LA Life: From Crowns to Cameras

Many pageant girls have aspirations to get into the entertainment industry at some level and many will use pageantry as a spring board into that life. Since moving to LA I have had many current and former titleholders reach out and ask for advice about making the transition.  Much like every blog I compose I can only speak to my own personal experience ( which is just in its infancy) so, take it for what it is worth:

Don’t lie about your pageant past: I mean let’s be real, you shouldn’t lie on a resume ever for any job, modeling, acting or otherwise. Remember the modeling agency visit when I thought I was 5’8″ and I’m only 5’7″, even unintentional lies bite you!  But that said, I can not tell you how many people suggested I never mention I was Miss Wisconsin USA when I was moving to Hollywood. I was told over and over and over again that pageant girls are not taken seriously, they are frowned upon. Many said it would actually  hurt my chances of ever getting work. Here has been my reality. Every single time it comes up and it does a LOT (I mean Miss Wisconsin USA 2017 is still in my insta bio) it has become a wonderful topic of conversation and actually in many, many instances been a connection  I needed.  Maybe it is because by the time the subject comes up I have already proven my worth, professionalism and talent or maybe it is because a lot less negative connotations than people imagine are associated with Miss USA or maybe they don’t exist and it’s all a fallacy. I am not one to wager on the whys and hows, but Gal Gadot and Olivia Culpo have really helped to pave a pretty clear path. Suddenly pageant girls are cool. I’ll take it. If you aren’t comfortable, you don’t have to include it anywhere, that is completely your choice. For me it was worth promoting because I’m proud of that piece of my personal history. And people are always intrigued by the words “Butt Glue” and want to know more.

Big leaps and moves are necessary: So even years after I myself first realized it,  I repeat myself but, market matters. I once wrote a whole blog about making sure you were in a market that supplies enough work. It doesn’t have to be LA, although I will tell you this place is great, it can be any major entertainment market.  If you want to dabble in the entertainment industry and don’t want to make the move it can be done but know the limits of your market. Landing roles that will move you progressively up a scale might not happen if you are living in well, Wausau, Wisconsin, which is where I lived. If you are really serious know you can not commit to one home and plan to settle. I was just submitted for a film that would shoot for three months in Barcelona. Many TV shows film in Toronto, New York, Georgia. So even if you move, when that break happens you best be prepped and ready to uproot on a few days notice.  I just chose to leave every piece of clothing I own in my car, just in case 🙂 This also helps when I’m on set and the wardrobe person asks if I have shorter shoes, or taller shoes. Yes and yes, I have ALL the shoes.

Don’t make that move empty handed: What I would suggest is building your career well before you make any major moves. If you are a model and don’t have a great portfolio or an actress who doesn’t have a solid reel stay put and work a little longer. One; it is easier to do trade work with photographers and get local commercial work in a smaller market. Unfortunately the top notch fashion photographers in LA aren’t looking to do a quick shoot at the beach with an unknown when they can be shooting with Bella and Gigi and getting paid the big bucks. Two; you will learn the industry enough to be comfortable on set and taking direction. This goes for models and actors. Pageant headshots are not the same as shooting for a commercial brand. No photographer or director is going to stop and teach you what you need to know, you just better know. Acting on camera is different than performing on stage. If you are a musical theatre kid, like I was, or college theatre major get some commercial work first even if it is for the local television market. Something is better than nothing. The biggest mistake others who have come and gone have shared is that they made the move completely unprepared.  Never having worked in any capacity in the industry, without materials and without a financial plan. The triple whammy that will lead to massive disappointment.

Money$$$: Be realistic, understand how much everything and I mean everything costs. Can you stop working all together to pursue your dream? Can your family help you? Do you have a money genie? If the answer to all of these is no, make sure you have a really, really, really, solid plan. I have worked consistently on industry jobs since I moved, not full-time, not every day and sometimes I go weeks at a time. I honestly right now make $1,000 a month average in the industry. My rent is $1,200 a month. So clearly without a full-time job outside of the industry I would be packed up and moved back to Wisconsin and in debt. I also take weekly acting classes and  just got new headshots.  Ching, ching, ching. Oh and I just became eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. That SAG card is great but the initiation fee alone is $1,500. Before I made the move I saved every single penny for months and months. Do not make the big move until you have the honest to goodness cash to get established. It’s a lot, but trust me you will be so thankful you have a start.

