Modeling: A Bestiary
Let me explain how this works in the real world:
In the beginning . . . there was The Model. But The
Model was in darkness, so he said, “Let there be light!”.
Unfortunately, models aren’t Gods, so The Model remained
in the dark.
On the Second Day there appeared a Serpent (otherwise
known as a “mother agent”) who said, “Hey bud, for only the price of an apple,
your first born son and 5% of everything you make for the rest of your life
I’ll sell you this light bulb. Sign here.”
And The Model signed and accepted the light bulb from the
Serpent. The Model held the light bulb and cried out, “Let there be
light.” And yet still there was darkness. No manner of crying out
into the wilderness or brandishing the light bulb would banish the night.
On the Third Day the Serpent whispered, “Yo, dude, all
this hollering and carrying on isn’t going to get you into the light. You
need to plug in the light bulb. Let me introduce you to The Hyena (the
agent). He’s really plugged in.”
And so it came to pass on the Fourth Day that The Model
met with The Hyena. “Here, let me show you how it works,” said The
Hyena. For only 20% of everything you make for the rest of your life and
your first born daughter (if she’s cute) I’ll plug you in. Sign
here.” The Model signed, was plugged in, and saw the light.
But the light illuminated the Jungle, not the Garden that
The Model was expecting. No gentle beasts (called Clients) were anywhere
to be found. So The Model turned to The Hyena and said, “Verily, it is
light, but the light is not illuminating. Show me the way.”
On the Fifth Day The Hyena said unto The Model,
“Look in the Mirror. If a gentle Client sees you like that you will be
sent to the wolves. We must remake your Image!” “Oh my”, cried out
The Model, “is that painful?”
“It can be,” averred The Hyena. “We will send you
to The Lion (a test photographer) who may, if he is well fed, turn you into a
handsome prince. Or he may eat you for dinner. It all
depends.” “Wow, that’s heavy,” said The Model. “Isn’t there some
other way?” “Yes,” said The Hyena. We can take some Polaroids of
you, but the problem is that they will . . . well . . . just look like you.
It came to pass that on the Sixth Day the Model finally took
pictures of his new image to see the Gentle and Kindly Client, walking the
pathway that The Hyena had showed him, full of the light from his lightbulb.
He stood in line behind hundreds of other Models in front of the gingerbread
house where the Gentle and Kindly Client lived and worked.
Finally the Gentle and Kindly Client met The Model, saw
his new image, and said, “Thank you for coming, we will call you.”
And on the Seventh Day nobody called.
Welcome to modeling. Now you know the players and
their place in the system. If the above sounds like it couldn’t possibly
be true, you haven’t been at this long enough . . .
Still, some of you might object that the above description,
while rich in characterization, lacks a little detail. For those of you
picky enough to complain about such things, here is a more expansive look at
the process and where various people fit into it.
If you want to be a model, you have several problems.
You have to look like a model who will get hired (which isn’t the same as “Oh,
you are so pretty, you ought to be a model!”). You have to have the
things professional models need: pictures, portfolio, comp cards and
knowledge. You have to find people who are hiring models like you and get
to them at the right time, with the right preparation. Then you have to
show up at the job and work with all the people around you. To do those
things you need to be part of a team. Membership in the team changes as
you go through the process, but it is almost never something you can do well on
So let’s walk through the process and introduce people as
You want to be a model. More important, you want to be
paid to be a model. That means somebody needs to tell you what to do to improve
your chances. Do you need to lose weight? Gain weight? Cut
your hair? Change the way you dress? What kinds of pictures
do you need, and where do you get them?
The world is full of people who will offer you answers, but
most of the time the answers aren’t good ones. You need someone who
specializes in doing just that.
Enter the Mother Agent, stage left.
The job of the Mother Agent (who might be a man, or a
corporation, and might be called a “Personal Manager” instead) is to
prepare you for the market and introduce you to people who can get you work.
A good Mother Agent will know how to evaluate your look against the
various types used in modeling, and advise you on the styling changes you need
to make to appeal to the market. She will have a stable of photographers
who can shoot in the style you need and, if necessary, a printer who can make
composite cards for you. So the Mother Agent sends you offstage to see
the Test Photographer. Test Photographers have the job of making
you look like what you need to in order to get work in that market. If
the Mother Agent (or you) has chosen him well, you will get what you
need. If she hasn’t, or if you don’t insist on what you need, you may end
up simply with what the Test Photographer likes to shoot, and be worse off than
you were before.
