The New Faces Director
Many years ago, I worked in a major acting and modeling agency in the West as the New Faces Division Director (I will keep the agency unnamed). I was responsible for seeking new talent, vetting new talent, and training and helping develop new talent. Pretty much, you had to impress me in order for you to move forward to be represented as…new talent. It meant going forward to introduce models and actors to directors, casting directors, producers, and setting up “go-sees” for models for national and international agencies like IMG, BOSS, LA MODELS, and also, going to Milan, Paris, Japan. You get the idea. I LOVED my job and I was GOOD at it!
During my time in this capacity, I was “important” because I had business cards and the card named my title. I WAS THE GATEKEEPER. I discovered some fantastic talent, met some colorful characters, and made some great friends and colleagues. I opened doors for many aspiring talent and I (unfortunately) single-handedly crushed many dreams of potential new talent or talent that wasn’t meshing with us, and had to tell them it wasn’t working out.
An agency is a business and this is a real side, albeit—not always pleasant, a fact many people seem to overlook. Agents look at new talent in dollar signs because, this is their business like any other.
A cold hard fact.
Developing New Actors and Models
I mentioned ‘developing new talent’. What this means is that, along with my co-worker in our department (who I didn’t really like or agree with), we were required to sell classes to wide-eyed individuals with the caveat: there are no guarantees you will get work as a model or actor. I have nothing against learning or taking classes to enhance your acting skills and becoming fierce on the runway. Heck, I was/am an acting instructor. I think you should learn how to have etiquette on set, how to put on your makeup, speak properly, learn to cold read, etc. These are all necessary abilities for this industry. My colleague and I would essentially guide the talent. If they wanted to take classes, so be it; they made the informed choice. We were doing our jobs and received commission for it (YES, when you are sold a class for thousands of dollars in an agency or talent scouting company, the agents get a commission. This is a self-serving industry. It is a business. Not that this is all bad. Just know that going in.). People were learning, the owner was happy, we discovered some awesome talent and weeded folks out. Everybody won, right?
Until my conscience started whispering nags at me like, “Selling classes to people who obviously don’t have a future or the right temperament for this industry is wrong. Stop and use better judgment!”
If It Doesn’t Challenge You It Won’t Change You
Some examples of poor choices that come to mind as to whom we sold classes to include:
A little boy who couldn’t read. This child was enrolled by my associate because, he was an absolutely beautiful child. I mean, gorgeous! His grandmother thought for sure that he would be a star. I ended up refunding their money, which made my co-worker extremely angry. It was painful to see this child under so much pressure each time I looked at the tape. I knew it wasn’t right. I was ashamed we let it happen.
A painfully shy young woman with very low self-esteem who often walked hunched over and hid behind her hair. This young lady was about 17-19 years old. Her mother and ex-model sister thought this was the way she could improve herself, and that, somehow, she would become a supermodel. No pressure. Later, in watching the tapes of the class, I saw that she would freeze and cry on camera, and not in a ‘cry on cue kinda way,’ but more or less, in a humiliated and terrified way. She never spoke, but was allowed to coast in the classes (more on this later).
A mentally disturbed young man who was disruptive. His parents had money to burn and wanted him to “flourish”. An advance acting workshop was coming up, and a guest director from L.A. was coming to teach. My boss said, “Sign him up because his is a sure bet on tuition.” Against my better judgment, I didn’t speak up because I was afraid of my boss (Amanda Priestly, anyone?), and because I didn’t want to lose the big commission. Well, several professional actors who were in the class, as well as the guest instructor, complained about this young man’s outbursts. We later explained to the parents that this wasn’t for him and refunded their money (along with my sure bet of a large commission).
She Hid behind Her Hair and Looked at Her Shoes
Remember the painfully shy young woman in her teens? Well, here is what happened:
A year later, the girl and her beautiful, confident, former model big sister (who gave up modeling to be married with children), came to visit me in my office. The younger sister, as always, hid behind her hair and remained silent and sat hunched over. The big sister did all the talking…and I mean ALL the talking. She demanded to know why we hadn’t contacted her sister with auditions. “After all,” she said, “she took all the classes.”
I listened intently. My face was getting hot and I was ready to do battle. Remember I mentioned I was important because of my title? I was thinking, while they…I mean SHE—the ex-model now turned beautiful perfect mother and Christian homemaker—was talking, that, how dare they come into my beautiful expensive, hoity-toity office and make such demands on me? ME? Irene Santiago, the New Faces Director?! Because…I AM important! My business card says so! I AM THE GATEKEEPER! Be gone, sisters! Your sister shall not pass because she isn’t good enough! Well, that didn’t happen, because, thankfully, I didn’t say any of that. Not even close. (Thank you Holy Spirit. Proverbs 13:16a, NLT Wise people think before they act.)
Instead, something else happened.
