phoenix magazine asian food guide Diana Elizabeth photographer and blogger on cover

Breaking into the modeling industry

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May 2013 issue of PHOENIX magazine

I often get asked by parents about how to get started in the modeling or acting industry because their young children or teen has shown interest.  After last week’s chat with a mom I figured I would write a post on how to find a modeling or acting agent.  I’m going to be straight to the point and totally honest with my 12+ years of being in the industry.


Thing to Know about Finding a Modeling Agent


  • There are different types of businesses – modeling agencies, and modeling schools.  And somewhere in between there are cruises where agents are invited to go (they are paid a lot to attend, so they oblige) to a model search – like the ones who claim famous people like Ashton Kutcher got discovered.  These are all different businesses – not fraudulent, but just a business.
  • Models have agents.  The agent of the modeling agency (in my case Exclusive Model Management) finds jobs, and gets a commission.  Typically it is 20%.  It can be less if you live in LA and you are a SAG actor.
  • There might be a listing fee – they can be $100 every six months to be on the website database or $120 a year. It varies. I dislike that very much but it’s the nature now. Some agencies will bill you yearly or they will take it out of your paycheck when you get a job – which to me is better so it shows they will get you work.
  • Some agencies will print your headshots too for a small fee to stay consistent with their branding at auditions and such.
  • You don’t need a manager unless you are some super famous person or you need a career counselor.   They too take a cut and manage you if you have several agencies.  I’m not familiar with this route, but I’ll tell you that if you are reading my blog figuring out how to get started, you probably don’t need one right now.
  • A casting director doesn’t sign you – they work with a company and then contacts the agencies to tell who to send.  They then pick who is cast in the commercials.
  • A modeling school doesn’t get you work – they teach you how to model and walk and possibly diet.
  • A catwalk with a hefty entrance fee doesn’t get you work either – your fee pays for exposure to a culled group of agencies around the world.  Good yes, but you can also get in front of them for free – just attend an open call or submit online.
  • There are height requirements, but they really are preferences.  In certain markets you can get away with not being 5’8″ or 5’9″.  I’m 5’8″ which is tall for an Asian.  I have friends who are 5’6″ and signed and as long as they look proportionate they can work in print – we’re not in NYC and not doing runway.  You could also consider acting instead of print too.  So I’m just saying, don’t let height discourage you unless you are in LA or NY and you are trying to sign with the biggest agency that also reps Giselle.
  • It doesn’t cost anything to sign with an agency.  Anything that requires money means they are offering you a different service – classes on how to walk, a fee for the cruise, so on.  The only thing an agency will do is present you with a contract if they want to sign you and see if you have an acceptable headshot to market you.  You may need to invest $150-$700 on a new modeling shoot if you don’t have good shots.
  • Take acting classes to get better at acting or hosting.  I don’t think modeling classes are necessary as some agencies provide modeling workshops (for free) for their own signed talent.
  • In some states, like Arizona, you can only sign with one agent.  In California, you can sign with multiple agencies in different counties – so LA County, Orange County, etc.  The only issue is you would have to drive to all the auditions, so if you’re cool, then fine.  Otherwise, one might be enough.
  • You can sign in multiple states – I know models who have agencies in FL, CO, CA, AZ and so on.  Again, you must be willing to travel and perhaps even spend months at a time in those markets.
  • There are a zillion reasons why you don’t get signed – you can be too tall, too pretty, too thin,  the list goes on – there’s nothing you can do but keep going and find an agency who embraces your look, or try later when you grow into yourself.
  • Commercial acting pays more than a print ad – unless it’s for Nike or a crazy huge campaign it might be equal.

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How to find a modeling or acting agent


  • You can go to the SAG/AFTRA site and look under “locals” and they list agencies under “Local AFTRA Franchised Agents”.  Not all agencies are SAG licensed – typically ones that have an acting board.  Or just click here.  If they are with the SAG/AFTRA union, it means they are required to follow guidelines.  This doesn’t mean that if they don’t have it they aren’t legit – they may focus more on print modeling which doesn’t require that license.
  • Look up the agency’s website and look for their submission/open call information.
  • When you go to an open call, don’t wear too much makeup.  Agents know what you look like under all that makeup or if you’re wearing too much.  You’re still going to have to take off your heels so you don’t need stacked towering heels.  Natural is pretty, consider skinny jeans, black tank, you’re fine.  If you are auditioning for acting, you will be asked to read.
  • If you hear a no, go to the next agency, no big deal! Sometimes you look like someone they already have signed so they are full, don’t take it personally.  You can always go back again.

