Modeling Myths and Scams*

H.L. Mencken once said, "For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; and it is always wrong."

Mencken was an optimist.

The purpose of this essay is to present some truths about the modeling industry and the scams that infest it, and show that, even though you know “the truth” there is more to making good decisions about a modeling career.

Still, even though what is said here is true, everything said has an exception, and the scammers are relying on you to think you will be the exception.

Is there, for instance, a 5’5” fashion model who flies all over the world for jobs? Yes. Do you know why she has made it work where so many others haven’t? No, you don’t, and a scammer isn’t going to tell you. If you insist on believing you will be the 5’5” fashion model who lives in North Platte and flies in to do major campaigns and fashion shows, you are simply ripe for the picking.

This isn’t neat, it isn’t simple, and it isn’t easy. So sit down, open a can of something wet and cold, and be prepared to spend some time reading.

The Rise of the Myths:

There have been “model agency” (or “model search”) scams for nearly as long as there have been model agencies. What all the scams have in common is a plan to make money by taking it from the models, without having to go to the trouble of actually getting much work for the models.

This process is a chain reaction that ripples through several iterations. Real agencies create a market; scammers rush in to take advantage of the market; government bureaus, several nonprofit organizations and, lately, a number of books, articles and websites have all taken on the task of educating the public to avoid the scams.

At every one of those ripples, new myths are created. To be sure, most of these myths have a basis in reality – and that is what makes them so seductive. Simply read, the myths created by the agencies, the scammers, and the scam busters are all true. Unfortunately, the world is not simple. Myths are true only in certain circumstances, at some times and in some places. Most of the time they don’t apply to you, the reader who is trying to make sense of all of this. And without a little guidance, you can’t easily tell that they don’t apply to you. A good myth is seductive, doesn’t come with a user’s manual, and can hurt you if you don’t understand what it means.

And so we come to the next link in the chain of events caused by the rise of the fashion model industry. Someone has to provide the “user’s manual”, or context in which the consumer (or aspiring model) can tell not only what is “true” (most of the myths are true) but how it actually applies to the real world, and to you.

The Agency Myths:

To be fair, most of these myths are not created by the agencies themselves (although they are useful to the agencies). Rather, the media has created they hype and fantasy that describes what people think of when they think of “modeling”.

1. Modeling is Glamorous: Exotic locations, fabulous clothes, fancy parties and models at the pinnacle of desirability.

2. Modeling can make you fabulously wealthy. You don’t have to get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.

3. You can get discovered while doing everyday things. Sit on a stool in a soda shop, go shopping in the mall. The agencies will find you and make you a star.

Each of these is true, at least once in a long while. But for most models, most of the time, none of them are.

Most modeling is hard work, often in difficult locations and situations. Most of the time you aren’t modeling: you are trying get an agency, going to go-sees trying to get jobs, writing letters to agencies or clients, trudging to places you don’t want to be, to see people you don’t much like, all for the opportunity of being told “no”. By far the most common experience a model has is rejection.

Will you get rich as a model? Maybe. A few do, and quite a few more make a respectable living at it. But the vast majority of models don’t make nearly enough money to live on from modeling, and a large percentage don’t ever recover the investments they make trying to become a model. It’s not unusual for an aspiring fashion model to spend $10,000 pursuing a career that never takes off.

Can you get “discovered” just because you “look like a model”? Maybe. It happens. But the vast majority of models go to open calls at agencies, send pictures to everyone they can think of, beat the pavement and, lately, put up websites all while networking as much as they can. And is still doesn’t happen for most people.

The Scammer Myths:

A really good scam uses true statements to mislead consumers. That’s why it’s so hard to give good, simple advice on how to tell a scam from a legitimate agency. So scammers will tell you things that are true to get you to part with your money. They will tell you:

1. All kinds of people can be models. Models can be young, old, thin or fat, beautiful or a “real person”. They don’t have to be tall, skinny and teenagers.

