Upfront Fees

"Upfront fees are illegal." -- "Tips on finding a reputable agent," The Consumer Guide to Modeling and Talent Agencies by New York City Consumer Affairs1

Extensive research has shown the common denominator in almost all modeling scams is upfront fees.

Precedent lawsuits against modeling companies by federal and state government as well as individuals have invariably been filed against those which charged upfront fees.

Research into U.S. laws to protect consumers has shown almost every modeling agency law, regulation or rule ever enacted in America prohibits upfront fees.

One of the most recently enacted entertainment industry laws was drafted by a former child actress, who introduced the Advance-Fee Talent Services law. Sheila Kuehl did so at the request of Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn, because his office had prosecuted modeling/talent scams cases in which "hundreds of parents paid millions of dollars in advance fees to frauds that promised that their children would become stars."

Attorney James Hahn explained scams thrived in the past because state "laws did not specifically address advance-fee talent services, thereby resulting in uninformed parents susceptible to illusory promises."

In the U.K., according to a published news report, "A proposed British law would make it illegal for a model or entertainment agency to charge people an upfront fee."

Therefore the most simple test, the most important issue, and the first question to ask in determining whether or not a modeling company is legitimate is: Are there any upfront fees?

The Federal Trade Commission, which prosecutes bogus modeling and talent agencies warns: "Be suspicious if a company requires an upfront fee to serve as your agent."

The New York State Department of Consumer Affairs, which gives licenses to talent agencies, says: "Simply put, legitimate model and/or talent managers do not require or request upfront fees."

The New York State Consumer Protection Board issued a press release warning about one company which was charging upfront fees, saying, "Top modeling photographers won't charge clients for photo sessions until models get their first modeling paycheck." In other words, no upfront fees.

The criticism leveled against the same company by Libby Stone, an industry professional and the president of a modeling guild, was: "What these people do is travel across the country, stay in fancy hotel rooms, advertise and get a bunch of people excited and take their money up front."

The South Florida Business Journal reported the same criticism was made against the It International Talent agency's parent company: "They paid upfront fees to the agency's parent company, Models Direct, but did not get any work in return. It's a complaint heard about modeling agencies in general, both in Europe and the United States."

The BBB said:

Virtually all successful models and actors work through managers, and generally use a talent agency that does not charge a fee payable in advance for screen tests, photographs, acting or modeling lessons or other services. If you are signed as a client by a licensed talent agency, you will pay such agency nothing until you work and then a percentage of your earnings as a performer - - BUT NOTHING IN ADVANCE. Current California Labor law mandates that ONLY a licensed Talent Agent can book work for clients and charge a fee for that service. So, be cautious of companies that place "Help Wanted" ads for models or actors, which usually state "No Experience Necessary", and then ask for advance fees of any kind.

SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, offers very similar advice for aspiring actors. In their FAQ, they asked, "What is the difference between a legitimate talent agency and one whose purpose is to separate you from your money?" Their answer:

The legitimate talent agency does not charge a fee payable in advance for registering you, for resumes, for public relations services, for screen tests, for photographs, for acting lessons, or for many other services used to separate you from your money. If you are signed as a client by a legitimate talent agency, you will pay such agency nothing until you work and then 10 percent of your earnings as a performer — but nothing in advance.2

Industry professionals echo the same views.

Natasha Esch, as president of Wilhelmina, one of the top New York modeling agencies, wrote the following in her book, The Wilhelmina Guide to Modeling:

The importance of securing legitimate and responsible representation cannot be emphasized enough. Agents who ask you for money up front -- whether it be for a photo session, composite, head sheet or any other promotional tool -- should be avoided. A reputable agent will not ask you for money until you are making money -- booking work as a result of the agency has made for you. That is the time to invest in a composite and in the agency book and head sheet. Even then you will probably not be asked for funds up front. These promotional expenses will be deducted from future paychecks.

Margaret Pelino, a booking agent at the famous Ford Modeling Agency in Manhattan, warns: "Be leery if an agency or individual asks for money up front."

Rhonda Hudson, President of The Models Guild in New York, said: "The really big red flag is when they start asking for money up front."

The American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) said: "Beware of agents demanding a fee before you can work. Never pay a fee in advance to any agent or manager."

Michael Harrah, Personal Manager and former Conference of Personal Managers Secretary, said: "If a personal manager asks for money up front -- run the other way!"

Gerard W. Purcell, President of the National Conference of Personal Managers, clearly warned: "Any time a personal manager asks for any money up front for anything -- including photos, vocal or acting classes, video resumes, etc. -- consider that person unscrupulous."

Sarah Doukas, the Managing Director of Storm Model Management, a top London model agency, is one of the most successful and respected agency owners. She discovered Kate Moss and represents other supermodels. With over 20 years of modeling industry experience, Ms. Doukas is even more emphatic: "Never, ever pay money upfront for anything."

Dott Burns, the late owner of the Dotts Burns Talent Agency, helped launch the careers of such famous women as Delta Burke and Marla Maple Trump. She ran her agency for 28 years in Florida and worked for more than 35 years in the industry. A few years before she died, in an article called "Breaking into Showbiz: Dott's Do's and Dont's," she said: "Don't ever pay 'up front' for an agent or a job. Never!"

Letter from Consumer

April 21, 2003

About 10 months ago, I was looking for an agency to represent my daughter (stunning). I called Soleil Model and Talent Management to set up a meeting.

They told me to come on in and talk to a representative.

So I meet with a rep, and she told me that I would have to pay $300 for pictures and another $300 to $500 for the website.

I sounded interested, and she said that they would be willing to represent my daughter.

I told them thanks, but I needed to think about it.

I decided to forget about it since I didn't have $600 at the time.

That was ten months ago.

Then yesterday my husband was at the grocery store with my daughter and was approached by a scout from Soleil and was told we should bring her in.

So this morning I decided to do some research, and found your website. I found it very informative and helpful.

So tonight we went to Soleil for what seemed like a recruitment seminar.

After the spiel about how great the company was, and how much money it would cost to get started, the rep wanted to meet one-on-one with everyone. So it was our turn to meet with her.

As soon as we went in, the rep was very upbeat and started on the same path as the rep that I had spoken with earlier. So I knew where she was going with it...

I shouldn't have said anything (I have an impatient mouth), but I did. I told her that I had done some research, and knew that there should be no upfront cost for pictures, etc., if the company decides to represent.

As soon as I said that, her attitude changed, and she said that there really isn't a market for younger children, and that we should try later and try other agencies.

I'm definitely under the impression that if I wouldn't have said anything about upfront fees, she would have said she would represent my daughter, just as the other rep had done earlier when I was okay with the money issue.


April in Salt Lake City


1. http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dca/html/model.html

2. http://www.sag.org/branches/sandiego/agency_faq_sd.html


Modeling Industry Standard