Modeling Contracts

A modeling contract is a commitment which a model makes to a modeling agency or to a client. In this discussion, however, the focus is contracts with modeling agencies, not clients.

A modeling contract is a major commitment which must be carefully considered, preferably with legal counsel, to avoid risking significant financial losses.

If you make a commitment to a bogus agency, or a weak agency, it can prevent you from making money modeling elsewhere through strong, reputable agencies.

There are basically two kinds of modeling contracts, exclusive and non-exclusive. An exclusive contract denies you the right to find work through other agencies. A non-exclusive contract lets you seek and get representation through one, a few, or many different agencies.

It is important to stress exclusive contracts are created by an agency, not the model. It is the agency's idea, not the model's. There aren't many models who demand exclusive representation from an agency.

Exclusive modeling contracts give the agency control over a model's destiny. A model is naturally dependent on an agency to get work, but becomes even more dependent when the contract is exclusive.

The fact is, even if an agency makes a written commitment signing an exclusive contract with a model, the agency is not putting itself at financial risk in any way that is comparable to the risk level for the model.

Basically, there is nothing to lose in an agency setting up an exclusive contract. They have a lot to gain, but nothing to lose. On the other hand, if the agency does not get the model work, the model does not make any money.

Modeling contracts need to be carefully considered for another reason. There is no strong models union; therefore, once the ink is dry, a model has few if any options. There is not much a model can do and not much anyone else can do for the model.

Typically modeling contracts last one year to three years.

Some agencies want models to make three-year exclusive contracts from the start. Multi-year exclusive modeling contracts, however, should be avoided as much as possible.

Many times the new model does not know the agency. Would you make a long-term commitment with a complete stranger?

It makes much more sense to demand they give you a damn good reason why they want you to sign an exclusive contract.

The contract should put pressure on the agency to do its job. If they are going to put pressure on you to make a commitment which is exclusive or lasts more than one year, you should be able to put pressure on them to get you work.

How would you do that? Instead of letting them act as if they automatically have the right to represent you, and you have no right to get out, they should earn the right.

In other words, the contract can stipulate if they fail to get you a specified amount of work within one year, you are allowed to seek additional representation or find another agency altogether.

For example:

"If the agency fails to get me $50,000 of work in the first year, the contract is no longer exclusive."

How does that compare with this:

"If the agency fails to get me any work in the first year, the contract is still exclusive."

By signing an exclusive multi-year contract which does not have a performance clause, it is like the second statement is part of the contract, isn't it?

Supermodels usually have agents whereas new models starting out usually don't. So you have to start thinking like an agent. If you had an agent, how would your agent negotiate your contract?

Logistically speaking, there is a logical reason for an exclusive model contract. If a model is going to be in high demand, but the model is represented by several agencies, each agency might want to book her at the same time or she could get double booked. These types of problems are avoided through exclusive contracts.

Exclusive contracts make more sense for a proven model. An agency can project the future based on the past. New models, of course, have no past, so there is no solid way to project the future. They may or may not get work, but there is nothing to base the speculation they will get work or get a lot of work.

It is too easy for an agency to speculate a model will get lots of work, and therefore use that as the reason for wanting her to sign an exclusive contract, and it is too easy for a model to be flattered, optimistic, and agree.

A commitment giving a model limited rights and the agency great control, however, should be based on something greater than cheap talk.