NETWORK LIKE CRAZY: The great news about pageant girls in the industry is there are quite a few of us. My first contacts were pageant folks and many are still willing to give me advice and connections. But in the industry every single person you meet is a connection. That photographer you did an TFP shoot with back in Chicago, the cameraman who also graduated from UW-Madison. Networking is how I started this crazy ride and it’s how I will continue it.

Not all advice is good advice, mine included: To the above point one of the greatest connections I have made here is with an amazing Director/Producer/Actor couple. I met them because I randomly submitted to do some background work. It also is the set upon which I met my greatest friends here in LA.  The piece of advice I didn’t take, “Doing background work will discredit you as a serious actor.”  A few days on the set as an extra have literally changed my life out here…all for the better. Do I want to be in the background of movies and TV shows forever? Nah! But the best things that have happened so far happened because I wasn’t too proud to do what I had to do. Also I happenstance landed on a huge movie set in the background with one of the biggest actors in recent history so that was a bonus. Stay tuned full details on that one coming June 2020! But by then I hope to have my first role working a little closer to the cameras. The point is, this industry is not much different than the pageant industry, every former and every coach thinks they know the formula for success and your path will not be the same as another persons. Do what works for you!!

Hone the pageant skills because you will need them all: Make-up and hair, be able to do your own. This will come in handy on every level. The first real make-up artist I worked with was hired to do touch-ups and you were to arrive camera ready. She couldn’t get over my technique and didn’t have to do a thing. I quickly became her favorite person on set. Interview skills are a must and those 2 minute interviews you prep for in pageant land, well you have even less time to impress a potential agent or casting director so you are practicing every single time you do one. Walking in heels, comfy in a bikini, can rock a gown…..all essentials. Granted I have been a high school student, scientist and ‘hipster’ girl in my last three jobs so glam is not a real go to necessity for many jobs,  but the confidence to work any look helps. Your pageant training is going to help you.

Finally, in true #skysthelimit fashion that I preached to thousands of middle school children throughout my reign as Miss Wisconsin USA. Set a goal and then set and accomplish smaller goals to reach that dream. Here are my 10 best:

1) Make the decision to be a model/actor/stuntwoman/writer/singer/producer whatever it is and fully commit to it. 2)Pick your market 3) Research and set you budget 4)Build your arsenal of work to get you started 5) Find others doing what you want to do and reach out 6)Save those pennies 7)Surround yourself with people who believe in your dream as much as you do and lose anyone who is holding you back 8)Let go of the fear and self-doubt before you set foot on your first real job. You can be your biggest set-back. Enough people in this industry will tell you “no” and you “aren’t good enough”, do NOT make yourself one of them. 9)Know what you are willing to sacrifice and where your boundaries lay, these will be tested. Write down when something is over that line (for me it was an offer to do a wacky commercial for a religious sect and a modeling gig for a rope bondage magazine called Knotty-can’t make this stuff up people) strange things will arise  10)Persist, persist and persist.  It might not move at the pace you hoped for so when you stall out – reassess, tweak, learn and move forward.

Follow me on Instagram and follow this blog to hear more about he trials and successes of life in Hollywood. I learn something new every day. And as you all know I’m not afraid to share!

Skylar Hollywood

Dream Big,

Skylar Witte

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Model Life: Creeps

So there is a deluded myth out there that the modeling industry is full of nothing but porn directors, scam artists and rapists looking for their next victim. Well those people exist (unfortunately in the world at large), for the most part it is easy to identify and avoid the creeps. More so, the industry is filled with many, many, many girls with stars in their eyes who sometimes ignore the red flags in hopes of finding their big break and making a quick buck. So creeps will seek you out and you can easily find creeps but here are my personal tips for staying safe and creep-free.

