Modeling Searches and Conventions


This is one of those things that sounds like a good idea, and once in a long time it really is. But it is also very misleading and expensive for most people.

What They Are:

Some "model searches" are nearly complete scams: they claim they will get you "exposure" or even modeling work. But it turns out that, at best, the "modeling work" is for one or two low-paying promotional jobs (typically something like handing out flyers at the mall). They make their money by selling high-priced "portfolios" or by charging highly inflated fees for putting you on their web site. Only rarely is any interest shown in a model by good agencies or people wanting to hire them. But it doesn't matter; the search company has left town and the check cleared.


Despite these unfortunate companies, the legitimate model searches and conventions do something very different.  They assemble a group of scouts from model and talent agencies from around the country (and sometimes from around the world) who are given a chance to see you, and talk to you if they are interested in what they see.


Model Searches




The typical model search will send an advance team to small- and medium-sized cities months before a search event.  They may advertise on the radio, on television, in the newspapers or on job-placement sites on the Internet.  People who respond to the ad are invited to a free “screening session” (which may be described as something else) at which they are told about an upcoming search event, and some of the attendees invited to go to it – at a price.  The more scrupulous search companies make an effort to screen out people who obviously have no hope of being selected by a model or talent agency, but not all are very scrupulous, and a wide net is cast.  Sometimes anyone who is willing to pay to attend is allowed to, no matter what they are like.


The search firm invites both model and talent agencies to their events, so the people competing are often not “models” at all.  They may be singers or actors who are looking for a chance to be seen by an agency.  At most events, the “talent” applicants outnumber the “model” applicants.  The total number of attendees needs to be several hundred just for the company to make their expenses, so typically a model search will have 800-1,200 model and talent contestants.


At the Event:


In total there may be 30-50 or more model and talent agents doing the scouting at these events.  The model agencies are predominantly “editorial fashion” agencies, although there may be a few commercial print and promotions agencies in attendance as well.  Most will be from major market cities:  New York, Los Angeles, Miami and perhaps Chicago.  There may also be a small number of local agencies in attendance.


Usually a search is a two or three day affair.  The first day may be taken up by various types of training and seminars (all offered at additional cost) conducted by industry professionals.  They will usually have a photo booth set up too, so attendees can purchase headshots at the event.  The second day may involve more seminars and some “competitions”.  Each competitor will be given a number on a large badge, which they wear so agents will know who they are.


For “talent” the competitions may be as simple as giving each of the hundred or so contestants a short (15-30 second) opportunity to perform at a microphone (a short a capella solo or monologue) for the talent agents.  Then everyone (model and talent alike) take part in the “runway” competition.  All the agents (model and talent agencies both) assemble around a runway, and the contestants walk down it at 15 second intervals or so. 


There may also be another opportunity for contestants to parade by the tables of the agents, holding pictures of themselves.  That’s an opportunity to make in pictures whatever statement you don’t make in person.


At both the runway and talent competitions agents have “callback sheets” that they use to write down the number of people they are interested in seeing later.  At the end of each competition these are turned in to the search firm staff.


Following the competitions, and after a break for the staff to compile callback requests, “callbacks” will be announced, either by posting them on a bulletin board or by announcing them to the assembled contestants, by agency and the contestant numbers each agent wants to see.  The agents will be at tables in one or more large halls, and those contestants with callbacks let into the halls.  They may have to stand in line for a while, depending on the number of people an agency has called back, but they will get an opportunity for a brief personal interview at the callback. 


The agent may take measurements, ask about their personal interests and situation, or inquire about their ability to relocate to work with them.  If the agent is interested he will ask for the model’s contact information (telephone number).  In exceptional cases a model may be offered a contract on the spot, but most often the agent will choose a subset of those he has interviewed to follow up with later.


Some searches also have “open calls” at which agents agree to see anyone who comes to their table.  Again, it gives the attendee an opportunity for a brief personal interview with the agent.


The important part of the search occurs after it is over, when agents go home, sort through their notes and decide who to contact and invite into the agency.  In almost all cases, the trip to the agency will be at the expense of the model, and she will be told she will have to relocate (at least for a while) if she wants to work with them.


Model Conventions

In many ways conventions are similar to the searches, but they differ in important respects.  Searches are “retail” events – they market directly to individuals who want to be models, actors and singers.  Conventions are “wholesale” events.  Almost all of their contestants are brought by modeling schools from around the country (or even internationally).  The school receives a part of the model’s fee for attending, and for many schools, taking people to the model conventions is a large part of their income. 


The largest of the conventions typically gets 2,000-2,500 contestants; smaller ones may be in the range of 800-1,000.  Where a search event may attract 30-50 agencies, a large convention may have 200 or more different agencies scouting at the event, and they will have a substantial number of international agencies represented.  There is roughly an even split between model and talent agencies.  The great majority of the model agencies scouting at a convention will be editorial fashion agencies from major market cities.


The convention itself is usually longer and more involved than at a search event, although the same basic things happen.  There will be seminars, contests, group events where schools compete against each other, photographers taking pictures to sell, and runway or other opportunities for models and talent to briefly come to the attention of the agents.  And there will be callbacks as well, handled in much the same way as at search events.


What They Are Good For

The best of the model searches and conventions are not really scams. They do deliver what they promise: an opportunity to be seen by real agencies and possibly be selected by them. But many people perceive even those searches as scams, because they come with unrealistic expectations. The notion sounds enticing: instead of a model having to go to see agencies scattered all over the country to see who is interested in her, the model search brings agency reps from all over the country to one location and lets them scout you there. Saves you a lot of money and time. Sounds good!

They make it sound better: you will be "selected" to go, and you are given the impression that selection means something very good for your chances. You get all excited about going! Now it isn't free, of course: it may cost from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars to attend a search, and probably several thousand dollars for a convention, but when you are there you will attend seminars, meet people, and have a chance to be seen by all those agencies!

And for a few, a very few, all that is true. The trouble is, the economics don't work out if they play it straight. To fly in all those agency people, put them up, rent a hall, give those seminars, do the recruiting for the convention, do the advertising . . . that costs a lot of money. And it has to come from somewhere.

At most there will be 10-20 aspiring models (out of all the hundreds who attend the convention) who will actually have the potential to be successful in the markets these agencies represent. But that doesn't pay the bills, at least not at a price those few hopefuls can afford. So the organizers do what they must: they "select" lots and lots of people to attend.

Now the very, very few with the right "look" will be there to be "discovered", but the rest - almost everybody - will be there to pay the bills for them. That's what it's all about. But each of them will be told the same thing: they have been "selected" - so nobody knows which is which. The organizers themselves may not know - they don't care, since they get their money anyway.

Here's a hint: if you don't have the look of a "fashion model", you are there to pay the bills for those that do, no matter what the organizers tell you.

If you do have that look, maybe the model search is a good idea (even though there are usually better ways to get "discovered"). But then there is the next question: suppose you really do get the attention of an agency and they want to sign you. That means moving to where they are and devoting yourself to modeling - they aren't interested in you where you live. Are you ready for that? If you aren't, why are you going to the model search?



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