Look at magazines (other than fashion magazines) and take a look at the people in the ads. Sure enough, you will find tall and short (though you may not be able to tell which is which), young and old, thin and heavy. A lot of the people in the ads don’t “look like models”. So you can do this too, right?

Probably not.

The particular “type” that tends to get hired is every bit as specialized as fashion modeling, and requires a trained eye to recognize. Most people outside of the industry don’t have that training, and often can’t easily describe what they are looking for. But it is still true that most people can’t be competitive as models.

One of the secrets of the modeling world: “Real people” as defined in modeling isn’t the same thing as what most real people look like.

2. There is a market for Petite or Plus modeling. The industry has matured, retailers and designers realize that not everyone is tall and skinny, and they are using models who are heavier and shorter than the traditional fashion model.

There has been an increase in the number of “plus” models used in fashion, and there always have been “Petite” models (which means anyone under 5’8” tall) used. The market for “Petite” in fashion is very small, and virtually nobody can make a living at it. In many smaller cities there is virtually no market for Petite models. Even where there is, the competition is vastly greater; there are a lot more 5’6” girls than 5’10”. The chance of a shorter girl getting much fashion work is very small.

“Plus models” are used primarily in the larger market areas and are a significant subset of the market. But what the scammers don’t tell you is that Plus modeling is every bit as competitive and demanding as the more traditional fashion modeling. You still have to be tall (5’9” and above), you still have to be beautiful (usually a classic beauty is preferred instead of the “edgy” types that are common for thinner models). And you have to be well proportioned. A size 12 Plus model still likely has long legs and a 10 inch difference between her waist and hips. They are a very specialized type, and most size 12 to 16 women don’t qualify for it.

3. Models look like models. Your whole life people have been telling you that you ought to be a model.

The trouble is, unless the person telling you that is a fashion designer, a fashion magazine editor, or an art director at an advertising agency, what they are telling you means no more than “you are good looking”. “The look” (and other things it takes to be a model) is a lot more demanding than simply being “good looking”. Most people have no idea what it really takes or how to recognize it when they see it.

When someone tells you you look like a model, the right answer is, “Thank you”. You need to understand the background of the person who made the comment. Are they associated with the business at all? If not, ignore them. Are they simply “scouts” who don’t work for a legitimate agency (or worse, never did)? Ignore them. There are only two kinds of people whose advice counts:

a. Someone with nothing to gain by giving the advice, but who is an industry professional who really is involved in choosing models for real work, or

b. Someone who has something to lose if they are wrong. Real, legitimate agencies have limited resources and limited numbers of people they can represent. They can’t afford to be wrong very often (although all of them are wrong some of the time). Their livelihood depends on making you, or someone like you, successful.

Your family, friends and people on the street don’t have to make you successful. They just want you to like them. Scammers don’t have to make you successful. They just have to get into your wallet.

4. You can be flown in to modeling jobs. You think they hire all those high-cheekboned, tall skinny white girls in Morocco when they do the shoot there? Of course not. They are flown in for the job.

But they aren’t flown in from North Dakota or Ohio. First they have to get hired, and that means being where the casting takes place: New York, Milan, London or some other major modeling city. You have to be where the work is to get it.

It’s true that models can be “direct booked” by clients and flown in based solely on their composite cards or pictures on a website. For catalog work shot outside of major market cities that is reasonably common, and it happens once in a while for other types of modeling. But almost inevitably, the model is flown in from a major market city (through an agency there) like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. They don’t fly from small cities to do mainstream modeling work.

5. You need a portfolio of modeling pictures. Virtually every professional model (at least print and fashion models) have a portfolio, and it is vitally important to some of them. If you want to be a professional model, you need one.

Most fashion models do need portfolios, and often other types of models do too. They do help you to get a good agency, if they are well done. But most people who get portfolios before they get an agency waste their money. The book hurts them, not helps, unless it is exactly what it needs to be. And a lot of models are accepted into an agency before they have a portfolio.

