Indochine's Top Shelf

Accomplished actress/model Andrea Bordeaux recently granted me an interview and I can't recommend it enough to young women trying to transition from urban modeling to commercial modeling and acting, or just trying to do that outright. Andrea really knows her craft and there are sections of this interview that are so informative, I guarantee you could not easily find out this information without reading this. So without further adieu, read on to find out everything from how much it costs to join SAG to why you should think twice about those thong shots if you really want to become a professional actor/model.

How long have you been pursuing commercial modeling, how did you get your start, and what are some of the highlights of your career?

I’ve been modeling professionally for about 4 years now. People have been telling me that I should model since I was about 13 years old. I never took it seriously because I didn't understand at the time that there were other types of modeling besides fashion modeling. I'm 5'3", so I always assumed that modeling was out of reach, no pun intended. When I moved to NYC, I would get approached regularly by photographers who wanted to work with me. But I'm super cautious and everyone gets the side-eye from me until I get to know them. I ended up meeting this one photographer that didn't seem like a psycho and I liked his work. We did a shoot and he told me to start a ModelMayhem page.

I did a few TFP shoots (horrible stuff haha) and put together a Model Mayhem page using my then-headshot and few of those trade photos. I started out doing hair shoots (weaves, wigs, etc.) back in 2007 when one of the companies contacted me via ModelMayhem. Those were my first paid jobs. I started working with my first print agency about a year later. Now I’m signed with a manager, a commercial agency, a legit (tv/film) agency, and I work with 3 print agencies.

In addition to modeling, you are also an actress. Are you a member of SAG?

I recently joined SAG. I was eligible for about 6-7 months before I was forced to join. I earned my eligibility from booking two national commercials back-to-back in June 2010. Then I shot "Law & Order: SVU" in November making me a must-join. I booked another national commercial in February which shot in Canada. I also had to join in order to be cleared for that job.
Why did you hold out until the last minute to join SAG and how were you able to take jobs in the interim? Can you talk briefly about the Taft-Hartley exemption and how it allows you to work prior to joining SAG. Also, specifically, how much does it cost to join SAG?

You don't join SAG unless you have to, that's the general rule. And if you aren't planning on becoming an actor or doing commercials, you don't even need to be thinking of SAG. Joining too early is detrimental because it prevents you from doing non-union work. Every actor starts out doing no budget non-union indie/student films in order to gain experience and build a resume. When you join SAG, you can only do SAG commercials/shows/films.

Taft-Hartley is the name of the process in which a non-union actor is hired for principle work on a SAG project. Being Taft-Hartley'd makes you SAG eligible. Once you become eligible, you have 30 days to work as many SAG jobs as possible without having to join SAG. After the 30 days, if you book another SAG job, you become a must-join. The initiation fee for SAG is $2400, although it's a bit cheaper in smaller markets. You also pay dues twice a year (about $60) and a percentage of what you earn. I think it's 1.5% and goes down the more you make.
What are some of the advantages of being SAG?

It guarantees certain pay rates, breaks, meals, and health benefits. It means you’re a professional and you’re competing with other professional actors.

What are some of the things a woman needs to do to prepare to seriously pursue commercial modeling? How would you suggest finding a good agent and/or manager?

It’s really not that hard, surprisingly enough. All you need is one or two good commercial shots. A commercial shot is basically a bright, smiley photo. Very natural and likable. A lot of print models just bring a headshot to castings. Most of us have comp cards but it’s not really a necessity.

The most common way of finding an agent is to mail in your photos and cover letter to an agency, targeting a specific agent. If you can find an email address, email your photos with a quick “cover” note. Many people will say not to send email submissions. Screw that. Do what you have to do. My email submissions got me signed to Buchwald for commercials and working with CESD, two of the best agencies in the country.

The best way to get an agent is through a referral. If you know someone (preferably a friend) that’s with the agency you’re interested in, ask for a referral. Don’t ask someone that you don’t really know, you’ll just make them dislike you for being presumptuous.

Also understand that models don’t sign exclusive agreements with agencies for print. - we freelance. The only agencies that sign models exclusively are fashion agencies like Ford, Elite, etc. This means that you can work with several agencies at once if you want to as a print model. I work with three.

