Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Gritty (but Great) Truth about Child Modeling and Acting

“A model?!?  Your child is a model?  Really?”

This is funny.  Why? How many of us ended up considering this opportunity for our kids because tons of people said, “Oh my!  Your child is gorgeous! He/she should be a model!” Apparently they don’t share memos.

When I talk to people outside of the business about child modeling and acting, they are often surprised to learn about some of these misconceptions.  But for those of us in the industry, this list is all too familiar. It’s also a great “study notes” guide to what you need to know before you take the leap.

1. “You/your child must be rich!”

The money in child modeling and acting typically falls into a few ranges.  Most print jobs pay $125/hr to a couple thousand (rare!) per day. More if you are working commercial print (like Pepsi or pharmaceuticals as opposed to clothes like Justice or Lands’ End).  Even the glorious giant windows in Baby Gap will pay out only about half a day of work (babies and toddlers have restricted hours according to NY labor laws). The more prestigious the brand does not equal more money.  The department stores, Ralph Lauren, Target and Amazon pay all in the realm of the fair NYC child print rates. Prestige is in the pics. What will pay out? Tech. A tech company may pay up to five figures for your kiddo to model in a print ad.  But — be prepared — that will likely take your kid out of the running for any tech-related work for a couple years. The lowest payer? Safe to say now because they aren’t in business anymore, but let’s just say… big toy store.

Commercials usually pay from $500 to $50,000 on up.  Yup, you read that right. Non-union commercials for kids pay about $500.  Union commercials (SAG/AFTRA) can pay out BIG. That depends on how many times the commercial airs, which channels, what time, which markets (locations) and for how long it runs.  Non-union commercials tend to pay a session fee (for the time you shoot) and then maybe more if the commercial actually airs.

2. You don’t keep the clothes.

It happens every so often… almost never but… here’s why.  Mostly you’re working about two seasons ahead of what people are buying now.  The clothes your child is modeling are supposed to be “under wraps” until the client releases the photos.  That’s why it’s also a no-no to take pictures of the products on set (so put the phones away, moms).

Also, many of the clothes are samples, meaning not quite the same you’d get in the store.  They may be a little less “finished” than what you buy, just so they client can get pictures of the look before the mass-production arrives in stores.  Some clients also tailor, which doesn’t mean customize the outfit like a fine suit… it means letting in and taking out and shortening or lengthening — but just so it doesn’t show in set.  For example, a tailor on set may take in some jeans just by sewing up the back of the leg — it won’t show in pictures, but it’s definitely not how you’d “wear” the garment.

3. Getting to the city on time WILL age you.

Oh man… this one alone.  If you do not live in NYC, like a subway ride or less from the shoot location/studio, block off the day for travel.  You cannot predict how long it will take you unless you’re working on specific train schedules. I drive in and it takes me 2-2.5 hours if you figure leaving home, maybe a pee and/or dunkin stop, light traffic, and parking.  Please note: it can also take this long at rush hour for someone driving in from NJ of LI… even like 20 miles away.

You get used to being very early or squeezing in an arrival just in the nick of time… and since time is the client’s money, you do NOT want to be late.  This is a business (okay, you know I always say that. You get it.)

Please note this is also stressful AF.  It will age you.

Important rules: always trust WAZE.  If it tells you to take the Lincoln Tunnel to go back over the GW Bridge just to get back to CT, you do it.  You swear a lot, but you do it. Second WAZE rule: you will always add time. Always. Leave earlier.

4. Oh the miles...

You will become one with your car.  Love your car. Have a comfortable car that you love.  And that you’re ready to drive it into the ground. You will get it scratched in garages, kissed by taxis, dinged by Amazon vans (I swear, those may be worse than citibikes) but but but… this is not the time to skimp on a car just so you have a plain old little city commuting car.  You will move into this car, and need to have a full kitchen, mud room, laundry facility, and two bathrooms in it. Your kids will barf, wet their pants, have to poop NOW, and… so will you. Be prepared.

Oh, and with the last minute nature of this industry, this car needs to be ready to roll in a few hours’ notice.  Don’t roll into your driveway with 2 miles left and think you’ll get gas in the morning — suddenly you have a casting at 9:00 am and you’re on E and need to add fifteen minutes into your trip to deal with the rush hour gas station dance.  (I may or may not be guilty of this.)

Embrace the mileage.  You’ll need to shop for cars that keep on keeping on after 200,000 miles.  And that you want to sit in four hour traffic going back to CT on a Friday in July.  Love your car. Praise her. She deserves it.

5. Auditions and castings after school can be a JUGGLE.

For school age kids, usually first grade and up, most castings are between 3:00 and 5:30.  Well, no one gets out of school before 3:00 in enough time to make a casting. So this means early dismissals.  And for 3:00, you want to get IN AND OUT of the city before… wait for it… RUSH HOUR. That means like, 3:15. Otherwise, if you live close enough to run in after school, amazing… but… what happens when it’s time to leave?  RUSH HOUR. Even if you do the train or bus thing, rush hour is not fun. And it usually takes a long time. See also: #4, preparing your car for hours of comfort.

6. Missing school is a reality.

just mentioned early dismissals, which can really stink if your child always has the same subject at the end of the day.  Prepare to help with lots of homework and maybe even extra help if you need to fill in for missed class time. But… when you get jobs, and for a few castings and auditions here and there, your child will miss school.  Period. If you have a problem with this, this is not your industry.

That said, all of the successful child models I know excel in school and plenty of other activities.  It’s all a balance and a juggle. Just be prepared for this. I have a post about dealing with absences — the real key is collaboration with the school.  It’s all communication.

Also worth mentioning here — your child will also miss after school activities and lessons.  Sometimes this is non-negotiable with the activity, so you may have to make some tough choices.  It can also be a drag if your child misses the activities that don’t happen as often — for example, we have Girl Scouts twice a month.  If we miss one, it ends of being a month between my daughter’s participation in the activities and that can be a real drag for her missing the continuity.  And all the other great things about the activity. Kids tend to leave the industry right around the time that after school sports and plays really heat up for kids.  Kids often choose the activities over the photo shoots.

7. This not translate to adult modeling.

Those dreams of that Vogue cover… the Prada runway show… it's very unlikely your child will transition into an adult model.  Of course it happens! But: your child will likely be very tall and age out of child modeling at a young age (think 58” inches as the end of the line for girls and 60” for boys) and then you have to wait several years until your child is the right height for adult modeling (tall), see if your child’s natural healthy weight would fit into tiny sample sizes, and… be 18.  There is not much of a market AT ALL for adult models under 18 (and those stories you hear about 14 year old runway models are old news — with child performer permit laws and regulations, no one would hire a 14 year old. Even junior models — like the odd-numbered sizes — are often over 18 and look young.

Oh — and the looks that make child models successful are often different from the more mature and artistic high-fashion looks.  Cute and sweet children may not translate into those looks. Still beautiful, but not Dolce.

8. My child is a brat for 20 other reasons

“But don’t child actors and models get so spoiled?”  Well, on set, it’s true they are treated well and there are people on set whose job it is to make them happy and comfortable.  But very quickly, kids also learn this is work. It can take a lot of patience and a lot of taking direction that can also make kids cranky at the end of a long day.  But isn’t that true of any job? We all get cranky at the end of an unusually challenging day. Often, these kids then get in the car and go to music, sports, or other lessons and groups and might seem a little grouchy.  As they get older, they learn that just doesn’t fly. People aren’t nice to grouchy kids.

One thing that is a plus in all of this is that your child learns to work with many adults and personalities (kids and adults) and your child is performing in a professional industry.  These are good skills that child models and actors learn young.

It’s important for parents to keep their children grounded.  Dina Lohan is very much the exception and not the rule. I have yet to meet a single mom anything like her.  Generally? Moms that break the norms of professionalism and good parenting tend not to last. Parents are very much seen on set but rarely heard during the actual shoot.  Kids need to learn to work without their parents nearby telling them everything to do. Parents of child models and actors also need to be sure this is just part of their child’s overall childhood experience.  Balance, variety, and a focus on education are paramount.

And if my child acts like a brat?  Trust me, it’s not because of this.  You can blame me for twenty other reasons, but not this one.

9. What about creepers?!?!

“But aren’t there pedophiles?!?!?”  

First, heed this warning.  There are pedophiles hidden in any possible place.  It’s possible for there to be a pedophile in schools, sports, clubs, and even at your dining room table.  Children who are sexually abused are most often abused by someone they know and there is usually a grooming process.  See my earlier post on this.

The key is vigilance.  You never let your child out of your sight and/or sound.  You never let your child be changed (clothes or otherwise) by another person and if you get the least bit uncomfortable use your mom senses and make the decision you need to in the moment.  California has layers of laws to protect child performers including background checks. NYC is not there yet, but most of the people in the industry tend to all work together and know each other so it’s not like you’re getting complete randoms every time you go to a job.

I’ve never heard of any sexual assault situation in the child modeling/acting specific community I’ve been part of for seven years.  

Again, vigilance in ALL places, including your own homes.

10. Remember: it’s a JOB.

Yes there are people there to make it fun and you and your kid should also prepare to make your own fun for the day — toys, electronics (this is NOT a no-electronics zone; every kid uses a tablet or iPod and the older ones have phones.  They need various forms of entertainment), snacks, books, etc.

But it is work and professionalism.  If a client is running late and you find out there are six more outfits to shoot in the next hour, your child needs to power through this like a trooper.  Kids who work regularly will get used to this. It gets easier as kids get older.

This isn’t like signing up for a fun activity where your child will laugh and love every moment.  A lot of toy/treat bribery goes on in this world. Maybe that’s why kids seem like brats, but by they time they are older and can read books and do homework, they are usually quite good at managing their own down-time along with work time on set.  It’s a developmental process — just like anything else.

11. No, you can’t just sign up.

So it still all sounds great?  You want to sign up? No, you can’t just sign up.  Now you need to do your research, find reputable agencies, learn how to submit and then… wait.  It’s not unlike applying to colleges. If you get called in and then offered a contract, now you’re ready to roll and you know what to expect.

Thanks for reading!  Check out my Instagram @theBizzyMama or my daughter’s professional IG @bizzyholland and you can like my Facebook page to learn when I post new blogs.  Contact me here or by email,

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