Spent the afternoon with Steve from Whisler Civilian and got to the the hat making process first hand. Whisler Civilian is a local Philadelphia business with a workshop located in the Bok Building -- a historic vocational school recently reopened as a manufacturing. art and creative space in South Philadelphia.
I decided to write this blog post because I get a lot of models asking me how to become a model? How to get signed to an agency? To be honest I have very little knowledge in answering those questions 100%. So I decided to ask my good friend Madeleine about her journey and what it takes to be a model in this blog post.
Quick backstory, Maddie and I were roommates for less than a year before she moved to NYC. I was one of the first photographers to shoot her and we became good friends. Not even a month after shooting she needed a place to live to finish college and my roommates and I thought she would be an awesome fit in the house. Since living together, I've seen Maddie's modeling career go from zero to 100 real quick over the last 2 years. She's gone on to work with L'Oreal, Vanity Fair, Redken, Adidas, Oribe, Finish Line, Apple, Maybelline, Urban Outfitters, and probably every single one of your favorite Instagram photographers.
So what's it take to be a model? I know thats a loaded question. Its very ambiguous.
The most important thing it takes to be a model is drive. You're going to hear a lot of "no's", at least thats how it was in my experience. As long as you are consistent and have real passion and drive and just a little bit of patience, you can go a long way. You also very much need confidence. The entire modeling industry thrives off of their subject being confident. If you are not, well- the pictures probably won't turn out very good and your bookings will become less and less.
What advice would you give to someone from transitioning from shooting with their friends for fun to getting signed to an agency?
My own transition from shooting for fun to a full time career was DIFFICULT, as it will be for almost everyone. I think there comes a point in a models life where he or she needs to put their foot down and decide they will no longer shoot for free. When I reached this point, I had shot with well over 100 photographers in my area, my book was stacked, and I was broke. It was then that I knew I needed to make the choice to be a serious model, and that meant being serious about money. So naturally, I quit my day job! Ha! Sounds counterproductive and when you think about it, it totally is. But I knew that if I wanted to become full time, I had to take a leap of faith. This was a pivotal point in my career and who did I immediately reach out to for advice? Dustin Genereux. Dustin, you were actually the person who taught me how to handle rates. I remember I asked you what a good hourly rate for me would be, and you said to start at $50/hr and raise your rate by $25 every few months as you start to get busier. I still use that method to this day.
So after telling everyone and their mothers that collaborations were no longer on the table but they could hire me for $50/hr, something happened....my inbox went radio silent for 2 full months. Photographers unfollowed me (you don't want these people following you anyway), told me I should be paying them (this is an entirely too long conversation that I might address later), basically- people got angry. But I stuck to my guns. IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO STAND YOUR GROUND. Fast forward to 2 months later when someone finally hired me for my rate. Then another. Then another. The rest of the Instagram world started catching on. What's that? Maddie is still shooting everyday? But how? Her rates are $50 an hour? Are people hiring her? Goddamn right they were. Almost instantly I bumped my rates by $25, and people paid. I was working almost every day just hustling for myself, without an agency. After busting my butt and finding my own modeling jobs online, I got an email from MSA Models in New York City. They wanted to meet with me. Long story short, they offered me a 3 year non exclusive contract, which I sat on and did not sign for about 4 months. I was very skeptical and the thought of signing my life away for 3 years scared me to death, especially since I knew nothing about the professional modeling world or legally binding contracts for that matter.
So to answer the question, I think each model will have a different path to getting signed. But know that being broke and not getting work right away will be a common theme. Just hang in there. Find casting sites, research agencies, email them, set up meetings, SHOW UP. And remember that you will hear a lot of "no's" before you get a "yes".
Well I know you're in the 5'2" range, so how does that play a factor in your career?
Let's talk about height! I am 5'2. I do not even qualify to be a petite model. I am still modeling. Listen up my fellow shorties, now is the time to try to model. The industry is changing, (super super slow), but it is happening. All shapes and sizes are being accepted now, which is wonderful. With that being said, my height is still an issue a lot of the time. I am constantly getting rejected from agencies and jobs because I am seen as "too short". I've been told to lose weight, to cut my hair, to grow my hair- bottom line is you can't be perfect for everyone, it's impossible. The best version you can be is the person you are right now without having to change a thing. I used to be super self conscious about my height, but now I don't even think twice about it. As long as you can show up to a casting and rock the look you have right now, no matter what shape or size you are, that's all that matters.
The best advice I can give to someone on the smaller side that wants to model is just go for it. Don't take "no" for an answer. Keep trying, keep showing up, keep working harder than all the other tall girls out there. DO NOT GIVE UP. I think it's true that as a shorter model you do have to work a little harder to stand out and prove yourself, but it is possible to do it. As I mentioned before, the most important aspect to being a successful model is having the passion and drive. Work for what you want.
What age did you start modeling? What made you want to go from going to school for film to modeling?