I remembered an interview that I had watched with Jay Leno and the supermodel, Elle Macpherson, a few nights prior. I remembered how beautiful she was and how well she carried herself. She was so eloquent, funny, and charming. This is what the young woman seated in my office was expected to be. And not celebrated for who she truly was. My heart softened, and, gently, I thanked the ladies for coming to see me. Instead of going all “The Devil Wears Prada” on them (not that I owned any Prada or could afford it), I spoke with love from my heart. I said to the younger sister (and I’m paraphrasing because it’s been a long time), “You must be extremely special because your big sister loves you very much to come here to support you in this way and speak on your behalf.” She nodded. Then I said, “I have heard what your sister has said, but I would like you to tell me, what do you think of all this?” The poor girl remained quiet for some time as she looked at her shoes. Hiding behind her hair, she eventually mumbled her answers. She was so scared and embarrassed, and cried. Then the big sister cried too. I felt really bad. If I wasn’t so “important,” I would have cried too (Okay, I teared up).
I asked her if she wouldn’t mind showing me how she was instructed to walk on the runway. She agreed. Then she walked hunched over, unsure of herself and still hiding behind her hair, then sat back down and looking at her shoes still hunched over. I asked her to tell me what she liked about the classes, and she mumbled that it gave her more confidence, and that it was fun to learn scripts and socialize with the other girls.
Okay. I was happy to hear that!
Then I explained, “When you go to an audition, the first thing they notice is your confidence and ability to look them in the eye; then they want to hear you speak. It is scary enough as it is going into auditions, but this is what it is. This is what is expected. Did you happen to see the interview with Elle Macpherson on The Tonight Show the other night?” Both girls nodded. Clearly, they remembered how elegant Elle was. I said, “Yes, she is beautiful, but that is not what really makes her beautiful, memorable or successful. What makes a woman beautiful is her confidence, a loving heart, and her charm. There are many beautiful women out there, but beauty fades. It’s what’s inside that counts.”
Now I had to tell them the whole truth.
I explained that the business is immensely competitive. While the classes did give her some confidence and taught her many useful skills for life, it was not reflected in her walk and talk. It did not mean that she was any less special. This business just wasn’t for her. Her heart was not in it, and she even admitted that she was taking the classes because of her mom; it wasn’t her passion but her mother’s. Both sisters understood and agreed with me. They thanked me for my time and left. I was so grateful!
But then, about an hour later, their mom called, demanding to know what I’d said to them. “All I know is that I have two daughters that are in tears,” she exclaimed. In my mind I was thinking, “Wait, I thought this was worked out?” Then I started to get a little queasy in my stomach. A thought came to me, just tell the mother the same truth.
So I did.
“Thank you for calling me, Ma’am. You have two special daughters. Let me explain what I told them. Did you happen to catch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno the other night when Elle Macpherson was on…”
The Gatekeeper Turns In Her Keys
I made mistakes and regretted them. The agency is still a major and legit business. In the owner’s defense, she believed one-stop shopping was the way to go. But that is her business, not mine. I turned in my keys and eventually left. I was grateful for working there, I learned much and moved on. When I left, I realized that, yes, my job was important, but not for the reasons that I’d initially thought. It was important because I’d done a lot of good for clients—as a catalyst who believed in and guided them. A title is not what defines me. My heart and actions do.
Summary Points To Remember About the Business of Agencies
If you learn anything at all from my musings, it should be this: There are no GUARANTEES that you will get work as a model or actor no matter how much money you spend. Agencies and Talent Scouting Companies are a business. Show business is still a business. They are not daycares, babysitters or magicians. YES, you should plan on spending money in the industry, but be wise about it. Do your homework and due diligence. Prospective talent/parents/grandparents/legal guardians, don’t be so desperate to be a part of the film and modeling industry that you would sell your soul, dignity, kids’ dignity or spend your entire life savings. Scams see you coming a mile away. Be smart.
There are No Shortcuts
Successful talents have supportive agents/agencies. The film and modeling industry can be fun and worthwhile. While it is NOT for everyone, it is also NOT all evil. It’s what’s inside you that counts! Your PASSION! What makes a person appealing is their confidence, a loving heart, and their charm. There are many beautiful people out there, but remember, beauty fades.
About this Contributor
Irene Santiago’s motto is A.B.C = I Act Because of Christ. She is a busy, award-winning actress, voice over talent, speaker, acting coach, model, producer, wife and mother. She is mainly recognized for her role in High School Musical (Part 1) as the “Chem Teacher” (and her kids roll their eyes whenever someone mentions it!). Other credits include: One Tree Hill, Providence, Adrenaline, and Badge of Faith. You can connect with her on her official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and IMDb page.
*The article, The Gatekeeper, first appeared on ToBeAPerson (TBAP).
**To learn more about Irene Santiago’s work or about reputable talent agencies and scouting companies check out these helpful links below: