Professional Agency Modeling: How it Works


If you are reading this, it�s because you have been signed by a model agency or you want to know more about what professional agency modeling is really about.  The links below tell you what you need to know to be successful in this business.  These pages are written from the perspective of the New York City commercial print market, although much of what is said here also applies to other markets.

In the smaller markets most real model agencies service the entire range of modeling.  The market doesn�t allow specialization; the overhead of an agency means they have to try to book every kind of modeling job they can.  But in a market as large and diverse as New York City, agencies tend to specialize.  Either they service niche markets or they have divisions that specialize in markets segments.  Most �commercial print agencies� (or commercial print divisions of an agency) for instance do not do fashion work, don�t staff music videos or national TV ads, at least as a major part of their effort.  Other agencies or divisions do that � and the model (or model/performer) may need to be represented by more than one agency for different market segments that they want to target.

In New York City it is also generally true that commercial print agencies do not sign their models to �exclusive� contracts.  Print work is much less intensive than editorial fashion work:  they know they probably cannot keep you busy.  They also know that commercial clients tend to call more than one agency; that they get some calls but not all of them, and that it is usually in the best interests of the model to �freelance� � to work with more than one commercial print agency if they can.  This can lead to some potential conflicts, so procedures (discussed below) have been worked out to deal with this.  Generally the agency would prefer that you not be listed with several others, but they also understand that from your perspective it is a reasonable thing to do.

The first step in getting a modeling job is normally a �go see�, where you meet the people who are actually doing the hiring.  When you get that First Call to go to one, what should you do? What do you need to do at the go-see?  We tell all in Before and At a Go-See. Then it�s wait and see if you are lucky.  Sometimes it�s hard to tell:  After the Go-See. Sooner or later the miracle happens:  they are interested in you, and you get booked!  Then you get to do what models do:  The Shoot. And finally you get to the payoff for all this hard work.  You get a paycheck!  What should you expect about Getting Paid?

Your First Call from the Agency

Usually the first time you will hear from your agency after your comp is done is when you fit the requirements for a modeling job, and you are sent out on your first �go-see� or �casting.�  This is the beginning of the process - and if you handle things well from the point of that first call you greatly improve your chances of success.

When you get a call from your agency, you need to call them back quickly.  Jobs often arise and are cast in a matter of hours � if you haven�t returned your agent�s call, you may lose the jobs, even if you have been specifically requested by the client.  Sometimes clients select several models for a single assignment, call them, and give it to the first model that calls back to confirm.  If you don�t have a way (beeper, cell phone, good answering service that will track you down) to find you quickly, you run the risk of losing a lot of jobs you otherwise could have.

So, what do you need to do in that call?  Make sure you get all the information you will need to be successful at the go-see.  Your first problem is whether you even want to take the job (sometimes you may not).  So you need to know:


                1.  What is the job for:  who is the client and the product?

                2.  When is the shoot?

                3.  Where is the shoot?

                4.  What does it pay?

                5.  Does it require wardrobe that you don�t have?

                6.  What will you portray, and how will it be used?


If you get through all that, don�t have any conflicts or objections, you need to know about the go-see itself.  


                1.  Where is the go-see?

                2.  When is it?  (Usually it is a range of several hours - you want to be there near the beginning if possible.)

                3.  What role will I be playing, and how do I need to be dressed?

                4.  Who should I see at the go-see?

You should ask all these questions and any others that may occur to you when you talk to your agent.  If you don�t have a conflict with the go-see time, and tell your agency that you will be there, you are on your way to the next step in your modeling career.

Please bear in mind that you have just been given privileged information.  You should not share it with other models or agencies, and you should not take other people along with you to either the go-see or the shoot (unless you are a minor and need an escort).

Before and At a Go-See

If you get a call from more than one agency for a go-see, the general rule is that you should accept and tell the photographer/casting director that you are represented by the first agency to call.  That is the standard practice in the industry, and should be accepted by all agents.  There are some exceptions: when you have a contract with an agency that gives them preference (if you are called by several agencies for a job, and one of them has that preference clause in your agreement with them, you should tell the photographer you are represented by that agency regardless of what order the calls were received in.  You should also tell the other agencies who call you that you are doing that, since they may know that they called you first.  Another exception is if an agency gets a �name-request� from the client specifically for you.  In that event, you should accept the go-see as represented by that agency, even if you got a call earlier (not a name request) from some other agency for the same go-see.

Bring your portfolio!  If you have a wide selection of portfolio pictures, make sure to include some that show you as the casting director will want to shoot you.  Do not include pictures that may be inappropriate for the client (for instance, don�t take a portfolio full of lingerie shots when �young mother� is what is being requested.)

