Kids 'making it big' in modeling and show business

Child model
If your child seems like a natural performer and loves the lights and camera, you may have thought about getting him or her an agent to help break into the acting business. There are certainly plenty of opportunities in Utah since so many movie companies choose to film here.

But if you're not careful, you can find yourself out a lot of money with little to show for it.

16-year-old Ali Stephens is living the dream -- on the runway wearing Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton -- not bad for a 16-year-old junior at East High School, who just two months ago had never set foot on a runway. Now she's traveling nearly nonstop to shows in Italy, Paris, London, and the Dominican Republic.

Stephens usually prefers jeans and sneakers to haute couture, and even she can't believe how her life has changed. "I wasn't used to traveling,” Stephens said. “I'd never been out of the country before, so when we went to Italy it was pretty exciting." Believe it or not, Stephens was catapulted to stardom in the modeling world after being discovered by a talent agent while she was shopping at the Gateway Mall in downtown Salt Lake City. That led to contacts in New York and around the world, and she hasn't looked back.

Neither has 11-year-old Ben Hammond, who got into show business in much the same way. He's been in three movies and had a role on the TV series "Everwood." "My mom just got a call from one of the agencies saying 'Come join us if you want to start acting' and stuff,” Hammond said. “So my mom looked into it, but it was like $2000."

His mom, Robin, had no idea how they found her son, but admits it was nice to hear an agent thought he had promise. "It is flattering,” she said. “'Oh, you know, my child is really cute."

But she wasn't ready to drop that much money up front. She got even more suspicious when the company wanted her to make instant decisions. When that happens, you should say thank you and leave.

That's Susie McCarty's recommendation -- she owns the McCarty Agency, the first agency to open in Utah 34 years ago. She doesn't charge sign-up fees, and she also doesn't make any promises. She says good agents don't. "I think it's really interesting when people start making promises that you ask them to put it in writing and guarantee it and you'll start seeing them backpedal quickly," McCarty said.

She also doesn't display head shots of young kids in her lobby or on her website. And that was very important to Hammond, who ended up signing Ben with McCarty. "Your agency should really be a buffer for your children,” Hammond said. “They know what companies are on the up and up to work for." For Ben, it all started with that first head shot.

Spending a ton of money on a head shot is not necessary, especially for a child just starting out who will need updated photos every year and a half or so.

While some agencies will charge hundreds of dollars for a head shot, McCarty offers them for about forty dollars. As for Stephens, she doesn't regret her path from unknown to knockout. Her advice? “Just really go for it,” Stephens said. “Make sure basically that it's what you want to do and you're not going to give up on it even when you may not make it the first time." Both stars now know there are manipulative agencies out there waiting to take your money. But as the Hammonds have learned, a child's biggest cheerleaders also have to be their biggest protectors.

So after that list of "don'ts," here are some things the experts say you should do. They tell parents to be open to some kind of training so kids are familiar with what's expected in the business. They advise kids to get involved in theater or debate or anything that gets them exposure in front of people. Parents should read to their children from a very young age to boost imagination. And finally, make sure kids really want to do it and have a passion for it. (source)