Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Becoming a Professional Model: Q&A With Preston Chaunsumlit

At Modelrecs, we constantly receive inquiries about the modeling profession and how to get a contract with an agency as a professional model. Modelrecs would like to provide information on what it takes to be a model working professionally using the Q&A format. The questions are written in the first person as if the model-to-be were asking these questions to our expert.

We have reached out to one of the top experts in the field of casting and modeling to answer your questions.   

Former casting director Preston Chaunsumlit

Photo: Stephanie Pappas

Preston Chaunsumlit is a former casting director who later satirized his work experience in the web series, Model Files. Since gaining notoriety as a pioneer of Internet culture, he has expanded into the crypto space as a cultural commentator, collaborating with newlife.ai in finding new financial models and solutions to exploitation, ownership, and sustainability. He is currently based in Tbilisi, Georgia, taking his time writing his new web series, Groundbreaking.


Q. How do I become a professional model?

A. I get asked this question a lot. It makes sense since I was a casting director. I think the part of this question that people tend not to focus on and should, is the “professional” part of it. It is a job. Some people are more qualified than others. Some think they become a professional model after being discovered, or after being signed, or even after doing a few editorials. Here is the thing: it is one of those jobs where one has to learn on the job…and until you get paid, it makes the “professional” aspect of it a bit dubious. One becomes a professional in modeling the same way one becomes a professional in any job. I would say the traditional trajectory is first getting an agent. However, unlike other jobs, modeling is a filtering system. As one becomes more professional, the longer and higher you get in it, the less chance you have. It is a bit of a process of elimination to stay in it, with a high turnover rate, and limited investment in time and money, for it to be an actual fulltime profession for very long. Not every model has the same trajectory due to many factors.

Where do models get discovered?

Everywhere and nowhere. The romantic ideas of being discovered in the most unexpected places hardly ever happen anymore. I would say a lot of models, like with any other job, applied for it at a reputable agency. Many times the modeling workforce is underaged, so even after being discovered, there is still school, parent permission, legalities, etc. It is a process and investment for everyone involved.

How can I get discovered on Instagram?

By having an Instagram. If modeling is something someone wants to do, I wouldn’t recommend relying on being discovered. There are millions of people who can be models.

If I am not in Western Europe or North America how can I get signed in those markets? 

I can only speak for New York City and the larger, top tier markets of the industry. A vast majority of the models were fed into these markets by an agency or a mother agent in either their local markets or through a network of 2ndary markets. However with technology and the internet, IF an agency is willing to cover the cost…sometimes, as with Instagram, it is as simple as a DM or an email, but this is rare. Anok Yai has recently been the poster child of Instagram discovery. I do not doubt she was discovered on Instagram, but remember, it was a popular street style photographer who posted her picture on his account, it went viral, then she was approached by a top agency. She was also already in the United States, at a music festival on the East coast. It didn’t require much expense of the agency to have her come to New York City. A short train ride away. Agencies work for the agency at the end of the day.

How often are modeling agencies looking for new talent?

Agencies are always looking. Depending on the agency, their client base, how much money they have to play with. A model is a commodity, so it is always a financial question of gains vs losses to sign a model and the agency’s, no pun intended, business model.

How hard is it to be a successful professional model?

A very young workforce that gets eliminated and replaced very fast, at the cost of time, money, one’s higher education, factor in the current trends, no worker benefits, working against debt, maintenance of body, weird and long working hours, the workforce politics, the psychological impact of being objectified, being socialized in this exaggerated, rarefied industry at such a young age, keeping a skillset, the jetlag, the sacrifices…I would say very hard, with a huge risk of not much fulfilling return.

How hard is it to get signed to a modeling agency?

It is a numbers game. Let’s say an agency has 100 models on its mainboard. 200 on their new faces development board. Ten of thousands of applicants every year…and then narrow that down to the body type needed, being photogenic, and the cost of developing her, and hopefully she is charismatic, too. I would say, probably very hard.

How many models does the average modeling agency sign in one year?

I wouldn’t know. I have only worked in Paris and New York and never at a modeling agency. Agencies tend to keep their books a bit in the shadows. However judging from the fashion weeks, there are always new faces getting signed every season. I would probably guess at New York fashion week, there are maybe around 1,500 models in town and available for castings. I would say maybe half of them are new faces. Of that half is their first time in New York, for 2 seasons Fall and Spring…so that’s about 750 for all the agencies in New York between 20 agencies…that’s 37.5 girls per year per agency. I find this number is very inflated and also..each signing is different. For some, they just have that one season to see how they do, then they are dropped from their contracts. Other’s might stick around and meet commercial clients outside of the fashion weeks, or can stay longer in New York to work off any debts they’ve accrued. While others may have had successful show seasons already in Europe, and needed an agency in New York to do top New York shows.

