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**UPDATE 1/2015 I am now signed with THE AGENCY ARIZONA.
**UPDATE 12/2016 I am now signed with Dani’s Agency. Because this is a highly read post, I’ll explain at the end the decision to move.

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.

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May 2013 issue of PHOENIX magazine

A few things to know

  • 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 FORD/Robert Black Agency) 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.
  • 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 crazy 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 an 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.

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My 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 am signed on both boards of FORD, print and acting.  **1/2015 I moved to THE AGENCY ARIZONA. **12/2016 I am now back with Dani’s Agency.
  • 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

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

Finding the right Agency + Switching Agencies

**Updated: 12/2016**
Dani’s (10 yrs) → FORD/RBA (4 yrs) → Agency AZ (2 yrs) → Dani’s

That’s the rundown of how my agency career has been in Phoenix. I could throw in two in LA when I left AZ but it’s not worth it. I figured I would explain a bit about moving modeling/acting agencies, why I did it, and figuring out the right agency for you and knowing when or if to move.

  1. First, many people in the industry move agencies, it’s pretty common. The move is because people either feel lost in the shuffle, and want personal attention, or they find the agency specializes in what they want to be known for (high end fashion, runway, commercials).
  2. Second, reputation and big names can matter, but they really don’t. By this I mean a big name exists for a reason, good connections, longevity, reputation speaks for itself. However, if the board is too full, you might feel lost.

My first move was purely because I wanted to see if I could work more in print and most of my friends were at an agency. That’s it, I wasn’t unhappy at all, I just wanted to see if I could explore being in editorial since I was almost 5’8″ Asian and young. Editorial (being in magazines) pays nothing by the way, like I made $250 for the cover and had to give 20% to my agent. Being the photographer I’d get paid 4x or more so I’d rather be on the other end. Anyway, I stayed as the years rolled by at the other agency and not claiming taxes – because I didn’t make more than $600 that year! It seemed as if I was lost or not the right look for the jobs coming through. So after 4 years (I should have left after 2), I moved on to another agency. I was SO excited to be with the third one. I really loved them, I was excited about them, they were excited about me. I booked a few jobs, but then the second year it got quiet.

I tried to take acting classes to get stronger as an actor. The auditions were plentiful, my agency did a great job, but I wasn’t booking and it wasn’t their fault. While I got called, I also got burnt out. Auditioning can get quite tiresome and discouraging if you do it for a year.

Then, up popped my first agent. We chatted, caught up like old friends and started right where we left off. She had been thinking of me and it had been 6 years. I decided that maybe returning to someone who knew me, believed in me and still thought about me for jobs after all these years was someone I wanted to represent me and work with. She believed in me and thought I should be working more. She negotiates higher rates for me on jobs and so I figure before I hang my hat on the industry, I’d give it another try, one last time with an agency that had worked well. Later that week, I already had booked a 2-day job.

I would absolutely return to Agency AZ as I had said I would do the same with Dani’s. No hard feelings, professionalism and love the people. But you have to find where the work (money) is. The fancy name doesn’t pay the bills and the nice people who run the agency can’t pay your bills you need to transition as you transition professionally even if it’s hard to say goodbye – and that’s why I had moved so many times.

Look for the right culture, agents you feel comfortable with, and watch the jobs that come through the door if they fit what you aspire to do or be. You’ll know if you’ve made the right decision if you stay busy. Good luck!

{PHOENIX magazine photo by Brandon Sullivan, makeup and hair by Lizzy Marsh / Floral prints photo by Michelle Herrick for Emma Magazine / Modeling comp card photos by Michael Franco}

Diana Elizabeth says it’s fun and great extra money but again, alway be at peace with who you are and what your capabilities are.  It’s a fun thing to do, but also hard work, she wouldn’t do it for free if it wasn’t for the money.