As the economy has changed, I am seeing more and more scams and tricks being played on potential models. Worse, it isn’t so clear cut what is and isn’t a scam. How do you tell? What is legitimate and not? I have written about this before, but thought I would write about this again with more detail.
I hear of new modeling agencies starting up every month. Some are started by MUA, photographers, and some by people who I don’t even know. Most agencies make their money by booking you with paying jobs – if the job doesn’t pay, no one gets paid. Models see only half of the fee that is paid to the agency and that ranges from 10-33 percent. When a model is booked, the agency takes a commission on all paid work that the agency does. In addition, there is a “booking fee” charged to the client who books the model that is the same percentage. So, if you pay a 20% commission to your agent, and you book a job paying $200, then you pay $40 and the client pays $40 to the agency for your work for a total of $80 paid to them. Your net check will be $160 prior to taxes and other expenses being taken out. What are other expenses? Things like comp cards, books, travel expenses advanced to you, etc. These are expenses that you are responsible and that are incurred to market you as a model. You will also be responsible for providing updated images at least every six months at the least or more frequent if you change your look more often. In general, a model agency maintains very regular business hours and is rarely open on weekends. By open, I mean for casting calls or taking in new business. They should have someone with you as a model if you work on a weekend unless you are working with a trusted client. This is how a legitimate modeling agency works.
How else do you know they are legitimate? In most states, they must be licensed and bonded. Look for that license. If not, ask who they are bonded. Some states, like Indiana, don’t require agencies to be licensed. See if they have liability insurance to cover you while you are working. Are they doing business while you are there? Ask other local models if they know of them and what they think. Ask some of the local photographers and designers about the agency and what they think. Ask the agency for references of models they have working for them, and see if you can verify the work that the model has done. If you have gone to a multiple casting call for a show, ask the people there if they have heard of them and their experiences. Finally, check with the local Better Business Bureau and see if they have any complaints and the nature of those complaints.
The not so legitimate agencies work differently than I have presented above. I have seen photo mills, schools, fake agencies, agency clubs, and the like. What are these fake agencies?
Probably the most frequent agency I see is what is called a “Photo Mill”. They make their money by requiring you to shoot with their photographer ever six months and as a model you are required to pay their fees. Often, these fees are very high and the only way that this type of agency makes money. If they force you to work with one specific photographer, they may be getting kickbacks or they could be a photo mill.
In reality, any legitimate agency should have a “testing list” who you can shoot images for you. These will be trustworthy and good photographers in that area that will produce excellent work. In some cases, they may be able to arrange a test shoot for you at little or no cost to you as a model. This may include providing an agency MUA to do your hair and makeup for the shoot.
The same applies to the printing of your business cards and comp cards. The agency should provide a list of companies and let you take care of this on your own (even though they specify the layout and images on the comp card). You should never print more than 200 comp cards as a starting model. At this level, they shouldn’t cost more than $1.00 each.
You should never have to pay anything to them prior to them working for you and promoting you as a model.
Fake Open Calls and Conventions
What about those “open calls” or “casting calls” for agencies on a weekend? The odds are that they aren’t legitimate if they are for an agency. Even more so if they claim they have model recruiters there to interview you. The only legitimate casting calls on weekends that I have seen are when they are for fashion shows and they have designers there. They are usually casting for a very specific show, and there are three to twelve designers there looking for models.
Frequently, I see these calls with people who are there to sell services such as photographs, portfolio development, training, web site, and just about anything you would need as a model. They use high pressure sales tactics and will say they give you a leg up in the modeling world. In reality, you can learn and do things they offer on your own.
If the casting call is legitimate, they will often call it a convention. With these conventions, it is very difficult to stand out with the large number of people attending. I personally don’t like conventions because you can often do better taking the same money and time invested and visit the agencies individually and not be just another face in the crowd.
Online clubs or Websites
One of the big trends is to also have an online club or online roster. Often, this is in the format of a club. They frequently charge $20-30 per month as their fee. Some not so legitimate agencies also use this as a way to make money from models. Being on their website should be optional and not a requirement.
If the agency is legitimate, look at what they are charging you and multiply that by the number of models you see using it. If there are a small number of models, then the price will be higher than a large number of models. As a way of figuring this out, figure that it costs a modeling agency about $500 per year to maintain this website. If you have 25 models, they shouldn’t be paying more than $20 per year per person on it. If there are only 10 models, that amount increases to $50 per year per person. This translates to $5-10 per month cost to you. If the amount is much more than this, you can see they are using the web site to profit from the models.
There are plenty of low cost and no cost alternatives to these clubs. Examples include Model Insider, Model Mayhem, Model Brigade, Models.com, Purestorm, One Model Place, etc. These websites are often completely free or tiered free/pay services. In other words, you can get listed and a minimum online portfolio out there for free.
Paying Up Front
Many agencies will require you to take classes, buy photographs up front, and pay for printing of items needed to start out as a model. You should never be paying that money to the agency. You want to be with agencies who get you work and get paid from that work, not agencies who get paid by you for sitting on their laurels. Even bigger notice that this is a scam is if they only accept payment by cash or money order.
Note that modeling schools are not the same thing as modeling agencies. Modeling schools teach you to be a model with posing, makeup, diction, acting, and the like. Modeling agencies find you work. These two lines shouldn’t cross.
Other signs of Scams
If you are told about how you will make lots of money as a model, the travel you will be doing at the expense of the client, and if you don’t jump at it now, it will go away. These are techniques to pressure you into handing over your money. In reality, work is irregular. And, most all opportunities that are there today will be there tomorrow or the next day. Check out the companies before you sign up with them.
If anyone guarantees you that you will be successful or guarantees that you will be or your money back, RUN! There are no guarantees in this business. Each area is unique in its market, and there is no possible way that anyone can guarantee you success. Take a look at the various reality modeling shows – how many of the people they have selected have become famous and have made it in modeling? Guarantees for refunds on fees paid are often with very narrow and strict conditions that very few, if any, can comply.
Always get everything in writing, and keep the important documents. Verbal statements mean nothing in this economy, and if you sign a document, they can say whatever they want, as long as it is correct in the document. This means you MUST ALWAYS read the documents you sign.