Finally, she will have contacts with “booking agents” (the Model
Agency, who might also be a “model management company” which also does what
Mother Agents do, but that’s a different story) who can actually put you in
touch with people who might hire you.
You go running off stage, grab the Model Agent, and drag him
back on. Enter Model Agent with you, stage right. He looks a
little bewildered. “Why are you grabbing me after going to the Mother Agent?”
he asks. “All you had to do was come to me in the first place and we wouldn’t
have had to pay the Mother Agent a percentage until Hell froze over!” Which
might be true, or it might not. Agents don’t really know, they just say these
things because they like to sound important.
The Model Agent likes you. “You can work”, he says,
and so it begins. In all probability he looks at your portfolio and says,
“These all have to go. You need new pictures!”. Why? Because
the Mother Agent isn’t preparing you for a particular market, she is preparing
you to be accepted by someone who is in a market. The pictures she has
done for you are intended to appeal to the Model Agent, but may be wrong for
his particular group of clients. So you get to do that part all over.
Finally the Model Agent is done preparing you. You
have the right look, the pictures, the composite card and portfolio and all the
knowledge you need to get to work. All you need is the work. The
curtain comes down on Act One.
Curtain up. Act Two. Somewhere on the other side
of town is a corporate Vice President of Marketing whose annual bonus is in
jeopardy. Sales figures for the year are down, market share is eroding,
and he needs to do something to boost the bottom line. Time for an ad
campaign. Time for you. He just doesn’t know it yet.
So he puts together a budget for the advertising. He
just became a Client. (You should know that model agencies also
refer to their models as “clients”, but that’s another story also.) The
Client calls an Advertising Agency and asks them to design the ad
campaign. The Ad Agency does just that, and prepares a concept and
storyboards to show the Client. It all gets approved, and the Ad Agency
is tasked to find people to actually produce the ad.
Enter the Assignment Photographer, stage left,
and the Casting Director, stage right. (In the real world
photographers often act as casting directors, and that makes for interesting
problems as they get pulled from one side to the other. But again, that’s
another story.) Assignment Photographers are much higher in the food
chain than Test Photographers (although some Test Photographers sometimes get
assignments, and they get whiplash from bouncing up and down the food
chain). Assignment Photographers may get a vote on whether you get hired
(they may even make the decision). Most important, they want to have an
ongoing business relationship with the Client, so they will be careful to
deliver whatever the Client wants.
The Photographer puts together his team of support
staff. He needs a Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist to make
the models look as the storyboards describe them. (Pay attention there:
it is not the Photographer or Makeup Artist’s job to make you look “your best”.
It is their job to make you look like what the Client wants, which may be
something else entirely.) He needs a Stylist to pull together the
clothes, accessories and props that will add to the effect wanted for the
image. There may be others on the team as well: assistants of
various types. But all of these people, the Photographer, the Stylist
and, to a lesser degree, the Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist, may end up getting
a vote on who gets hired to be the model.
Meanwhile, the Casting Director is assembling a group of
candidates to be the models in the storyboard. She calls Model Agents,
tells them what she needs, and the Agents send emails, composite cards,
portfolios or models over to see the Casting Director. The Casting Director
may do an initial screening, or may simply present all the candidates to the Ad
Agency, photographer or Client for review.
Enter all the models in the city, from everywhere they could
possibly enter. The stage gets very crowded.
At this point decisions get made. Each job is
different, and it could be anyone involved who makes the decision about who
gets hired. Steps in the process can get omitted (or, worse,
repeated). It can be a very simple selection process, or very
complicated, with lots of people getting a vote and nobody getting to say
In the simplest cases the Client calls the Model Agent
directly, tells them what they need, the agent selects someone who is right for
the job, and the deal is done. In the most complex, the Casting
Director calls every Model Agency in town, they end up with hundreds of
applicants, and everybody in the chain feels they get to make a decision.
It’s those kinds of cases that result in the “everybody get
onto the stage and let’s sort this out” kind of scenario we have just been
describing. When that happens models will be looked at, photographed,
discussed and sent home. They may be asked back for another look.
Someone may decide to hire them and put them on hold, while someone else
in the food chain decides they aren’t right for it, and substitutes another
model. It can be a frustrating process when there are so many people in
on the decision.
From the model’s standpoint, every one of those people in
the food chain is part of their team. Most of them (Mother Agents, Model
Agents, Clients, Photographers, Ad Agencies, Casting Directors) have the power
to keep them from getting the job. Makeup Artists and Stylists may get a
vote too. The model needs to understand who these people are, how they
affect her career, and learn how to make each of them part of her team.
If you haven’t gathered it already, modeling is a team
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