVES and not the law regarding the type of account.  I'm guessing that Coogans in general are not advantageous to banks, because they don't tend to roll out the red carpets and give out toasters to get you to come in and open one.

Chances are, if you go into a bank that does not deal expensively with child performers, you can ask for a Coogan and they will have never heard of it and convince you that you must be talking about a UTMA. But if you are told you need a Coogan for a California job, you NEED a Coogan and get one from AFCU (I have heard this is super easy and can be done over the phone and fax from ANYWHERE in the country -- we do not have a Coogan yet but that is where I would open one), SAG CU, some bicoastal bank arrangement, or in person somewhere in CA.

And when I say you NEED a Coogan -- you will need proof of that account before you take a step on set.  I know people who have traveled to CA for a gig and needed to hire a car to take them from a studio to a bank before they could start working.  Bear this in mind if you are planning a trip for pilot season...and I would say there are more and more print gigs hiring in NYC and then going on location these days.

Hopefully, that helps...

Feel free to ask questions here (remember, I just know about the types of accounts -- not the nitty gritty about who has the best interest rates and stuff...), email me at, check out my Instagram @theBizzyMama or like my Facebook page so you can see when I post on the blog.

This is a direct copy and paste from the NYS Child Performer Permit FAQ page:

Q: Do I need to set up a Child Performer Trust Account in New York State?
 A:  A trust account may be set up anywhere, as long as:
  • It is set up as required by New York State Law
  • The employer can complete the required transactions
  • It meets the standards required by a New York State Uniform Transfer to Minors Act Trust Account (UTMA) or a New York State Uniform Gift to Minors Act Trust (UGMA) account or is a blocked “California Coogan” type account.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dear Bizzy Mama: Is this all worth it? (And, what information should I expect in a go-see request?)

Ahhhh, happy summer!  I am on my deck with a glass of rose and a string of red solo-sup lights hanging from my umbrella.  All is right in the world -- NO, not the WORLD -- but at least here at home right now.

I thought I would share a question I got from a reader.  It's a great question, and actually raises some good points I think you should all know about the business.  AND, added bonus, it's something industry moms ask and talk about all the time!

I'm going to edit the original question a bit, but I will still keep it in italics so you know which part was the question and which was the response.

Dear BizzyMama,
We were booked mid-day today for a 9am shoot tomorrow in Brooklyn (less than the 24 hour notice I thought our agent guaranteed). Logistically I would need to leave my house at 6:45am to ensure we made it there on time factoring in an extra hour for rush hour. The rate was also only $50/hour, so none of this made it worth it to me and I told my agent we couldn't make it and she got extremely upset. How does one avoid these situations going forward? We went to the casting last week in Manhattan and all of the work we have done so far has been at a minimum $100/hour which makes parking and tolls less painful. Basically I would be losing money spending 6hours to make $80 (2 hour limit at this age and agency fee).  Is this even worth it?
What a great question!

When I responded, I tackled a couple of points in particular.

I'll start with the "24-hour notice."  That's not a thing. Your agent should not have promised that.  Your agent could have said, "We will give you as much notice as possible."  My daughter has worked for MANY clients who send out their bookings late in the day for the next morning.  Usually there is a hold, so it's not a total surprise, but if you go to a casting and know the shoot dates...well, keep reading.

We are fortunate to have an extremely business-oriented, Type A, ultra-clear and concise agent.  That is exactly the style of agent I want -- but remember, agents are all about the FIT.  Just like some of us like iPhones and some of us like Androids, agents at reputable agencies all get the job done and do what they do -- for the most part -- well.  Here's where I questioned this mom first: did your agent tell you the dates, rate and shoot location BEFORE the casting?

Agents, I know you read this...and I love you all and you know I have tons of respect for the work you do.  But YOU know this information when you send parents on castings, and parents deserve to know this information as well.

When you get a request for a casting (and remember, "request" is a term I use loosely -- if your agent sends you the casting, it's a request whether 1000 kids or 4 kids are going -- never question that; it doesn't matter)...when you get a request for a casting, you should know the shoot dates, the location of the shoot, and the rate.  This is what your agent should be telling you.  (Agents who don't: if you have a compelling reason to withhold this information, please email me and explain...I will be happy to clarify.)  If an agent does NOT know that information, they should tell you they do not know the information.  For example: Client X, shoot dates: late summer (exact dates unknown), location: shoots in NYC and upstate NY, rate: 125/hr.

