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

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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

Pageant Life: Competition

 

People don’t often believe me when I tell them I am not a competitive person. A model and a pageant girl, I must believe in competition and I must want to win. Half of that last sentence is true. I like to win,who doesn’t, but I don’t consider other women my competition.

Here is what it has taken me 18 years of life to realize, in subjective activities in which you can not control the outcome being competitive is both counter productive and exhausting. Both modeling and pageants are just such types of activities. The outcome rests solely on a set of judges or a client/agent who has a very personal and very embedded view of what they are looking for in a model or a queen. So knowing that there is not another Skylar Witte out there in the world I truly have no one to compete with but myself.

If a client is looking for a 5’10” Hispanic model to promote their new line, I will not get the job. Chances are they won’t tell me that is specifically what they are looking for but if they are there is nothing I could have done, said or changed to land that job. If I knew they were looking for that I would have them contact my friend Vielka down in Texas because she is that girl, I am not. Chances are as I stood in line with the 200-300 others at that audition everyone else in line was comparing themselves to each other and to me. “Oh she is pretty, oh she is tall, oh she came equipped with a huge portfolio!” I have given up on these comparisons long, long ago. Because if they are looking for Skylar Witte, I will get the job, if they want Vielka, well hopefully she is in that line somewhere too 🙂

The same holds true for pageantry. A long time ago when I was much younger and devastated over not placing in a pageant someone told me, different judges, different day, different outcome. It is probably one of the most real things I have ever heard. Judges have a job to find the best representative they can, they are given a loose outline of criteria. Can she talk, walk, is she representative of today’s modern woman…so on and so forth, but in reality everyone’s ideal is going to be different. So my approach to my life is to continuously better myself and worry only about the things I can control. I work on my physical, mental and emotional well-being. I am not afraid to help others better themselves. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I was worried about giving away some big secret that was going to make someone ‘beat’ me out for a title. The whole concept of a pageant being some sort of a race is ludicrous to me.  The girl who walks away with a title did not win her way to a crown by elbowing out other girls along the way, that isn’t how it works!

There are competitive girls in both fields, some but very, very few are downright mean. They will try to tear others down, they will talk poorly behind your back and they will just not be kind when given the opportunity to be kind. I feel bad for those girls, they are missing out on some of the best things that both modeling and pageantry have given me. Lifelong friendships with cool, motivated, beautiful woman inside and out who I want to have by my side. Sometimes those girls will win, sometimes those girls will get the job but I never cry about those girls because in the end they had an opportunity to build a kingdom much more valuable than any crown or job and they blew it!  That 1% has given both industries a bad name.

In reality, most of the women I have come across are supportive and kind. They have also learned along the way that there is endless value in building others up and very little value in trying to tear them down. I don’t necessarily believe in destiny but I do believe in every moment having its ‘time’!

Last year I was 1st runner-up to the title of Miss Wisconsin Teen USA and after the pageant I did not feel even the slightest let down by the outcome. It simply wasn’t my time and I look at what this year has brought me and every day I am reminded of it. It was Karly Knaus’ time and that girl is killing it! I am proud of her, I am thrilled for her and I am honored that we became friends, not because we were ‘competing’ against each other but because we are two motivated women who have a lot in common. I did well that day, I talked the right talk, walked the right walk and was the most confident I have ever been. When we were standing up there in that moment I was truly and genuinely happy, for both Karly and for myself, I was the best Skylar Witte I could be that day and she was the best Karly she could be.  We are now friends and will be friends for the rest of our lives and that’s probably the best ending I could ever ask for!

 

Dream Big, Skylar

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Model Life: Location is Everything

Preview-47Among the many pieces of advice I’ve shared recently with aspiring models:

Find and know your market.

My 18 years of life so far have been spent in two relatively small towns located right in the center of Wisconsin. One on the western side of the state, the other smack dab in the middle. The relevance is that I have learned that to be a ‘working’ model you need to:

1) find your closest realistic market and 2) be willing to either relocate or travel there often.

A realistic market is a city or area large enough with enough industry related business to actually make paid modeling opportunities available to you. On the western side of Wisconsin my market would have been Minneapolis, in central Wisconsin,unfortunately I was not close enough to a large market to find much success.My career did not take off until I moved within driving distance of Milwaukee and Chicago. Many of my friends in the south have found their success in markets like Atlanta, Dallas and Miami. 

