Marlene Wallach, the former president of top child-modeling agency Wilhelmina Kids & Teens in New York, shares how to turn your child into a model.
An expert in the field of child modeling and frequent commentator on national television programs, Marlene Wallach licensed the Wilhelmina name from Wilhelmina International—a leading modeling agency founded in the 1970s—and formed Wilhelmina Kids & Teens in 1998.
In addition to serving as the agency's president and owner, she's also the author of The Official Book of Me: Tips for a Lifestyle of Health, Happiness & Wellness and The Inside Story About Modeling for Kids, Teens & Their Parents, among other titles, and has judged a variety of model and talent searches, including Miss Teen USA. Here, Wallach offers advice and answers reader questions on how to get your kid into the modeling biz.
Q. My children and I went to a model search and we got a callback, but so did 1,000 other parents. The agency wanted money up front to go to another show where agencies could look at them. We decided no because we know money should never be asked for up front. Who can I send pictures of my kids to, to see if they have what it takes? — Feeling_Devine
A. If you are interested about submitting photos of your child to Wilhelmina, go to wilhelminakidsandteens.com/be-a-model. Applicants should live in the tri-state area.
However, if you do not live in or around New York, many smaller cities also have modeling agencies where your child can get exposure through local and regional advertisers. Always be cautious of industry scams when looking for an agency. Keep in mind that in this business no money changes hands between yourself and the modeling agency until your child books their first job. The modeling agency works on a commission basis.
Q. I'm not sure how to go about researching an agency in my area, near San Francisco. I'm afraid I would waste a lot of time contacting "fake agencies" instead of legitimate ones. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! — Kelli
A. Finding an agency appropriate for your child can be a daunting undertaking. One reliable resource is Backstage.com, which has a job board with child actor casting calls in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami. Doing a Better Business Bureau search is another way to go. Major adult agencies may include a children's division—check their websites or call them and ask. If they do not have a kids' division, ask who they would recommend.
Q. My 4-year-old son loves to be photographed. I'm thinking of putting him (and, maybe later, his baby sister) into modeling because of their mixed-race features—they just look different. Being only 2 hours from NYC (we live in Connecticut), I guess it wouldn't be too hard to do some shoots, but I don't know where and how to start. — bruiny
A. Before considering modeling for your child, there are some questions you should ask yourself. Have you considered the expense of traveling to and from go-sees and jobs, clothes for auditions, haircuts, etc.? Is there someone available to take your little one on go-sees and to jobs? Does your child really want to do this? The process has to start with some soul searching for you and your family.
Q. My 3-year-old daughter won first place at our local mall beauty contest. We went on to state finals in Indianapolis and won fourth runner-up. They said that she won a chance to go on to regionals, but the cost kept rising for the entry. Does this sound like any major deals would have come out of this? — Amanda192
A. My best advice to you would be to first figure out what is best for your child. Although beauty pageants and modeling share similarities, they are quite different. If you are interested in exploring the world of modeling, research agencies in your area and find out what they require for an application. Most legitimate agencies only require snapshots.
Q. I know you said it is fine to send snapshots to an agency, but what exactly are they looking for in the pictures? Should they be close-ups, full body shots, or both? Should my child be laughing and playing or sitting quietly? Would a silly outfit help or hurt?
A. A variety of snapshots is always a good idea because that way you give the agency a chance to see different aspects of your child. The outfit and the background are not important—it is always about the child.
Q. It's obvious we parents are all partial to our beautiful children. We too hear many of the same things from strangers and family members telling us our kids should be involved in some form of modeling and acting. What would make my children stand out over all the hundreds of other children's applications and snapshots? Is there a different look that photographers prefer and is it constantly changing or does the "look" stay the same? — Amy G.
A. Everyone asks me about that special look that sets one child apart from another. The simple truth is that it is only the children themselves that have the power to do that. A professional can see right through the hairdos and accessories to the raw beauty of the child. Just make sure your child is well rested and well fed, with clean nails and clean hair. Your child will do the rest.
Q. How should I prepare for going to an agency for the first time?
A. The first thing to do when preparing for your first time at an agency is to clue your child in on why they are going to the agency. Make sure they are well rested and well fed, wearing age-appropriate clothing (a Baby Gap-style casual look is always appropriate). Relax and leave the rest to them.
The Fine Points
Q. My son has done some modeling, but after a little while the calls from the agency stopped. How do I keep the agency interested in my son?
A. If you have not heard from the agency lately, simply call and ask them why you have not heard from them. Clothing sizes 3T, 5, and 10 are sample size and when your child is not "in-size" they get fewer calls. Maybe his teeth haven't come in straight or you need new pictures. There are lots of possible reasons—call and find out.
Q. What is the typical percentage an agency takes for commission?
A. A 20 percent model agency's fee is what Wilhelmina Kids charged. Some may charge more and some may charge less.
Wallach lives in New York City and is on the Caring Commission and the Women's Executive Committee of the UJA Federation. Prior to opening Wilhelmina Kids, she was president and owner of the Film Stock Exchange, a Los Angeles-based resource for independent filmmakers. She was also instrumental in the initial public offering of the American Screen Company, a diverse entertainment holding company, which had her immersed in the fields of film and television. She spent seven years in a number of progressive positions at the American Express Foundation with a focus on arts and the humanities. Marlene received her MBA from Pace University while working at American Express.