Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Submission Photos: Look with Me!

How Does a Children's Modeling Agent Look at Submission Photos?

As you may know, I was a print agent at a great NYC agency for a year in addition to my seven years in the biz as a model mom.  I belong to a few Facebook groups that serve the purpose of discussing headshots -- what makes a good one, is this a good one, whom do you recommend, etc.  I know my way around a decent headshot, but I’m going to talk about submission photos now.  Please note: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!  I often see parents talking about their child’s new headshots when they are not really headshots… or parents thinking babies need professional headshots… OR WORSE: anyone in the industry telling you that a baby needs professional headshots.  We are NOT talking about headshots, but at the type of good cell-phone photos you would be using for submission.  I thought it would be helpful to know what it is EXACTLY that children’s print agents want to see when you submit your child for consideration.  What I’m going to do here is share what’s going on in my brain when I look at a submission photo.  (Please note: all of this info is based on current accepted practice in the NYC children’s print modeling industry.  This info will NOT carry over to adults or other divisions of print modeling.)

I grabbed a few “stock” photos (these are photos available on the internet for use or purchase, for any purpose; these are NOT children I know and I am presuming all parents involved have signed releases for their children to be used in the images).  The stock photos tend to be pretty good, but I picked a few that I can pick apart a little and a few I can praise as submission photos.  All of these kids are adorable so I am not commenting AT ALL on the “looks” of the child, but rather how I see the submission photo

Photo “Submission” 1:

Aw, happy first birthday, little dude!  Cake smash and other “styled” photo shoots show up in baby submissions often.  Doesn’t get much cuter, right?  Well, a few problems here.  What’s the biggest problem?  The hat?  It’s a problem… but the biggest problem is that I really have no idea what this child looks like.  I need to see a face -- full on, full-frontal face.  Eyes.  They eyes are a key feature to what draws us into a child.  Then, the hat: I don’t know if this baby has any hair.  After all, it is a first birthday photo, and I need to know what kind of hair this child has for his age.  Overall, save these styled shots for friends and family.  First, there is really too much going on here for me to give this child a good look.  Second, styled shoots like this tend to have a lot of editing/photoshop so we might be missing some key features.

Photo “submission” 2:
This is the perfect baby submission photo.  Plain background (can be any neutral color like a beige wall or a grey sofa), simple white onesie, good light on the face, and a clear shot of exactly what this baby looks like.  I even see the baby is sitting up, so that gives me more information about what the baby can do.  If you have a baby or young toddler you would like to submit to an agency, MEMORIZE this photo!  ALSO: this is the type of photo you should be sending to your agents every 2-3 weeks if you have a baby in the business.  Cannot praise this photo enough.

Photo “submission” 3:

This kiddo is pretty cute, but… right, the hat.  I can’t see what’s going on with the hair or head shape. But what if I threw down this one:  Let’s say I get this photo in May.  What does this photo tell me?  Ok, it’s at least 5-6 months old.  Which means, I have no idea what this baby looks like NOW.  Today.  NEXT!

Photo “submission” 4:

I’m really hoping this one is obvious… but that doesn’t mean we don’t get shots like this all the time!  I think she’s cute, but I have no idea because I have actually already moved on through three other submissions in the time I would have written this sentence.  Never hats; never sunglasses.

Photo “submission” 5:

This is an example of a great submission photo.  Nothing distracting in the background -- just grass.  The simple top is good -- notice no distracting words or logos -- just a minimal pastel something or other that blends into the shirt.  (I see the girl -- not the design.)  This is a happy, natural face with a little personality -- not a forced grin or squinty eyes in the light.  Her hair is natural, which clients love.  My only issue here is that I want to see a full-length photo as well, but this girl would get a call for sure.

