Ok. Deeeep breath. I’ve been threatening to do this one for a long time…and I think it’s finally time. For a couple of reasons. More on that to come.
It’s the freebie blog post.
I’m not touching Pay-to-Work here – see my posts from last year for that. This is all about working for free…or for trade (goods/products). I have heard a range of opinions on this. And by range, I mean parents, agents, photographers, designers, etc. It is not a topic many people are ambivalent about. I will say this: you know whose opinion I really haven’t heard? The kids’. I really haven’t asked any kids how it feels to work for free. So, I’m going to try to take the kids’ position in this. (But realistically, we know that involves a large dose of parent as well.)
Should my child work for free?
Let’s just do a quick disclaimer: I’m not going to be a hypocrite. We have done them. I am not even going to say 100% never will we do one again, because there may be some circumstances (which I will explain) where an unpaid job might be a good move. But I’m going to say, at this point in our career and lives: no, we won’t do unpaid jobs.
Now, there is a lot of grey area when we start thinking about what, exactly, is a job. If your friend designs toys and they want to do a photoshoot for their Etsy page, is that something you should say no to? You probably think it’s a no-brainer – why not?!? It’s your friend! Of course you would volunteer your kid! And if you say no, you’re being a douche, right? Well…if your child is a professional model, is it ok for a friend to use your kid for his or her professional abilities for free? Here are some ways to think about this, and I’ll let you decide for yourself. If you are a physician, and your friend has every symptom of strep on a Sunday and just can’t deal with the walk-in, would you write a Rx? What about when your friend throws out his back and just wants a few Oxy? And next week it’s happening again. OK, so maybe that is an extreme example. It’s your friend, and that was a big jump there with that analogy. Now you’re a plumber, and your friend’s sink is clogged on a holiday. Happy to help. Now your friend is adding on a couple of rooms, and is asking you for a week’s worth of free work because you’re friends, after all…you’d be saying no to paid work that week, and it would be a week without any earnings…not just a week when you’d be home hanging out. Or maybe it IS a week when you’d be home hanging out. Slow period; why not help? But your friend across town now knows you did that huge free job for one pal, why not him too?
Self-employed people and professionals with special skills (electricians, mechanics, lawyers, accountants) GET this. They know what it’s like to be asked all the time for stuff for free/favors/etc. And I’m going to do it – here it comes – photographers know what this is like. Everyone who knows you wants a deal, a break, a discount…and those professional and personal lines get blurred real fast.
Have I asked my physician friends a quick medical question? Sure. Have I asked my attorney friends a quick legal question? Yup. Here’s where I draw the line and where the line should be drawn: if I need treatment or expertise for which that person would ordinarily be compensated, I probably wouldn’t ask. And if I did? I would offer to compensate appropriately. I would show that person that I place a value on their services. It is THEN up to that person to say no, we’re buddies – I got ya this time.
Why, suddenly, are children out of the whole equation in their professional capacity and their need to be valued for actual work they perform?
Hey, mom: I’m looking at you. Is this kid at the photo shoot for YOU or for the kid?
I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. Yes, I have brought my daughter to photo shoots because I wanted the photos. I wanted the experience; I wanted to see the pictures; I liked the photographer; I wanted to hang out with other moms; what have you. Now, however, my daughter sees modeling as work. And she knows she gets paid, and pretty much does it because it’s a fairly fun way to make money. (Our big issue now is the commute – when she was little and could be entertained with an iPhone for the whole time, it was no biggy. Now that car time means missing playtime in the neighborhood and all that good stuff. But if she wants money toward something, she knows she has the option to actually work.)
The types of shoots I am talking about are shoots that are usually done for emerging designers, who may want to show their garments at a trade show, and want a look book or some magazine ads to promote their brand. In many cases, these emerging designers are working on a tight budget. I am not going to pretend that these are people sitting on piles of money just to deprive small children of a pittance. (Although those designers do exist, and there comes a time when you’re doing well enough to pay – so do it.)
I can assure you – however – in most cases, those photographers are getting paid. So the studio gets the fair going rate, the photographer gets the fair going rate, the hair/makeup person gets the fair going rate. Your kid? Well, there’s no shortage of people willing to work for free, so there is really no demand to pay the kids. You see this on Facebook all. The. Time. Photographers and stylists hold Facebook castings, where they post what they are looking for and parents post a pic and info about their kid in the comments. The client/designer looks through the comments and picks the kids they like based on the photos and info. Casting: done.
Now, there are photographers and stylists out there in facebook-land that I happen to like very much who do this. They know how I feel and I respect their position. For the most part, they believe that everyone in the equation should benefit: meaning, if everyone gets some kind of good compensation, whether it be money, products, or photos, it can be fair all around. And for the parents who do freebies, I think this is where they fall on the continuum. They get the dress or the shoes or whatever, and their kid gets some photos and experience, and they go merrily on their way home.
Re-read what I wrote above about the plumbers and the physicians.