6. Modeling is a learned skill. Any fashion photographer will tell you that it makes a huge difference to be able to work with an experienced, talented model.

It’s true that a skilled model is much easier to work with and more likely to get work. But it’s also true that most professional models have no training. They learn on the job (all of them had a first professional job at some point) or with test photographers. Sometimes special skills are needed, and agencies will arrange for models to get them free, or at modest cost.

“Modeling classes” are almost never required, and most legitimate agencies and clients prefer than a model NOT go to modeling school.

7. The agency photographer is chosen because he knows how to take the kinds of pictures we need. Models are notorious for being unable to make good choices of photographers or photographic style. They don’t know what they really need, who can provide it, and how to make sure they get it from a photoshoot.

That’s true, and it’s often even worse. Outside the major markets there may be no more than one (or perhaps there is no) photographer in the area who can reliably deliver the kinds of pictures the models need. Even in a city like New York there are lots of photographers who would love to take your money but aren’t competent to deliver what you need. One of the primary jobs of a good agency is to find good photographers, make sure they know what is required for models, and make them available to you. If they don’t do that, you are likely to waste a lot of time and money on inappropriate pictures.

It’s also true that scammers often arrange kickback schemes with photographers, and make a lot of their money by getting you to shoot with their photographers. Those pictures may or may not do you much professional good. From the scammer’s standpoint it doesn’t matter, since your check cleared and he isn’t much worried about you getting modeling work anyway. A legitimate agency is highly motivated to send you to photographers who can get you what you need to be successful. A scammer isn’t.

8. You can be seen by hundreds of agencies and casting directors from a website. Modeling sites get used by legitimate agencies for recruiting models, and there are legitimate modeling jobs that get cast through online model listing sites.

For decades there have been people telling new models that they should buy space in their magazine or book that they claimed was sent to casting directors and agencies all over the country. A few of those still exist, but they have largely been replaced by companies with websites that promise to “get you exposure” to the same people.

To a limited degree, some of them can. There are a small number of websites that have relationships with legitimate agencies who do actually use the sites to recruit models. Once in a while a client with a modeling job will try to cast it by finding models on the web. Inevitably they are the lower paying clients who have decided not to pay agency model rates, and who are very unlikely to fly anyone in for a job. They will cast locally.

It seems like a good idea. The web is a wonderful communications tool that is used by the agencies themselves, so why not market yourself on it?

You should, but only at very low cost and with low expectations.

The vast majority of people who pay to be on a “model exposure” web site get no agency contracts and no work from it. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this essay, but most of the more experienced clients and agencies are well aware of them. If you have to pay a nominal amount ($50 or so) it may be worthwhile on the better sites, but what most people will get from the expense is the lesson that nobody is interested in signing or hiring them. Even then, choose the sites carefully. If the site is primarily oriented to glamour and nude modeling, it’s not likely you will get mainstream agencies making you an offer from it.

9. You can find out if an “agency” is a scam by checking with the Better Business Bureau. If it has a lot of complaints and an unsatisfactory rating, you ought to ask a lot of hard questions before dealing with them.

It’s usually true that a really awful scam has a bad rating with the BBB. But frequently, for a variety of reasons, they will give “satisfactory” ratings to companies that have a lot of problems with the public. As of this writing there is a “model agency” in New York City that is the subject of two class action law suits and a Federal criminal investigation. The BBB shows them as “satisfactory” and with no complaints filed. Another agency has delayed payment to its models by a year or more, has been doing it for several years, and is the subject of legal action. They have the same "satisfactory" rating with the BBB.

If a company has a really bad BBB report, that likely means something. If the BBB says they are “satisfactory” you should never rely on it.

All of the “myths” italicized above are true, and all of them are used by the scammers to get your money. They want you to take their classes, pay for their pictures, pay to be on their web site or for whatever other kinds of things they can find to separate your wallet from its contents. They will even find authoritative sources to tell you these things. Why not? They are, after all, true!

Only by understanding the very narrow circumstances in which each of those myths is true can you keep from spending money uselessly in pursuing a modeling dream.

