A model is photographed or filmed for the purposes of promoting a particular consumer product or brand.
Models promote a variety of consumer goods, from haute couture clothing to mobile phone price plans. The work is as varied as the products and the ‘look’ of the model will be hand-picked by a casting director to fit a particular brief given to him by an advertising agency, clothing designer or third party promotions company. The shoot can be done literally anywhere from inside clubs, at the top of mountains, to inside an office or underwater. However varied it is, modelling will fall into one of the main categories below.
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At the top end of the scale in terms of income and volume of work are fashion models. Hand picked by specialist fashion agencies at a young age, usually around 13 to 16 years old, fashion models work on a contract for an agency which foots all their expenses and then deducts them from their wages in addition to a per job booking fee. As their look matures they may continue to work with their agencies but in reality most fashion models are dropped by the age of around 26, particularly girls as the fashion industry currently favours skinny boys and girls without curvaceous figures. The industry searches voraciously for new faces and fashion models can do a fair bit of international travelling from country to country in order to maximise their novelty appeal. Additionally, certain looks are favoured by certain markets, which is why you find large numbers of Scandanavian models in London and dark haired Brazilian models in South East Asia. Fashion models work on catwalks, at photographic shoots and often have their social lives paid for or at least heavily subsidised. It is a fast paced and competitive industry only suited to highly attractive individuals. The pay can be high for those that work regularly but the title of super model and the perceived revenue that goes with it is limited to a score of individuals worldwide. Interestingly it is one of the few industries where women earn more than men.
Lifestyle products aimed at a mass market such as mobile phones and soft drinks may try to engage their audience with more realistic, or individual looking models. As such, people not considered classically beautiful but who have striking, funny, or simple everyman features can enjoy success at character modelling. It is particularly suited to actors or those with a predisposition to performance, as more interaction with the camera and some acting is often required. The work is generally more sporadic as a campaign is targeted at one particular look which may not be required soon again after. The rate of pay varies considerably from a few hundred to several thousand pounds a day. Character models work on photographic or more often on video shoots.
Glamour modelling is a euphemism for soft-core pornography. Pornographic magazines and websites employ models of all ages and body types to pose suggestively at its most conservative, or reveal their genitals in more explicit publications, for the camera. Pay was traditionally high but is doubtless becoming less so, faced with increasing competition from outside the UK and the popular trend for amateur pornography.
Sports models are the most specialised of all and the only way to become one is by being excellent at one or a range of sports. They may be contracted to perform a particular stunt or exercise and in some cases to double for a known sports person or actor in performing a dangerous stunt.
Catalogues have a far wider market than haute couture fashion and models are chosen that have athletic builds, especially given that underwear and swim wear usually form part of a catalogue. Catalogue modelling can pay well but not as well as fashion. Nevertheless, given the wiles of the industry, a successful catalogue model can make a decent living in excess of a moderately successful fashion model.
There are many advertising campaigns that require the presence of children and numerous agencies to which aspiring parents may sign up to. A good child model is comfortable with other people and predisposed to smiling and laughing.
The annual income of a model is hard to accurately predict as income comes on a per job basis. At the top of the industry, fashion models are retained by their agencies on a contract; they are then paid a per diem allowance for incidental expenses, in addition to which their housing, transport and often some food bills are also footed by the agency. These expenses are subtracted from any subsequent earnings and the models are paid the remainder. Fashion campaigns can pay anything from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands whereas a day on the catwalk generally earns a model from £100 to £3,000 a day.
The payment level of an advertising campaign is based on:
- the type of product being advertised
- the medium it will appear on (live, cinema, TV, magazine etc)
- the broadcast area (national, specific or multiple international territories, etc)
- the type of models they are using: fashion usually pays more.
A single day modelling can net anywhere from £100 to £100,000 pounds dependent on the above factors.
- A model is required to turn up on time and cooperate with the directors and other creatives on set.
- When not working on a campaign, a model is required to attend numerous castings to be assessed for suitability for future campaigns. They are also required to take their portfolio, or ‘book’ to castings. Sometimes an A5 card with a montage of their best shots, called a com card, can substitute a book.
- A model is expected always to be available for castings and liaise closely with their agency ‘booker’ as to their whereabouts and availability.
- A model must always be highly presentable and follow the instructions of his or her booker in relation to personal appearance.
There are no industry recognised qualifications required to be a model.
- Silent confidence and composure reign supreme in the world of modelling. It is a model’s job to strut their stuff in front of cameras or live audiences and make everyone else wish they were them.
- Rejections generally outnumber successes in the myriad of daily castings that a model must attend. Therefore a thick skin and deep self-belief is the most important attribute of any model, otherwise life can be depressing which will only lead to greater failure.
- The ability to get on well with difficult people is a real bonus, as modelling brings together many people of artistic temperament in a high pressure, time constrained environment and tempers can fray quickly. A moody model is unlikely be re-booked by the same clients twice.
