When we had our baby girl in 2008, we constantly heard from friends, family and strangers alike that she should be a child model. My husband and I nodded politely and thanked them for their compliments. We figured that every parent hears that at one time or another.
Then when our daughter was about six months old, completely out of character, my husband announced, “Well, maybe we should look into it, just for fun.”
We were living in Los Angeles at the time, obviously a huge market for all things entertainment, so dabbling in child modeling was easy, and I’m here to share some of my insight and tips with you.
Location, location, location
I have to be frank here. My unscientific research shows that child modeling is much more difficult if you’re not in Los Angeles, New York, Miami or Chicago. Unless you’re willing to travel to castings and shoots in those cities with very little notice, as in the night before or even a few hours before, your opportunities may be limited to small jobs for local companies and department stores. That’s not to say that small-town folks shouldn’t consider giving it a shot, especially if you’re fine with local work.
Consider your schedules
This whole thing was an option given our location, and that I’d just been laid off from my full-time job. If I had been working full-time, this would have been next to impossible for us, as we would have had to rely on caregivers or grandparents to take her to castings. All the castings and shoots were during typical business hours, and my boss wouldn’t have liked my missing work because of them.
Finding a reputable agency
I turned to a local parenting message board for legit agency recommendations, and I received a few great suggestions from parents whose children were previous/current clients. Beware of the numerous scams in this industry. The agency shouldn’t ask you to pay anything up front, nor should they require or pressure you to get expensive photo packages from their photographers. Agencies make their money by taking a cut of the payment your child gets when they’re booked for a job. You can vet your potential agencies through your local Better Business Bureau, but if something smells fishy to you, go with your parental instinct and find someone else.
To get your child represented, you’ll need to submit photos to agencies. In this digital age, most agencies will consider talent submissions via their website. You can also mail hard copies to their preferred address. The agency will probably have photo preferences listed on their site, but in general they’ll want a few color snapshots (head and full-body), no huge accessories or messy high chair photos. They may take a few weeks to get back to you, so be patient.
If your child is accepted by an agency, you’ll need to stay on top of your photosheets; a one-page sheet that includes photos of your child, their stats and the agency’s contact info. These are what your agent submits to castings, and what you’ll bring with you to auditions. Truth be told, these were the most stressful part of the process for me. Even though reputable agencies are fine with snapshots taken by the parents, they’re the kind of thing you need to update every three months. The agency also required a certain format for the photosheet, which I relied on my husband to take care of. This led to a lot of last-minute scrambling to update and print when castings would pop up.
Casting calls and shoots
There are two types of castings– the kind where they see a picture of your kid from your agent and specifically want to meet them, and “cattle calls” where they put out a blanket request for kids of certain ages and looks, but don’t vet the photosheets first. The latter can be very time consuming as you wait your turn, although the actual hands-on time with the casting agents is usually just a minute. They’ll take a photo, judge how your child is with strangers, and check how they’ll do with directions. With casting calls and shoots, there’s a lot of waiting around, so you have to make sure you’re prepared to entertain your little one. You’ll also have to keep in mind how your kid will do in front of a camera when your turn comes.
Child modeling isn’t as lucrative as you may think, even if they’re working a lot. Most jobs aren’t more than a couple of hours, and hourly rates average $75, probably less for editorial work. In certain states, like California and New York, you’re required to set aside 15% of their earnings in a Coogan account for your child to access when he or she reaches adulthood.
Don’t take rejection personally. If you don’t get an agent, or if you do get an agent and attend castings that you’re not hired for, it’s not because your little one isn’t the most beautiful kid on the planet. (Because we all know our own spawn really are the cutest!) The casting folks may have been looking for a certain look, or maybe your kiddo was having an off-day. They’re not always looking for the most beautiful kid– sometimes they want an average kid-next-door who won’t take away too much attention from whatever they’re trying to sell. We went on more than a dozen castings and booked one for a popular baby brand’s product and website. As with most castings, they hired way more kids than they needed because you never know what kind of day a kid is going to have. So in addition to waiting around for the shoot, our gal’s photos didn’t make the final cut. It wasn’t a huge deal because we were paid regardless, but I’m glad I didn’t get our hopes up too much about it.
Our entire venture into “the biz” was interesting. My husband and I agreed that we’d only try the modeling thing while our daughter had no idea what was going on, or when it stopped being fun for her. If it started to venture into Toddler & Tiaras territory, we were done.
Before we moved out of Los Angeles, we were sort of phasing ourselves out of the whole process, anyway. Although the cost for us was minimal, it can be time-consuming. Our toddler was, and is, less likely to sit there happily for photos, and opportunities as a whole were far and few between as companies cut their advertising budgets in this economy.
Would we do it again knowing what we know now? Eh, maybe, but only for the stories we can tell our daughter when she’s older.
If the location, time and effort requirements don’t deter you, I wish you and your beautiful families the best of luck!