So many cool projects this month featuring some of the finest photographers and hair and make-up artists I have had the pleasure to work with. And as a bonus they are Wisconsin based. I love behind-the-scenes videos that give people a glimpse into a shoot.
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
Finding a foot in the door in this industry is hard, networking takes time, energy and the ability to handle a lot of rejection. But one thing I have learned is you have to make your success your own and you can not ride anyone else’s coat tails. So if you want to become a model, you need to quickly learn the difference between good connections, bad connections and overstepping your bounds.
This is a ‘sticky wicket’ as they say. When I started the first photographers I found and connected with came via several friends whose photos impressed me, and that is what I told the photographers when I reached out via email or Facebook. I simply said, I have seen so&so’s pictures and I love your work, perhaps we could work together sometime. Sometimes I just loved their work and knew absolutely no one they worked with. I then invited them to become my friend on Facebook so they could see what I brought to the mutual table. Some said they would love to work with me, others gave me a price they would be willing to work with me for and some didn’t return my message.
In turn when people reach out to me seeking advice or want to work with me I try to be both kind and helpful. This isn’t a hobby for me it is a job. A great piece of advice I got early on is that you have to know where you fall on the scale. Are you a novice, inexperienced model or professional model who has appeared in several publications and done commercial or paid work? At this point I consider myself a professional working model, I expect to be paid for my time, however I am again a realist… I am not Lily Aldridge or Elsa Hosk. I also am not available all-day every-day, I do this on a part-time basis. I have a strong portfolio and a resume which includes national campaigns. I take that all into account when someone reaches out to me.
As far as helping aspiring models, well it is why I started this blog, I couldn’t keep up with the messages. I used to get a few messages a month, now I get several messages daily and they come from aspiring models all over the world, which I am both honored and overwhelmed by. I wish I knew more. I wish I could help everyone. But as I have shared a million times over there is no secret here, you have to put in the work and you have to make the connections no one can ‘help’ you, simply give advice, that is what I do.
I am more than happy to connect people when I personally know them and their work. I get asked by designers and photographers if I know any other good models and I will gladly spread the love. Or at the very least tell them to go check out someones website, Facebook or Instagram, the rest is up to them. One of my greatest experiences in this industry came from someone helping me in the opposite direction. Cali Rae, who is now a signed model met me at a fashion show and passed my name along to a photographer she worked with who was building his portfolio, I have now done several great shoots with him. Our friendship and connection is just the type of networking that helps get models to new levels. In turn when I am contacted by a photographer or designer looking, I am always willing to pass along the names of models they should contact. I have made direct connections between people and believe in helping others grow.
Here is where people often overstep their bounds and it is hard to swallow as someone who worked hard to build a career. Don’t call, DM or message a photographer, a client who has paid me to represent them or my agent and tell them you are ‘friends’ with Skylar Witte and ask for something, especially for free. I think every working model or actor would agree, this is one of those crazy things that happens often. Unless I made that connection directly you are likely to tick off several people in the chain. Great photographers cost money and sometimes they shoot for free but if they aren’t OK with TFP work using my name only looks bad for me and for you. My agent just put a very clear message to those represented stating if someone name drops by messaging, emailing or calling her personal cell phone she will not sign them, regardless of how talented they are, also I would risk being dropped because I gave out her personal information, and I really, really like my agent. This does not constitute as networking, as a matter of fact it will likely ruin your chances as a model or actor.
Relationships are built on honesty, trust and kindness. Starting off by saying you were sent by someone when you were not or asking for free work can and most likely will upset all parties involved. In turn, if I act as a reference or connection for you please do not destroy a relationship I helped you to build. This includes not responding to a message from someone you asked me to connect you with, not following their directions or call sheet information, rescheduling, cancelling on them or simply standing them up for a shoot. They probably won’t want to work with you again and I will not refer you again.
Although this is my first ‘professional’ life experience I would hope this goes the same for any career choice I should make. Much like everything in the world even in the entertainment and modeling industry it is a small circle. Photographers, agents, scouts, designers and other models will quickly identify friend and foe. Reputations can be built and destroyed easily. I am proud of the relationships I have with others in my market, it is a snowball that keeps connecting me and it is what keeps opportunities coming my way.
