September 29, 2011

Becoming A Commercial Print Model


Disclaimer: This post is about Commercial Print, because this is the only type of modeling that I do and feel confident speaking of. I am NOT an expert and am only speaking from MY perspective based on MY experiences. I always encourage others to try different methods that may work for them. Please keep in mind that this post mostly deals with major markets such as NYC or Los Angeles. I don’t know anything about smaller markets or the resources available to aspiring models in those markets. 

I tried to make this as in depth as possible so it’s quite a lengthy read. Pop some popcorn and grab a drink!


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I cannot tell you guys how many emails I get from people asking me how to get started as a model. My eyes always kind of glaze over when I read the question because, frankly, there is no simple way to answer it. But I’m starting to realize that what people are REALLY asking is for me to tell them what I did to get started.

So, here is a summary of how I got started:

I met a photographer at a photo printing studio who asked me if I’d ever considered modeling. Yes, I had considered it, but didn’t feel a strong enough desire to pursue it. I also had the misguided notion that working as a model would somehow lower my credibility as an actor. Oh, youth. Anyway, we chatted a bit and he told me about a website called Model Mayhem, which is a really great networking site for models, photographers, makeup artists, etc. Users create their “portfolios” and add their stats and photo preferences for other to peruse. People then reach out to each other to collaborate on projects, usually on a trade basis. Meaning, you each work for free with the understanding that you will have new photos for your portfolio. He gave me his card and I left.

I checked out his work on Model Mayhem and really liked what I saw. He had good references and I felt like I could get some good photos out of a trade. So, we did a shoot and I got some adorable photos. Well, at the time they were adorable but I hope they never surface in the future. Haha!!!

I created a page on MM with about 5 photos, including one of my first headshots. I immediately started getting messages with requests to collaborate on photoshoots. A couple of months after putting up my page, I got a phone call from a hair weave/extension company that was looking for models for an upcoming shoot. I was only moderately interested until the woman told me that I’d be paid $500 for the day. FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!?? I had never been paid for a modeling or acting job up to this point so it was VERY exciting for me.

Doing that shoot and walking out with a $500 check was exhilarating. I was a model! For the next several months my only paid modeling jobs were with this company because I did not have an agent. I’d ended up going back to Texas for about 6 months (this was the end of 2007) and came back in April of 2008. I linked up with the hair company again, did some more shoots with them, and I got some new headshots as a trade with a photographer who was building his portfolio. Sometime around October of 2008 I submitted 3 photos to Gilla Roos (now closed) who gave people the chance to submit photos through their website. Two days later, I got a call from them and was asked to come in for a meeting. I went in and met Jillian who took me on right away. About two weeks later, I booked my first major print job, earning $4000. I ended up booking two more jobs before Gilla Roos closed, and a few months later I submitted to an agent at CESD via facebook. Yes, facebook. I was contacted for a meeting that same day and have worked with them ever since. Around that same time. Jillian started the print division (PMG Models) at Prestige Management Group and introduced me to my manager, Christopher Silveri.

That’s how I became a model and got with my first agencies.

The biggest mistake that a lot aspiring models make is that they try to become fashion models. If you aren't at least 5'7" IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. They don't do their research enough to learn about all of the different types of modeling. Besides commercial print and fashion, there's beauty modeling, fitness modeling, maternity, glamour (aka nude, think Playboy), urban modeling, fetish (I hear it pays well...), and the often overlooked parts modeling (hands, feet, legs).

The most common and recognized style aside from fashion is commercial print. It's also the most lucrative.

What Is Commercial Print?

It’s not fashion. That’s not to say you may never be modeling clothes (I’ve worked for Puma), because there are plenty of “commercial” clothing lines that will hire commercial print models for their clothes. But as a general rule, commercial print is all about products. I’m talking anything from toothpaste, cell phones, pain meds, hair color, candy, etc.

There are no height or weight requirements, age limits, or racial boundaries. People of all ages, races, and weights purchase/need/want various products and commercial print models represent those demographics. Some commercial print models are gorgeous or what many clients like to refer to as aspirational (meaning, they want the targeted consumer to see the person and aspire to be just like them), some look like average/everyday people, some are really hip or tough looking, some are super preppy. It just depends on what the client is looking for. The most important thing is that the model seems relatable to the client’s targeted customer base.

