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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