Also I am not shy at all about asking for help and advice myself. Before I signed with my acting agency I sent several of their signed actors a quick message asking about their experience. Some of us now follow each others budding careers even though we are thousands of miles apart. I have a whole network of amazing people whose hands I have yet to shake, but to me that is the best part of this industry. I also was contacted by a New York modeling agency recently and reached out to several girls in my network who were signed with them or I saw had a connection to them. These quick checks have been lifesavers to me, it’s also how I avoid creeps which will actually be my next post.
So read this blog, comment and ask me questions. If you are in my neighborhood and want to chat over coffee, let’s do it! I won’t tell you anything I won’t write about on this blog. There is no SECRET…seriously this is a job and like all jobs you have to build experience, network and grow day-by-day until you get to the next level. The unfortunate part of this job is it is based on your genetic make-up and subjectivity, so success is based on several things you can’t control. If you are gorgeous like Ms. Cali Rae then you are a lucky one. But taking advantage of your relationship with others will not bring you success, you will lose opportunities and more importantly lose friends.
Dream Big, Skylar
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!
Among 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
I mentioned in my first post that my only actual agency interview involved a measuring tape, and OK I’ll admit it, some tears. After submitting my headshot and first campaign photos to every decent agency in the Midwest my senior year of high school I got what I thought would be the call of my life.
An agency in a very large city that has a reputation for being very up-and-coming in the industry reached out to me. And it wasn’t a staff member, it was the owner. I was elated. Especially because the voice on the other end of the phone told me I was just unique enough and my facial features made me very marketable. Looking back I’m not sure if ‘unique’ is a compliment, but in this life it is the hook you need. She asked how tall I was, honestly I had never really measured, hahaha my mother claims she is 5’8″ I am just a little taller so I’ve always assumed I was also 5’8″. So when asked I legitimately answered “about 5’8″” Turns out my mother is a liar.
Truth told I am just 5’7″ The fact was unfortunately discovered when I walked into that agency and the owner immediately pulled out a tape measure. The conversation that followed was very brief and very deflating. I was told that all fashion, runway and most print models were at a very bare minimum 5’8″ but in reality more like 5’10”-6′ I guess this wasn’t shocking or news to me, but the next piece was. I was told simply “Miss Skylar Witte, you should not pursue modeling.” I would never find work at 5’7″. Now I am not usually a vengeful person, but I literally walked out of that building two minutes later with an I’ll-Show-Them attitude.
What I discovered since, is in many respects she was partially right, big designers and fashion week shows, Victoria’s Secret and Vogue they want tall, tall, tall girls. But there is a market for me, and a solid one at that. I fit in most retail clothes directly off the rack, throw me in any Target or Boston Store and I can wear most juniors and most womens clothing. I fit in dresses and gowns without any alterations. It is how I landed my deal with Mac Duggal. I was told I am the perfect measurements for their sample gowns. I am not too skinny where the clothes hang off me and I am the perfect height to be a fit/commercial model.
My consistent job is with a large online boutique www.bluechicboutique.com The owner likes working with me because I fit into every size small in her inventory. As a matter of fact, she shares my measurements (which lately have been decreasing) with her customers. She once told me she tried a tall model but all the clothes looked awkward and unnatural on her, whoo hoo, score one for the average girls!
Someone once said, you are so close you should just lie…but after my unintentional lie, back when I actually thought I was 5’8″ I could never do that again. In the modeling industry measurements are everything. I would hate to show up for a call thinking I had a chance and knowing that my waist was an inch too big or too small. It is wasting my time and the clients!
Now I don’t want to give all the short girls out there false hope, there is a market for petite models but it is a sliver of an already small pie. I have found the difference between my 5’7″ and another’s 5’6″ is huge. In this business an inch can get you the job or lose you the job and once you start getting into the realm of not fitting sample sizes it gets pretty hard for fit and commercial models.
When people ask me my end goal, as fun as it would be to walk in the VS fashion show, I am a realist. I am perfectly content and fortunate to get any paid modeling jobs. I am living my dream, there is no secret end point. I’m just happy that all 5 foot, 7 inches of me can find work at all 🙂
Dream Big, Skylar
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