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Baby modeling basics

Experts share advice for getting your baby or

Experts share advice for getting your baby or child into a modeling career. Credit: Fotolia / Vasiliy Koval

Think your baby has what it takes to be a model?

Being photogenic is paramount. But it's not just about looks. Babies and toddlers up to age 2 also must be comfortable detaching from parents to engage with strangers and be able to take direction. They also need the attention span to play with a toy, for instance, long enough for photographers to shoot photos or video footage, modeling experts say.

"This business is all about repetitive action," says Natasha Matallana, president of the Take 3 Talent Agency in Manhattan, which books babies for television commercials and film. "They're going to ask these babies to do the same thing over and over again."

Parents also have to be willing to do their part, getting babies to auditions and jobs. "It's a significant time commitment," says Marlene Wallach, president of Wilhelmina Kids and Teens, a Manhattan-based modeling agency that has placed kids with Huggies television and print ads, on the cover of Parents magazine, and more. "You can't do it halfway. If you do it halfway, the likelihood of success is really depleted."

Still game? Here's how to proceed:

1. Do research online

Narrow a list of agencies, assessing websites and what types of companies book their clients. Parents will likely have to travel to New York City. "That's basically where all the action is. It's a major hub for modeling," says Jennifer Bila of Miller Place, whose daughter, Sailor, 5, has been modeling for more than two years, landing work for the NBC show "Allegiance" and a runway show for Tea Collection children's clothing.

Typically modeling agencies represent kids for print, in-store signage and catalogs; talent agencies represent kids for TV commercials, film and video. Make sure the agency is licensed and be wary of places that ask for hundreds of dollars up front, Matallana says. "You should never pay a fee to submit your child. The only time an agency should make money is if your child is making money," says Dariana Sub, owner of City Models in Manhattan.

Some people choose management companies that expose a child to jobs through various agencies. Sailor, for instance, works with Munchkin Stars Management, a Forest-Hills based company owned by Plainview resident Marni Maroof. Prestige Management Group of Manhattan opened a Long Island branch in Wantagh in October.

2. Submit photos

They don't have to be professional for babies, because their look will be changing from month to month. Make sure a photo doesn't have distractions in the background, and dress baby in a form-fitted, solid-colored onesie. "It's important to be able to see the shape of the kid's body," Sub says. Don't send nude photos or pictures in diapers, she says.

Avoid adornments such as bows, headbands, glasses, hats or makeup. "It really should be a blank canvas," Matallana says. Video isn't necessary, even for talent agencies, she says. "I'll bring you in if you have a good look."

Use a digital camera, Sub says. "I will not even look at a submission if I can tell that a picture was taken with a phone," she says.

3. The callback

"If an agency doesn't get back to you within two to four weeks of your submission, chances are they're not interested," Matallana says. If they are, they will likely ask for an interview. "If it's a baby, it's more of a conversation with the parent," Matallana says. However, the baby also will be assessed -- seeing if he or she can pull off different expressions, for instance.

Wallach advises parents from Long Island to make sure they leave enough time before the interview for the baby to perk up if they've traveled by car and he or she has fallen asleep. "One of the things we look for is a happy, alert baby," Wallach says. "You want to give them every advantage to be that."

If you hear nothing, check the agency's policy on resubmitting again after a period of time.

4. The dotted line

Contract time. For print modeling jobs, agencies typically keep 20 percent of pay; for television commercials, agencies keep 10 percent. "That's pretty standard," Matallana says. If parents go with a management company, they will pay an additional 15 percent on top of that to the management company, Maroof says. "That's the only downfall of having a management company. Two commissions get taken out instead of one," she says.

5. Casting calls

The agency will send information about auditions or casting calls. Parents may be alerted to be at a certain location at a certain time the following day, for instance. "Promptness is key, because lots of casting directors ... might be seeing 20 to 30 kids in the course of an hour," Matallana says. Keep the agency updated monthly with new photos as baby changes, and update the agency on milestones as well, such as baby beginning to crawl, walk or talk.

"I don't think there's anything parents can do to ensure their child gets a job," says Jessica Panico of Mineola, whose daughter Kiara, 13 months, has modeled for H&M and OshKosh B'gosh and was flown to the Turks and Caicos islands for six days in November for a Gap modeling campaign. "There's no way to know what a client is looking for in terms of look and personality. You just have to go in to have fun and not put too much pressure on the child getting booked."

6. What it pays

When a baby books a job, the standard minimum scale for a union TV commercial is $627.75 for the photo session. Then, if the baby makes it into the final cut of the ad, he'll also earn residual checks. Babies don't have to join the SAG-AFTRA union until they are 4 years old. Nonunion job rates are negotiated individually, Matallana says. Modeling for print is usually paid by the hour, and the hourly rate can be from $100 to $150. By law, babies can only be on set for four hours.

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