Ok I’m going to start this blog off with a long sigh—Inhale (hold it) now exhale! I‘ve been getting asked this question a lot lately and there is no easy answer and it’s probably the most confusing topic to discuss when it comes to the modeling and fashion industries and that question is—should a person have to pay to be a model? As mentioned in my previous blogs, I signed my first modeling contract at the age of 12 and I attended Bette Massie Modeling School in Centerville. Many people will say that modeling schools are a scam and you don’t need to attend them to break into the industry and for the most part that’s a true statement. However, I come short of calling modeling schools a complete scam because in my case, my mother sent me to modeling school to build self-confidence and it just happened to start my modeling career. Are there modeling schools out there that prey on the dreams of wanna be models who are out to make a quick buck? Absolutely and this is where I tell everyone to exercise extreme caution.
For instance, there is a “modeling agency” out of Cincinnati that sets up shop in the Dayton Mall and they “scout” mall shoppers as they walk by their booth. Well, last year my 12 year old niece AjA was “scouted” by this “agency”, and my sister(who wasn’t familiar with the industry) asked me to accompany them to an open house, before we went I had my sister to call the “agency” and ask if this was a modeling school or if there were any fees associated with being affiliated with them. They swore up and down that it wasn’t a school and it was free. So off we go to Cincinnati, we walk in and there are about 50 people sitting a room, the music is pumping, they have photos of models all over the place, then the president or owner of the “agency” comes in and gives this great speech about the agency and the work that their models have done. They then had all of the would-be models come up and walk in front of everyone and I’m thinking ok so far so good this just might be legit. They open the floor up for questions and my sister once again ask if there is a cost associated with being represented by the “agency” and once again they said no. Long story short we eventually had the opportunity to speak one on one with the “agent” in a private office. He went on and on about how beautiful and smart my niece was and how much potential she had and etc. He even tried to butter me up asking me if I had ever modeled before, I lied and said no, not wanting him to know that I knew how the industry works—then he dropped the bomb on us–he told us in order for my niece to be represented by them she would have to take a 6 month course on modeling (of course taught by them), the total cost of the class was something like $4,000 and my sister would have to come up with $1,500 in less than a week to hold my nieces spot in the class and the remaining balance would be due within 30-60 days or something crazy like that.
He then went on to tell us that after my niece completed the course she would have to be evaluated by the staff to see if she was good enough to signed to their “agency”. At this point I became highly agitated and questioned the “agent” on why they lied to us about everything. I then went on to tell him about my modeling experience and showed him a few of my pictures that I had saved on my phone from a recent photo shoot. I then asked him if I would have to take this course with my experience—I caught him completely off guard and he started to fumble over his words, and frantically look through papers sitting on his desk before telling me that he would have to check with the President of the “agency”. He made a quick call to the President of the “agency” to let them know about me and he then asked for my contact information and told me that the President would give me a call in a couple of days—Needless to say I never got that call.
Point #1 Survival of The Fittest– Don’t Become The Prey
This “agency” preys on those who don’t know anything about the industry—SO DO YOUR RESEARCH—Google is a very powerful tool and so is the Better Business Bureau. This “agency” only stays legal because they have been able to get a few models some paying jobs and they don’t make guarantees—which is all that is required by the state of Ohio to remain legit.
The Modeling Convention
From the age of 13 to 18 I didn’t do any modeling, over the years like most teenage girls, I started becoming fascinated with clothes and followed the industry and read every fashion magazine that I could get my hands on. I started working at General Motors right after I graduated from high school; we were allowed to bring in radios to listen too while we worked and that’s when I heard about an open call for Manhattan Model Search–Reminder, at this time the internet wasn’t as “worldwide” as it is today so I had no clue what to expect or how it all worked. I was 18, had braces and I attended their open call. They wowed everyone with an opening presentation (no mention of money), then they did one on one evaluations, they announced their call backs and I was selected for a call back. They give us all of this information about all of the top agencies that would be in attendance during a weekend convention that was to be held at a hotel in Columbus the hotel was about $109/night and the cost of the convention was something like $495. Long story short I paid the fee to attend, the weekend consisted of seminars and parties, all ending with the final event when you got to walk the runway and show your pictures to the scouts from some of the worlds most respected agencies. Truth be told, I had a blast, and that’s where I was scouted by Click Modeling Agency. They were recruiting for both their New York and Atlanta offices, they wanted me for their Atlanta office, however because I still had braces and I hadn’t done any modeling since I was 12 they wanted to sign me to development contract–which pretty much meant that they weren’t going to send me out to meet any clients just yet because I still had braces and they weren’t coming off any time soon. So they set me up with a few area photographers so that I could get more experience in front of the camera.
Point #2 The Middle Man isn’t Always a Bad Thing
In this case the middle man was legit–again do your research there are a lot of Model Searches in business from Manhattan Model Search, to New York Model Management, to Pro Scouts. I will caution you about this—a lot of these Scouting companies are also linked together they branch off or change names once they’ve receive negative feedback with the Better Business Bureau. There are some scouting companies that offer you these week long cruises and seminars that cost thousands of dollars I would advise against shelling out this kind of money for any scouting event, it would be cheaper to travel to the cities where the top agencies are located and attend one of their open calls for models. I will add that agencies benefit financially from these events because the scouting companies pay them to attend.
Small Market Agencies and Events
I was signed to Taxi Model Management in Cleveland, Ohio when I was about 22. Cleveland is a very small market which means they aren’t going to have these multi-million dollar contracts to keep them operational. There was no fee to be signed with the agency but if you didn’t have an updated portfolio it was your responsibility to pay for new photos, your comp cards and they had a group of photographers that they used. As standard with most agencies (yes even the larger and more respected agencies in the world) it’s in the contracts that you pay the agency 20% of any paid assignments that you land. Also, don’t be shocked if you are asked to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild or any other Actors Unions because the majority of commercials shot in Ohio are union members only so there is a monthly fee that you will be required to pay.
Point #3 The Fashion Industry Is a Business
You can say what you want about it but the fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and people are in it to make money. Nothing is free!! If you get signed to Ford Models in New York, they will put you up in what’s called a “models apartment” where you will live with other models signed to the agency. They will pay the rent and buy your food, pay for some pictures but guess what as soon as you get work as a model not only do you have to pay them back for the apartment, food, a photos but you have to pay your 20% to them as well. There’s no getting around it. Contestants on American Idol have to reimburse them for their stay in the mansion, they have to pay their own way to Hollywood and it’s the same for America’s Next Top Model.
I know that you are probably even more confused about this question than before I started answering it. I CAN NOT emphasize enough how important it is that you do your research before shelling out any money. The Tale-Tell sign for most scams is if they push things on you and demand an answer right then and there or if they ask for an obscene amount of money in a very short time frame. There’s a new trend of model websites where you pay a monthly fee for them to host your online portfolio for agencies and other industry professionals to view. There are legit magazines that travel the country looking for new talent; they often have a registration fee that ranges anywhere from $10 on up to be published or to be in a contest. Ask them what the fees are for and what all it covers for example does it cover getting you hair and makeup done? Will it cover your photos? Will you receive copies of your work and proper credit? These are the questions that you need to get into the habit of asking and as always trust your gut instinct it never fails.