A Map in the Muddle

Investigating 'Open Calls'

What to expect and how best to prepare
BY: Amirah El-Safty

Generally speaking, open calls are an inconsistent business. Every agency has different expectations of the potential models that walk through their doors. Sometimes, different agents within the same agency have different expectations. It follows that the best advice that can be given to someone who is considering taking the route of the open call is: call ahead.

Do your homework. Find out which agencies you intend to visit; open call times and contact information can be found on agency websites. Call beforehand and ask who you will likely be meeting with, what they expect you to wear and what to bring. The only steady variable appears to be attitude; be positive. Additionally, make sure you understand your own expectations so that when you are asked questions you will be able to answer them. Remember, you are an independent contractor, the agency will be working for you, so be informed. You wouldn't accept any other job with little or unclear information. You wouldn't even purchase something without finding out more about it, whether it is a brand name bag, O2 Mobile Phones UK or airline ticket. Be as thorough with your jobs. Make sure you know what you are getting into before accepting.

To give you a bit of perspective, I sat down with Toronto agency director bigwigs Richard Campbell from Elmer Olsen, Carole Reynolds of Sutherland Models, and model bookers Emma Barker and Leila Cannon of B&M Models. I asked the crew a few basic questions about open calls, and their answers went something like this.

What is one of the most common mistakes a person can make at an open call?
R: "Girls come in and think they know it all."
E: "Bad attitude. Sometimes they don't like what we have to say, and they can be rude. Always be professional! Constructive criticism is all part of the job."
L: "Not bringing photos. It's really essential that we see photos of the person they don't need to be professional but we need to see how the person photographs."
C: "Limp handshakes are no good."
Carole also adds that having pornography in your portfolio also does not create a favorable impression...

What are the success rates of open calls at your agency?
R: "We have open call all the time, 7 days a week, anyone can come in. It would be impossible to tell. It's different every year."
E: "We have definitely found some of our models through open calls who have been great and gone on to be really successful. However, this doesn't happen every week, and there is a large volume of people who come in who aren't right for us."
C: "Low, we get the majority of our girls from referrals, and placements."

How do you feel about models bringing their parents to open calls? Boyfriends?
R: "No problem with boyfriends, in fact, we prefer to have that. They're [the models] are going to be given a lot of information they can't retain; and parents in particular will ask much different questions. We prefer if you don't come alone."
L: "We have girls who are in high school that come in and bring their mom into the meeting with them, and that's completely fine because they are so young. However, if you are over 18, it's okay to bring someone with you and have them sit in the waiting room, but they shouldn't be coming in to the meeting with you, because that is unprofessional."
C: "Boyfriends? Not good. You are your business, and we expect you to be professional. Parents? No problem."

Should girls bring a portfolio? Photographs?
R: "I prefer if girls don't bring photos. I mean, this is our job. We will just know whether a girl is right or not."
L: "We do require photos, but they don't need to be professional. At the same time, some people bring in photos of themselves in a club with their friends, holding drinks, etc. and that's not appropriate. What we prefer are some simple photos of the person a snapshot of their face and a full-length shot of their body."
C: "We want girls to come with fairly developed books. We rarely take girls that don't already have portfolios. This allows us to spend more time booking and promoting the models we already have."

What should girls look like when they arrive at an open call?
R: "Skirts, pony tail, no make up, and bring your parents! We need to be able to really look at the girl. For boys: Jeans and a t-shirt, good boxers!"

What tips do you have for models making the rounds?
R: "Really consider whether this is for you. So many girls think it's easy! This career is often best suited to those who are nomadic in nature. You're going to be having dinner alone, going to the airport alone, doing a job and then flying halfway around the world alone --- the only thing that's really consistent is that you're alone."
C: "Create an impression. When you come in for a casting, we are seeing an idea of what you would be like with a client. Have a good, positive attitude. More importantly, we want to find out about you. We want to find out what you are looking for in an agent, and for the course of your career."

As I said before, every agency has their preferred procedures. To future models planning to brave the bustle of open calls, this information just touches the surface. Do not assume that reading this article will suffice to make you prepared. Make sure to do your homework, call ahead, and know what you're looking for. Good luck!

Amirah El-Safty is a model, a student at the University of Toronto studying political science and philosophy, a budding writer and, (natch!), the future female Condé Nast. Her plans post-graduation certainly will include modelling, but she also has aspirations to go to the University of Colombia to do her masters in journalism and publishing. Because she is the type of girl who errs on the side of safety, she recently wrote her LSATs and is preparing to write her GMATs --- just in case.

At present, she is doing an editorial internship with CHEEK magazine and has published two articles in Issue #6. Amirah lives on her own in the Toronto Annex neighborhood, spending her days wading through summer courses, eating out with her day-trading boyfriend and trying to make her rent.