The Gap ad in which the author’s baby appears. Photo courtesy of Gap
It started with a Facebook alert. A coworker had tagged me in her friend’s post, and her comment read, “You should send her your daughter’s pic!” Intrigued, I clicked through: The friend was a children’s casting director and was in desperate need of models for an imminent shoot. “Looking for a baby girl, 6-9 months old, with A LOT of hair,” the post said.
I had to laugh; my daughter, nine months old at the time, already had as much hair as most preschoolers. She was born with such a full head that you could actually see it on the sonograms.
As for her modelling potential? There’s probably no one more subjective than a mother, so, to me, she was perfect. I quickly ran the situation by my husband and then sent a recent picture to the casting director. Two minutes later, I had a reply back: “Gap Final Call Backs.”
Wait. GAP?! This was legit!
I was excited—but also hesitant. How did I feel about potentially subjecting our infant daughter to the chaos and stress of a casting, let alone a shoot? And, selfishly, what would our friends think of us? The thought of anyone associating me with the term “stage parent” was already making me cringe. But, on the other hand, if she booked it, what a hilarious story to tell when she was older. And, more immediately, did this mean free clothes and portraits for our holiday card?
We decided to go for it—the odds were low she’d book the campaign anyway, considering most of these kids (and by kids, I mean babies; some weren’t even sitting up) already had agents. Luckily, the appointment happened to be within walking distance of our New York apartment; I later found out many other families trekked from New Jersey, Connecticut, or farther. Unluckily, it was right in the middle of her morning nap.
Lesson #1: Modelling is on its own schedule. If you’re hell-bent on getting your kid a major campaign, you better live in a big city—Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles or New York (or be willing to travel there on a moment’s notice). And while your call time won’t ever be 4 a.m., it will most likely encompass at least one nap.
Once we arrived at the casting, it was impossible not to ogle all the babies crammed into the waiting area. I’ve never seen a collection of more beautiful children—every colour of the rainbow. After signing in, we were told to wait until they called us to meet with the photographer. Oh, and wait we would. Which brings me to the next lesson.
Lesson #2: Consider how your kid handles waiting around. One of the major character traits any photographer will be looking for in young children is temperament. Your little lady could be Kendall incarnate, but if she can’t sit in front of a camera without bursting into tears, or if keeping her entertained for hours in a small room with lots of strangers is going to be a huge challenge, then modelling is probably not her calling.
When we finally did meet the photographer, the whole interaction took no more than five minutes. He snapped a few test shots, asked me to dance around to get my daughter to smile, and that was it. If we landed the gig, the casting team told us, they’d be in touch over email.
So—big reveal—even without an agent (what they call “street cast” in the biz), my daughter booked the shoot. I received an email that night with her call time not for the shoot, but for the fitting.
Lesson #3: Modelling is not for someone with an already-packed schedule. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s at least one day for casting, another for the fitting, and then finally the shoot. It's a huge time commitment for a parent. And if your kid is already in school, they could end up missing multiple days for each gig.
The next morning, we returned to the studios, where the hordes of children had been replaced with racks upon racks of brightly colored onesies and floral-patterned dresses. One of the stylists chose outfits for my daughter to try on, while the tailor stood ready to pin it for alterations.
Lesson #4: Stranger danger and modelling are a tough mix. There will be many unfamiliar people touching your kid over the course of a shoot. Sometimes that means pairing an overtired infant with a young assistant wielding a box of sharp pins. Fun stuff. There is good news, though: The kids do receive a fitting fee in addition to their hourly shooting rate. Speaking of remuneration...
Lesson #5 : There’s not a lot of money in modelling. Sure, if you book a major commercial, it’s enough to start a (tiny) college fund, but your average print ad, even for a major brand, isn’t going to net more than a few hundred dollars. Plus, you might have to factor in the 20 percent cut for your agent, as well as the 15 percent that goes directly into a Coogan account (a blocked trust to make sure children see a percentage of their earnings as adults) if you live in California or New York.
The day of the shoot was nutty. My daughter met with the hair and clothing stylists, the tailor, and was then entertained by the on-set teacher, a mandatory presence even for the youngest of models. It was also backstage where I met my first stage moms, who, I admit, weren’t quite as Toddlers-and-Tiaras-y as I expected.
They did, however, express astonishment at our lack of representation. “You must book an agent as soon as you get home,” one mom admonished me. “And everyone will want her: she’s a ‘Gap baby’ now.”
I mulled this over as we migrated to the set, where a “baby wrangler”—yes, it’s a thing! A job!—thrust various toys-on-sticks in my daughter’s face as the photographer rapidly snapped. As directed, I stood off to the side, to be less of a distraction. The whole process took no more than about 10 minutes, and thank god, she smiled! And that was that; they thanked us for our time and sent us home.
Lesson #6: Don’t expect photos, clothes or be notified when your campaign goes live. Do you know how I first saw my daughter’s ad? When my friend’s son got cast in a later campaign and she happened to see the printout on set. When you sign with an agency, they actually tell you never to ask the client for the publishing date, or to request copies of photos.
Many months later, when the campaign finally launched, it was of course a huge thrill to see my sweet baby girl emblazoned on a giant poster. And yet, I probably wouldn't do this again. She’s now quite the rambunctious toddler and I wouldn’t say taking direction is one of her strong suits. And while we did end up signing with an agency, I’m terrible at sending them the requested monthly photos, so I’m not surprised we haven’t booked a second gig.
Plus, there’s something to be said for going out on top, right?