Commercial print ads tend to project happiness, contentment, or satisfaction with whichever product is being represented. It is rare that you will see a print ad where the model seems unhappy. If the model is unhappy, it’s usually for comedic reasons.

Grab a magazine and flip through it. Pay attention to the advertisements that you see and take note of what kinds of models are in the ads. Pay attention to their facial expressions and body language. This is the type of energy that you, as a commercial print model, will need to project when having your photos taken. That relaxed, happy energy is what will get you booked.

Print vs Fashion

A lot of people ask me if print models make more money than fashion models. The general answer is yes. Obviously, if your name is Chanel Iman or Adriana Lima, that’s not true. In order to make really good money in fashion, you have to be a “name”. Sounds familiar, right?

All of the fashion models that I know say that the bulk of their income comes from doing fashion shows. The pay rates are from a few hundred to a few thousand per model. The biggest source of income for fashion models are campaigns, and most of those go to super models or models that are already building names for themselves. Editorials don’t pay much at all. I’m talking around $200 for the entire day. Magazines are notoriously cheap in the way that they pay models. The biggest incentive to doing a magazine shoot for such little pay is the exposure and the amazing photos that the models can add to their books.

If you go to enough print castings, you will notice that a good number of the models there are from fashion agencies. Some fashion agencies have print divisions, but most of them just send their models out to print castings along with the commercial print agencies. If you are not at least 5’7”, I would not recommend submitting to the print divisions of fashion agencies.

The biggest reason why commercial print is more lucrative than fashion is because commercial print models don't age out the way fashion models do. The career longevity is unmatched.

Pay Rates & Making A Living

Print jobs can pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars, to several thousand dollars. Pay rates are determined by the company/product size (Coca Cola or a Mom & Pop diner), the usage terms, where it will run (just the USA or internationally), and whether or not you will be paid exclusivity (not being able to work for a competitor for a specified amount of time).

Can you make a living as a print model? I’m sure many people can and do, but I think it’s smart to have more than one stream of income. I don’t just do print modeling, I also do commercials and acting. Oh, and being married helps. ;)

Just like with acting, it’s a very unpredictable business. Some months you may book 4-5 gigs, the next month you could book nothing. 

Getting Started

Photos & Photographers

Contrary to popular belief, you do NOT need a portfolio. Fashion models certainly need them, but not commercial print models. Don’t go out and waste a bunch of time/money paying to have a portfolio shot. You will be very disappointed when no one ever asks to see it. My portfolio, that I stopped updating nearly two years ago is under a stack of about 10 magazines. The only time I’m asked for is when I’m being seen for a beauty campaign for hair relaxers/hair color. And in this digital age, I’m rarely asked for my comp card.

Your number one priority should be to have a couple of really decent photos that you can submit to agencies. Notice I said “decent”. The photos don’t have to be amazing, but they should be professionally done (re: look professional) even if they are the result of a trade. A simple smiling headshot is perfect when you’re starting out. Most casting directors don’t care whether or not you have a comp card. I’m BEGGING you, please don’t submit photos that were taken on a digital camera, or cell phone. You have NO idea how badly you are embarrassing yourself! If you don’t have at least one professional photo, then wait until you get one. Don’t be desperate! 

What’s most important are that the photos give off good energy. Smiles are great (preferred, even), especially when they are genuine. Ninety nine percent of commercial print photos that you see in magazines are showing people that are happy and full of energy. If they aren’t happy, they are proud, or content, or inspired. You are selling a product. Consumers don’t want to buy a product that will make them sad or unsatisfied.

If you decide to do a trade shoot, make sure you choose your photographer carefully and this is for safety reasons, especially if you’re a woman/girl. A lot of photographers have small studio spaces in their homes, especially if they aren’t making a good living. This is not unusual, but it’s still no excuse to throw caution to the wind. Never shoot in a photographer’s home unless at least two people know where you are, the EXACT address and their phone number. Even better would be to have a friend or boyfriend come with you. A lot of photographers don’t like when models bring an “escort”, but you need to protect yourself. Shooting in a home is different than a studio. If you bring an escort, then your escort needs to understand that they are to be seen and not heard. They shouldn’t be disruptive or try to control the shoot. If you don’t feel comfortable going alone, DON’T DO IT. I don’t care how great the photographer is, it’s not worth the potential consequences.