You should arrive near the beginning of the go-see period.  The mechanics of the selection process often favor those who are first seen; don�t let an opportunity slip away because you chose to go at 5:45 for a go-see that runs from 4-6 PM. Yes, you were �on time�, but as a practical matter you may be �too late�.

When you are at a go-see you are being evaluated for a particular role, usually very specific, that the client wants a model to play.  Your agent should give you the details they know of for the shoot.  If it is for �young mother� or �executive�, �sporty� or �active retired� or some other type you need to put yourself in that frame of mind and remember that you need to project that persona from the moment you open the door.  The photographer or client needs to be able to visualize you as what they need to shoot � you should give them all the help you can.  That means to dress in a way appropriate to the role, and take on the demeanor of a person in that role.  You still need to be friendly and courteous, but always while acting as the person they are casting for.

If a mockup or drawing of the shot they intend is available, you should inspect it and practice (subtly) assuming the position and attitude shown.  If they take a Polaroid, try to take on as much of the appearance and posture as possible of that drawing.  Clients don�t always have great imagination; try not to require a lot of it from them to see you in the role they are casting for.

Usually what counts is what you look like, not how old you are. If the job requires the client know your exact age, your agency or the casting notice should say so. If not, do not list your exact age or birth year on the data sheet.  Rather, list an age range appropriate to you in the role you are being asked to play (for instance: 27-32) and if birth year is required, select a year in the middle of that range.  Exceptions include people under 18 (who should indicate exact, true data) and ads for tobacco or alcoholic beverages, which require that the true age of the model be over 25.

For contact data on the data sheet, list your agency phone number.  Do NOT list your own phone or service.  If there is a reason for the photographer or stylist to have it (sometimes there is) it will be provided by your agent.

Sometimes a photographer will attempt to renegotiate the terms of the deal (different start/stop times, different pay rates, additional usage of the pictures) either at the go-see or later, when you have been booked.  In all cases you should decline to any such agreement and refer the question to your agent.  Frequently these seemingly innocent questions have the effect of costing you a lot of money; it is your agent�s job to recognize when that is true and to protect your interests (and the agency�s interests as well).

It is not unheard of for a photographer or client to ask to book you direct, not through your agency.  That is unethical, and they know it, but they will sometimes ask anyway.  In all such cases you should politely decline and report the matter to your agency as soon as you can.  Models who accept such offers may get that job, but agencies who find out about it will drop them immediately � and the word gets around.

Under no circumstances should you sign a release of any sort at a go-see.  If asked to do so, politely say you have to call your agency for permission.  Normally the photographer will back off at that point, but it is best to allow the agent to take on the �bad guy� role when this kind of thing happens.  The model should remain friendly and polite at all times.

After the Go-See

What happens after the go-see?  Most often, nothing.  For most go-sees or castings the number of models sent by their agencies greatly exceeds the number who will be hired, so mostly the casting director will tell you they �will let you know,� and then you will never hear from them again.

But sometimes something better happens.  You may be called back (you made the short list) one or more times, you may be put on �hold� (also called "option"), or you may be booked.

A call-back is simply another go-see for the same job, but this time knowing that somebody liked you well enough that they want to see you again.  It isn�t time to break out the champagne, but it is time to start getting more optimistic.  Your agent will advise you of anything special you should do to prepare for the call-back.

If you are put on hold, you have a very good chance of being booked.  That means that the agency has selected you for the job but the job itself still may not happen, or may be postponed.  It is also frequently true that a client will select more people than they really intend to use; you may be the first, second or third choice.  Sometimes your agency will know when this is the case, sometimes they will not. If you accept the �hold� you give that client a �first right of refusal� on your services for that time slot.  If something else comes along, you can have your agent call them and ask if they want to book you or release you, and they are obliged to do one or the other.  If the �hold� hasn�t been released within 24 hours of the shoot it is customary for you to be paid for the job even if you didn�t do it.

Being �booked� is the brass ring you are in this business to grab.  It involves an offer to your agent for your services, which is relayed to you.  If you accept, you are obligated to do the job, though you may be able to cancel with 48 hours notice (sometimes less) without liability.  The client is also obligated at that point, and once the time for the job nears you become eligible for cancellation fees if the job doesn�t happen.

The Shoot

You have been booked, the appointed time is near, and you are about to have a lot of fun.  You should be relaxed and enjoy yourself � you are about to get to do what models all want to do.