First, vet everyone. VET= to investigate (someone) thoroughly to see if they should be approved or accepted for a job! This seems like a lot for every person who reaches out to you but it is a necessity. Here is my standard practice. A full check of their Facebook, Instagram and website if provided. If we have mutual friends whom I have worked with and trust, I always reach out to them to get a reference. This can not be stressed enough. A dear photographer friend saved me from a very uncomfortable situation once by merely being honest, ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’… problem averted. Stay within your known network and market even if you don’t have a mutual connection you are likely to find a reference with ties to you. It’s like the 6 degrees of separation game. I am not afraid to reach out to someone who knows someone and introduce myself….also this is how I have built my network over time. If you have no connections ask for references!

So what if there is no connection and no references available what-so-ever but you love their work and from your basic research they seem on the up-and-up? It may seem a bit nuts but if they are Wisconsin residents you can run a quick background check through the court system. Yep, it seems like a lot but if someone has sexual assault charges you probably want to steer clear. Of course if you don’t have court access, google is a simple and amazing tool….pictures seem too good to be true, the name seem a little fishy, do they claim they are with an agency. Find out, it is not that hard. Legitimate business professionals do not hide their background.  Learn how to do an image search to make sure the photos are real and belong to the photographer. Seriously, I am that cautious.

My other recommendation is a simple and effective one, bring a chaperone or escort. Now I might get guff from photographers or industry folk out there for this one, but if it is not a paying job set up through a reliable agency or with a known professional who either provides references or has been fully vetted, only agree to the shoot if you can have a chaperone present. I have brought someone with me when I don’t know the photographer and don’t feel comfortable meeting them in some remote studio or location, this just seems like common sense to me. So far the wonderful photographers I work with completely understand and welcome this. I also remain extremely professional and ask my chaperone to do the same, basically come along and stay out of the way! Like drop me off and wait outside (but within reasonable screaming distance:) Seriously my sweet mother has sat outside in a car for hours just waiting for me.  Actually most of the time photographers love her, she is one heck of a stylist and creative director.

Only once I have been told I could not bring a chaperone and guess what its the same person who I was warned ‘he is a creep, don’t do it’ that incident confirmed my logic. I am fortunate that in my network there are Facebook groups dedicated to sharing information about creeps. Sometimes there might be a smear campaign, sour grapes and crazy competition you have to weed through.

Also be completely upfront about expectations for shoots and jobs. I tell every photographer I work with I do not do nude and I do not do full out see-thru lingerie or overly sexy boudoir. No implied sex, and I keep my bits covered at all times.  I would say I’m PG for sure.  This is a hard line, high fashion and editorial photographers sometimes are looking for more edgy than I can provide, and I have turned down good gigs due to the fact it isn’t the type of work I am willing to do.  If that is what they are looking for they can simply look elsewhere. I have done a few shoots in my Calvin Kleins, with cleavage peeking and  a bra, strategic placement of things,  panties and over-sized shirt but those were at my request and for my personal portfolio. For those saucy shoots I had my mother along with me, because if anyone knows my personal line better than myself its her!

There are extreme stories out there about girls getting sucked into what seemed from all fronts legit opportunities that turned into absolute nightmares. So far I have not been in that severe a situation. My network continues to grow and I continue to vet and so far I have been blessed with safety and security. Creeps be warned, don’t bother reaching out, I have no interest in being your victim. I take my caution a step further. I will not respond to DMs, chats or other social media messages from people I have not met or who are not connecting for business purposes, even at that I prefer people reach me via email. If they are a photographer I prefer they send along a link to a portfolio of their work.

Finally two points that make me sound like my dad but I appreciate his advice the older I get. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is and It is OK to say NO! So stay safe out there my fellow models.

Dream Big, Skylar

CREEP

Model Life: Free Agent-ish

So I get asked a lot why I am not seeking agency representation for my modeling career, I think for many people who have a different approach to this industry that is the way and only way to go, it is just not my way. I shared my big agency experience with you all a few weeks ago. Acting is a whole different beast and I will address that today as well, I love my film/television agency and I will explain why. But no modeling agency yet and there are a few reasons I will share for my career path in this post.