The Scambuster Myths:

Throughout the country there are organizations devoted to consumer protection. Some of them have a broad charter and the modeling industry is only one of many that they try to regulate; others (particularly on the internet) are specifically devoted to modeling. Sadly, few of them have people with a deep understanding of the industry they are commenting on.

Governmental (Federal Trade Commission, Departments of Consumer Affairs, Attorney General Offices and the like) and quasi-governmental organizations (such as the Better Business Bureau) rely on three primary sources of information: consumer complaints, the press, and sometimes interviews with people in the industry. That tends to expose them to real information, but they get a strong bias because of the limited sources and experience they have.

Internet “scambuster” websites rarely are staffed by people who have actually worked in the industry (except, sometimes, as models). They rely on some of the same information sources, but can have even less confidence in what they hear. If a BBB or city prosecutor’s office hears of a complaint, they can be reasonably sure they know who it is coming from and that there is some accountability for the information. The internet lends itself to anonymous, often false assertions from people who are not who and what they claim to be and have a personal hidden agenda. It isn’t surprising that most of the false, lurid information comes from the internet.

That said, there is a lot of useful information available from these sources. You just have to understand its limitations and not put too much trust in what you are hearing.

For the most part these organizations are well-meaning and sincere in their desire to help (although there have been some examples of very nasty personal agendas being pursued by the owners of some internet “scambuster” websites). But well-meaning or not, few of these sites' organizations really understand the advice they give, and they usually present it in a way that can sometimes make matters worse.

Even when they do understand, there is a natural tendency for organizations who try to educate the public to package their message in nice, clear, easy-to-understand messages. People don’t want to spend their time reading 7,000 word essays on the modeling industry. They just want to be told what they need to know to make a decision. So the scambusters rush in to help. In the process they create a whole new set of myths and misunderstandings.

You might ask yourself “Why do we care?” After all, anyone who reads that stuff will be a lot more able to avoid the scams, and isn’t that the point?

No, it isn’t. The point is to be as successful as you can be as a model, with as few mis-steps as possible. To spend less money than the scammers would want you to spend, but to invest wisely and not fail to do the things you should simply because you are afraid of getting caught in a scam. Unless you are very careful that does make it a little more likely that you will get caught in a scam, but also makes it more likely that when opportunity really arises, you will be prepared to take advantage of it.

So let’s take a look at some of the things the scambusters say about agencies and model searches, and try to put them into context. All of this underlined advice is taken from books, pamphlets or websites of organizations who try to protect models from scams:

1. There are standards of behavior in the modeling industry. If an agency doesn’t meet those professional standards, they may be a scam.

The modeling industry is diverse, and people entering it generally don’t understand how it all works. Even people who have worked in the industry for years may not appreciate how another segment of the market works. Editorial fashion agency employees, for instance, rarely understand how the commercial print business works, and the reverse is equally true. What is true in Colorado isn’t true in New York.

2. Most new female fashion models are tall, slim, at least 5'8," and ages 14-19.

That is true in New York City, and to a lesser degree in Miami, LA and Chicago.  But most models aren’t fashion models, and most models aren’t in those cities.  Where is the discussion of other types of modeling and other locations, and their requirements? All too often these commentators act as though there was only one kind of modeling, and seem to suggest that if you don’t meet those requirements, you can’t be a model. That’s not true.

3. Models are discovered at free open callsYou don’t have to spend money to be discovered.

Certainly some models are “discovered” at open calls. That’s why many agencies have them. But many agencies don’t even have open calls, and those that do usually find that they don’t get very many useful models at them. New York fashion agencies may search worldwide for models, going to model searches (or in some cases, sponsoring them), advertising for models in trade-related publications and the internet, through mail-in and email submissions from models, and through networks of relationships with other agencies and (yes) modeling schools. The agency may not truly like the modeling schools, but since the schools have a tendency to sign up all the people with agency potential (and lots of people without agency potential), the agencies have no choice but to deal with them.