This is one of those harsh realities and it is hard to explain and sometimes comes off a little devastating and trite,  but modeling for senior photographers, the mall fashion show or repping a local beauty salon are really great starts but they won’t make you any money.  Promotional modeling is one of the few areas that can be done almost anywhere, and I have a lot of friends who enjoy traveling with companies and representing their brands, but again that is a whole different post. If you want to do this, really do this you have to find and know your market. If you want to be ‘famous’ you will not be able to get there unless you are willing to move to a market that can make you famous….NY, LA, Paris.  My end goal is not to become a famous model.(that said if you are an agent from New York, read this blog, look at my portfolio and fall in love, call please call, I can be convinced! 😉 

My goal (and I am closer every single day) is to be a working model and actress in the Midwest for as long as I can before I am either washed up, large enough and professional enough to get a break that makes a move worthwhile or simply choose to stop doing it. In the end it will likely be the latter. I want to earn a law degree at some point, settle down and have a family. That is my personal dream, probably doesn’t appear as exciting as the constant go-go-go of my current life. My hope is that when someone is looking for a model in the Midwest, the name Skylar Witte comes up and is shared with enthusiasm and wonderful experiences.

By working I mean I get paid every time someone puts a camera in front of me. Right now I am about 70 percent there, I love to shoot and still do portfolio building. I have worked hard to network with the right people in order to do TFP work (Trade For Print or Time for Pics-an equal trade of time for portfolio building between a model and photographer)  I have a few consistent clients and recently started working with a designer who will hopefully make my TFP jobs no longer necessary. I have a pretty extensive portfolio and I am proud of it, in my market I have made wonderful connections with the right kind of people.  Hopefully enough to keep me working which right now is just about enough to off set the costs of books, food and incidentals in college. Next stop paying off student loans.

Dream Big, Skylar

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Model Life: Bloggin and Loggin

I’m not a blogger, but recently I have gotten so many questions about how I am doing what I am doing and what it is exactly that I do week in and week out I thought what better way to connect with people than to start to use my site to share a little more.  It’s also a good avenue to answer questions to the best of my ability about the life of a model/college student…notice the slash that will become very important as I share this journey. So check back often for insights and as I log my Skylar Witte modeling adventures for you all to see.

The number one question I get asked and asked often,  I’m interesting in becoming a model, how did you do it?  The answer I give is probably not what people hope to hear but it is the truth and my journey will be different than every other person both successful and unsuccessful in this particular endeavor. But since it comes up often it was a reasonable first post.

My recipe for success is a simple mix, 25% pure luck, 25% building a solid network and 50% non-stop hard work.

I didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a model, but I did wake up and decide to send my senior picture into a dress designer who was looking for models. The connection came my way via a dress shop owners Facebook post and it was a very abrupt,not at all a thought out, decision. I just emailed him my photo, beginning and end of story.

Two amazing national ad campaigns later, a few appearance on Seventeen.com and pictures to build an amazing portfolio my modeling career began, Jimmy at Vienna Prom liked my smile, I fit in his amazing gowns, he enjoyed working with me once and asked me back to model another collection and yep I was a model. 25% pure luck.

I could have been done, as a matter of fact I tried to get an agent after that and was told at my first and only interview that because I was 1 inch shorter than the minimum requirements to do print and runway (which is 5’8″) I should just enjoy the experience and move on (see my next post) but I didn’t want to be done so I started phase two and took my portfolio and started to network. 25% of what I do every day is build relationships.

Finally,  non-stop hard work.  My calendar is booked through July and when I get a call from someone who wants to work with me, I rarely if ever say no. I miss class when I have to so I can travel and sometimes drop everything to be in Chicago on a days notice. Every week I shoot with a boutique that pays me to display all of their inventory, I am the stores only model. We fit the shoots in between college classes. It pays for most of my college incidentals.   Everyday I make a conscious choice to eat clean and workout so I can continue to represent the brands that pay me to fit into and look good in their merchandise.  This is my job and I take it extremely seriously. Many girls who attempt a go at this business are content to find an agency and sit by the phone waiting for the chance to go to a casting call. I choose to work all the time, some jobs pay hourly, some pay daily and some do not pay at all.   All of my jobs are booked as a freelance model, I handle all my own arrangements and travel and when I do get paid it is my money to keep. I find most of my opportunities through my network or by constantly searching.  It is hard and my cell phone is attached to my hip so I can field inquiries. I am fortunate to be represented by a film and television agency but the modeling is all me. Work, work and work!

My friend circle has become rather small, I am a social butterfly but the people that are closest to me these days are those who understand I have big dreams and I have to work to get there, which means a lot less fun and sacrificing time with people I love. If I had any advice for anyone in any industry it is surround yourself with people who support your dreams and are willing to sacrifice along side of you.

Much like losing weight or getting A’s in school, there isn’t a secret. So if you want to become a model it just take a lot of dedication and hard work… but that other part, the other 50% you can’t make that happen, people either like your look or they don’t, they are either willing to network and be part of your journey or they aren’t.  There isn’t a way to make those things happen. I’m sorry it isn’t easy, but all the really big dreams come at a cost.

 

Dream Big, Skylar

 

 

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