If you just want to pursue modeling and not acting you don’t really need a manager, why pay them 15% on top of paying your agent 20%?
Commercial models are often not identified by name in their jobs, compared to urban models who are always identified by name. To the public at large, this might lead to the assumption that urban models make more money, because they're constantly in the spotlight. But we both know that's not the case. Can you give me an idea of the type of money a commercial model makes on a national print ad? WIth respect to a commercial, please explain the difference between a buyout and job in which you get residuals?

Yeah, that would be false. For one, most print models don’t just do print. Most of us also do commercials and acting, giving us multiple streams of income. SAG commercials (some commercials are non-union) can be extremely lucrative. People would be shocked to find out how much one can make off of a SAG national. I’ve done three in the past 8 months.

Without specifically mentioning how much *you've* made on one of these commercials, can you give a ballpark figure for of what these type of jobs pay?

It's extremely complicated and no two commercials will pay the same when it comes to residuals. I'll try to break it down. SAG requires a minimum session fee for principle work on a commercial. It's only about $850 a day. If you have a fitting, have to travel, work over time, bring your own clothes, etc. there are additional fees that the production has to pay you. Most commercials also pay a holding fee, which is a form of exclusivity. My CitiBank commercial keeps me from doing anything else related to banks and credit cards. Holding fees and residuals are paid in 13 week cycles. Residual payments are extremely complicated. You are paid a set dollar amount every time the commercial airs. Each dollar amount is based on the type of airing. The biggest dollar amounts are for airings on major networks (ABC, CBS, etc.) in major markets such as New York City and Los Angeles. If they commercial airs during prime time on a major network, it will pay more. Then you have things called wild spots which are generally smaller markets on local stations. Those pay crap. With the advent of websites like YouTube and Hulu, you have commercials airing online. Those pay as well. Now when I say "dollar amount," we're talking like $.70 or $1.26. Tiny amounts that can add up to huge paychecks.....or tiny paychecks. It really depends. As long as you receive a holding fee every 13 weeks, you will also still be receiving residuals. When the holding fees stop (meaning you are released), so do the residuals.

It is absolutely possible to earn $30,000+ on a single commercial, but you don't see that kind of money all at once. It accumulates over the course of the running time. I'd say it would take an actress at least 6 months to see that kind of money. So far, on my CitiBank commercial, I've made well over $20,000 - I'd have to look at my stubs for a precise number. BUT! You have to factor in taxes and agent/manager commission.
Can you give a little more detail on how print ads pay and the type of money a commercial model can expect to make in that regard?

In print, payments are broken down in the following ways: “Day Rate/Session Fee," which is what you get paid for the actual shoot. Then you have “Usage," which refers to how long the image will be used. This can range from anywhere from 6 months to “In Perpetuity” aka FOREVER. Then, you have “Exclusivity," which can mean major money. You generally only see exclusivity clauses for major brands that are shooting ads with high visibility. Exclusivity means that you cannot appear in a competitor’s ad for whatever the agreed upon usage time is. Buyouts generally pay a flat fee for the whole shoot and usage and it's almost never worth it, in my opinion, because this means that they can use the image for life.

These three things determine how much money you make and every single job is different. Most shoots pay separate rates for the session fee and usage. Every now and then you will see one that pays all three. I currently have an ad with Sprite that paid for two years of usage and exclusivity on top of the session fee. I made in the low 5 figures for this job.

I don’t know how much urban models make in general, but I feel confident in assuming it’s not as much as print models. Fashion models don’t make as much as print models, and you will see tons of fashion models at print/commercial castings. Of course I’m not talking about super models, I’m talking about the other girls whose names you don’t know.

Fashion editorials pay around $150 flat, even for big publications like Vogue. However, most print jobs can pay anywhere from $500 to $20,000+. I’ve booked jobs at both of those rates and everywhere in between. A $500 job will generally have limited usage, such as local only and for about 6 months. If a clients wants more usage that that, I’ll probably turn the job down. A $10,000 job probably includes some form of exclusivity. If a clients wants more usage that that, I’ll probably turn the job down.

Oh and one more thing, we are in a recession and a lot of clients are getting downright cheap with their rates. I have seen a lot less $20k, hell $10k jobs this past year or so. They want 2 years of usage and a 10 hour shoot, and only want to pay $500 a day, not even a separate usage fee! Excuse my French, but fuck that.