The scambuster wants you not to spend money on expensive model conventions and schools, but to meet that goal they greatly misstate the way the industry actually works.

4. Modeling agencies are not interested in most new models who do not live near the agency

This is misleading.  Commercial agencies, and agencies in smaller markets, do feel that way.  Fashion agencies and those with specialized needs like fitness models do not.  They are perfectly willing to scout worldwide for models, and do.  At some point the model will have to travel to where the agency is, but that isn’t the same as what the "scambuster" said, and it need not be a permanent relocation.

5. Non-professional snapshot photo submissions by regular mail with the aspiring model wearing little if any makeupModeling agencies do not want or need professional photography until the model gets representation. Never pay a lot of money to have photos taken unless you already have an agent and she has directed you to have them taken.

This is much more true for fashion agencies than commercial.  Commercial agencies generally prefer models who already have professional pictures, including makeup, and often would prefer that they also have a good composite card.

It’s common for an agency to throw out some or all of the professional pictures a model has and start fresh. From that you could conclude that the professional pictures were a waste. But that may not be true. The point of the pre-agency pictures is not to get work, but to get noticed. The pictures to get you work come later.

It’s always wise to try inexpensive approaches to agencies first. Sometimes they work, and when they do a lot of money can be saved. It’s also true that agencies have seen lots of “professional pictures” which make the model look worse, not better, than simple snapshots would.

But when the simple, cheap ways of trying to get representation don’t work, you need to do something else. One reasonable thing to do is to stop trying to work as a model. You’ve sent in your pictures or gone to an open call. They haven’t taken you. There is a message there that you should pay attention to.

The modeling world is full of stories of highly successful models who persevered and were accepted after many rejections. Sometimes the right pictures did the trick. So if you are absolutely determined not to take no for an answer, a possible approach is to have good professional pictures done.

In doing that, you have to be careful to get the right kinds of shots. You have to know what the agencies you are interested in want to see, that you can look like that, and that you are working with a photographer who can make you look like that. That takes some research, but it can be done, and it can help.

6. Even if a model search is legitimate, you still need to be on your guard.

There are a lot of problems wrapped up in that one short sentence, even though it is true. First, what is meant by a “legitimate” model search? Some clearly aren’t legitimate: they have little to do with finding models for good agencies and lots to do with selling something to the models.

But what to make of the searches that honestly do bring dozens of real, legitimate booking agencies to look at their models? These can be run by modeling schools, the agencies themselves or by independent companies. One thing seems universally true: the vast majority of the people competing in the search are not ever going to be signed by those agencies, and a lot of them have no reasonable hope of ever being signed. Still, the agencies get a respectable percentage of their new models from these kinds of searches. Are they a scam? That seems too harsh; they do deliver what they promise to deliver, and most of the better ones make it clear that a lot of the competitors won’t be successful.

7. Searches attract unscrupulous photographers who come and take pictures of the participants and then try and sell the photos to them at exorbitant prices.

It’s pretty much never true that pictures taken at these events will end up being useful in a model’s portfolio or composite card. If the search firm or photographer says they will be, that looks a lot like a scam. But if they are simply mementos of an event they are no worse than the photographer at a theme park who sells you shots you can take home with you to remember the experience. The consumer ought to buy them, or not, on that basis.

8. The agency pays the cost for photos and photo sessions up front, and the model reimburses them when she starts working.

This might be true, but only sometimes and with some agencies. It used to be common for New York, Los Angeles, Miami and other large market fashion agencies to advance (not pay for) pictures for models and then take the costs back out of the model’s earnings. That is less true now than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and it has never been true at many very good commercial and smaller market agencies.

Pictures are an investment in a model’s career, and many agencies cannot afford to make that much of an investment for as many models as they represent. That’s the model’s responsibility.

There is another consideration. Model agencies deliver more than models to their clients. They also deliver reliability – something a client doesn’t get when working with independent models. The agency will guarantee that their models will show up, on time and ready to work. From long, painful experience they have learned that a model who has invested in her own career is much more likely to be reliable than one who has had everything given to her.