I started modeling super late in the game, at age 21. This is normally the age where a model's career comes to an end. I decided to wait until I was finished with college before going for it. I like to say that I kind of fell into modeling on accident. After I had moved in with Dustin and 4 other photographers, I would shoot around for fun and help the guys with lighting tests and new concepts. I quickly learned that modeling was not at all easy and I was actually pretty garbage at it- so naturally, I wanted to get better. Once I had graduated film school, I moved to New York to work for HBO and Showtime, while still modeling on the side just for fun. The last film job I ever did was so horrible, that I quit- and thank goodness for that, because now I am living my dream as a full time model.
Tell everyone about your road to getting signed to your agency? The process? How did you find representation? How many casting calls or go see's did you go on before you got a call back?
Signing to an agency, ok. Let me start by saying that I never thought I would ever get signed. The first agency that ever reached out to me called me in for a meeting where the agent blabbed to me for 3 hours before trying to sell me classes to take to "prove" myself as a model before I was allowed to sign. SCAM! Do not ever pay an agency. An agency is supposed to make YOU money, and then once you have made money, they take a small percentage- standard is 20%. So obviously I was super discouraged after my first potential shot at signing. Soon after though, my agency MSA models, now STATE Management, found me and called me in. I signed a 3 year deal with them. After signing, I got sent on a few castings and was super nervous. I didn't book anything for about 2 months before I landed my first ever job shooting for Clarisonic. Once I had booked my first job I felt super relieved, and the nerves quickly went away. About 2 years after working with STATE, I signed with another agency MMG Models, non exclusively. I am proud to say that I just signed to my third agency, Travo Managment, as of yesterday!
Some advice to models once they sign a contract: First and foremost, never sign a contract right there on the spot. Always take a copy with you and sit on it for at least a week. Read it over and over- have your lawyers look it over. Anything that is legally binding should always be reviewed thoroughly. Secondly, a huge misconception about signing is many people think that once you sign, it is all smooth sailing from there. Guess again. Just because you now have an agency does not mean the work will just flow to you. ALWAYS be proactive about getting work. I actually believe that once you sign you have to start working even harder. Make sure you over communicate to your agents about your schedule and being hungry for work. If you don't hear from them in a few weeks, check in! It is very common that agencies put their girls on a shelf for not being proactive enough. I cannot say it enough, drive and passion. Work for what you want.
How to get noticed by an agency: GO TO THEM. I got very lucky that my agency actually found me. Go online, do research, look at their board of girls and client list. Then send them an email. Include pictures, ask to set up a meeting, show up, bring your book/portfolio. It is very rare that an agency will come to you and offer you a contract. Again, keyword: proactive. :)
Gives us a quick run down of your first job to your latest job, (if there are NDAs and you can't talk about it, just list some you can)
My first ever job was for Clarisonic. I got super lucky that the photographer turned out to be my ex boyfriend Jon Stars, who I had dated back in college. We did not plan that, I swear. Thankfully I felt super comfortable having a friend on set so I was less nervous! To this day I have still not even seen that campaign- I'm not sure that it ever got released, which happens some times. Another note of advice: be kind and grateful to every single person you meet on set. The makeup artist on my first shoot, I ended up working with about 10 more times for Maybelline a few years later. The industry can be very small so make friends!
My most recent job was just the other day for Redken. I ended up getting in with Redken because a model that they hired had a fit and walked off set, and I was called in last minute as a replacement. Since that first job with them, they have hired me 11 times since, and officially have me on payroll. I love going back and working for them because they are like family to me now. Most of a models income will be from recurring clients; so to beat you over the head some more, be pleasant on set. It can and will turn into more jobs down the road.
How important has social media, mostly Instagram, been for your career? How often do you post?
Instagram is a double edged sword. It plays a huge part in a models career. When I first started modeling, Instagram did not matter. Now I am required on castings to tell the client how many followers I have. It's silly because a company should not be hiring you based on numbers, but on your look! Companies and brands want the extra free marketing though, so to have a bigger social media following will always help. I also find a lot of jobs coming in for me because of my Instagram, so try to be present and active on social media, as much as it may pain you. Personally, I post sporadically. Anywhere from 3 times a day, to once every 2 weeks. I don't advise doing it that way. I think consistency is key to building a following!
Prior to getting signed how many hours do you think you spent looking up castings or potential jobs?
Not just prior to getting signed but even still today I spend roughly 25-35 hours a week researching jobs and castings. It's all about the hustle. Just because I am signed doesn't not mean jobs just flow in. I am constantly on my email searching for work!
Day to day diet, skin, and fitness regime? How important is this?
Diet, skin, and fitness is very important, as this is a surface industry. I am religious about my skin care, as I find myself booking mostly beauty work since I am on the shorter side. I always try to eat clean and exercise when I can. But I don't kill myself with it. My mantra is "I have my cake and eat it too." Meaning, I don't starve myself, I don't live at the gym, I love cheating and eating sweets- and guess what? I still get work. It's all about balance. If you're killing yourself to fit into model standards, it takes all the fun out of it. Be a model that has her cake and eats it too.
I sometimes get asked what do I shoot with or what equipment I use in the studio. Kit.com makes it super easy to compile a list of everything in my pelican cases, camera bag, and in my studio that I use pretty much on a daily basis. From cameras to lenses to prisms everything I use is listed below!