A parent recently sent me this email: "Wendy, I have a question. I've spent quite a bit of money on an agency in Memphis, TN to get my son into modeling/acting. I'm just wondering if things like this usually cost $ upfront or am I getting scammed? HELP PLEASE!"
HERE IS MY ANSWER: Parents, if you have a child you want to get into modeling or commercials, you should be able to send his/her picture to any talent agency for the cost of postage. If they are interested in your child they will ask to meet you and the child and evaluate their skill level, personality and your attitude. If all three are agreeable to the agency, they will typically sign your child to a 1 year contract. Next they will submit your child's picture to casting directors to try to get them auditions or casting opportunities. Sometimes they use the pictures you give them. Usually not.
They should not be charging ANY kind of up front fee. Period. Now realize early on, after they have been signed to an agency or manager, your child will need professional pictures to submit to casting directors. Typically agencies give parents a list of photographers they recommend you shoot with. Once you have choosen which photographer you prefer you go get professional pictures taken of your child. The agent would then look at them, pick a few of their favorites and use them to suggest your child for potential projects. Be wary of any agency that makes you choose a specific photographer or shoot with their photographer. Legit agencies don't care where you get the shots just as long as they are good and they can use them.
If your child is selected to do a project, you will be paid and the agent will be paid 10% of whatever you make. That is the only way it works. No legit agency takes upfront money, ever. Agencies are paid ONLY if your child works.
Now that being said, there are showcases across the country that take place where a parent pays (sometimes handsomely) for the child to attend audition for managers, agents and casting directors. To be clear this can cost hundreds, sometimes even thousands of dollars. The event is to give children an opportunity to be seen by legit industry people. And yes, the person putting it on is making a profit from the event. Fees are involved here because Agents, Manager and Casting Directors are always paid hundreds of $$ to attend, so parents are charged so these people can be paid. And the space needs to be rented, food needs to be provided for the showbiz reps. The more industry pros they bring in, the more expensive the cost of the show case will be. Also the more kids that sign up, the more profit there is in it for the organizer. Some events are terrific some not so much.
Now many times a kiddo with talent, or a great look will be noticed by the professionals in the room and can get an agent, manager or even audition with a casting director. However, the majority of kids are over looked for a multitude of reasons including; the child is not talented enough, not practiced enough, not good enough, mumbles, doesn't sing in key, looks down the whole time, poor eye contact, etc.
On the other hand…. a child may get chosen for representation if they have great look, do something funny in the reading, are cute, or quirky, different…or something about a child just appeals to a specific industry pro. Recently, I attend a great showcase with top agents, managers and casting directors. I saw about 75 kids and of them 5 amazing kids! However, MOST of the children needed way more acting training. I often follow up with parents of kids that I really am interested in managing.
Remember though we see thousands of kids every year. We can always tell when a child is ready to be there. Parents never can tell. Every parent thinks their kid is special and ready for the big time. Do your child a favor, get them some acting lessons for kids and definitely some improvisation classes for kids so they have some training and can do better in the room with industry pros. Most kids without Improv training are too stiff. Stiff kids don't get agents and managers. And please, if you are not a professional acting teacher, do NOT coach your child on acting. You are more likely to mess them up rather than help. Get your kids into real acting classes with professional acting teachers who know what they are doing. Then your child will do much better!
So yes, showcases are paid events. Money exchanges hands in order for a child to attend. But signing with an agency should cost you ZERO $$. And if you don't have money to spend enrolling your child in paid showcases, just make a list of potential agencies, have some good pictures taken of your child and send them to child agents. You can even send a school photo. or take one yourself. Just be sure your child is clean, dressed nice and has great energy in the photo. No blurry pics, or runny noses, no kids hanging from a tree or upside down. Just straight forward, against a blank wall, looking at the camera, smiling, happy, friendly or even serious.
That alone could get you meetings with agencies without ever having to spend another dime.
Wendy Alane Wright
The Hollywood Talent Manager