To become a model you must get an agent. Not just because that’s how you get to go on castings and book jobs, but for your safety and well-being. An agent acts as a ‘buffer’ between yourself and the client – if there’s a problem between you and a client, then the agency will be the ones to sort it out. Your agency will negotiate your fees for your jobs (they have decades of experience and know exactly how much to charge for each and every shoot), they will invoice the client and make sure that you get paid. They also handle your day-to-day schedule, taking ‘options’ for potential jobs and making sure that nothing clashes. If you do have more than one job option on any one day, your agency will decide which one you take, whether it be because it’s the higher fee or the better publicity.
Without an agency, most clients wouldn’t even look twice at a model – in fact, without an agency, most models wouldn’t even know who the clients even were! It would be extremely difficult to arrange an appointment with a (good, reputable) photographer or catalogue client without an agency – there are hundreds – thousands – of girls represented by top agencies, so why would they make time to see someone who wasn’t represented?
Let me also set a little scene for you (and this goes back to the points in the first paragraph): you see an ad in a paper and it says “models wanted – no experience necessary.” OOH! you think – that’s me! I could do that! So you call up the number and a nice friendly man answers and gives you directions to a studio off in an industrial estate somewhere. You travel to the location (all excited and keen!) and when you get there you do some pictures. Now, let’s assume for the moment that a) you don’t get asked to take your clothes off (by a stranger?! Are you mad?!) and b) you don’t get sexually molested or attacked – lucky you! (I’m not saying, by any means, that all photographers advertising for models in a paper will be dodgy, but you can imagine that this is the perfect ‘career’ to prey on enthusiastic, good-looking young girls.) So far so good – you have pictures. Are they any good? Probably not. A proper, reputable agency will get you these types of shoots for free, with good, working photographers that don’t have to advertise in the Woking Herald or the Springfield Gazette. Where is Mr Paper-Ad Photographer going to place your photos? Will they end up in Cosmo, Elle Magazine, Harpers, Tatler? I’d place money on the fact that the pictures will never see the light of day – at least not for anything that will remotely benefit an aspiring model. Next question: are you going to charge the photographer for your time? Maybe not for this shoot, but hey – you want to make a living out of this modelling thing, surely? How much are you going to charge? What’s the going rate? Do you think you’ll get the ‘going rate’ just by asking nicely when you get to the job? An agency wouldn’t even let you go to a job until they had a signed confirmation sheet from the client detailing exactly how much money they were going to pay for your time.
Does the whole ‘agency’ thing make a bit more sense now? I hope so! There are so many little bits and bobs that need explaining, but in general, think of it like this: without an agent, there is no job. No proper, money-making, safe job, anyway. Even if you are lucky enough to make your own contacts / get spotted by Vogue / ‘win’ a contract with Wonderbra, you’ll still need a team of people behind you to manage your bookings, introduce you to big agencies in other countries and make sure that you’re kept safe.
A couple of points:
1) A reputable agency will never ask for money upfront. Any photographic tests, model cards, portfolios and so on will be added to your account so that when you start earning they get paid off. You would very rarely have to pay for any ‘start-up’ costs yourself.
2) Reputable agencies do scout on the streets and at festivals or exhibitions, but they will always have an official card to give you with the name of the agency they belong to. Always look up the agency online and ring their main number to speak to the person that scouted you and that way you’ll know that they are genuinely working for the agency they say they are. (I hear of all kinds of dangerous cons going on!)
3) Don’t get expensive portrait photos done to show agencies – you just need two or three snapshots. They could be from a recent holiday! One of your face and one showing your figure (but it doesn’t have to be in underwear, not at all!)
4) A list of great agencies in London can be found here: Association of Model Agencies