But some rules apply at the shoot that you should be aware of � both to protect the substantial amount of money you are about to earn, and to make the client want to have you back again:

1.     Be prepared.  For men this means having a haircut, ideally about a week before the shoot.  For women it means have your hair attractively styled in a manner consistent with the shoot.  For everyone it means knowing before you get there what role you will play. Unlike fashion shoots, most commercial shoots require you to have a wardrobe appropriate to the shoot (a small selection of clothing and shoes that fits the role you will play).  It should be clean, pressed and ready.  Even if you have been told that there will be a makeup artist present, bring your own makeup.  Get a good night�s sleep!

2.     Show  up on time!  This is the single most important rule of all.  If you are late, you are liable for all the overtime you just contributed to � and at the huge hourly rates of other models, the photographer, stylist and others, you really don�t want to have to pay that.  And �on time� doesn�t mean the time scheduled � it means 10-15 minutes earlier, so you have a chance to get your makeup on and ready yourself for the shoot.  At the appointed time you need to be able to step out on the set, ready to shoot.  If a makeup artist is provided for complex makeup you can do this �on the clock� � but sometimes a scheduled makeup artist is cancelled, and you need to be ready if that happens.

3.     Introduce yourself to everyone.  Or at least everyone who seems to want to meet you, and that you won�t interfere with.  These are the people who can make you look bad or good, who may or may not want to hire you for the follow-on TV commercial that goes with your print ad, for instance.  Do what you can to help them look good in a pleasant way, and they will return the favor.

4.     Do not discuss rates or terms.  If someone on the set brings these things up, politely refer the question to your agency.  Never change the terms of a shoot without your agent being involved.


5.  Shoot what was booked.  But no more than what was booked.  If you are doing a TV commercial and someone asks to �just take a couple of still shots,� call your agency immediately.  Never put yourself in the position of having to be the one to say no, but don�t allow any shooting beyond what was booked without your agent�s approval.  If you do, you may give up rights to thousands of dollars worth of usage fees, especially if the photographer asks you to sign his release.


6.     Sign the voucherWhen the shoot is over you should fill out the portion of the voucher that shows how much time you worked, and the rights being purchased at the time of the shoot.  Time is computed from the time the shoot is scheduled to start (if you were ready on time) until the last shot is taken.  Lunch and other breaks are included in the time.  When the shoot is shorter than what was booked, you get paid for the booked time.  When it runs longer, you get paid for each 15 minutes extra that you worked.  Use a little common sense in this � good relations suggest that a 61-minute shoot shouldn�t be billed at an hour and a quarter.  Sign the voucher, have the photographer or client�s representative sign it, and take one copy for yourself and one for the agency.  Leave a copy with the photographer.


7.     Releases.  The voucher you just signed is a release, and no additional release is normally necessary.  Nonetheless on some shoots there will be a reason for a separate release to be signed by the model.  If you are given a separate release, make sure that the usage and duration specified on the release is the same as on the voucher.  If it is, go ahead and sign it.  If it is not, cross out any portion that is different from what the voucher says, write in the voucher�s usage restrictions and duration, and sign it.  If the photographer objects to you making changes to the release, politely ask to call your agent.  Never sign a release that has different usage or duration from what is on the voucher or you may be signing away thousands of dollars in future rights purchases.


Getting Paid


That is what it�s about, right?  You�ve made all that investment, done the right things, finished a shoot, the client loved you.  So you�re rich, right?


Not so fast, Bucky!


You may have just earned a very hefty paycheck, but this isn�t quite the time to blow your money on a new car.  There is this little, tiny problem.

Your agency will collect the money for you, and will normally pay you right after the client�s check clears (after taking out his commission of course - he has to make car payments too).  But we missed a few steps along the way.

You have to take the completed voucher back to your agent, who uses it to compile and send an invoice to the client.  If we get the next-to-worst-of-all-possible worlds, the agency sends the bill to the photographer, who forwards it to the ad agency, who sends it to the client.  They take their usual 30 days to pay the invoice from the ad agency, which then eventually pays the photographer, who waits until his rent is paid and sends a check on to the model agency, which waits for the check to clear before paying you.  It isn�t always that bad - sometimes the client can be billed directly, and sometimes they pay promptly on receipt of the bill.  But don�t count on it.  It is much more likely to take 60-90 days from the shoot before anyone gets any money.

And there is the (fortunately rare) worst-of-all-possible-worlds:  the client doesn�t pay.  He may go bankrupt, or simply be unable or unwilling to pay for any of a number of reasons.  When this happens the agency will help you collect if that is possible, but that�s all they will do.  If they don�t get paid, you don�t get paid.

A wise model spends money only when she knows she has it.  This business can be tremendously lucrative, but it can also be a feast-or-famine nightmare; even if you just did a huge national job for a huge national corporation, it�s best to remember:  no extravagance before its time!


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