First, modeling agencies come in all sorts of levels of support, promotion and industry rank. There are small agencies that do mostly regional work, large agencies that do national work and/or will act as a mother agency connecting you to the big dogs who are the international players in the modeling world. I have been approached by three regional agencies and was just  approached by a Chicago agency, which could act as my mother agency in the next step of my career, and so far I haven’t signed on a dotted line with a modeling agency.  Many of my friends in this business are signed with regional agents or signed with agencies in large markets but are trying to live in the Midwest. I am fortunate, because they have all shared their wisdom and pitfalls of their contracts with me.

Once you sign that piece of paper often you are obligated to work with that agency and no one else, good models get asked to sign exclusive contracts. The relationship is meant to be mutually beneficial, they promote you on their available roster for paid jobs and you either go to a casting call/audition or get a paid job based on that promotion. They get a cut of your payment. Now that is great if the relationship is great. What if the agency doesn’t promote you?  Are you buried somewhere on page 27 of 50 on a website? If you are one of 400 female models the regional agency represents how much are you being pushed alongside of the 399 others? When a client seeks a blonde-haired, blue-eyed model is your info being sent, shared, viewed or even found? Many agencies aren’t agencies at all they are paid websites which are a monumental database of hundreds of inexperienced models who are willing to pay to be included. Do clients actually go there and offer jobs to models, who knows? I have never heard of someone getting their big break this way.

Sometimes you can get a non-exclusive contract and have multiple agents. This route works well for those who want multiple chances to get their face out there and be submitted for a handful of jobs, especially in markets like Chicago and Minneapolis.  A few models I know live in Chicago and are signed with LA or NY agencies and they all tell me the same thing, it is really hard to live where your agency isn’t, they might put you up for paid gigs in NY or LA but guess what you are in Chicago. Now you are asking for travel expenses and more. Sometimes the job makes the travel worth it but often it doesn’t and sometimes the client doesn’t want the hassle.

Upon the advice of one of the very first make-up artists and photographers that I worked with I have decided to not sign with a regional agency and instead pursue building my regional career on my own, until I know I am ready for the next move. If you have read any other blogs you know I hustle and so far, so good!

But what about that great agency that pushes you and believes in you and promotes you like no other, well I’m not ready for them. Frankly, I am still committed to my college career meaning I need to be able to choose my own jobs on my own timeline. It would be completely unfair to get a great modeling agent who finds me all sorts of great opportunities that I am constantly declining. Really big, big opportunities are going to take me out of the Chicago market and I’m not ready to go yet! Flying to New York or Milan on a whim just isn’t my life right now.   I will say it again 25% of this business is relationships and why burn a bridge by not delivering on your end of the deal. I won’t do that to someone, when I am to that point I will seek out the proper representation for where I am at with my career. If I sign with you I will give you all that I have 100% of the time.

So I guess my reasons are actually only one reason, right now I need to have complete control of my career, my approach is different than most, find success on your own and then find the right person to acknowledge that success and bring you to the next level. I know the type of agency I want to work with and when I am ready for them I hope they will take me. (fingers crossed, toes crossed)

Now I do have an amazing acting and film agency, YJB Talent out of Atlanta with an office in Chicago. They are a boutique agency and represent only a handful in their regions and work very hard on development. My agent is helping to develop me knowing that I have a looooooong way to go. Acting is a whole different game! I have done one film and been offered a few roles in others. I hope to work more in this field but without an agency in the acting field I would not be able to move forward. The agency submits me for SAG/AFTRA paid jobs and they also have me connected to receive information about unpaid jobs and opportunities. They also understand I model and will even give me the inside track on jobs I maybe haven’t seen on my own.  So I can chose to pursue student films, independent films and other career builders. They help me with head shots, available acting workshops and classes and building a brand. I shared in my last post about not paying to become a model, again acting is a very,very different beast. A good acting school, classes and workshops at some point are musts. It is an art and a talent which can and must be developed. I am working on that right now. My agent is available to help and willing to help and that is a relationship I am thankful for every single day.

Hopefully in a few years I will be able to add to this blog and share my experiences in becoming an actress, much like finding a modeling agency partner I’m just not there yet.

