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How to get kids into modeling

Like most proud moms, you probably carry around adorable photos of your children. Strangers stop you on the street and tell you how cute your baby is. Friends and relatives keep saying, "You should really get your kids into modeling!''

Maybe you'd like to but don't know how to go about it.

My twin daughters have been modeling since they were 6 months old. Now 6 years old, they have signed with an international agency.

At least once a week, someone asks me how I got my daughters started. Here is what you need to know to decide whether to pursue it.

TIME COMMITMENT

Pursuing a modeling career for your child will take a lot of your time and energy. You have to get the child to the casting calls. In South Florida, this usually means driving to a studio on South Beach. Sometimes you will get two days' notice. Other times, it will be a last-minute call.

One year, on the day before Thanksgiving, my daughters' agent called to say one of the girls had been booked for a job … and they needed to be on Star Island in an hour. My daughters were in preschool in Cooper City, and it was nearing 3 p.m. We made it in one piece, and my daughter did her first cover for a JC Penney catalog.

THE RIGHT TEMPERAMENT

Does your child have the right temperament for modeling? There can be a lot of waiting around at castings, and no one wants to work with children who cry or who can't take direction. Child models must be able to smile on cue and turn on the charm.

FINDING AN AGENCY

This is where many well-intentioned parents make uninformed decisions.

If you go to a modeling agency that requires an upfront fee or money for headshots before they will work with your child, TURN AND RUN!

WHERE TO LOOK

Allee Newhoff, director of the TV and film division at Elite Miami Model and Talent Agency in Miami Beach, suggests that parents visit http://www.sag.org/ to obtain a list of agencies. 

No reputable modeling agency will ever require you to pay upfront fees. Agencies make money only after your child has booked a job. The normal rate for their commission is 20 percent. The child is paid (usually in three months from the date of the job) minus the commission. Payment can vary, depending on the job and the terms.

Karen Greer, head of the children's division at Ford Miami, asks parents to send in two or three snapshots with detailed information on the back, including the child's birth date, height, weight, and a contact number. Ford does not return photographs.

"We only call back the parents of the children we are interested in working with,'' she said. . If the agency calls, your child will be invited to an interview and perhaps be invited to be represented by the agency.

It may take a few attempts to find an agency that thinks your child has what it takes.

If an agency is interested in representing your child, read any contract carefully and be sure you understand the terms. Also make sure the agency is licensed and bonded.

PHOTOS

Once your child has an agent, you will need to provide photographs. For babies, professional shots aren't necessary because they change so quickly. A close-up of the child's face will suffice. Most agents want at least 25 photos, updated monthly. Older children will need professional pictures, called a composite or comp card.

While a legitimate agency will not ask for money upfront, they may give you the phone number of a photographer. The agent uses the photos to represent your child. Think of the expense -- which can be hundreds of dollars -- as you would ballet shoes and leotards -- all part of the commitment. You may also pay for a clothing stylist and a make-up artist, plus the printing of the comp cards.

CASTING CALLS



Hopefully, the day will come when the agent will send your child on a casting call.

There are a few different types. The best type is a "request casting.'' This means that the decision-makers at a company, such as Gap Kids,

CASTING CALL TIPS

• Don't bring the whole family.• Don't bring strollers; they take up too much room.

• Don't hover over your child as the photographer is working with him or her. The casting director wants to see that your child is able to separate from you.



have seen your child's photograph and are interested enough to see him or her in person.

Request castings usually mean the client knows the specific look they want -- a 5-year-old boy with red hair, for example -- and invites only kids who meet that criteria. These calls are usually well-organized with minimal waiting.

Open castings are a different story. They can be very crowded, since many different agencies send all of their clients who fit the call. There have been times when we have checked in and were given a number deep into the hundreds.

When my daughters were 2 1/2, we took a hiatus from modeling. They were not able to wait for long periods, and I felt we were wasting my time, the casting director's time, and the agency's time. When they were 3 or so and had more patience, we got the back into it.

DIRECT BOOKING



The best scenario is when your child has been booked for a job directly from the photo, avoiding the casting call altogether.

One year my daughters were put "on option'' or hold for 24 hours for Disney Cruise Lines. This meant that the girls were being considered for the job without ever having gone to a casting. They ended up booking the job, and I had less than a day to pack up their wardrobe with the specific type of clothing requested (which, in this case, was red, white and blue summery outfits even though it was December) and drive to the studio in Celebration by noon the next day.

HANDLING REJECTION

If your child does not book the job, do not get discouraged! Keep in mind the casting director may have wanted a certain look or that your child was the wrong size for the job.

It is imperative that older children understand that if they are not chosen, it does not mean they are not good enough or pretty enough. It simply means that the casting director wanted a girl with blonde hair or a boy with freckles. Make sure your child is emotionally able to handle rejection because that is part of the job.

People often ooh and ahh over my daughters' beauty. After I thank them for their nice words, I make a point of saying, "And they are very smart and very nice and very kind girls'' in front of my children so they do not think that it is enough to be just a pretty face.

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