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The Reel Deal

Steps to a Commercial Modeling Career
by Joann Togati

I wanted to be a model since I was about 16, since I finally had my hair the right way and had made the height and measurement requirements expected for runway modeling, yet I knew nothing, nothing at all about the business. What's worse is that I didn't think I needed to know anything, either, except knowing how to look good of course. I couldn't have been more wrong. I walked into Elite on my 17th birthday with a few of my girlfriends who thought they should also give modeling a shot too. I had no pictures and the only modeling I had ever done was one shoot for a local fashion boutique. The woman who owned the boutique was from Israel, and she talked about design and the big Javits show held every year attended by designers and models. It was a great place to be discovered, she said, and she was going to take me with her. So that was all I had done; just one shoot and I had never asked for the pictures because I would never guess I might need them one year later, nor would I know that only two months after our shoot, she would fly back to Israel forever and I would never get to attend that Javits show.

Things change quickly in this business.

I was filled with nervous anxiety when my friends and I attended the open call at Elite. Secretly I thought I had something, but I was too modest to really admit it and when I saw the "real" models sitting opposite us, girls that had already started working, paper-thin girls with books and comp cards, my stomach really sunk. So there was a lot more to modeling than having a good look, I soon realized. It seemed like it required lots of preparation, and a lot of great style.

Then someone behind the glass called my name and I went through the waiting room door, into the actual office of Elite. I saw a man, a booking agent, who looked at me and said he liked my look. I was shocked and I could hardly believe it. And then he asked to see some pictures. Of course, I had none to show so he politely asked me to come back when I had taken some. I was the only one of my friends asked to come back, but I never did.

Years later—7 years later, to be exact--the same inner voice was nagging at me to try it again. This time I had found out where the modeling bookstores in the city were located, like Model Mart, so I could do some real research, and spend some time reading books on the different types of modeling and the criteria involved. I got confused. I couldn't tell if I was a fashion type or a commercial type now because sometimes people fall between the lines. I had the measurements of a fashion model, but my looks were more like the girl next door, which typically means commercial. I intended to really know which category I fit into, and the only sure way I was going to know that was by looking at the final product, my photographs.

I spent endless hours online, signing up to all the free modeling websites, a well-known one such as One Model Place, posting pictures I currently had, and waiting for photographers to contact me for test shoots. This may not always be the best way. The saying "you get what you pay for" can apply here. I worked with photographers who were beginners and sometimes intermediates, and I eventually put together a small book that demonstrated the basics: headshot, body shot, and a few specialty shots for lingerie. I was definitely commercial by the looks of them and I was just happy to know.
After I took care of the basic shots, I started emailing them to agencies' websites. I got the interest of a few smaller commercial agencies in New York and one larger one, and I began to work with them on a non-exclusive basis while I continued to test.

The most important qualities it takes in this business are self-confidence, an incredibly positive attitude, people skills, and the ability to transform in front of the camera. Commercial modeling is not for everyone. Open calls happen at all hours of the day throughout the week, which is also typical of fashion modeling, and once a person is signed with an agency, she needs to be reachable at all times throughout the day and available to attend open calls. If you miss that phone call, you miss that opportunity to book the job. Good luck and be prepared.


© 2005 BIGBreakNY, LLC. No material may be reprinted without permission.