Veteran agent, Marsha Bassi, who has represented models for 34 years, sits down with us to share her tips and advice for those seeking modeling agency representation.
When and how did you become an agent for models?
Well, it was a complete fluke! Being a talent agent was not on my radar as a career path. I actually had a business background, and wanted to be a CPA. At the time I really needed a job, and applied at another local agency. They hired me as a temporary secretary to an agent. They liked my work, and offered me a permanent position working for four other agents. I worked there for two years. I was then offered an assistant’s position to an agent at Affiliated Models. I ended up working for two print agents, and when one of them left, I was offered the print position. I worked side by side with Ricka Fuger, and learned the print business. So I guess that makes sixteen years at Affiliated Models, nine years at The Talent Shop, and now almost nine years at Productions- Plus!
What’s the biggest change in modeling that you’ve seen over the course of your career?
The digital age. Printed comp cards are almost all gone, as are actual portfolios and tear sheets. Now my talent carry around Ipads with their portfolio loaded digitally not the big black folders that everyone used to have to lug around.
The other big shift I’ve witnessed is how much more inclusive brands are trying to be. Ethnic diversity is huge! It used to be that everyone wanted the tall, amazonian blondes… to represent everything! Now blondes are the minority.
What types of jobs do you book on a regular basis?
Print and video, but really my emphasis is always on print. We have two theatrical agents at P+, so they usually handle our on camera bookings. Detroit is the Motor City, and thus we do a lot of commercial print, especially lifestyle shoots with cars. We also do online catalogue shoots for national companies that are based in Michigan. I also book some live fashion jobs, which include runway or presenting clothes for an audience, designer or retailer.
What’s been the booking you are most proud of?
That’s hard one. There have been so many over the years. Recently, I want to say Shinola. They have been doing a lot of work/shooting here in Detroit but historically, they bring most of their models in from New York. So, when I get a talent approved, it’s very exciting for me. The brand has a huge national following, and when I tell the talent that their booking is with Shinola, I can hear the excitement! I’m having fun building that account.
What’s the most common mistake you see new models making?
Paying a lot of money for photos before getting the advice of a talent agent to even see if you are even marketable! I would prefer talent sent me current headshot and full length digitals before booking a session with a photographer. Also new models need to remember to include their stats. I want to know height and clothing size range when assessing potential talent. I also wish more people were smiling in their headshots.
If I like a model’s digitals I’ll bring them in to further assess their look. Some people are more high fashion while others should focus on commercial print. Most photographers are only good at shooting one style, and once I’ve met you in person, I can recommend who to shoot with and what types of looks to go after. Of course some talent can overlap categories, but this way you are not spinning your wheels or spending more money than you need to.
What fact or idea do you wish all models knew?
Do your homework. There’s so much information online. I used to have young models buy Marie Anderson’s book on modeling but a lot of that is obsolete. I have recently directed talent to watch to watch runway shows in NY (you can find them on youtube) and go to the magazine rack to see what kind of work is out there. I want talent to get a feel for what type of people are being booked and what aesthetics are popular.
Agents don’t have a ton of time to explain the industry, so come in armed with as much research as you possibly can. You’d do that for a job interview, so why not for a meeting with an agency?
What tools do new models need to break into this business?
These days you need really great pictures! I see it time and time again, that the talent with wonderful pictures are chosen. It’s hard to define a good picture but we need a really clear image of who you are. Don’t cover yourself with hats, hair or big jewelry. Clothing should just be simple and plain. I’m not selling your clothing, I’m selling you! I tell my talent to wear muted colors that don’t steal focus. Honestly, the saying “less is more” is very true. Don’t glam it up, girls that do that don’t get work, because clients can’t see through all the makeup. They think you are hiding something. Show yourself and your natural beauty. There are very few live auditions anymore, so you don’t get to sell yourself in the audition room. The talent pictures are your first and sometimes only introduction to a client.
What’s a red flag for anyone new to the industry?
When a so called agency asks you as the talent to pay money to be with them. A legitimate agency does not charge you to register with them. Also be careful if an agency insists you shoot with a certain photographer, that probably means they are getting a cut. They should only make money when they get you a booking/job.
What type of new talent are you currently scouting for?
Ethnically ambiguous. It’s a term used a lot in the print world but basically, it’s someone who could be of multiple backgrounds, you can’t clearly define their heritage. Fashion is loving that. More than ever, ethnic talent is needed, and I’m always scouting for new interesting faces.
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