Everyone says your baby is beautiful. You think they're just being nice, but after even strangers insist, "Your baby should be a model," you start to think that maybe they're right. Perhaps your child's sweet smile could even help fund her college education. But you don't know what's involved or whom to contact. We went to the people who work at some of the country's top child modeling agencies and asked them a few common questions:
First, you need to understand that most jobs are in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami. New York and Los Angeles are the centers of television, advertising, magazine, and catalog worlds, and Miami frequently hosts location shoots because of the good weather. There's work in other cities too, but mostly for local (rather than national) advertising campaigns.
Competition is fierce, but not impossible to overcome. According to Mike Buess, former owner of Product, an agency in New York City that represents child models from birth through age 16, every day an agency gets a several-inches-high stack of letters and pictures from parents. Out of each day's stack, they generally want to meet two or three kids.
Lindsay Stewart, former director of the children's division of Jet Set Models in La Jolla, California, agrees. She says that out of about 100 submissions, she'll meet about eight children and end up working with three at most.
Unlike supermodels, babies don't have to be perfect, says Wendy Rose of Ford Models in New York City. But they do need to have beautiful features, such as clear skin, bright eyes, great hair, and an easy smile.
But the word that comes up most often is "different." To Buess, an ideal candidate is one who is slightly exotic, not necessarily "all-American." For instance, he's found work for boys with dreadlocks or longer-than-average hair. Stewart also likes nontraditional looks, such as Asian kids with green eyes and freckles or boys with Afros.
Of course, conventionally beautiful kids are in demand too.
This is true. Agencies also look for "spark," even in babies. A child's personality should be so great that it shines through in a picture, Rose says. Agencies look for babies who don't just stare at the camera but look, on film, like they're embracing it—and whether your child photographs that way is hard for you to judge yourself. You know your child's personality so well that you see it without effort. The question is, will everyone else feel drawn to your child just by looking at her photo?
If your child's picture does catch the eye of someone at an agency, the next step is a meeting with an agency representative, so she or he can see how your child engages adult strangers. Agencies are looking for a baby who has a ton of personality and is happy and smiling, says Caroline Gleason, director of the children's division of the Green Agency in Miami, which represents kids from babies through age 16. But if a baby starts crying and hugging the parent, you know she's not going to work out, says Marshall.
It's more about what you shouldn't do, caution industry insiders. Don't pay for professional photos, which often look too posed. Don't dress your child up or hide his or her hair under a hat. Gleason's pet peeve is photos of babies with food smeared on their face. "That's not cute," she says. Neither are bunny rabbits, or Christmas trees, or any of the props they use in portrait studios. Gleason says that the best pictures are of babies wearing only diapers—or maybe a simple dress or shirt—sitting on the floor with virtually nothing in the background. No earrings, no bows, just a clean baby in an unfrilly outfit.
Also include your baby's birthday and current clothing size. When agencies pick models, they're filling age- and size-based holes in their roster. Maybe they already have several 12-month-old girls but need a 6-month-old, or an African-American newborn, or a size 2T Caucasian boy. If you don't get called, that doesn't mean that your child is rejected. You can always try again in three or four months to see if an agency has new openings, suggests Gleason.
Employees at Baby Gap and Gerber don't sort through photo submissions. Why should they, when they can rely on the agencies to do that work? Plus, agencies teach parents etiquette and prep them for jobs—for instance, good agencies warn parents that they have no say in what their child will wear during a photo shoot. Finally, agencies have set fees so that the companies hiring their models don't have to haggle about money. You can send your child's photograph to everyone in the world, of course, but only child modeling agencies will give it serious consideration.
Begin close to home. Check your Better Business Bureau for local modeling agencies that are registered with them and have good reputations. If there are none in your area, expand your search to the nearest big city—provided you're willing to commute.