Trade shoots can also be tricky because sometimes a photographer may have a specific vision in mind. Make sure you both are on the same page about the concept of the photoshoot. But also be flexible. They may be willing do some commercial shots for you in the first half, if you’re willing to do some fashion shots for them in the second half. Never agree to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I’ve had some FANTASTIC photographers tell me that they’d do some gorgeous beauty shots for me in exchange for my posing nude. I’m not cool with that so I say no.

If you have money to spare, you can always hire a photographer to shoot you a comp card. A comp card is a single sheet, usually 5x7in that has a handful of your best photos represented. Many established headshot photographers also shoot comp cards (usually 4-6 different looks), you just have do a search. If you are going to pay to have your photos done, I would recommend asking other models for recommendations. I would also advise against paying more than $1000 for a comp card shoot, especially if it’s your first one. As I said before, you don’t really need a comp card to get started, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one either, as long as it’s good.

Whether you decide to hire a photographer or a do a trade shoot, make sure that you have a contract stipulating all of the terms and outlining what you each receive in return AND when you will receive it. You should not be waiting more than 3-5 days to get your photos.

And please remember. Just because a photographer is charging, that does not mean that they are a professional! And just because a photographer is willing to trade, it does not mean their photos aren't of professional quality. What is most important is how the photos look.

Agents

In my opinion, getting a print agent is much easier than getting a theatrical/commercial agent. You don’t need a resume, reel, classes, or even experience. You just need a great look (which is VERY subjective), a really great personality. There are really only three ways to get a print agent.

The best way to get a print agent is through a referral. If you have a friend that models, ask them to hook you up. Please don’t ask a stranger or someone you’re vaguely acquainted with, you’ll just annoy them.

A referral is not you sending an email to an agent saying “Hi, my favorite blogger, Andrea, is represented by you guys and says great things about you!....” That’s called name dropping. A referral is your friend, calling up her agent or sending an email and telling them about YOU. Learn the difference! Name dropping is fine, because it creates sort of a common bond between you and the agent, but it doesn’t necessarily give you clout or priority.

If you’re an actor that has a commercial/theatrical agent and you want to get into modeling, ask your agent to refer you. Even if your agency doesn’t have a print division, they know someone that’s a print agent. As long as you and your agent have a good relationship and they view you as professional and trustworthy, they shouldn’t have a problem doing so.

The second way to get a print agent is to self submit. Some agencies have websites that allow the model to submit photos online. But, those are few and far between, unfortunately. There is always email and snail mail. I’ve never submitted my photos via mail before and frankly, I hope I never have to. It’s way too passive for my taste. I’m very assertive and a control freak so things have to happen on my terms. But if you have to, make sure you include a nice cover letter with your photo(s).

Many, many people will caution against submitting photos via email or social networking. I disagree. Wholeheartedly. I got CESD for print via facebook, and I signed to Buchwald’s commercial division after sending an email. If an agent is presented with good talent (i.e. you can earn them money) they don't care where or how they find you. My rule of thumb is this: if you go to an agency’s website and an agent’s email address is listed there for all the world to see, then I would submit via email. If they don’t want emails from random people, it wouldn’t be listed on a public website. Simple. The worst they will do is delete your email. So what?

If you do email your stuff to an agent, do not put attachments on the email. Agents are wary about attachments from unknown senders because of the virus risk. Attachments can also take forever to load which is annoying in and of itself. Embed your photos/cover letter in the body of the email. If you have a website, include a link. Do not link them to your facebook page, not everyone is on facebook.

I would also recommend dropping off your photos in person. Sounds scary, right? Well, grow some balls. You’d be shocked at how nice agents are. If you’re going to drop off to a larger agency, you will most likely be giving your materials to a receptionist. You are NOT walking in and asking for a meeting. You’re JUST dropping off materials and you need to be respectful. Put your photos(s)/comp card in an unsealed envelope (for easy opening) along with a quick cover letter. Label the envelope to a specific agent. This is where research comes in.

