What They Are:
Some "model searches" are nearly complete scams: they claim they will get you "exposure" or even modeling work. But it turns out that, at best, the "modeling work" is for one or two low-paying promotional jobs (typically something like handing out flyers at the mall). They make their money by selling high-priced "portfolios" or by charging highly inflated fees for putting you on their web site. Only rarely is any interest shown in a model by good agencies or people wanting to hire them. But it doesn't matter; the search company has left town and the check cleared.
Despite these unfortunate companies, the legitimate model searches and conventions do something very different. They assemble a group of scouts from model and talent agencies from around the country (and sometimes from around the world) who are given a chance to see you, and talk to you if they are interested in what they see.
The typical model search will send an advance team to small- and medium-sized cities months before a search event. They may advertise on the radio, on television, in the newspapers or on job-placement sites on the Internet. People who respond to the ad are invited to a free “screening session” (which may be described as something else) at which they are told about an upcoming search event, and some of the attendees invited to go to it – at a price. The more scrupulous search companies make an effort to screen out people who obviously have no hope of being selected by a model or talent agency, but not all are very scrupulous, and a wide net is cast. Sometimes anyone who is willing to pay to attend is allowed to, no matter what they are like.
The search firm invites both model and talent agencies to their events, so the people competing are often not “models” at all. They may be singers or actors who are looking for a chance to be seen by an agency. At most events, the “talent” applicants outnumber the “model” applicants. The total number of attendees needs to be several hundred just for the company to make their expenses, so typically a model search will have 800-1,200 model and talent contestants.
At the Event:
In total there may be 30-50 or more model and talent agents doing the scouting at these events. The model agencies are predominantly “editorial fashion” agencies, although there may be a few commercial print and promotions agencies in attendance as well. Most will be from major market cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami and perhaps Chicago. There may also be a small number of local agencies in attendance.
Usually a search is a two or three day affair. The first day may be taken up by various types of training and seminars (all offered at additional cost) conducted by industry professionals. They will usually have a photo booth set up too, so attendees can purchase headshots at the event. The second day may involve more seminars and some “competitions”. Each competitor will be given a number on a large badge, which they wear so agents will know who they are.
For “talent” the competitions may be as simple as giving each of the hundred or so contestants a short (15-30 second) opportunity to perform at a microphone (a short a capella solo or monologue) for the talent agents. Then everyone (model and talent alike) take part in the “runway” competition. All the agents (model and talent agencies both) assemble around a runway, and the contestants walk down it at 15 second intervals or so.
There may also be another opportunity for contestants to parade by the tables of the agents, holding pictures of themselves. That’s an opportunity to make in pictures whatever statement you don’t make in person.
At both the runway and talent competitions agents have “callback sheets” that they use to write down the number of people they are interested in seeing later. At the end of each competition these are turned in to the search firm staff.
Following the competitions, and after a break for the staff to compile callback requests, “callbacks” will be announced, either by posting them on a bulletin board or by announcing them to the assembled contestants, by agency and the contestant numbers each agent wants to see. The agents will be at tables in one or more large halls, and those contestants with callbacks let into the halls. They may have to stand in line for a while, depending on the number of people an agency has called back, but they will get an opportunity for a brief personal interview at the callback.
The agent may take measurements, ask about their personal interests and situation, or inquire about their ability to relocate to work with them. If the agent is interested he will ask for the model’s contact information (telephone number). In exceptional cases a model may be offered a contract on the spot, but most often the agent will choose a subset of those he has interviewed to follow up with later.
Some searches also have “open calls” at which agents agree to see anyone who comes to their table. Again, it gives the attendee an opportunity for a brief personal interview with the agent.
The important part of the search occurs after it is over, when agents go home, sort through their notes and decide who to contact and invite into the agency. In almost all cases, the trip to the agency will be at the expense of the model, and she will be told she will have to relocate (at least for a while) if she wants to work with them.