Photo “submission” 6:

So yeah, this happens too.  Especially for girl submissions, I would see a lot of styled photo shoots.  A couple GIANT problems here: do not send bathing suit photos of your child to anyone, especially anyone seeking photos of children -- even this type of “innocence” can end up in the wrong place.  Gonna wander off a little here: You model a bathing suit for Target?  It’s up in Target?  Great.  But even as your agent I don’t want to be submitting bathing suit photos of children unless a client well known to me is asking specifically for the photo.  My daughter did an adorable bathing suit shoot with a really talented Canadian designer (shout out, Danica!) so there is nothing wrong with that if it’s in your comfort level and you and your agent is booking you with a vetted client.  NEVER LET YOUR CHILD OUT OF YOUR SIGHT AND ONLY YOU DRESS AND UNDRESS YOUR YOUNG CHILD.

Ok, back on track here.  So no to the bathing suit in the submission.  No to cheesy styled photos -- I can hardly find the child through all of that seaweed.  This child looks like she has pretty eyes, but upon closer inspection it appears as though her features have been significantly smoothed out in editing and her eye color may have been altered as well.  I even detect some makeup.  NEVER EVER submit a photo of a child wearing makeup.  Real, working child models do not wear makeup (look at a Children’s Place ad).  For some reason, people have an inclination to make children look older.  In child modeling, children should look as young as possible for as long as possible.  And one more thing:  the hair accessory.  Please, no hair accessories.  Maybe a little clip or pin if you need to keep hair out of a child’s eyes, but don’t do anything that distracts me from seeing the child’s actual hair or head.  You want me to see your child’s face; not some giant flower bow headband thing.

Photo “submission” 7:

Let’s pretend a parent actually submitted this.  This is a RULE-FOLLOWER!  Plain background, solid tshirt, the child is looking at the camera with a natural expression, and nice light.  This is what you are aiming for.  If you are submitting a toddler, memorize this picture!  Full-frontal face and good focus also make this a winner.

So, let’s review the rules.  I even made a handy checklist for your convenience!
Next time, let's talk about something else that's VERY important about your submission. Hint: No, you're not willing to travel.

Thanks for reading! Please respond here, via email at, or on The Bizzy Mama facebook page. Also, check out my Instagram @thebizzymama and my daughter's public account, @bizzyholland

Friday, May 3, 2019

Are GIANT castings worth it?

Well hello! It’s been a while!  I’m 100% back on the parent end of things after spending a rewarding and very fast-paced year as a print agent in NYC and another year dealing with some annoying health issues.  I want to be able to share some of my “double wisdom” from being on both sides of the desk.  I may even repeat some older topics with some greater emphasis – we’ll see!

There’s one thing I’ll throw out there right away: while I was working as an agent, the business itself was pretty much exactly as I imagined it.  My intuitions and insights as a savvy parent kept me grounded in day-to-day operations.  A few surprises, but nothing too major.  I also walked into the agency with some pretty good insight in to industry parents (from my own interactions) and parents in general (from my teaching career).  This leads to where I’m going with this post:

Are giant castings worth it?

There are as many types of castings for print work as there are clients.  Each client seems to have its own slight variation on their typical casting.  I’ve taken my daughter to the giant two-hour plus waits and to meet one-on-one with a client in her design studio.  Some castings are done with a lot of back and forth photos and maybe a video clip.  There are so many submissions and direct castings that you don’t even know about happening on a daily basis.  But we all know the ones that stand out are the ones most parents refer to as “cattle calls” which are usually still request castings – just giant.  (Cattle calls are typically not request castings but maybe open to entire breakdowns and sometimes even open to the public.)  Some are so big they go over two or three days, dividing up ages or agencies to spread out the volume of kids.  Some actually try to see a zillion kids in one day (or maybe 400+).

Usually the name of the client is pretty exciting, so parents will gladly hop on board the casting train, excited about the opportunity regardless of the hassle of whatever wait there will be.  (Will they complain?  At least to each other?  Yes.)  I also want to remind parents or let you know if you’re not part of this loop: one of the NYC CDs who holds the biggest castings advertises her breakdowns online so any unrepresented parent can submit (emphasis on unrepresented – she does NOT like it if you submit AND your agent submits, so DO NOT do it).  Whenever this CD posts, agents will invariably receive 5-10 emails that day from parents asking if you submitted their child.  Yes; yes we did.