- The ability to make friends quickly will make a successful, travelling model’s life more enjoyable.
- Models must be self-sufficient and un-demanding; only the top earners get special treatment.
- A model must be or learn to be comfortable being partially clothed or even naked (when backstage) in front of an audience.
- A model has to have good mental and physical endurance. Working under hot lights for many hours at the spontaneous direction of multiple directors and/or photographers is nothing but exhausting and the campaign’s success rests on the composure of the model.
Modelling is demanding both physically and mentally. The work can take place literally anywhere, such as outdoors in freezing or very humid conditions, in clothes quite un-suited to the environment. Catwalks and video or photoshoots are spontaneous affairs which, while infused with excitement, can also be very tiring and involve hours of waiting in makeshift dressing rooms or backstage. Work can and does go on into the small hours and it may start as early as 5 or 6 am in order to catch good light, get crew set up or for any one of a myriad of reasons.
Essentially no experience is required to be a model as it will all be learned on the job. However, a little performance experience will always help with pre-performance nerves and learning to control them. Acting, singing, dancing or performing for the public or in a public arena of any kind can be helpful.
High profile international fashion agencies divide the work up between them, competing fiercely with one another for the best new faces. Likewise there are agencies dedicated to every other type of modelling such as character, catalogue and child agencies.
Here is a listing of the UK’s top model agencies.
- Elite Model Management
- Select Model Management
- Premier Model Management
- Storm Model Management
- Oxygen Model Management
- Casting UK
- Scallywags Child Model Management
Models can use their experience to go into styling, working within a model agency as a booker, or to set-up their own small agencies. For the most part, however, modelling is not a skill that is easily transferred to any other profession and retiring models will need to learn new skills if they wish to change careers.
Also known as…
- Super Model
What’s it really like?
Matt Cho, 25 years old, is an international actor and model from London, currently working in Bangkok. He has frontlined various campaigns such as Nivea skin cream and appeared in movies including Batman: The Dark Knight and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Matt has been working in the modelling industry for four years.
What did you do before this job?
I worked in an office as an admin assistant after I left school, and then went to college to study mechanical engineering at 19 and worked in that sector until 22, when I quit my job and moved to Asia. I had been working in the media industry in London part time for a year already.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
If I don’t have any booked jobs then a typical day will consist of castings, going to check in with my agency, making sure my portfolio is in order and that I have enough Comp cards (Z-cards) to give to casting directors. Also I will train in between doing these things, such as martial arts and going to the gym.
If I have a job it depends on what kind of medium it is. But no matter if it is print, commercial or film you will always be up early and have to be on location or at the studio well before the shoot starts. This is so they can set up the set and lighting and get you in to hair and make up in time.
Print jobs for magazines are normally done quickly as they know the shot they want and as soon as the client confirms you have it everyone can go home.
Commercials and films are normally a different story and like print jobs you are there very early (sometimes even earlier). Sometimes shoots go on for up to 20 hours and can be very exhausting.
What do you like about the job?
It is very varied and no two jobs are the same. You get to meet lots of different people, which lead to lots of new friends and contacts in the industry, which is always good. I like to travel and some jobs are filmed or shot in different countries, or parts of the country that you have never been to, so you get to travel to all these places and get paid for it. You also get a great feeling after booking a big worthwhile job.
What do you dislike about the job?
The industry like any other (maybe more) is full of fake people, and others trying to put you down. It can be tough after a lot of rejection and even when you start working a lot, things are never always consistent. Being a freelancer there will always be better times than others, and sometimes you can book three or four jobs in one month and other times you won’t work for three months, and those long periods without work can not only be hard on the bank account but also on your ego.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Don’t be put off by rejection, as it will happen a lot before you start to work a lot. Learn to have a thick skin as at some point you will hear things about yourself from a casting director or make up artist that you might not like. You should also have some cash as a safety net for lean times when the work is not flowing so much. Finally be persistent; 99% of people do not just walk into the industry and instantly become a success or famous, so just keep trying to think positive thoughts about where you want to be and what you want to achieve.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role in terms of career progression?
I want to work full time in cinema and film making, in front and behind the camera. This would be a good progression from modelling and the jobs are not that different from each other as both are still visual media and both involve similar aspects.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
Try to be nice to everyone and anyone (although at times that can be hard). Causing problems with the wrong person or company can cost you work or even lead to no work in certain circles or cities.
Try to be on time to castings, jobs and meetings, as being fashionably late is not considered fashionable in this industry.
Always keep your portfolio and com cards with you at all times in case you get a last minute call for a casting; this will save you time instead of having to go home and get them.
Do you mind us publishing your salary?
This is a very hard question to answer, as no month is ever the same. Like I said before one month you could be inundated with work, and the next three months might not hold anything. Have a safety net of cash and don’t always rely on modelling. Sometimes part time jobs are essential for survival.