Child modeling and acting can be such a fun and enriching experience both for parents and kids, and there are lots of great learning opportunities if you have the time to commit. We signed with an agent at the encouragement of a friend in the entertainment business when the kids were 2 & 3.
Find an Agent
Do you have to have an agent to get a job? No, but it really helps. They are your network connection to all the production and advertisement companies, who rely on them to send candidates who are professional and familiar with the system. You could pound the pavement, as they say, but the value a good agent brings will save you a ton of time and effort.
A legit agency will never ask for money up front. They are only entitled to a percentage of the child’s income (usually 10-20 %) as outlined in the contract made with you as the parent / guardian. They will also need a W-9 form for their tax purposes – check your local laws about child labor.
Make sure the agency is reputable, and that other businesses use and recommend them. There are a lot of weird people out there that want to take pictures of kids for less than honorable reasons. Make sure they have a physical office address, website, and check to see who has hired them to recruit models. Here is how our agency does intake for new faces and talent.
Photos by Ana Monique
The only thing you will need to invest in are professional photos, and they have to be updated once a year on average, and more often if they start when they’re babies. The agency should have a list of photographers they like to use. If you choose to take the photos on your own, familiarize yourself with kid fashion sites, angles and poses. They will need head shots and full body photos, don’t cut off their head with close-ups. Files need to be high resolution (300 ppi +).
Head shots and lifestyle photos are preferable (pics of your kid being a kid), and you’re looking at spending at least $250 per session. Some photographers charge by the hour so you’ll need to have everything ready for that shoot (outfits, hair styles).
You will also want to have Comp Cards made eventually (another $150 +). Our agency encourages us to order them from a graphic designer who is familiar with putting them together. You could do it on your own with photo printed card stock (matte looks better) on a half sheet with different “looks” and the basic stats / agency info. It’s best to order at least 50 to have on hand and leave with the auditioning company when you go out for jobs.
The address and information listed on the comp card should only be your agency. Do not give out personal location information, especially when it comes to your child. Have interested companies work directly with your agent to keep communication streamlined.
Don’t Call Them, They’ll Call You
Even if you hear about a casting call online or from a friend, chances are your agency already knows about it. They will contact you about auditions in the area, and ask if you’re available. It’s up to them to schedule the “talent” and connect you with the client (businesses asking for models / actors).
Calls / emails may come randomly and last minute. We get called for photo shoots happening in the next couple of days, it just depends on the company and when they’re production staff is available. Some castings will be held in giant ballrooms at hotels (for which they rarely cover parking fees), some are in inconspicuous buildings in an industrial area. Some are as quick as a 5 minute look, some take hours. Be prepared with snacks and activities (see Work Experience section).
You don’t have to be available for every casting, and don’t feel pressured to make sure your kid gets there. Sometimes it just won’t work out. Take it in stride and don’t make your schedule depend on it. If it happens, it happens.
It’s also okay to say “no” to certain jobs. If a company wants to use your child to market a product that you don’t particularly agree with or want them representing (i.e., toys, video games). Or if a clothing brand is a little too risqué for how you want your daughter to dress, just politely decline.
Outfits & Grooming
Think GAP Kids. Solid color tees and polos (no logos or other branding), shorts, leggings, pants, simple shoes. Casual and comfortable. Agencies want that pure and natural look. Scour the racks at Salvation Army or thrift stores first, then maybe Walmart. No need to shop at GAP to pull of that look! Keep it simple simple simple, and don’t spend more than you have to. (Put that money into their photos)
Keep hair trimmed, maybe even watch some YouTube videos to do it yourself. Hair washed and combed, freshly blow-dried. Don’t worry about new outfits or making their hair and skin look flawless. Kids are supposed to be raw, natural, innocent, and photograph that way, too.