So there’s this parent (clues seem to indicate it’s a dad who’s relatively new to the industry) who thinks he can shake up the industry by encouraging parents to refuse large castings because “there has to be another way.”  If all the parents refuse the large castings, then maybe they just won’t happen anymore!  Apparently, the goal is to end large castings and have everything done via photo submission.  Cute, right?

I didn’t know about this little movement until a friend pointed it out to me and, well, I have some thoughts.  A lot of them!

Here’s my first reaction: you know when you have a job in a company or group and things go pretty well so you decide to take on another employee?  And you get this new employee right out of whatever school and that person comes in and points out everything he/she thinks should be done differently after like, a week on the job?  I sense this is what we have here.  You can have the best job ever but still have to write the TPS report.  Or muck out the stalls.  Or track down the non-compliant patient.  And those things are always going to suck and no matter what, you’ve tried it all, there just isn’t another way to do it.

So, yeah.  Think back to your initial meeting with your agent.  We told you there could be direct castings, in-person castings, and giant castings.  We said pack for the day – snacks, changes of clothes, toys, comfy shoes, and be ready to hurry up and wait.  And chances are, once you’ve been with your agent for a couple of seasons, you’ve done them all.  But I want to emphasize something: you need to know that when you go to a casting, you will be meeting with a casting director, a production team, the actual client, or a photographer – or any combination of one or more of those people/teams.  Chances are, if it’s a giant casting, you’re with a CD and a production team or photographer.  If you’re going to a callback, then the actual client might be there.  So just tuck that into your mind so you know the cast of characters and that different castings may actually be with different people.

How does a giant casting work on the agent’s end?  We would get the breakdown, which tells the genders, sizes, and probably height ranges of kids needed for the campaign or project.  We would then put together a sampler (generated by our website) of everyone who fits that breakdown.  So we would sort for all boy babies, 9-12mos, size 12 mos and create a sampler for that and make a link.  The CD would click on the link and see our babies that fit those specifications.  We would make a link for every breakdown and package that all together in one email to the CD.  After a week or so (or maybe even a day, depends on the CD’s timeline), we get a list of requests.  THEN we send the requests with all the job info to the parents, get confirms (track down confirms as well) and send the confirms and unavails (you should have booked out!) to the CD.  That cycle continues back and forth through the callback.  I just want to remind you of something and this is a fact and not an “oh poor me” – the only time agents get paid is when kids book.  So, all of this is done with the goal of having up-to-date info, great photos, and cooperative parents BECAUSE WE WANT YOU TO BOOK.

But “there has to be a better way” guy wants some reasons why CDs/clients still hold these castings when they are sooooo inconvenient and torturous to little ones and their parents.  Let’s get this one out of the way: these people are not early childhood advocates and it’s not their job to be sure little Simon is happy and entertained during a giant casting.  It’s not their job to make sure nap times are upheld or you didn’t have to put little Tina in a car for too long and pay a lot in tolls.  You are wandering into THEIR business where they assume you are ready, willing, and able to take part.  They may see 400 kids today and 200 adults the next day.  Their job is to pick people who are right for their project.  No more; no less.  (Note that this is different on set – usually there are more plans in place to keep kids cooperative and relaxed during a shoot.  This is where the wranglers come in.)

But here are some very practical reasons why castings of any size are not going anywhere (because someone wanted a list):

1)      A lot of kids do not look like their photos.  They are not always up-to-date (AT A MINIMUM: babies need to be every two weeks; toddlers every 3-4 months; school-age every 6 months… and when you get to six or so and up, pro pics are great BUT we all know they are styled and edited.  Really, though, great snaps need to be added regularly – ideally, once a month.)
2)      Can the kid handle the photo shoot, or is a little one super clingy and shy?
3)      If it’s an older child, is the child surly or bratty?
4)      Parents are not reliable about size updates.  Sorry – they just are not.  And even when they are, a measurement at a casting never seems to match any other casting or what we have on file.  And that’s not something we can argue with.  (UPDATE SIZES MONTHLY!)
5)      Is the parent a hot mess and someone you don’t want on your set?
6)      How does the kid’s hair look in person?  What’s the texture like?  What types of looks can be styled with that type of hair?
7)      Does the vibe of the kid match the brand?
8)      The agent only sent one pic – from the chest up.  What does the child look like full-length?