When you walk in, if there is a receptionist (bigger agency such as CESD, Abrams, etc.), go up to them and say you’re just dropping off a submission for Jane Doe and hand them your envelope. Be polite, and smile. If you walk in to a tinier agency where there is no receptionist, tell the first person you see that you just want to drop off a submission for Jane Doe. They will direct you to who you’re looking for or will take the submission from you. If you’re told that they don’t take unsolicited submissions, thank them anyway and leave. Don’t argue.

Make sure that you look your best when you go to drop your things off. There is a chance that if you have a great look, they’ll want to see you right away.

The final way (that I can think of) of getting a print agent is to be discovered/approached by one. This is completely out of your control, but if it happens, still be diligent about vetting the agent and making sure they are legit.

A few people have asked about getting an agent via seminar/workshop. Personally, I don’t believe in seminars and workshops (the thought of paying to be seen leaves a bad taste in my mouth), but I wouldn’t tell someone not to do them if it’s something they feel can be effective for their career. To each his own. I’ve never known of any print agents that attend workshops/seminars, but if you see that one will be in attendance, why not take the chance to meet them? It’s your money! Oh, and speaking of money.......

Scams

**Sigh**

Everyone should know this by now, but just in case YOU don’t know........NEVER PAY ANY MONEY UP FRONT!! EVER!!

Just don’t. Please?

However, some agencies(even big ones) have “website maintenance” fees that they charge for having your photos on the website, but it really shouldn’t be any more than about $75. You also have a choice of whether or not your photos go up on the website. You don’t have to have your photos on the agency website in order to be submitted for print jobs and I would be very cautious of any agency that says otherwise. You will mostly be submitted through Breakdown Services and Casting Networks. But, on the other hand, there are some casting directors that peruse agency websites and hand pick models that they want to see. If you really want to be on the agency website, I would ask the agent if the fee can be taken out of your first booking, rather than paying up front. They shouldn’t have a problem with that.

There’s one pretty well known “agency” that I can think of that charges something like $400-$600 to be on their website for 1 or 2 years. They have THOUSANDS of models on their site and many of them have been on shows like America’s Next Top Model. However, the majority of their models are not working and there is no way in hell you should be paying that much to be on a damn website. I’ve been to well over 100 print castings and I can’t recall ever seeing this “agency’s” name on the sign in sheet.

Also, if you meet with an “agent” and they can’t stop gushing about your look and how much money you’ll make....and then tell you that all you need is an $800 photoshoot with their in-house photographer....RUN!! Having an in-house photographer that shoots in the next room is almost a sure sign of a scam. I’ve heard too many horror stories!

If you’re meeting with a legit agency and they think that you need better photos, they will give you a list of recommended photographers that you have the CHOICE of shooting with, but you will never be pressured to do so.

Meeting With A Potential Agent

When you get called in for a meeting, make sure you look nice, smell nice (seriously) and bring all of your photos with you. If you have a disc with all of your images, bring it with you as well. Relax. If you’re getting a meeting with a print agent, that means that they are very interested and they probably want to work with you. It’s your job not to convince them otherwise.

They want to see you in person to make sure you look like your photos and will want to gauge your personality. The meeting will most likely be a bunch of small talk and some generic talk about the business, their agency, and what their practices are.

Ask questions and listen to what they are saying. If there is any advice/constructive criticism to be had, they will give it to you and you need to take it with an open and gracious attitude.

Signing Contracts

Commercial print agents don’t sign models. They work exclusively on a freelance basis. This is why many print models work with more than one print agency. I would never sign with a print agency and if you are being offered a contract dictating exclusivity to them, I would be VERY cautious. It is NOT the industry norm at all.

You will, however, be asked to sign forms giving your agent the right to accept payment on your behalf. I don’t remember the technical name but it’s similar to a power of attorney, but only for receiving money. This is the norm and very few agents will allow you to opt out. The client sends the payment, the agent will take their cut, and then cut you a check.

Note for models in Los Angeles: While I know that theatrically, actors cannot freelance, I’m pretty certain that print models can freelance with multiple agencies. If I’m wrong, someone please let me know.

EDIT: I have been notified that models in LA are restricted to working with a single agency and are not allowed to freelance with multiples. 

