Could My Child be a Child Model?
Child modelling can be an amazing experience for children, but it's not all fame and glory. We spoke to modelling agency MDs, industry insiders and parents of young models and asked them to share their advice on what's required...
All parents think that their kids are gorgeous - that's natural.
From birth, most parents are set on capturing every single moment of their child's life on camera. From the obligatory in-the-hospital bed shot to that first cute close up, to post on social media; it’s only natural that at some point most parents gaze adoringly into their offspring's eyes and think ‘my little one should be a model’.
However, how many go from thought to action to success are few and far between. London based child modelling agency, Bruce and Brown gets anywhere between 500-700 applications a week from parents hopeful that they’ve created ‘the next big thing’ but with less than 1% percent actually making it through to a follow up call, the reality of what parents see and what an agency is looking for is vast.
However, you’re convinced your child has got what it takes (why else would you be reading this?) and everyone else seems to thinks so too! Does that mean they are a potential child model? And if so, what should you do? There are plenty of job opportunities for the right children, says Janis Penn, Managing Director of London agency Scallywags. “Think of the countless ads and editorial spreads where children are used – from baby products to insurance campaigns, it’s across the board,” she says.
What special qualities does your child need?
With around 20 child model agencies across the UK, each with several hundred children on their books, it is a competitive world, warns Alysia Lewis, Director of child modelling agency Urban Angels:
There are lots of stunning children out there, all vying for similar jobs,” she says. It’s not unusual for agencies to receive more than 200 applications a week from parents of would-be child models – but 95 percent get rejected by return post. Even if your child is beautiful, he or she might not have what it takes.
"Looking great in the flesh", says modelling boss Penn,"doesn’t always translate on camera". Junior photographer Ulla Nyman looks for something more. “It’s hard to explain,” she says. “I look for the ‘shine’ in a child – their personality, their cheekiness, their jokey side.” Camilla Daniell, Head Model Booker at child model agency Bruce and Brown explains, it's going beyond a parents view,"clear skin, even hair growth and good head shape are all things we look for in babies."
A painfully shy child is an instant no, says Penn. “The first thing we look for as a child walks through the door is whether they have any life in them. They have to be enthusiastic, and make plenty of eye contact.” Elisabeth Smith, founder of London’s first child model agency and author of 'Your Child As A Model', says the best models are happy and natural, don’t mind being photographed and love dressing up. “They need to enjoy being the centre of attention,” says mum Denise Sellers, whose children modelled regularly before they started school. And it’s hard work. “Imagine standing still for ten to 15 minutes with everyone focused on you,” says Ulla Nyman. “It’s quite full-on.”
Time is money and waiting for a child to be ready is not always an option. So, be mindful of the question, is your child confident? Can you leave him/her alone or will he/she get upset?
Basically, your child will need to be confident. They do not need to be able to walk into a room full of strangers and address the entire space; they might even (if they are under five) still wrap themselves around your legs trying to hide. Importantly though, they need to overcome this shyness – ideally within 5 minutes at a casting, or a bit longer if they’re on a job – first impressions count. "Your child will need to work in a space with lots of grown-ups, all with a job to do (and the pressure that the right outcome/shot/footage is needed by the end of the day), so a child who is confident is a must." says industry expert and fashion show producer Fran Lee.
Lee adds: "Time is money and waiting for a child to be ready is not always an option. So, be mindful of the question, is your child confident? Can you leave him/her alone or will he/she get upset? Nobody from the set to the studio, at the agency or at your home will want an unhappy child in any circumstances, so think long and hard – will your child enjoy this and have they got the confidence to do it?"
And while some clients try to shoot at weekends and school holidays, this is often not the case. So, if your child is behind with schoolwork or finds it hard to catch up, missing school is not a good idea.
Mentally and emotionally they need to learn to deal with rejection also. You have to be realistic, another child might be chosen over yours simply because of their shoe size or hair length. How you explain this to your child is really important. Alysia advises parents to tell their kids to 'Enjoy the experience and be positive, if not this one than the next one… Something else will happen!’ Whilst Bruce and Brown echo this, in that ‘the casting is an experience in itself, rather than the end goal being the shoot’ something which ‘takes the pressure off the child so that they’ll be more relaxed and happy in front of the camera’.
What will a casting and photo shoot involve?
Is the world of child modelling all about glamorous locations and pots of money? Er, not exactly. You also need to be quite realistic about what a shoot involves. “For a start, there is a lot of waiting around between shots,” says Fashion Director Linda McLean, who advises that parents should attend shoots well prepared, with plenty of books, paper, pencils, drinks and snacks. Make sure your child has clean and tidy hair and nails, and a clean face when you take him/her to a shoot. A few changes of clothes are also a good idea. Your agency should tell you what you need.
And, even if your child gets a job, warns mum Denise Sellers, there is still no guarantee the pictures will be used. “For lots of commercials, they tend to book a variety of ‘types’ of children, not deciding until the day who they will use,” she explains. Both you and your child must be prepared to cope with rejection (see above) and lots of hanging around.