Those were just off the top of my head in the morning, before coffee.  Dude comes back with:

"As for the kids’ behavior, disposition, parents’ behavior, etc., isn’t that for the agents to know these things about their talent and then the casting director putting trust in the agency to sift out the ones that wouldn’t work out?"

Well, perfect world, yes.  And an agent is not going to send anyone who is difficult to work with.  However, as parents, we know that kids change on a dime and they may have been totally cooperative a week ago and now they are going through a new phase.  I may have a baby who booked everything at nine months and now that she’s eleven months, she’s impossible to work with because she just started walking.  How many times have you met with your agent?  Were you not on your best behavior?  I know we rejected gorgeous kids who seemed impossible at the initial meeting.  But agents do not see their kids very often.  With our daily load of work to book jobs, seek new clients, create samplers, meet new models, we simply cannot meet with our kids more than once a year.  We rely on parents to tell us when the kiddos are “not into it” or at an impossible age – and unfortunately, sometimes we will find out the hard way when things don’t go well on a job.  We DO NOT WANT THAT – because it makes us look bad and it puts the client in a position of having to pay a kid they couldn’t work with.  And we’ve had difficult parents blackballed from brands because maybe they were having one bad day.  (I’ll tell you all about my daughter’s COLOSSALLY bad audition in another post.)

I also used this analogy: I would not hire a contractor to do an expensive job on my house without meeting him/her/them first no matter how highly recommended that contractor is.  Hiring 15 models for a few days’ project ends up being big money for that client.  If they want to meet the kids first, they are entitled.

Anyway, this parent who is starting this movement says that things will change if parents refuse to go to big castings.  A few more pearls of wisdom for you: if you refuse castings when you are not booked out, that’s a great way to get dropped.  If a different agent is willing to pick you up afterwards, go ahead and try that again.  I can predict how each office in NYC would respond to that.  If you refuse, I can find three parents and children thrilled to replace you – because agents can sometimes make a couple of replacements in these circumstances.  I also probably have a few hundred submissions in the inbox I haven’t gotten to yet.  I need kids on my roster who will book.  You refuse castings?  You’re not booking… so… next.

But – are the giant castings actually worth it?  Yes.  Kids book.  There are kids who go to the same CD and client and book on the fifth time.  First time.  Never.  Maybe they will not book one client with that CD but will book a different client with that CD.  Maybe a kid will book one division (say, a circular) from big castings but never book another division (like store signage).  You never know.  It’s just part of the whole scene.  Some smooth and simple castings and some that are huge.  You may even hit one that’s small BUT you still wait two hours!  You just never know.

Remember, you have chosen this industry for your child.  It is a business.  I think if you read through my blog posts you will see over and over and over that THIS IS A BUSINESS.  Your child is passing through a business that has been around a very long time and will be there for a very long time when your child is done.  You have agreed to the travel, the tolls, the parking, the waiting, and the inconveniences of wrestling around a busy city.  There are many joys and certainly – like any job – many pains in the butt.  But if the business if not for you, gracefully bow out.  Your child is not entitled to a smooth casting for every brand.  Everyone wants that, but things happen – there are going to be doozies.  This is not youth soccer where everyone plays, you can go to the coach or board with complaints about playing time, or the hours of the concession stand.  You should be incredibly fortunate that your child has the chance to participate in this industry – I participate in national advocacy programs for child models and actors and there are parents and children everywhere would do anything to be close enough to a major market to participate – and they do some pretty stupid things thinking they are getting a real shot at this business. 

So maybe turn the table a bit.  Be grateful and endure the challenges.  You know what’s best for your child.  If this isn’t it, so be it.  If you don’t know all the ins and outs of a business, don’t think you can jump onto the scene and make a great movement to change it.  It’s really not realistic.  If you’re really bent on sticking it to the man, may I recommend taking on DMV in Connecticut?

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