September 27, 2004

So You Want Your Kid To Be A Model

child_mag_cover.jpgHere at Daddy Types, I've been collecting tips for my little model-in-training (lots of vomiting; cutting lines on the coffee table with baby formula; smiling at the I-bankers-in-training private school boys on the train who are 16 years older than she is), but apparently it's not enough. Several people have written for advice on having their kid skip the training and go straight to modeling. Pay for college. Earn their keep. Pimp'em out, so to speak.

I called a friend, Marilee (above, with her model son Wyatt) for her expert advice. After reassuring her that "I have this website, see, and my readers want to know..." is not a geek equivalent of, "Um, I have this, um, friend with a really cute kid, and he thinks she really could be a model..." here's what she said:

  • Modeling's a full-time job and requires a serious time commitment.
    You have at least ten go-sees (auditions) for every job you get, and then you factor in travel time. An agency expects a full commitment, and there's no way to get any real traction or build a career approaching it intermittently or part-time.

  • Live in New York City.
    Or live in the NYC area and spend a lot more time and money traveling into the city, especially for go-sees.

  • Get a real agent.
    Magazines, catalogues, commercials, stores, every reputable client your kid would work for uses a reputable agency like Ford, Wilhelmina, etc. [Yes, the agencies on the list at sounds about right.]

    Call the agency and find out when open calls are, and go. Also, send photos--not originals--and wait. They will call you if they think your kid fits with their agency. Agents receive "hundreds of photos a week," but do look at them all. They throw tons of stuff away, though; if you want your photos back, absolutely send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

  • What agencies look for
    Some things never go out of style: "A great smile." "Expressive." "Great eyes." "Eyes that really pop out, you know?" You mean like bug-eyes? "No, I mean big-feeling, expressive, smiling eyes. You know when you see someone with them."

  • Kids' work comes in clothing size-driven spurts.
    There's a lot of work early, from newborn to about a year old, that's all infant stuff. Then there's a lull, until maybe around size 2T (18 months?) when there's toddler work. Then another lull until around 6-8T.

    One kid was really young, like two years old, but really big-- a 6, maybe? kind of chubby, too--and the kid's mother kept calling the client (a catalogue), complaining that they were discriminating against him because he's fat. They kept telling her it would misrepresent the clothes, since the kid's size was far from his apparent age.

  • You may become a nightmare parent, a boss, and your kid may become your employee.
    That angry mom isn't alone. Our friend sees tons of "horrible things, parents screaming at their kids, bribing them, losing it" on a shoot.

  • The money's ok, but not that great.
    A kid earns about $75/hour for catalogue work, or up to about $300-450/day. A commercial pays maybe $1,500/day, plus additional payments for usage, but those are extremely rare.

    Once you factor in the time spent on go-sees, your kid could be netting just $15-25/hr. That kind of earning power would put him squarely in the 99th percentile for his age group, but that's gotta pay for his posse (i.e., you), too.

    Of course, there's a slightly simpler way: you could become a model yourself, and then build your kid's career as he tags along on your shoots. You can start by putting down that bag of Doritos.


    What is too little appreciated is that many KIDS DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS. That is part of the reason for the screaming matches on set, the bribery, and so on. In these cases what is going on is really pretty close to your usage: pimping them out.

    Also too rarely appreciated is that your kid might not be all that cute and charming--to some anonymous agent who doesn't know how deeply fascinating his or her every gesture is. Sorry, but we are the worst possible judges of how universally appealing our kids are, and NObody will tell you, believe me. So (except for my kids), there is some reality checking needed.

    Hey, what if somebody teaches their spambot how to type the letter "D"?

    My wife and I started taking our childbirthing classes a couple weeks back. When we showed up we got handed a packet of booklets and flyers, one of which was "Long Island Parent" magazine. I'd say about 1/4 of the ads were for talent agents for child actors, starting from newborns and going on up to adolescents. The other 3/4 of ads were for:
    1) post-partum plastic surgery
    2) teach your 3-month-old Japanese, and
    3) birthday party services - mostly clowns and magicians.

    What a bizarre world I've joined.

    Yeah, I heard some words of warning on sketchy agencies. Agencies that charge upfront for cards and books and shoots and the paraphernalia should set off red flags; an agency that thinks your kid will actually get work will usually advance these things.

    As for the bizarre world, I remember getting weirded out by ads for "princess parties."

    Modeling is a great idea. After that fizzles out, you can get the little one onto painting, like the girl on p1 of the Times' metro section today ($40k so far for the sweet little four-year-old). That could help pay for the cord blood storage (the other ads I've seen quite too many of in waiting room magazines).

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