What’s funny is that almost every time my kids have an auction or a job, somebody has marker on their arms or face, or a new scab, cut, or bruise from the playground. Last month my daughter decided she wanted bangs. She cut them herself. Yyyyyeah. They seriously don’t understand that their face is what’s being hired! While I don’t want them to be unnecessarily focused on their appearance, but I have to remind them to be mindful of those things.
Youth theaters and community centers offer classes in dance, acting, musical theater. If there is a performing arts class offered at their school, take advantage of that. It’s also great to have them read aloud to you, practice enunciation, memorizing and speak poetry, short scripts, role-playing with you or their siblings. Even learning a musical instrument and performing. These are skills that will build their confidence and presence in front of other people and cameras.
We always knew that Chloe loved to sing, so we started her in the kids choir at church. When a dance and acting class opened up at the local theater, we signed her up. For weeks before it started, she talked to us about how nervous she was and how she didn’t know what to do. We assured her it would be fine, and we all have to try new things sometimes. After the first class she was beaming! Absolutely loved it, this girl was made to perform.
Going to auditions is great training all on its own. If it’s for TV, sometimes they have to learn lines, express emotions in a certain way, and definitely always interact with adults. I’ve seen the kids grow so much in their confidence after each experience. Personality is key is child acting and modeling.
Emphasize the importance of following directions. This is a huge part of teaching professionalism. I have to remind the kids to look adults in the eye when they speak to them and answer them clearly. If don’t practice being aware, they will miss directional cues, and we may not get a call back. Communication is key, and they learn quicker when faced with these real life situations.
Pack a bag for auditions & jobs with games, books, and snacks. Some casting calls may take hours of just waiting to be called. Others are quick and easy. But be prepared just in case. Scout out the location ahead of time if possible and leave time to find parking. Always arrive to the job at least 10 minutes early.
Parents, don’t hover. Let the kids do their thing if they’re old enough to speak for themselves. Hang back and let the director or production assistants handle the situation. They are most likely use to working with kids. I like to use the time to catch up on reading or talk with and encourage the other parents. Sometimes I’ll offer to help if they look rushed or behind schedule.
MAKE IT FUN! Pretend like you’re at an amusement park, keep a good attitude and encourage them as you go. If you get bored and impatient during the waiting, so will they, and everyone’s attitude will quickly go downhill. Bust out the activity bag, keep them alert (off the screens as much as possible because it breaks their focus), do interactive things to keep the awareness up, switch up activities every 15 – 30 minutes if it’s a long wait. (See my activity ideas in Kids on a Plane: Tips for Traveling with Children)
The company will schedule and pay talent either by the hour or at a flat daily rate. Make a note of how many hours they worked and report it to your agency for accountability. The company will pay the agency directly and the agency will pay you, usually in check form. It generally takes about 6-8 weeks to process. Make sure your W9 is on file and prepare for the agent to send you a 1099 tax form at the beginning of the following year (only if they earn over $600).
In our experience, some of the local clothing companies (for example) will pay anywhere from $25 – $40 per hour, and will only have the kids work 2-4 hours. Larger companies like Pottery Barn or Roxy will pay more, and generally the take-home check for jobs like that has been between $150 & $350 per assignment.
Keep Them Innocent
It’s important to protect your kids from the harsh realities of the entertainment industry and not perpetuate stereotypes of body image and beauty. It’s easy to look around and compare your kids to others in the audition room, but those thoughts never lead to anything positive. It’s so much more meaningful to smile, be kind to everyone, encourage other moms and help them understand the process if they ask.
I want my kids to know that it’s far more important that they’re kind people because that’s what really makes an impact in people’s lives. DO NOT put unnecessary pressure on them to be or act perfect just to get a job. If they’re having an off day, they need their parent to love them unconditionally. Never make it about money, or expect for this to be a lucrative opportunity. That kind of thinking can drive unhealthy motivations of greed and resentment.
Focus on helping your kids to develop communication skills that will build their confidence to interact in any situation. If you find that after a while it doesn’t excite them anymore, leave it alone. Be present with them in this experience and look for teachable moments to uplift and encourage their progress.
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