In New York and California, child modeling and performing are regulated by labor laws and, as such, there are rights, responsibilities and protections that must be integrated into the working conditions and payment structure. For example, in New York, 15% of the child’s gross earnings need to be deposited into a trust account, and children must have a permit signed off on by their physician and school official. The law doesn’t specify whether a job is paid or not – so these requirements apply to ALL child modeling. If you your child is doing a freebie job or getting paid in clothes, what are you going to deposit? How is your principal (who signed off on that permit) going to feel about your child missing school for – essentially – for doing a favor for a designer (whom you probably never met before).
Maybe I’m coming down a little strong on this. So now I will offer you a couple of scenarios when doing a freebie or an unpaid job may not be the worst idea in the world.
Your agent might recommend one. Test shoots or editorial work may be opportunities with top industry photographers that could truly benefit your child. An agent may set up a test shoot for you to get photos for your submissions, and you won’t pay/get paid but you will get actual value added to your marketability. Some agencies do this for older kids just starting out who may need more than a snapshot for submissions, while babies and younger kids can get along for a while with great snapshots until they have tearsheets for submissions. An agent may recommend your child for an editorial shoot, which is when a top-tier photographer borrows clothes for a creative shoot (using the photographer’s and stylist’s visions, as opposed to the client’s vision on a paid shoot) to be submitted for magazine publication – and here, the quality of the magazine matters. The types of shoots that could benefit your child in this case would be publications like Babiekins, Vogue Bambini, or La Petite – essentially advertiser (not purchase-price) supported publications that are available from news or booksellers. High quality industry stuff. This is not to say all agents support this – it depends on the agent, so it might be handy to know your agent’s opinion on this. Some editorial work is actually paid – but it’s a very low rate. Parent-centered magazines pay less than $100/hour, but they are usually great photos so agents work with them. My daughter once did a shoot for Elle Italia kids’ edition, and it paid something like $150/day for a full on-location day.
It may be worth it to do one or two freebies early in your career to get a couple of good tearsheets to use for submissions – but this is REALLY risky. And here’s why. If the photographer is unknown in the industry, or not one that agents particularly enjoy, even getting payment “in photos” is useless to your child’s career. If the photos aren’t useful, you can’t say the same things I hear over and over: “it’s to build the portfolio / gain exposure / etc.” Your agent may not want to use or see those photos at all. If the photos themselves are good quality, the clothing or styling may be wrong for your child’s look – and again, useless for submissions. Just because your child is modeling something does not make the work professional model-quality. AND, if those photos end up “out there” on social media or at trade shows, they might actually make your child less marketable if they turn out badly. (And frankly, this is a risk you take that you will only realize once the photos are released!)
Maybe you don’t have an agent and this is your only way to model. Well, go back to what I’ve written above. The photos could be useless, there are labor regulations for any kid working (represented or not) and you are assuming all of those same negative outcomes regardless.
Designers and photographers aren’t going to like this post – and I’m sorry, but I am not here to defend your interests. This is about the kids. Would a professional photographer do a shoot for a designer in exchange for several garments? Highly doubtful. If a designer has a low budget, consider whether you can afford live models at this phase in your career. You can hire a great photographer to photograph your clothes without kids. Or, you can come up with a nominal affordable fee (try $100/hr), hire 2 or 3 kids, and make the shoot as efficient as possible: two hours. (It’s no coincidence that freebie shoots often go on forever: there is no imperative to stay on a by-the-hour model budget!) Don’t do it on a weekday and expect kids to miss school for your shoot. Have every bit of styling drawn out ahead of time, ask the kids to come with their hair the way you want it, and skip any makeup or grand concepts. Back to my analogies from before: I am not going to budget and plan for a new kitchen with all sorts of changes in lighting and electrical placement but begin the project with no line item for the electrician because I will get someone to do it free “for experience.”
Parents, take this advice to heart. Really think about the value of your kid’s time. (And yours, since you are always the unpaid escort.) I honestly think it will be more valuable for your child’s self-worth and esteem in the long run to have placed importance and value on your kid’s time than having a few modeling pictures in a box under your bed in ten years.
Photographers, you don’t work for free and you have the power to advocate for these models.
Designers, work within your means. Place a value on what you need to get ahead. Don’t do it on the backs of kids just because they are kids and cannot advocate for themselves. (Parents: advocate for your kids.)
Agents, counsel your talent. Let them know what your expectations are about this type of work and explain your policy and position. Explain your role as a protector of the best interest of the child, and how their work needs the oversight you provide.
I saw this posted on a photographer’s Instagram last night, and I thought I would share it here. A LOT goes into their work, and really, you put a LOT into raising your child. Demand what is right. You advocate for your kid in so many ways – why not this one?
On another note, the timing of this is pretty good since it’s likely to be my last post as “just” an industry mom. I’ll be crossing over to the other side soon – the agency side – so I look forward to wearing a new hat in this crazy, exciting business. Hope to run into you there! But, as always, I will never stop being an advocate for what’s best for kids. You can count on hearing from me about that!
Ok, so let the flood gates open. I’m sure I’ll hear a lot about this. Comment here, but if you want to discuss more, I’ll post on the Bizzy Mama facebook page and on the Backstage Forum.