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Modeling Schools and Scouting Conventions…Scams or Not?

An aspiring model living in a small town far from any major modeling hub is likely to encounter the modeling school ploy. You go for an agency interview, and the director (or sales person, basically) advises you take classes before embarking on your catwalking career. You can’t really blame them; the fact is that there just isn’t enough modeling work in most small cities (or even in some big but non-fashiony ones) for agencies to survive on bookings revenue alone.

Barbizon Ad

Barbizon Modeling/Acting Centers

This is exactly what happened to me when I had an interview with Barbizon in Rochester, New York, at age 11. They wanted my parents’ 800 bucks before they’d discuss representing me. At the time, that branch of the ubiquitous modeling schools did have a legit agency. There wasn’t much modeling work in Rochester then—there’s probably even less now—but the Barbizon agency got the calls for castings when they happened. Actually, they were the only game in town, and after my eight weeks of pricey classes, I got some bookings.

What I don’t know is what would have happened if we called their bluff, if my parents had said no dice on the $800, just rep her if you think she has potential. If someone looks like a supermodel, this will work. An agency isn’t going to let a star slip out the door and head elsewhere. But sometimes it’s hard to decipher if a school is even associated with an agency. You definitely do not want to plunk down hundreds of dollars, or worse, thousands, at a place that has zero potential to ever get you a modeling job.

So, do your homework. Call around to any companies in your area that might employ models: department stores, any big companies headquartered near you, boutiques that do their own catalogs. Ask if there is an agency/agencies they call when they are looking for models. Check the Better Business Bureau and see if there are complaints about any “agencies” you are considering. Google is a great research tool also.

If you have a complaint, comment about it here. Let’s get a Community Agency Watch going here and on my Facebook page!

As for Model Scouting Conventions, click on the link for a thorough look at the pros and cons of attending one. (Note that Genesis and Model Search America no longer hold scouting conventions, but check out MSA’s database of castings across North America. Also, the First Option Guide is no longer available.) Proscout has been around for decades and has launched some stars.

Proscout Discoveries

Remember, you can always submit photos to the big agencies in New York and have your potential assessed at no charge and with no strings attached. Most of them have submission details on their websites. Here are links to a few: Ford, IMG, Wilhelmina, Next.

Just be prepared, competition is fierce at these top agencies. They reject more than 99% of the submissions they receive. But, sometimes they are wrong. They all rejected me at age 17. At 24, after modeling in Europe for several years, I easily found representation in New York.

I don’t have any regrets about that $800 we gave to Barbizon. The skills I learned there weren’t necessarily helpful in the real modeling world, but Barbizon definitely served as a stepping stone to a long and fruitful career.

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