Be content to start with local ad campaigns and local commercials. If you and your child become really committed to modeling, then consider joining an agency in one of the three major cities so you can do national jobs. But you'll have to move there to do it, cautions Stewart. Ford won't hire models who are more than an hour's drive from New York City.
Unless your baby is sick, just show up, advises Buess, who adds that agencies just don't have that much time to be screening new models. If you get an email saying an agency wants to see you, call and book an appointment, and then don't break it, Buess stresses. A parent who needs to reschedule sends up a red flag: that he or she may be unreliable about showing up to modeling jobs.
The truth is, the agency is interviewing you as much as your child, and how you act can make or break your baby's chance. Agencies expect parents to walk a fine line between being professional and laid-back. According to Stewart, agencies need parents to be completely committed, yet relaxed. Marshall adds that a parent can't be pushy. You have to be able to cheerfully rearrange your schedule at the drop of a hat if an agency calls you to audition, and you have to not take rejections personally.
It's also really important that only one parent bring one baby, says Gleason. Don't bring the whole family to the agency and don't come with excuses if you're late.
First, don't confuse a model scout or a search firm with a modeling agency, Rose warns. A scout charges money to take your child's picture and then just sends them to agencies anyway. You can just send pictures yourself, Rose advises.
A real agency should work tirelessly to get your child jobs—agents only earn money through commissions. (In the meantime, you shouldn't have to pay the agency anything, ever.) You sit back and wait for phone calls about auditions (also called castings or go-sees) and should hear from the agency perhaps once a week. Reputable agencies don't mind if you stop by their office to update them as your child grows into bigger sizes.
You may go to dozens of castings before your child gets a paying job. These go-sees can be brutal, with anywhere from two to 200 kids waiting in line. Whoever is doing the hiring (a clothing company, a magazine) will snap a Polaroid of your child and may ask if you have an additional picture on hand. Every once in a while, your child will be asked to try on an outfit, but usually the whole process (after you've waited your turn) is over in a minute.
The bread-and-butter work is for catalogs, store circulars, and in-store advertising posters. In New York City, there's more of the "prestige" work for fashion campaigns and magazines. In Los Angeles, there's lucrative work in commercials, television, and movies. But even smaller cities occasionally get national attention; in Scottsdale, Arizona, Marshall has gotten kids into everything from Honda commercials to the movie Jerry Maguire.
Don't count on it funding your kid's college education. Most child models make very little money. Something as exciting (if we may say so!) as the cover of Parents pays about $50 an hour. The rates for magazine and catalog photo shoots go up to $75 an hour, but remember that a baby can only work an hour or two a day, and not every day—plus the agency takes a 10- to 20-percent cut as commission.
High-end catalogs and print advertisers may pay more. In Los Angeles, big companies such as Gap Kids and Target can pay $125 an hour, says Stewart, and her agency tries to book babies for a minimum of two or three hours.
The scale rises with movies and television. Movie work pays about $3,000 a week, but you don't get any extra money if the movie does well. Babies are just starting out, so there are no negotiations, says Stewart.
Television commercials, on the other hand, are highly lucrative. You get $500 for your session fee—the actual filming—residuals based on when and where the commercial is aired, Stewart explains. Residuals are additional paychecks. A local commercial playing on a cable station won't earn much, but a commercial that airs on a network, especially during prime time, can earn your child $10,000 to $25,000! Just keep in mind that a commercial includes one or two children, whereas a catalog has dozens, so getting commercial work is that much harder.
Babies are generally happy on sets as long as a relaxed parent is with them. But as kids grow older, their interest may wane. Parents, too, often burn out. Just to get to a casting call, which pays nothing, parents often have to free up their whole day, fight traffic, pay for parking, and then entertain their kids while they wait in line, points out Gleason.
Most of the kids who do it really love it, and that's the best part—seeing them enjoy the work, Rose says. It is work, but kids don't seem to know that. They're just having a good time. Just remember to let the kids lead the way. Buess advises that you look at it as something to add to their childhood, but never let it become their whole childhood.