20 Things You May Not Know About Commercial Modelling
It has been a year and a half since signed with my first modelling agent here in the UK. I stumbled into all this after being scouted . . . in my 40s. Though I had some experience as I modelled in my teens with pageants and a department store, crowns and ball gowns are a far cry from working with agencies and clients across the country.And as a middle-aged woman and mum, I honestly associated modelling with fashion, catwalks and . . anorexic/moody 17-year-olds – a stereotype and prejudice that I’ve discovered many others have unfortunately as well.
Maybe it was my journalism background, or maybe because I had no clue what I was getting into, every time I had a job with another model, I asked as many questions as I could. I found a lot of commonality with those over 25 in this field. I can’t comment for those under 25, especially those involved in fashion/editorial modelling as from what I have noticed it is very competitive and only a few are really successful.
This post is more for the commercial model. I wrote two blog posts (Becoming A Classic Model part 1) and (Becoming a Classic Model part 2) about this last year, but I wanted to continue to dispel misconceptions a paint a clearer picture of what modelling is really like.
Here are 20 things you may or may not know about commercial modelling. . .
1) Commercial models primarily are trying to represent normal people who have a great smile and a warm ‘look’ to them. We do not have the moody catwalk model expressions. Clients hire models to help promote their products or services such as phones, holidays, furniture, and more. In the majority of my model jobs, I look mumsy or corporate, with a cup of tea, reading a magazine on a sofa, chair or outdoor patio set.
2) Modelling, in general, is NOT glamorous. The final product looks polished and great, but this is after you have taken 200 pictures. Often it’s a shoot outside when it’s cold (pretending it is warm and sunny, but actually you are turning purple) and you are wearing shorts in February for a Spring ad. I have had to contort into odd positions to ‘look natural’, had my hair and make-up done for photos that I would never, ever wear to create an effect on camera. No, it’s sooo not glamorous.
3) I wasn’t exaggerating that you take 200 pictures. I can take bad pictures, but also there is the issue when you model something, your feet need to look right, your smile not too gummy, your jewellery needs to be sitting correctly, etc. Out of 200 you may have 50 great pictures but usually there are only about five that capture an emotion or look that you are really going for during a shoot.
4) If you begin to pursue a modelling career, like any business, there is an investment phase. The investment includes driving to meet agents, going to numerous castings (that you don’t get), creating and updating portfolios, along with signing up to essential sites that casting directors and clients can use. All of this adds up. After a year and a half, I finally feel like (in the modelling area), the income is greater than the expenses.
5) To get bigger, well-paid jobs you have an agent. I do freelance work, but if I want a good job with well-known clients, my agent searches those out. I highly advise an agent if you want to be an established model. But beware as a model because there are A LOT of scams out there (especially with children’s modelling), and you need to find out the reputable agents before applying.
6) To be full-time in the UK as a model, you have numerous agents but only one per region. Every city has a different client pool, but you don’t want separate agents submitting you for the same job, so you keep them spread out. All my agents are non-exclusive but you stick to having one per geographical area.
7) Your portfolio needs to represent the type of work you want to get. As a 40+ mum of two, I’m not going to do swimwear (I don’t want to) unless I’m a mum with kids with most of me underneath the water in a pool. I have beauty shots, but agents have told me that a client wants to see you in the environment. My jobs are adverts/stills/videos for sofas, patio furniture, phones, etc. – so my portfolio reflects that.
Photographer Chris Rout – OK, so I don’t own the high vis gear 🙂 but everything you see me wearing I do own.
8) Most clothes you see on adverts unless its a particular fashion brand, are the model’s own clothes, and you have to have an EXTENSIVE wardrobe. I have evening wear, business suits, neutral coloured clothing, pastels, and lots of white tops and beige trousers among other items. Every brief is different, and I always have to bring a ‘selection’ that the client chooses. For example, in the last few weeks I had a job that required only light neutral coloured clothing followed by two filming jobs where I was in smart business attire that was mostly darker clothing. The following week I needed outdoor wear such as coats, gloves, boots and then several options of each. For all the jobs, I had to have a selection to show costume/the client or photographer, and they made the selections.