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Plus, if you like a rigid routine, forget it. Being the parent of a child model is a big commitment in itself. You have to be prepared to be flexible and available at short notice, castings and shoots can often come up with only 24 hours notice. “You just can’t go into it half-heartedly,” says mum Carla Doig, mother of modelling trio aged between 5-12. who admits that juggling her offspring’s careers can, at times, be fairly demanding. “You and your children have to be really flexible," she continues,“They need to get up early, eat at odd hours, wait around between shots and not mind long journeys to and from a location.”
If your child is to become a model, it's best not to sign up if you work full time as you’ll need to take him/her to these castings. These can be all over the place so you will need to be flexible in your lifestyle. Can you or someone else take time off from work? Is there someone to look after siblings etc.? Are you willing to take the bus, train or tube or drive two hours to a casting that might only take five minutes? Be realistic in what you can and can’t do. Models (and parents) may go to 5-10 castings before they get a job
Shoots usually take place on Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, and castings from 4-6pm and while some clients try to shoot at weekends and school holidays, this is often not the case. So, if your child is behind with schoolwork or finds it hard to catch up, missing school is not a good idea. Also, it's worth bearing in mind that being a good timekeeper, being reliable and prompt is a must.
Either live in London, or be prepared to travel! Harsh, but true.
Then there’s the question of how you – let alone your child – will behave on a shoot. “We need parents to be able to console, or entertain where necessary, but also know when to step back,” Linda McLean explains. “Dads can often be the worst for putting pressure on their children.” Parents who are over eager, giving direction to their child on a shoot for example is a definite no. You’ll need to instinctively know if and when you are needed by the production team and by your child. There are guidelines in place to ensure your child’s best interests are met, so trust those who your child is working with and let go as much as you have to.
Learning to let go (a bit)… "This is a hard one. You are putting your child into an industry and to some extent ‘handing them over’ to work with professionals. You might not even be chaperoning your child to the job so you’ll need to learn to let go a bit. Most children behave differently when their parent/guardian is around so more often than not, you’ll have to keep out of the way and let them get on with it if you’re ‘on set’." adds industry expert Fran Lee
Even if you’ve ticked all the right boxes, your address could stymie your child’s chances. Either live in London, or be prepared to travel! Harsh, but true. Elisabeth Smith has to deal with many angry parents whose children won’t be considered because they live too far away. “It’s not fair on children to make them travel from God-knows-where to a London studio for an hour’s work,” she says. There is work in London, Manchester and Liverpool. And that’s about it.
Shoots can feel chaotic at times and shoots with children can be unpredictable. “We have to be quite relaxed and prepared that things won’t always go the way we want,” says Linda McLean. “Babies might suddenly start teething, children turn up crying or have tummy ache. Kids are kids, and you just have to go with the way they are that day”
Lots of stuff to consider – but is it fun?
Yes, says Eva Davies, four of whose seven children are on Urban Angels’ books. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” she says. “The children love every part of the process and it’s fantastic seeing their faces when the pictures come out.” But, according to Ulla Nyman, modelling is best done in moderation. Denise Sellers enjoyed it when her kids were very young: “As long as it is quite relaxed, it is a fun, social thing to do, better than being stuck at home,” she says – but, for her, the cut-off point was when it began to be seen as ‘work’. Above all, make sure everyone is enjoying it. If either you, or your child, stop having fun – don’t do it.
If you haven’t been put off yet, the first step is to send a photograph of your child to a reputable agency. “We are not looking for folio shots, we want to see natural,” says modelling agency boss Janis Penn. This means not answering small ads for photographers or talent scouts who offer ‘professional pictures’. “These people will just rip you off,” says Elisabeth Smith. So, don’t waste money on professional photos when applying to agencies. A good model agency will need only to see snapshots to decide whether your child has potential.
Camilla Daniell, from Bruce and Brown offers advice on how to take a good application photograph, "Use an actual camera. They may look good to you, but iPhone and iPad photos are not good enough quality for us to make a decision. And, include the whole face. No hats, dummies or food on the face please!"
We are not looking for portfolio shots, we want to see natural
Each agency does things differently, be sure to check the website for how to apply. Some would rather an email, some have an online application form and others require a selection of photographs to be uploaded. Some child model agencies require a face to face consultation and meeting. Do your research and ensure you read all the T&C's and FAQ's correctly. Remember also that it can take up to 2-6 weeks for agencies to get back to successful applicants, and unfortunately most don't contact unsuccessful applicants.
>> READ MORE: What does a child model agency look for in a photograph?
How do I find a reputable modelling agency?
You’ve typed in ‘child modelling agencies’ and are bombarded by a long list – Where do you start? We can help straight away with our pick of our favourite trusted child modelling agencies, whom we have worked with in the past. First and foremost, it pays to do a little homework.