The Commercial Print Casting

Print castings are very easy. When you get a time slot for a casting, your agent will send you a breakdown that contains all of the information: the product, casting office/director & address, dress code, pay rate, usage (where the ad will run and for how long), and shoot dates. Sometimes you will be given a specific time to go in, other times you’ll be given a time range such as 1PM-3PM.

For most castings, you will wear whatever you want, dress in your own personal style. If the casting directors want you to dress in a specific style, it will be detailed in your breakdown. Upon arrival, there will be a sign in sheet and you will usually have to fill out a size card with all of your measurements and contact information.

If there is a specific concept for the photoshoot, sometimes the CD will post a mock up (photographic example of what they want the ad to look like, sometimes it’s animated) outside in the waiting area so that you can have a good understanding of what emotions you should bring to your photos. Other times, the CD will just tell you what to do when you go into the room.

When you’re called in you hand your headshot/comp card to the CD or assistant. Then, you will most likely be placed in a white space (you’ll most likely be is some form of a studio) and after having the concept explained to you, the photographer will take anywhere from (on average) 3-10 photos of you. As I said before, most times you will just be smiling and looking happy/pleasant/laughing/etc.

Holds, Releases, Bookings & The "Other" Release

As the clients (the people doing the hiring) view the photos from the casting session, they will narrow down their favorites. Once they get their top choices, they will ask to have those models placed on hold. Being “on hold” means that the client has first pick of booking you for the days that they place you on hold. So, if you are placed on hold for Pepsi for October 5th, and then later that day you are placed on hold for Apple for the same day, Pepsi has first pick or what is also referred to as “first refusal”. If Pepsi books you, you will not be able to do Apple, even if Apple wants to book you as well. If Pepsi releases you, that means that Apple now has first pick.

If you are “released”, that means the client has chosen not to book you.

If you are booked, your agent will call you with the good news! A couple of days before the shoot, you will be given all of the shoot details such as call time and location. You may also be contacted by the wardrobe stylist who will tell you what items they will like you to bring. Unlike SAG jobs, you are not compensated for bringing your own wardrobe to set.

The Other Release

The other release that I'm referring to is the form that you sign that states all of the pay rates and usage associated with the images that will result from the photo shoot. It also states that you have no right to anything regarding the images. This is what you sign in exchange for being paid. Sometimes the release will be given to you a few days before the shoot, other times, you will sign it at the end of the shoot. ALWAYS double check with your agent and get their approval before signing anything handed to you on set.

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So this post pretty much explains the process from getting your first pictures, to getting your first job. Once you’re on set, it’s up to you to do what you were hired to do.

Good Luck!!!

48 comments:

  1. Thank you!This was very helpful!

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  2. I really appreciate this post! - thank you

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  3. Great, great, and great info you shared with us Andrea. Nowhere on the net i was able to find explicit info on commercial print modeling. I feel sorry for those that need to read this and don't know about your blog yet! Keep them (posts) coming :)
    Xoxo
    Larissa

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  4. Incredibly informative post- kudos! All I want to add is that in LA, like theatrical agents, you can only have one commercial print agent. Many times your commercial agent will rep you for print as well, as is the case with mine but it's not guaranteed.

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  5. WHere are you and whats the latest on your career?

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  6. Hi! Andrea you're such an inspiration. About a year ago, I moved to NYC to model and I havent had much luck.

    Its difficult because I hear so much conflicting advice. I read a book that says you dont need professional pictures to apply to an agency but then others say that you do.

    I dont know if its difficult to get into an agency at this point and time because of the economy or what.

    I really appreciate your advice, though. Good luck with everything!

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  7. Sorry for the delay in responding folks! Thanks for the kind words, I worked really hard on this post.

    @Brandi, thanks for clearing that up! I will update the post to reflect that. :)

    @JJ & Dreamlove225, I have a couple of posts coming up shortly that should answer those questions. :)

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  8. Hey Andrea, I really look up to you your'e a great model. I wanted to know did you get "training" before you started modeling? My friend suggests that I invest over 500$ in training to be a commercial model.. But i dot think that's a great investment for a commercial model. What do you think?