If you get into a modeling agency, how quickly do you start working?

Every person is different. In New York, most of the models were fed in from secondary markets, so they have some experience, and perhaps after a makeover, are immediately sent out. Others, who might not live in New York and are waiting to graduate high school or university, develop over years, before they are sent out and receive feedback, so the agency has an idea what to do with her. Sometimes they just drop her and is sent back home with debt.

What kind of personality traits is the best for a model?

In my opinion…having A personality. I think every client is different, but I feel they all would agree they would want someone who is fun to work with, professional, and gets the job done. Anyone who just makes the grueling labor involved easier to do. Also, clients have paid a certain price for a model’s services. In this mindset, I would think they would be very happy they got more than they paid for. If someone is great and fun to be around and great at having a conversation that people find interesting, that is an advantage. If you have a grating personality, sometimes it is best just to shut up. Everyone is different. I have worked with girls who were just simply horrible human beings, but man…can they model and save everyone so much work. So it is a balancing game.

How often do models get rejected for a job?

Insanely more than they end up getting the job. Imagine applying to agencies and getting rejected by 20. Now imagine being signed and being rejected by 20 clients per day for years. You will be rejected and not even know you are being rejected. You can be on set and already rejected because you were the 2nd or 3rd pick. Or they send you home because they are not happy with you.

How can I learn how to walk like a professional model?

Everyone is different. I would say a good base is a straight back, confidence, and make it look easy, and walk to the beat of the music. I think what a lot of people do not realize about runway walking is that the model must create a lot of presence in a very short amount of time, make the clothes look good, and have it be photogenic. You are being seen from all angles and cameras are clicking nonstop. I would say watch youtube videos of your favorite shows, no Victoria Secret…be able to do a normal walk that looks human before wearing wings and blowing kisses…and record yourself walking and compare and contrast and make adjustments.


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How do I learn to pose in front of the camera?

Usually by posing in front of cameras and seeing the picture.

How do I build my portfolio or book? Where do I get help?

I wouldn’t bother building a book. Most agencies, especially if you are not already signed in another market and even if you are being fed into a top tier market wouldn’t even accept the portfolio. It is as good as in the trash. An amazing new girl with a bad book, a good agency will take some digitals of her on the street, print it out on a piece of paper at the office and send her out. 

Do I have to maintain a certain look to be a professional model?

I think it is safe to say, for the majority of the industry is to maintain a sample size. For samples, they can always pin, alter, or add and style it if it is too big. The designer isn’t going to be flying in from Paris to add fabric and adjust a sample to make bigger for a shoot for anyone. It makes no sense and isn’t cost-effective.

Can I get rejected as a professional model because of my hair and skin?

Yes. It is about looks. If they see you are not what they are looking for they will reject. They are the ones paying.

What are good habits to take care of yourself as a professional model?

The same habits anyone should do to take care of themselves. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for some people for whatever reason. Everyone’s health is different and people do different things to meet a certain standard.

How important is body shape in professional modeling? Do I have to be skinny and tall?

For fashion modeling…sample sizing is a thing. It is best and easier to be thin and tall…But that doesn’t mean the taller the better or the skinnier the better. First, they want you to fit the samples. Then it has to look good on you…or how they see it: do you make the clothes better looking? I do not think body type is so much important as fit and sizing. Some models can do swimwear whereas others can wear couture better. Whereas some look pretty good, not the greatest, in all of it. It is more about how everything fits together. This is where modeling it is weirdly very individual, if not obvious. Everyone’s uniqueness (i.e. flaws) begins to show when everyone else is generally very similar.

What kind of models do most clients or advertisers want?

It depends on the client and their consumer and art direction. For advertising, they usually want conventional beauty. If it is something that requires something athletic…they’d prefer someone athletic. It is pretty easy to guess. Look at ads.

What is the best body proportion to have as a model?

Most of the modeling in terms of body and clothes is measurements. The general measurements tend to lean towards long thin limbs and straighter bodies. If someone has that and some shape, that’s more versatile. They want a bone structure that presents the product the best, and also to have you easily replaced.

If I am curvy can I still get signed to a model agency? What markets are good for curvy models?

I am still not sure what “curvy” actually means. I will say that for non-sample and “plus” sizing the USA is where it is at! Most of the jobs for these sizes are more mass, and super commercial. There is a consumer for it. There is money in it.

Are attitudes to different types of models changing?