Do your research first, before you throw your child into the glamorous world of fashion and advertising (spoiler Alert – it’s not glamorous!) arm yourself with as much information as possible is probably the best idea before you print out fifty adoringly cute pics of Sid/Sam and post them out to the agencies. You need to take an honest look at the product – that being your child (and you).
Contact advertising agencies, magazines, catalogues and clothing companies to see which agencies they use regularly. If possible, visit the agency. “Then assess your surroundings,” says Penn. “Are the telephones ringing? Is there a model book? Is there evidence of recent work lying around?”
If they decide to take you on, most agencies don't charge a joining or registration fee but will expect you to pay a fee upfront to be included in the agency’s ‘model book’ - often an individual, fully searchable web page on the website. The cost can be anything from £45 to £225 and is usually yearly. It will include the cost of the online portfolio, include a professional studio photo shoot with the agency photographer and digital prints.
Remember, avoid agencies advertising for children; a genuine agency will have enough children applying to them not to advertise. Also steer clear if they charge fees up front for a consultation or interview (illegal from October 2010). And never hand over money at your first contact with the agency.
What does a child modelling agency do?
Your agency will send the model book out to clients; set up auditions, or ‘castings’; organise payments. The agency earns from commission. Most take the standard 25%/37.50% commission on all fees (excluding travel expenses). Most will help you secure your Child Performance License too. “The licence is a Government requirement for all children aged from six months to 16 years,” says Gareth Bancroft from Boss Model Management in Manchester. The licence is applied for through your Local Education Authority (LEA) or, visit the National Network for Children in Employment & Entertainment (NCEE) for more information on the employment of school-age children. Regardless of whether your child has started school. LEA requirements can vary from area to area, but generally a licence will enable your child to work between 20 to 30 times over a six-month period.
It is the client’s responsibility to apply for this licence, current legislation for licence applications requires 21 days’ notice; it is at the council’s discretion to process a licence with less notice. A good children’s model agency can also help organise this for you.
Boss Model Management encourages the parents of its protegés not to reach the upper limit of the licence allowance. “We do care about school and we want the children to get a good education,” says Bancroft. So how regular might the work be? It varies, says Janis Penn. “There can be instances where we’ll phone parents three times in a week, then it can be months before we make contact again. It depends on what requests come in.” On average, Penn says, expect between four and 20 jobs a year.
Don’t rush into signing a contract, if you have been asked to an interview, take it home to read. Genuine agencies will always want to meet your child in person and will let you read any paperwork in your own time.
How much money could my child earn?
The money can vary, from £40 a job to thousands. The average rate is around £50 an hour, but you will also get paid for going on castings (around £25). Advertising pays considerably more than editorial work but it is also much harder to get. “Loads of children go to auditions for commercials and it is really competitive," says Denise Sellers. But who’s to say you won’t get lucky? “You just might hit the jackpot and get an ad campaign that will potentially pay your child’s university fees,” says Linda McLean. A successful child model could earn anywhere between £1000 to £50k and then some in their career.
Being a parent to a child model is often very boring, you are tucked away unable to watch or participate. This is not a football match where you stand on the sidelines cheering. It is not glamorous and you do not get lots of free clothes.
The Bigger Picture. On average a child modelling career can last from birth to sixteen but many children discover other interests and hobbies along the way that they’d rather pursue. Your child’s image however, will probably live the test of time so from that perspective – are you comfortable with this? Catwalk producer, Fran Lee adds, "When Johnny/Jane is twenty-one what will they say to you and what will you say to them? In an age where we all are constantly uploading images of our little ones, will they one day turnaround to us and say ‘I wish you’d never done that!’"
Before you get to that point though you’ll need to be investing in your child’s career. This does not mean paying for professional pictures upfront (don’t ever do this!) but it will mean paying for the travel to go to castings, potentially taking days off from work etc. Your child may make a lot of money during their career or they may not. So, if you want a nest egg for your kid, perhaps also consider the traditional route of saving and/or investment.
Finally, being a parent to a child model is often very boring, you are tucked away unable to watch or participate. This is not a football match where you stand on the sidelines cheering. It is not glamorous and you do not get lots of free clothes. There is an enormous amount of downtime where your kid will need to be entertained either by you (if you’re there) or a colouring book, but more than likely an electronic device. Shoots can be long, bedtime routines messed up and schooling missed.
On the upside though, it is fun, your child will get to see and experience many different types of people and locations. If you’re lucky they might even travel abroad. Most parents, however, don’t seem to be in it for the money, but for the memories the photographs will bring. You will often have wonderful pictures of them to share (imagine the calendars you’ll be able to create for grandparents?).
It's also a life experience. They learn social skills, a good work ethic and it can build your child's self confidence, self esteem and self worth. You will be educating your son/daughter about the world of work from an early age and potentially making contacts with people who can help them in the future. You will no doubt make friends along the way and discover a new kind of ‘family’ to share your child.
The child modelling industry is unlike any other – it isn’t just about the end result it’s about allowing children to be children and capturing them just at the right moment.