9. Modeling agencies do not charge any upfront fees. They do not make any money from a new model until the model works.  Commissions are an agency’s only source of income from models.

As a matter of actual practice, this is not true. It should be true, and in some agencies it is true. But it often is not, and models need to know it and decide what their reaction to it should be.

In New York it is common for even top model agencies to make money through a variety of charges they make to models.  One example is “models apartments”, which are owned, operated or leased by the agency and the model is charged an inflated rate per month to stay in them.  Even if the model never gets work, the agency makes money from the apartment fees.  They may charge an inflated amount for courier and copying services too, and there are other similar examples. They frequently will also charge a model for inclusion in the agency web site.

It can be worse. In many smaller cities there simply isn’t enough of a market for agencies to be financially viable solely on work they get for models. To make up the difference they supplement their income in other ways: by offering classes or taking profits from pictures, or by sponsoring a model into a “model convention” and taking a commission from the convention organizers. None of these things are desirable, but in many cities it is a fact of life. If you want to be an agency model there, you have to play by their rules. It’s the only game in town, and if the rules are forced to change, the agency will simply go out of business.

Nobody in the industry likes that situation, but it is true, and you may find yourself having to deal with it.

10. The modeling agency commission is 20%. (or 10%, or whatever the scambuster thinks the commissions ought to be).

Wrong.  Different states have different practices and laws. If it’s an “agency” in New York, for instance, it is limited to 10%, but there are no significant true modeling agencies in New York City (they are all “model management companies”).   Generally, “management companies” charge more than “agencies”, and are less regulated or unregulated by the government.  Depending on the circumstances and location, the “agency/management company” commissions in the US run from 5% to 25%, and overseas can be much higher.  An agency commission of 40% to 50% in Europe and Asia is not uncommon.

11. Modeling contracts are exclusive

Wrong.  Modeling contracts may be exclusive or non-exclusive, and if exclusive may be limited by time, geography or type of modeling. Why anyone would think they are all exclusive is beyond comprehension, but some people who write about these things seem to think so.

12. Never sign an exclusive contract.

The bottom line is that you will have to sign whatever contract you are given, in most cases, or be unsigned. There are both good and bad features to being exclusive with an agency (for instance, an agency is much less likely to invest in you if you are not exclusive to them).

You may have to make a choice between an agency that has exclusive and one with a non-exclusive contract, and you need to understand all of the pros and cons of each offer. Simply deciding not to sign an exclusive could cost you a wonderful opportunity, or it could keep you from making a horrible mistake.

13. Modeling contracts last one-year and roll over to the next year unless terminated by the model or agency

Many scams or predatory schools or “agencies” will try to get models to sign multi-year exclusive contracts and take unfair advantage of the leverage that gives them.

But the advice is wrong.  Modeling contracts are whatever the individual agency says they are, and they vary widely.  Some do not have a definite expiration date.  Some are cancelable at will. Some are for several years.  Some automatically renew, others do not. Some agencies will negotiate terms of their contract – at least with some models – and others will not.

14. Payment to models by modeling agencies should be within 30 days of receiving payment from the client

It is, sadly, not unusual for model agencies (even some well-known ones) to hold models’ money for a long time after they get it from the client. Certainly they should pay the model within 30 days (or a lot less) if they are treating their models fairly.

Many agencies, especially fashion agencies, pay even before the payment is received by the client (sometimes after taking an additional percentage for the privilege).  Others pay within a week or 10 days of receipt from the client.  Union rules require payment within two weeks on acting jobs.  There is no single “standard”.

15. Modeling agencies do not require the use of a specific photographer, or manipulate models to use a particular photographer

Many agencies will maintain a “recommended photographer” list, often with many names on it, that they can give to their models. When feasible, that is preferable to having a single photographer that is used by the agency.