We will see. It may seem like it is changing, but I think we make the mistake to think that the industry is an authority on beauty. It’s a machine of commerce. They do what sells and what is most cost-effective. Especially now since everything is corporate. The person making the ultimate decisions is the person paying the bills and they look at their bottom line. Co-opting that everyone is beautiful makes these people a lot of money and so we seem to see a change under the trend of diversity. I will say from experience…if the trend is good and works, they keep it…if watered down and adapted for the times they are in.  

If I am old can I be a professional model?

It depends on what is old. A lot of times it is a youth-based workforce because young people are cheaper…and the investment can pay off over the years for the agencies. If you are older, you might not be worth it in a year or 2 years. There might not be a payoff and limited opportunities. Not worth an agency to sign you. And not worth it to you if you are not working regularly. In some ways, modeling is like being a thoroughbred horse or athlete. There is a price tag on your head.

What other career options exist once you want to retire from being a professional model?

That is very individual. It depends on you. In some way, it is a delayed introduction to priorities you would have normally had to face anyway. And real-life factors like your financial standing, if you were damaged by it all, or inspired to stay in the industry after you retire. An obvious one is working as a photographer, or working at an agency, or production. Some go back to school to have the education to pursue another career. Some pretend it never happened and are very happy chilling out and working as a bartender.

Is the modeling industry shallow?

Some would say so since it is based on looks. But it is a business, so it is ultimately based on money. Is money shallow? As with any industry of commerce and or culture, I wouldn’t say modeling is particularly shallower than a dating app, a loan officer, a police officer, or any environment where there is a power dynamic with authority and humans. Even at my castings in New York, I have had to enter meetings in corporate settings and receptionists have asked me to take the freight entrance thinking I was the Chinese delivery man. Shallow is not exclusive to modeling. I think the stereotype comes from cartoonish portrayals of how fashion works without really understanding why. It is an accelerated and highly transient environment of commerce. Think…the stock market. Every model is an asset. So when things move faster, things seem a bit exaggerated without context.

How hard do models have to work?

It depends on how you define work. I would say they work hard if they are successful at it.

How much money does a model make?

It varies widely. The industry is a win all take all market. The winners make all the greater bulk of the money and the losers do not get so much. I think I read somewhere that the average model in New York City makes less than $20,000 USD per year. They could be making money in other markets abroad during this year or not.


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What kinds of images do clients respond to?

It depends on the client. Let’s say the client is a beauty client. They might not use you if you are too attached to a competing client. They definitely will not hire you if your book is all editorial with your face covered.

How do I know whether to trust a modeling agency?

I do not think you should ever trust any agency. You want to work with a reputable agency. An agent that represents other models you can talk to, a website, business cards, and a legitimate client base. Also, no reputable agency will ever ask you to pay them anything. Ironically, back on the trust issue…successful models who work with the best agencies do accrue debt they have to pay back since the agency covers much of the model’s expenses without the model knowing, the accounting can get very iffy. Agencies have been known to add debt when convenient to their models’ earnings. Ya know…to keep the lights on.

How can I discover the best model agencies to work with?

I think one of the best and easiest resources online is models.com

Should I pay someone to take headshots for me to send to model agencies?

NO. NO. NO. NEVER.

Have your friend take photos of you with their phone.

How should I look when I take pictures to send to a model agency?

Simple. Clean. Natural. No crazy hair or makeup. No loud clothes. They want to see your bone structure, proportions, raw. They also do not want to see posing or crazy camera angles. They do not want to see you trying to model, remember you are not a model yet. They don’t expect you to. And please do not consult America’s Next Top Model for advice.

Are model agencies looking for something in particular when they sign models?

Yes. 

Do I need to be in New York or Paris to be a successful model? Are there other markets that I can work and make money in?

Yes of course. Most models who work in New York and Paris made livings and worked in secondary markets before trying their chance in larger markets.

What is the pretty girl or pretty boy syndrome?

I am not sure what that means, but I do know one doesn’t have to be pretty to have it. In my experience, people who relied on being pretty most of their lives do not do very well in modeling.

How should I behave when I go to work?

Professional. Friendly. 

What should I do when I am just getting started in the fashion industry as a model?

Learn. Improve. It can be hard and nebulous most of the time. What is concrete is that it is a job, this is your time, so much of it is out of your control. Make the best of it or find something else more fulfilling.

How hard is it at the beginning of a modeling career?

Very.

What are the work hours for a professional model?

It depends on the local laws. A workday can last days without legally providing you food or water. Some models exclusively work with one client. Some models work every day. It just depends on what the market wants from this particular model and what she is willing to do.

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