Monday, January 5, 2009

The Baby Modeling Experience...Are You Ready?

It's standing room only for some of the moms, dads, and tots who crowd into Dynasty Models on a recent Wednesday at a casting call for baby models. Over the crying and cooing, 39 adults listen intently as Dynasty owner Joe Freeman gives his 20-minute spiel about the baby modeling business. Freeman mentions the clients his models work for. A Baby Gap ad featuring Dynasty model Angelo hangs on the wall. After the presentation, parents meet with Freeman and his daughter Kimberly Yapp, manager of the baby division, for a quick assessment. Among the hopefuls is 15-month-old Kendrick Perkins Jr., son of Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. The tyke sports a formidable Afro and a calm demeanor. None of the parents - no matter how cherubic or precious their spawn - will hear if their child makes the cut today. Yapp always waits two days, till Friday, no later than 5 p.m., to relay the good news. And if the news isn't good, she doesn't call at all. "I don't intend to have one single little heart be broken today," Freeman says, "or one big heart be broken, either." Of course, there's another, more pragmatic reason for the delay, he says: "the safety and health of the agent." Translation: He doesn't want any parents freaking out if their child doesn't get signed.

The baby modeling scene in Boston may not be as active as it is in New York or Los Angeles, but it's steady and competitive enough to support divisions at agencies such as Dynasty Models on Newbury Street and Model Club in the South End. Local companies like L.L. Bean, Hasbro, Summer Infant, Safety 1st, and Tufts Health Plan provide a regular stream of work. Regular casting sessions draw parents eager to see their kids in ads (and to fund their 529 college saving plans), but they have to be thick-skinned enough to tolerate industry euphemisms about their bundle of joy being "not right" for the job. "Some months we might have several castings or jobs the babies are going on," says Tim Ayers, agency director at Model Club Inc. in Back Bay, which represents about 75 babies. "On other months, there might not be anything. Usually we tell the parent that this isn't something that they're going to find overwhelming or take too much of their time. It's something they can do on the side."

Baby divisions cover kids up to age 2 1/2 or 3 and the baby size 3T. Pay ranges from about $75 to $95 per hour, but shoots might only last a couple of hours. Dynasty also charges parents a one time marketing cost of $160 that covers the cost of duplicating photos (parents must update every three months), sending the photos out to clients and postage. The money isn't enough to sustain a family, Ayers says, but parents often say they invest the baby's earnings in 529 plans. "It's really sort of a keepsake thing, you can look back and say, 'Oh, you were on the package for this,' " says Shannon Mignault, a 29-year-old Manchester, N.H., resident whose 7-month-old daughter Ainsley is signed with Model Club Inc. She has a 2-year-old son who's too lively to work as a model.

"My husband and I have talked about doing it only until they're 3," Mignault said. "If they get older and it's something they're interested in, then by all means. But we don't want to push them into making money." Not every parent is so laissez-faire. One mother Ayers met quit her job to accompany her child to a photo shoot because, he says, "she thought it was her child's destiny to be a star." Mignault admitted she was the quintessential stressed-out mom during Ainsley's first shoot for Summer Infant in September. As the photographer took photos, Mignault stood nearby trying to get Ainsley to put her feet down and to stop sucking her thumb, much to the chagrin of the creative team.

"They were like, 'No, no. Don't worry about it, she's fine, she's fine,' " Mignault says. "You get kind of nervous that they're going to get annoyed with you and the baby." Hanover resident Renee Hanna, 35, heard about baby modeling from her sister, who had a friend whose baby was in the business. Her son Robbie, now 5, signed as a model at 9 months old, competed in Gap Baby auditions in New York City twice, but never had a job. That didn't stop Hanna from getting her girls, Abigail, 20 months, and Chloe, 6 months, into the business.

Hanna estimates that Abigail has done 15 to 20 shoots consisting mostly of product packaging for local baby gear companies such as Summer Infant and Safety 1st. The 20-month-old also appears in an ad for Tufts Health Plan. Chloe has modeled in about four product packaging shoots and for a photo that ran in Disney's Wondertime magazine. "The money's great to have extra to put away for college," says Hanna. She estimates that Abigail has made about $2,800 and Chloe, about $700. The spectre of rejection doesn't bother Hanna and her husband. Modeling gigs are determined by the client, and an advertiser might be looking for babies with a particular hair color, ethnicity, clothing size or look. "We don't take it personally," says Hanna. "We just have fun with it. I mean, they're so little, it's silly."

So what are agencies looking for in a baby model? Ayers says successful baby models are smilers with good temperaments who're willing to interact with photographers, hair stylists, and makeup artists. Yes, babies do get hair and makeup: At a Hasbro shoot, a makeup artist covered a spot on Abigail's face while a hair stylist fixed her hair, says Hanna. "It's almost like if you see something you know it," says Freeman. "For a baby, pretty much you're looking for that cuteness. I hate using the term, but that all-American look. That baby with a wholesome look."

Migneault was perusing the Plymouth Rock Studio website when she noticed an ad for Model Club Inc. noting that the agency was looking for models under the age of six months old. Mignault impulsively uploaded a photo of Ainsley. A month later, the agency called Mignault and told her it had shown Ainsley's photo to a client and the client wanted to use her in a Summer Infant shoot in Providence the next day. That September experience of Ainsley modeling travel accessories for car seats turned out well enough that Ainsley shot two more jobs after that: one for organic clothing and another for a changing table and accessories. As with many tot shoots, two babies were booked for that first gig, says Mignault. The photographer alternated taking photos with each baby depending on whether one needed to eat or be changed. The first shoot took an hour and a half and left Mignault impressed with the staff. "There was no attitude," says Mignault. "No, 'Gosh, this is annoying.' They were really, really great." And what about Ainsley? "She loves the attention," her mother says. "She gets to . . . see other babies and she sits there and just smiles away like, 'Wow, are all these people here for me?' ".

(source: from an article by Vanessa E. Jones)

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