Still, the advice is too strong.  Many very good agencies either require models to use a particular photographer or choose from a list.  Some even make the appointments for the models.  Scams also do this, of course, but the fact that the agency does it does not mean they are a scam or do not meet “industry standards”.  Often there are very good reasons for the practice by the agency.

16. Modeling agencies do not charge or collect money for photography, comp cards, etc.  Payment for photography, comp cards, etc., is made directly to the photographer and printer.

Often this is not true.  Some very good agencies do in fact collect the money from the models and disburse it to suppliers – it’s easier on the models and gets things done more reliably. Some charge a markup for the service, some do not. And some (not all) scams also do this. Still, the fact that an agency does it doesn’t mean it is a scam, it just means to pay attention.

17. Portfolios are not made before a model gets representation or at the beginning of a model's career; they are largely the collection of their published work (e.g., tear sheets) over their career

Again, often not true.  A portfolio is a living document which changes frequently during the course of a model’s career.  It is common for an agency who takes a new model to throw out most or all of the contents of the existing portfolio and have new shots created which reflect the vision and image of the agency.  They may or may not include tear sheets.  A model may or may not need a portfolio to get representation.  Blanket statements that they do not are misleading.

18. Modeling agencies do not require attendance at or graduation from modeling schools as a condition of representationModeling agencies are modeling agencies only, not modeling schools and modeling agencies

In the larger markets this is true.  In fact, most model agencies would prefer a model NOT attend a modeling school.  Still, schools are a significant source of new talent for the agencies, and they usually coexist and cooperate with the schools because it is in their interests to do so.

As noted above, in smaller markets it isn’t uncommon for the best (or only) agency in town to also require modeling classes to qualify for representation. If that happens to you, you have to look at it as what it is: a fee you have to pay for the privilege of being represented, not as money spent to acquire skills you need. Whether that fee is worth it to you or not should be looked at very carefully.

19. Reputable modeling agencies train their models free

This is largely true, at least in larger markets, but some specialized paid training may be necessary. For instance, many modeling agencies compete not only for print (modeling) jobs, bur for TV commercials (acting jobs). Their models are more competitive if they have received some training on how to be a commercial actor. That kind of training often exceeds the in-house resources of a modeling agency, and they may recommend or require their models to take a commercial acting class, usually at modest cost.

20. Local modeling agencies are also placement agencies, promoting models to larger market modeling agencies. They neither wait for, nor send them to, modeling conventions to get discovered by leading agents; nor do they split fees with the modeling conventions. 

This is true of the better local agencies, but hardly true of all agencies. Many local agencies rarely have an “international quality” model come through their doors, and don’t have well established relationships with agencies in larger markets. Many “modeling schools” and predators do have those kinds of relationships, and they use them to milk even more money out of the model after she has paid for classes, overpriced photos and comp cards, and attendance at a modeling convention.

And, sadly, many real local agencies do use the modeling conventions as an income source. If your local agency says they are waiting six months to take you to a “modeling convention” (or send you to New York, Los Angeles or Milan), it may be for any of several reasons:

a. You have no chance of actually being selected at the convention, but they want the money for sending you there.

b. You might have a good shot at “the majors” but the school wants to get as much money from you for classes as they possibly can get.

c. You need some development: good pictures, experience in front of a camera, or maturity. When you are ready they will take you.

Your job as a model is to understand the real reason for the delay, and why they are taking you where they are. If they are a good, booking agency (or, perhaps, the only good, booking agency) near you, you need to decide what to do about it. Simply hollering “Scam!” frequently isn’t the right answer, and finding another local agency might not be possible. Do you want this badly enough to allow them to make money from you this way?

21. Modeling agencies do not need or ask for professional photography to represent infants and small children, only snapshots s

Children change rapidly, and keeping up with that is an onerous burden if you have to get complete portfolios or comp cards done every year or so. Agencies and clients know that, and they are usually much less demanding of pictures of children than they are of adult models.