Parents: generally speaking, by signing on to be part of this business, you have agreed to take jobs within the tri-state area at the going rates the agents negotiate.  IF a casting is for a location-shoot and for some reason you are unable to make a location shoot, you should let your agent know.  Your agent should make all of this clear to you when you join their agency.  The going rate in the NYC market is $100+/hr with a 2-hour minimum with the exception of a couple of clients.  Your agent can let you know what the exceptions are.  Expect that there are a few exceptions and be ready to take them when they come.  A common exception is that some companies do not offer a 2-hour minimum when school is not in session or for children younger than school-age. Another common exception is editorial work; this is the type of work that appears in magazines like the ones we all get when our kiddos are little or see in the OB/GYN's office.  Those are often as little as $50/hr BUT they are really cool jobs, so we take them as just being cool.  Some agencies even have their talent do an occasional editorial shoot for NO PAY if the agent expects great photos that can be useful for marketing your child down the road.  You have signed on to trust this reputable agent -- trust your agent.

If you've been reading for a long time or are new to my blog, remember or read the post I wrote about the money.  For child models, it's not about the money.  Very few kids make tons of money as child models.  VERY FEW.  The bigger $$$ is to be found in commercials, TV and film...which a lot of us would love for our kids to hit big, but we need to be realistic.  Depending on your expenses, child modeling can be a nice bonus in the bank for your kiddo can actually be...A LOSS.

A $200 or $250 job -- which is what most of us could reasonably expect to make --  might result from a casting/go-see a week or so before.  So...we didn't make any money on the go-see and paid $10 (minimum) for tolls, maybe $30 for parking, another $10 or so for bribery snacks and coffee plus tip, and who knows how much for gas.  (I just got a new car -- "new" car -- that takes the super ultra premium gas: WHAT WAS I THINKING?)  So there's $50 assuming gas was free.  NOW, you book!  WOOT!  You pay that much again, and the commission to the agency AND don't forget you need to put 15% of the GROSS earning into that trust account...  Let me assume $20 for gas (that's not accounting for any wear and tear on the car)...ok, so that's $70 per trip which is $140 now for 2 trips...let's say the job paid $125/hr for 2 hours...that's $250, subtract $50 for commission, now $37.50 for the trust your kid made $22.50.  And little more that they can have when they turn 18. But you are also out the miles on your tires, engine, and oil change.

I do know many parents out there who say things like, "All the money goes into my child's account...I don't take any for's all theirs..." and that's great.  I, personally, am not wealthy enough to NOT recoup some of my expenses.  Do I eat a fair chunk?  Sure.  Do I need to get reimbursed for some as well?  Definitely.  Full disclosure: we also live farther away than average, so it's pretty expensive for us to go back and forth.  Even when we train, we have to drive half-way and train half-way from the closest station.

So where was I?  Back to the original question.  This mama who wrote to me wondered if the job wasn't worth it.  Fair question?  YES.  Was it financially worth it?  NO.

But remember, why do we do this in the first place?  1) We all want our kids to be in a Baby Gap.  Don't lie; that's why you started.  2)  It's a fun industry.  I meet and have become friends with some awesome people and my child has the opportunity to become friends and work with kids from far more diverse/different backgrounds than are present in our little white-bread Northwestern CT town.  3)  We love seeing pictures of our kids in stores and catalogs.  The grandparents are pretty cool with pictures as well. 4) Our kids often love the time to express themselves, play with other kids and experience things in the City they wouldn't at home...AND 5) they also learn to deal with direction, waiting, patience, self-entertainment, and the rejection that can come with the business when they are old enough to understand.

But ALSO remember this:

This is a business.  This may be fun for some of us, but for our agents, this is their livelihood.  When we sign on, we are expected to follow by the general rules of the business and take the great jobs with the lame jobs...just like in any business, there are ups and downs.  Positives and negatives.  In the end, if it's not right for you and your finances/schedule/personality, it's fine to bow out professionally and gracefully.

In the meantime, have a blast!

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