What are good acting or modeling headshots


  • You usually need some test shots already like a solid headshot for acting or any modeling shots. I am a photographer so you can contact me for pricing, I have photographed many actors and models in the Phoenix valley. Check out my work at www.dianaelizabeth.com.

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My modeling story


  • My mother was a professional model and singer overseas.  As most normal teens, I wanted to be like my mom.  The only opportunities I found were ones that were advertised on the radio that required money and were big searches in Florida that cost thousands of dollars.  My parents said no.  I was crushed – but this was a good thing because that route would have been a dead end.
  • In college I had a free modeling shoot and decided to look up some agencies.  I thankfully found a legitimate one, and signed with one in Phoenix – a two hour drive from Tucson.  I had no acting experience and she told me she was signing me for my face, not my resume (because it honestly was pretty pathetic).  I worked quite a bit, landed a few national gigs, and it was good extra money while I was in college.
  • I moved to LA post college and looked for a new agency.  I got a TON of no’s.  Mainly, “We have a girl that already looks like you,” which was one of the most aggravating things to hear because you assume everyone else thinks all Asians look alike.  I finally signed with KSR, formerly Kazarian/Spencer and Associates but only the print side, it was too competitive to get in on the acting/hosting side which was not fun for me.  They were a huge agency and I went to a ton of print auditions but the truth was, there were a million girls that really did look like me in LA and I was busier in Phoenix.
  • I stayed with my agency in Phoenix, continued to book and drove back to AZ for work.
  • I moved to Phoenix two years after living in LA and after 10 years with my first agent, I moved to FORD/Robert Black Agency because I had many friends signed with them and wanted to not only continue acting, but also go into print modeling.  I did love my other agency but it was nothing personal, just wanted to see what else I could do.  I have been signed with most all the agencies in the valley over time just looking to see which agency works best for the time of my life.
  • I don’t do it full-time (even though I have the time), because quite honestly there isn’t enough work to do it full-time – as an Asian model anyway.  Phoenix is still predominately Caucasian and the best role are the girls who look white, maybe Hispanic, maybe Italian, this is called “racially ambiguous” and if you fit that, you can probably do incredibly well!

Arizona agencies


I will put an asterisk sign by the agencies I have been signed with.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below, I’ll try my best to respond.


Arizona acting headshot photographer


*This post was originally posted on Aug 25, 2014 and updated and revised on May 5, 2020.

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive antique shopper. You can typically find her in her garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party.

39 Comments

  • Jen Palmer

    Hi Diana, I have a 19 yr old granddaughter that is 5`9″. She is a very pretty girl. I feel she would be a great model. Would you be please let me know wherected we should begin, to see if it’s possible. Thank you so much.

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Jen, you can start by looking up agencies in your area and look at their website for submission process. Good luck!

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Refer to “how to find an agent” in the blog post.

  • Chloe

    Thank you Diana for the reply! I am currently in Phoenix so I find your post very relevant. I have never done this before so I am brand new. It is terrifying to start since I don’t know anything about the industry, but you provided some really good information! I guess I will have to look for a flexible full time job as well. Hopefully there are actual demand for Asian so I could get some bookings.

  • Chloe

    That is a very imformative post! I love it! I have a question. I am Asian, Chinese. I am signing with an agency but I am wondering how is the market out there for Asian. I understand it is probably still a predominantly Caucasian industry. How often do you get jobs? I am thinking maybe I won’t be able to do this full time. I hope you can help. Thank you!! :)

    • Diana Elizabeth

      Hi Chloe, congratulations on signing with an agency. I would have a full-time job. Not sure what market you are in but I don’t know any full-time models unless they live in NYC and are walking the runway and have campaigns with high end designers (it can happen). All the actors and models I know in the Phoenix industry do this on the side, and even in the LA market, people have flexible jobs where they can audition but also need a full-time job for steady income. Have fun with it!

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