A (Somewhat Jaded) Guide to the Baby Modeling Business
They’re more fun than go-sees, but not much: Don’t go to a shoot expecting the supermodel treatment. In general, cute babies seem to be considered commodities whose sole reason for existence is to help companies sell their products, and they need to be kept happy only so that the shoot will go well. This sounds harsh, and there are some genuinely nice, child-friendly photographers out there, but the reality is that (1) they see a lot of babies, (2) they’re concentrating on making perfect pictures so that their own careers can go well, and (3) to use the cliché, time is money, and they don’t want to spend it playing peek-a-boo or telling you that your child clearly has superstar potential.
It is, however, definitely true that the more “upscale” shoots (magazine covers and advertising) are much more pleasant and professionally run than the average catalogue shoot (and they pay more). The nicest people that Alessandro ever worked with were the ones at the Baby Gap shoots. Of course, most of them were from San Francisco, where it’s O.K. to be nice.
Come prepared: There’s often a lot of down time for your child during shoots—sometimes hours. Bring food (some, but not all, shoots are catered, but your child may not like sundried tomatoes, couscous salad, and vegetable terrine), toys, pillows, stuffed animals, and anything else that will help keep your child content and comfortable.
You, as a parent, are considered a necessary evil: Your job is to get your child to the shoot on time, to keep her happy by any means necessary, and to stay out of the way. No one wants your advice on what she should wear or which angle to shoot from.
Remember whose parent you are: Neither you nor your child are likely to get VIP treatment, and behaving like a diva will get you nowhere, but when brusque efficiency becomes downright incivility toward you or—much worse—your child, you need to do something about it. Bookers will tell you to simply call them and let them handle it, but I believe that there are situations that warrant picking your little commodity up and getting him out of the studio
Only once did I encounter a photographer and crew so surly, rude, and insulting that walking out mid film-roll would have been the best thing to do (I still regret that I was too intimidated at the time to do so, and waited until the end of the shoot to leave—in tears). It was, of course, a low-budget catalogue shoot for a department store I’d never heard of. Apparently every child who’d shown up that day had refused to cooperate, and the shoot was a disaster (Alessandro did cooperate; I can only hope that the photographer’s assistant forgot to load film into the camera before they started shooting). I did call Wilhelmina after we left. The bookers were supportive and spoke to the photographer about what had happened, but it wasn’t enough to assuage my wrath.
Be careful what you sign: In addition to the model agency’s release form, a photographer may ask you to sign his own. This could mean that he can use pictures taken of your child during the shoot for purposes not related to the original intent of the shoot. This may be fine (he may simply want to put them in his portfolio), but always check with your bookers before signing anything other than what they’ve given you.
There are laws—sort of: When you sign a contract with a model agency, they will tell you where to go to get a modeling permit for your child (none of the clients that Alessandro worked for ever asked to actually see the permit, but you are required to have one). Laws regulating the print model industry seem somewhat nebulous compared to those pertaining to television and film, and they vary from state to state. The Department of Labor has a website (www.dol.gov/esa) with some information about the industry, and the modeling permit itself mentions some regulations. For children who are working in television or film, the Screen Actors Guild website contains the AFTRA-SAG Young Performers Handbook, which is clear and very useful.
It’s unlikely that your child will get rich, become a star, learn much that is useful or, except for brief periods when she’s being entertained for the benefit of the shot, have a lot of fun by working as a model. But, provided that you keep in perspective the importance of being “in the business” in her (and your) life and future, there are some benefits: (1) you’ll get some insight into how the “magic” of advertising is actually made, (2) the money that she makes can be used for things like school, books, and toys, and (3) when she’s sixteen or so, you’ll have nice pictures to show her dates when they stop by to pick her up.
Last night I asked Alessandro if he remembered working as a model. He did. I then asked him if he’d want to do it again. He shook his head. What he wanted to do, he told me, was to use his own camera to “take pictures of the studio guys” (the photographers). Apparently, he learned one good lesson from the experience: having the power to create an image is preferable to being one.
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