Tara Nigh of Everett wanted to get her preschooler involved in modeling, so she took her to an audition at a SeaTac hotel last year.
The organizers said they were selecting children to appear in a “Look Book” that would be given to casting agents and producers. Hundreds showed, Nigh said.
When the organizers wanted the Nighs to pay $500 for photos with no promise of work, they walked.
“It didn’t feel right to me,” Nigh said.
Instead, she settled on a Bellevue-based talent agency. She liked that the company didn’t require a contract. Eventually, that agency helped her daughter, Ashlyn, land a spot on a national commercial for Huggies bath products.
The Nighs now know what consumer experts do: It pays to do your homework. Many talent agencies are legitimate but many more are only interested in selling overpriced photo shoots or acting classes.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests consumers steer clear of companies that require actors to use a specific photographer. Instead, compare the fees and work of several photographers. Also be suspicious if a company requires a fee to serve as an agent.
Legitimate agencies earn money by taking a commission on work they’ve helped talent find, said Chersti Bray, a booking agent for Bellevue-based ABC Model / Talent / Sport Management.
Aspiring models and actors shouldn’t have to pay to be represented. ABC takes a 10 percent commission on union work and 20 percent on nonunion work, Bray said.
Actors age 4 and older will need to get 8-by-10-inch head shots taken by a professional photographer and should expect to pay $300 to $800, Bray said.
Aspiring fashion models need a Zed Card, also called a Composition Card, featuring several shots on the same sheet showing off different attire or settings. Expect to pay $800 to $1,500.
Usually a casual snapshot is all that’s needed for small children because their looks change so quickly, according to the FTC.
Before spending any money, Bray suggested meeting with several established agencies to determine if your look is marketable and to find a company you feel comfortable with. Legitimate agencies don’t agree to represent everyone who walks through the door.
The FTC suggests contacting the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general to see if an agency has any unresolved consumer complaints on file.
Some acting classes or extra training may be a good idea, Bray said, but it shouldn’t be required for representation. Legitimate organizations can’t promise someone will get work.
“If they promise big things, it’s probably not legitimate.”