    -Bria

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  9. @briadoll: I think you need to trust your instincts, they seem spot on. What kind of training is your friend referring to? A modeling school or something? I would highly advise AGAINST doing that. It's completely unnecessary. You'd be better off investing that money into great photos. Getting your teeth whitened would probably be a better investment, lol.

    I did NOT train to be a model. The best way to learn is to do photo shoots. Period. In my opinion, modeling "schools" are just scams and I don't know one single person that has paid money to train as a model.

    Thank you for the wonderful compliment and I hope that I was of help to you!!

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  10. Hell Andrea! Iv tried the MM way and tried to do tfp, but I'm getting off that site and i'm going to invest in myself to get where i need to be. You must got lucky on there. I have had bad experiences from the get go.

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  11. Brianna, good for you for deciding to take control of your career. I have had good experiences on MM, but as I said in my post, I'm VERY particular about who I shoot with.

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  12. Thanks a lot for the help ♥

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  13. Thanks for all of the good advice. I have a 15 year old that wants to model and act. do you know of any good agencies for teens?

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  14. Hi - what about fee's? 20% from you and 20% from client. Is that the norm?

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  15. Yes. Unfortunately, that is the norm.

    Anonymous, most agencies have youth divisions.

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  16. Anonymous, most agencies with commercial print departments have youth divisions.

    Angel, yes that's the norm. It shouldn't be, but it is.

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  17. This article was life andrea , Thank you sooo much for the help and knowledge!!

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  18. Hi...This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.

    Thanks!
    Nyc headshot photographers

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  19. I have a beautiful face but I'm not tall & skinny enough, I want to be a commercial model. What should I do?

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    Replies
    1. Hey there! Simply read the post and it has all of the information you could possibly need! It specifically addresses your concern. :)

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  20. Great info! Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Hi,
    Thank you for a very helpful article. What would you suggest to someone who does not have a resume to submit to agencies that request one? Will a headshot do? Or should someone with no experience bother to submit at all?

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    Replies
    1. Did you read the post? I answered all of those questions in the blog post.

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  22. This is such a fantastic and great article.Keep posting ....
    Digital Printing Fort Lauderdale

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  23. This is super informative & very encouraging. I love the way you presented all the info! Thanks so much for sharing!!

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  24. This was very informative and inspirational especially for us aspiring models looking for a way into the industry. Thanks

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  25. Thank You very helpful will let you know how I make out .

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  26. This is the most transparent post I've seen on the net about commercial modeling. Thank you for your transparency and humor! So glad I came across this post!

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    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you! I'm glad the post was helpful. I put a lot of work into writing it.

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  27. You gave me sooooooooo much hope!!! May I ask how tall you are and how much you weigh or is that too personal?

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  28. Thanks for sharing your story. I think it's awesome that you wanted to be an actor, so you just went for it! I'm sure you're such an inspiration to other aspiring actors and actresses. It's important to get your name out there when you want to become an actor, and one of the best ways to do that is to find a casting professional. I hope that others are able to have the same success you have! http://castingfrontier.com/talent

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    Replies
    1. Just seeing this! Thank you for the kind words!!

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  29. This may be super old to u but it was treasure for me. Thank u for sharing your experience in detail on how u got started. I am struggling with getting started in modeling and have been trying to find ways to market myself. Thank u sooo much for sharing!!!

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  30. Do you know of anywhere I can find a good example of a resume and cover letter for agencies for someone who has little experience? I am interested in commercial print modeling and I have a great set of professional head shots, but the next step is a little daunting. Thanks so much! - Audrey

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    Replies
    1. Hi hun, your photos ARE your resume. A cover letter should be a short paragraph telling the agent a bit about yourself and letting them know you're seeking representation.

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  31. my name is Sahra I do have a pretty face and I will like to be a print model\

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  32. I'm looking to branch into commercial modeling and this was just what I needed, a clear read with specific & honest advice. Thanks for this post!

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  33. Just came back to re-read this post and soak it all in. Definitely want to really go full-force this time. Were you doing commercial print while you were in NY? (sorry if you stated that in the post) And if so, are there any commercial print agencies you'd be able to recommend?

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    1. Sorry for the late reply. Yes I was living in NYC when I got started. I worked with CESD, PMG Models, and Ramona's Model and Talent while out there. I recommend all three.

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