If you're following me on Instagram (you are right?) you might already know this, but my daughter is a bit of a child model. She's appeared in online and print campaigns for tech companies, kids clothing lines and been on the cover of the Pottery Barn Kids catalog—twice! To say these things are a thrill is a bit of an understatement!
I was like lots of parents who saw kids in ads after she was born and thought, "My child is cute enough to do that! Where do we sign up?" But truth be told, there is a lot of work and more than just a cute face needed to get those jobs. It was can also be one of the most exciting experiences ever to see your child's face arrive in your mailbox.
Since I've shared photos of Mia's shoots and projects lots of friends (and friends of friends) have reached out to find out how all this is going on. So I'm outlining the process here for other parents wanting to learn more about it all! Keep in mind this is our personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt as you look into this for your own family. Here are just some of the questions we had to figure out and answer for ourselves.
Do you have an agent?
Most of Mia's work has been booked through her agent. We live in San Francisco so we found an agency that works on projects in this area. I suggest finding an agent in your area that has reputable reviews. Folks have asked me about modeling scouts—I've never worked with one but I have been told numerous times that a pro agent will not ask you to pay for their services. They get a percentage of the money your child earns as their fee.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, you do NOT need a fancy professional photo shoot to get an agent. People who tell you that want to make money off the shoot, not getting your child gigs. Mia had two agencies approach us based on iPhone pictures, and suggested an inexpensive shoot after we were signed and she began working—we paid less than $200 for all photos, sent directly to the agent to add to her portfolio. Getting started should not be an expensive endeavor—if someone says otherwise, be wary.
I would also add you don't need to be in a major city to get work. My sister is a model who got her start in our hometown of Bakersfield, Ca. and now has a thriving career in Los Angeles, one of the world's modeling capitals.
Does your kid take direction well?
Cute factor aside, kids in the toddler age need to be able to take instructions from total strangers in weird environments for many shoots. Like a warehouse full of crap with a tiny corner set up to look like a studio. It could be brightly lit, very loud, crowded and lots of other environmental factors that are completely out of your control. Parents usually are not allowed on set while their kids are shooting, so thinking you can console your child if they get fussy or upset in front of the camera is not going to happen. Shoots book backup kids in case someone isn't up to it that day, so if your child isn't in the mood they will be politely dismissed. Agents look for the clients that seem comfortable in front of the camera to sign, just like the producers will do when you go on an audition.
Do your child get paid?
Yes—child models do get paid. The rates are set by the job and there isn't negotiating going on. Kids are paid hourly and make one rate if they are booked as a main talent, and another lower rate if they are booked as backup. The rates are good but kids are only allowed to work a few hours a day per California's child labor laws, so they aren't earning a ton. There is someone on set to make sure kids don't go over those time limits, so don't envision an 8 hour day. Its more like 2-3 hours tops.
There are also jobs that pay in clothes, photos and other forms of trade. You'll see a lot of these jobs on Craigslist, Instagram and across the web. Just because a job doesn't pay cash doesn't mean it's not legitimate, but you'll have to decide if its worth your time
How much time do you have?
Seriously. Between auditions, callbacks and shoots, having a child model can take a lot of time. You might need to go to three or more separate activities for one project. Consider all the elements of going to an audition:
The actual audition (which will undoubtedly be the shortest part of this experience)
I've met parents who have driven over an hour to bring their kids to go-sees and auditions. Shoots may be booked in beautiful locations even farther away. We've had projects in the city and traveled for others. Another factor? They usually pop up quickly; no one gets a month's notice for an audition, and even a week is a luxury. So a fairly high degree of flexibility is necessary to get your child there.
How will you feel if nothing happens?
You may submit your super cute kid to multiple agencies and never hear back. Your child may get an agent and never be sent on auditions. Your child may audition and never get the gig. I have seen parents go above and beyond to get attention for their children, and it may or may not make a difference. I've also seen parents go all "Stage Mom" on their kids to get them to perform for the camera. After one particularly terrible experience witnessing parents going to absurd lengths to book a shoot I decided if that's what it took we wouldn't do it. I don't want to scare or force Mia into doing things she doesn't want to do, and I also don't want to become an ugly parent to get my child work. So far she enjoys it, I've kept my sanity, and its been much more fun than hassle!
Good luck on your families modeling journey!