9) One of my secrets (and many other models I know do the same) is that I scour charity/second-hand shops for clothing additions. My wardrobe is probably 20 times the size it was before I started modelling as part of my career (and I’ve never been a huge fan of shopping). Most of what I buy are things I wouldn’t wear normally like pastels or lots of beiges though I have to admit, I have expanded to different colours and styles into my everyday wear. At the beginning of the year, I had a ‘colour’ consultation and discovered what colours look great on me and what drains my colouring. Before last year, I would have never realised that ‘rust’ would be one of my best colours.
10) There is a tremendous amount of driving or train rides unless you live in London (and then you are probably on the tube all the time). In August, I had a week where I was in a different city every day for a job. In a usual week in higher model seasons, I travel at least twice a week to another city. If I’m lucky, it’s only an hour but it is normal to drive 2-3 hours for a shoot.
11) Most commercial modelling jobs are what I call ‘bread and butter’ shoots. The large, lucrativeones are few and far between. These are a typical day rate (or half day) plus travel and can range from a corporate video to photographic stills for a brochure or online. These usually don’t require a casting and are booked directly by your agent. I appreciate these types of jobs.
12) You have to attend out-of-town castings for larger jobs that are usually commercials or very big, well-known clients. So much can be done with photo editing, and casting directors/want to make sure you are the right person with the look they want for that particular campaign to represent their company. BUT If you want a larger job, you have to go to the castings (if you can) even if you chance is slim. The UK is not that big, and even if you weren’t right for one job, the casting director or the production agency might remember you for another one.
13) The percentage of castings you attend and then actually landing the jobs is small. I don’t want to put a figure on this, but many models have said 1 out of 10-15, but then they might get 4 in a row. There is no formula or way to predict. However, you have to get out there and show up to have results.
14) It is normal to travel 2-3 hours at stupid o’clock in the morning to get to a job. In November, I had a job with a pram/pushchair aka stroller company in the middle of London. I was picked up by the production company at 3 am to be in central London before traffic hit. They told me to bring a pillow since I wasn’t driving so I could nap (which didn’t happen *yawn*). The job lasted most of the day, and we headed back right before the London afternoon traffic. If you are not staying overnight somewhere before a job, you have to learn when to avoid the traffic that can make your drive twice as long and WAY more stressful.
15) Every agent operates differently; you have to learn how to work with each one. Some are high tech with online calendars, some phone, some email, others text. Overall, you need to be very organised, highly professional and have a good work ethic to continue to work with your agents.
16) The ‘all models are anorexic’ is not true. Of course, there are exceptions but that is not the norm in the commercial model world. I get asked this a lot because I’m this industry, but commercial models are normal fit and healthy people. I have to say here that it makes me sad that this is a huge assumption from those outside the industry. Healthy and fit is the key, not a specific dress size.
17) Another misconception is that those in the modelling industry are ‘full of themselves’ and it’s all about how they look’. Again, I think the younger ones can fall into this trap, but most older ones I’ve met have been weathered by life and know that self-centered egotism gets you nowhere. I know that when I get home from a shoot, I make dinner, fold laundry, tidy the lounge, put my kids to bed and all those other things that make up life. I also know my ‘flaws’ and well, not much I can do about them, so I’ve learned to be content.
18) I’ve been asked if I have a ‘shelf life’ as a model. I found the opposite is true. Most of the models I’ve worked with who are over 50 have gotten more work. There is a huge market for those who have grey hair and a nice smile. My favourite was when I worked with a 77-year-old who had been a model since 1968. He said he had more work after he turned 60 then he had most of his career combined.
19) Here is another misconception: The modelling world is full of dodgy/shady people. Again, there are always exceptions but all the individuals I’ve met in the industry are normal people with families trying to earn a living. This includes not only the models, but the photographers, make-up artists, production companies, as well as the clients. I spend all day with individuals when I am on a job, and I have met some amazing people who have done extraordinary things with their lives.
20) Commercial models usually have one other job that is fairly flexible. There are also busier seasons for modelling and not busy seasons such as the end of December through January. I have colleagues who are lawyers, real estate agents, artists, painter/decorators, truck drivers (really!), etc. I found this also to be true in the acting world as well. The key is having something that pays the bills in low weeks and is flexible when you are busy with castings and bookings. I’m grateful to have a diverse career in voiceovers, TV presenting, journalism and PR all under the banner of media.
I enjoy my career as a model, despite the prejudices and misconceptions. But if you want to be a commercial model and make a viable income, don’t quit your day job . . .just have a flexible one.