 

Dream Big, SkylarYJB

Model Life: Don’t PAY!

Growing up in small towns I would have had absolutely no idea how to get started in modeling, I do remember there being model searches in my hometown mall however and once in a great while a ‘talent scout’ would come to a hotel selling your chance to be the next Disney star. Now that I have been doing this for some time and built a professional network which includes many other models I have learned this one very, very, very important fact. Do not pay  a ton of money to become a model!!!*

That said there are costs involved but if someone tells you that you need a series of classes, expensive workshops or thousands of dollars’ worth of photos they want to take your money and once they have it their interest in you is likely over. People I know have done this and I imagine they would not only echo my thoughts but have an even harsher reaction. Now this is a point where I could easily name the names of companies that are notorious for doing this but as an aspiring lawyer I am smarter than that. So please google modeling classes and know that very few signed models (with good agencies that get you paid  work) actually ever went to those ‘schools’.  Modeling is one of the few things in the world that cannot necessarily be taught and attending classes will not make you more successful, if you want to spend money invest in great photos. If you want to find success build a network.  25%Luck, 25%Relationships,50%Hard Work.

Also to read a lot more about this check out my favorite article on the subject.

So if you aren’t lucky like I was and fall right into this business in an unexpected ball of fire, how do you start? This is where the money you do need to spend probably comes in. Get a decent headshot and set of polaroids (or ‘digis’ or ‘digitals’, they go by many names) They are called this because if you got an agency interview or scouted, back in the day, they would  pull out a Polaroid instant camera and take a headshot, profile, 1/3 and full body shot, usually in a bikini or tight clothing or something that shows off your build  and are usually fresh faced with little to no make-up, raw unedited images. These become part of your portfolio for potential clients.  In 2016 modeling agencies usually prefer you submit these images digitally and if you go to agency sites often they will tell you that these photographs do not need to be done professionally, this is probably true if you have all the makings of a supermodel. But don’t trust your smartphone with this task. Go and get these done by a good professional photographer, especially your headshot, one who has worked with agency signed models, do your research for your market and find the best photographer you can!

So if you aren’t a ready-made supermodel (and honestly, who the heck is)  my best advice is to work first, build your professional portfolio, hopefully with a good headshot and some prime networking you can find work with photographers also building their portfolio and you can work together. The progression of an unsigned print model usually follows this route, you pay for really good pictures from a really good photographer, sometimes you need to pay for more than just head shots and Polaroids, portfolio prints don’t come cheap.  When you get good enough you can work for free with photographers on a TFP (time for prints, time for photos) basis and finally you get paid by photographers who want to work with you.  This is how as a print model you progress, learn and get better. If you have talent photographers will seek you out. In my career I started by reaching out to really good photographers, now photographers will reach out to me, that is an awesome place to be.  Those pictures build your portfolio which you use for casting calls and a comp card. These are items you will take to casting calls and auditions.

Then if you are so inclined take that material and hit the open call agency circuit to get signed. A true agency may charge you a nominal fee for including you on their website and will likely suggest photos from a high end professional who can assure your listing is the quality the agency prefers and yes this may cost you some money. If you have a strong enough portfolio, brand and proof of success no agency is going to charge you up front to sign with them.  If they insist you spend $1500-$3000 up front for ‘signing’ something is seriously wrong. Since I am a ‘free agent’ most of this advice has come my way from people who have been doing this a LOT longer than I have. But I trust them and take their advice to heart.

Again most of these things are separate posts. Connect with other industry professionals and models but don’t use them to advance your own career .  Be cautious of snakes in the grass, I have horror stories about bad casting calls, shady photographers and downright scary situations, vet everyone you work with.

And as usual as I complete this blog post my last paragraph has just given me four more post ideas. So follow me, if you are curious about my experience or stories from this crazy world I have enough apparently for a novel.  So until next time.

Dream Big, Skylar

*These are my personal opinions and professional experiences, I know there are people out there who will not agree. I am sure with an infinite amount of money many models can build a successful career. My goal was to build my own career without spending my parents cash. It has not been easy…it’s a lot of work every day!

Photography: MCMXC Photography