Still, the statement is not always true.  Professional pictures are sometimes required, although they usually need not be as extensive or expensive as an adult model will need. It depends on the expectations of that particular market, and in a small city a good agency will often set those expectations.

22. Sources of agency referrals can include friends, the telephone book, or model/talent associations such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

 

SAG maintains a website that lists franchised agencies, as does their sister union, AFTRA (see the sites at http://www.sag.com and http://www.aftra.com). In most areas the franchised agencies have been, for the most part, better than non-franchised, although in recent years contract disputes have led many excellent agencies to become non-franchised.

Still, SAG has nothing to do with print modeling and isn't competent to recommend a commercial print or fashion model agency. Friends might be able to, if they happen to be in the industry, but otherwise they are a pretty unreliable source. The telephone book contains every scam "agency" in town, but not a lot of the real ones. Good agencies are more likely to appear in the Business-to-Business book (if there is one), not the consumer yellow pages.

23. Modeling agencies are required to have a license issued by. . . [fill in your own favorite state licensing agency.]

The scambusters would have you believe that a good agency has to be licensed (that is, more than just a business license - perhaps a license as a model agency, a talent agency or an employment agency), but that’s not always true. Most of the best-known and most successful “model agencies” in the country don’t have more than general business licenses.

Some states require agencies to be licensed, and the law is written and enforced so tightly that anyone performing agency-like functions, including search firms, has to have a license. Some states have a licensing requirement, but as a practical matter a lot (or all) of the “agencies” who book work for models are “management companies” who don’t have a license. Some states don’t require a license at all.

In at least one state, modeling schools have to be licensed, but agencies do not. That results in a situation where the “agency” with the license is worse than the one without.

24. Ask for the names, addresses and phone numbers of models and actors who have secured successful work — recently — based on the company's training.

The hard part of this piece of advice is that a legitimate agency will (unless they are very new) have lots of models that they have gotten work for. If they don’t, you should be very, very careful in dealing with them.

Still, this advice is extraordinarily unrealistic. One of the functions of a good agency is to protect the privacy of their models. Under no circumstances should they release the names and phone numbers to the public. There is a little less of a problem with releasing contact data for clients, but no agency wants a bunch of models calling up their clients for references. That’s a quick way to lose clients.

This is hardly the whole list. There are countless pieces of advice given to models to avoid scams. Some of that advice is well done. Some, as noted above, is misleading. Sometimes you even need to decide if you want to allow yourself to be “scammed” just because you want to do this so badly and there is no other way.

Again, why does this matter? Because every good agency has had some promising model come in, listen to what they had to say, and be told that the model thinks they are a scam. She knows it, because the agency refused to give her names telephone numbers for their clients and successful models, “isn’t licensed” or told her to do something she has been told scammers will tell her: to sign an exclusive contract; to pay for her own pictures; to go to the photographer an agency tells her to go to; to let the agency pick the shots for her portfolio and comp card, and charge her for getting the card made; and a dozen other things that good agencies routinely do, and scammers do too. Agencies get tired of the accusations, and the models lose out on good opportunities, because they don’t know what they really should expect from an agency.

There are reliable ways to tell if you are dealing with a scam. Mostly it’s making sure of this simple fact: The agency spends a lot of effort to get models work. All of the other things are a variable, and you may have to accept some things that are “scamlike” if you want to be in the business. That fact isn’t pretty, but it’s the truth.

 

* - Some Notes:

All of the discussion here pertains to “agency style” modeling: fashion, commercial print, catalog, showroom, and fit modeling. It does not pertain to the burgeoning category of “glamour/nude modeling” which has taken on a whole different character since the advent of the internet. Neither is it very appropriate to promotional modeling, which typically does use agencies, but which operates very differently.

The essay also mostly applies to modeling in the US, except where specified. Similar concerns come up in other countries, but are in a different context that may not be appropriate to this discussion.

 

Throughout this discussion we will use the commonsense term “agency” to mean both true agencies and model management companies which perform the functions of an agency. The difference between them is a discussion for another time.

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