Why aren't buy outs worth it? A lot of models will have to take a buy out just to get their foot in the door...

In general, a buyout gives the client the right to use the image in perpetuity. It may not be used for more than 6 months, but if they want to throw it out there 35 years later, they can. The reason why I say they usually aren't worth it is the rate. I once booked a non-union commercial that wanted a full buyout for only $500. When I said "no," they raised the rate to $1000. I told my agent that if they reduced the usage to 1or 2 years, then I would do it. They wanted the full perpetuity period, so I turned it down. I was the only actor that did. Most models will take any job they can get and I can't blame them. It's hard to be selective when you want to earn money. But, you need to know your worth and you need to think long term. You may think it's no big deal to do that $1000 buyout shoot for Evian. Well, 2 years later when you book a SAG national commercial for Pepsi and they ask for your conflicts (a conflict is any work that you may have done with a competitor..and soft drink companies consider all non-alcoholic beverages competition), you may not get hired because that Evian ad is still running. You just lost a potential $25k in residuals. That $1000 doesn't seem so nice now, does it? I would never do a cheap buyout on a brand that could pose a major conflict down the line. I think a buyout is okay if it's for a product that doesn't have huge competition (soft drinks and fast food chains would be considered huge brands that could pose major conflicts) and you don't generally see widely advertised, something like Rosetta Stone, or Belkin electronics accessories.
Despite your steady work, your Model Mayhem profile is somewhat sparse with respect to photos, especially compared to a typical urban model. Can you explain why that is?

To be honest, I don’t give a damn about my ModelMayhem page. I don’t model for the attention, I do it for the money. That website is not the end all be all, it’s a glorified MySpace for the “industry”. Is it necessary? No. You can search online for great photographers and pay them to shoot you. That way, you can be in complete control of all variables. You don't really get that with MM. But....I will explain why you won’t see too many photos up and how that relates to the commercial print industry as a whole.

When urban models do photo shoots, it's generally a trade shoot or for a specific magazine issue, am I right? In both instances they have direct access to their work. The photographer gives them a copy or they can just run out and pick up the issue that they are appearing in. Or they can see their music video on YouTube. With commercial print, it doesn't work that way. When we do a photo shoot, we sign releases that give us no rights to the photos. The client has no obligation to give us copies of photos and not all photos are used nationally. Sometimes you do a shoot and the client decides to take the ad campaign in another direction so those photos never see the light of day. Some photos are only used "in house" or for corporate events. Some photos are for targeted mailings only. So 9 times out of 10, I don't even know what my ad looks like. It's a pain in the ass to get ahold of my work, so after a while, I stopped caring. You also become jaded. In the beginning, it’s so cool to book a photo shoot or see your photo in a magazine. Nowadays, I just want to make sure the check clears.
What advice would you give a young woman who is currently exploring urban modeling but who ultimately wants to pursue commercial modeling and acting seriously? We all know of people like Lauren London, who was an urban model before successfully transitioning to a career in acting. So it's not necessarily the kiss of death. What's your take on this?

Lose the booty photos. Please don’t send those to an agency or take them with you to a print casting. Everything has it’s place. If a woman ultimately wants to pursue commercial modeling and acting in a serious way, I can’t image why she’s choosing to do urban modeling in the first place. That’s not an attempt to knock urban modeling, but like I said, everything has it’s place. Getting a few good commercial shots to start out with would be the first step.

And I have to add, don't work with an agency that specializes in urban models. They have no connections with commercial print casting offices and you'll only get sent out for urban jobs.

I really like Lauren London. I think she’s beautiful and interesting. But....she is the exception, not the rule. If my memory serves me correctly, most of her early music video appearances and magazine shoots where pretty tame, more cutesy sexy than overtly sexy. Probably along the lines of what you would see in Maxim or FHM. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her booty clad in a thong. I’m open to being corrected though. Some urban models take it too far. Once you cross the line, there’s no going back.

Never compare yourself to the ONE exception in existence because you are setting yourself up for failure. Set goals based on what you want to do, not what someone else has already done. There is only one Lauren London, just like there is only one you.
You said "lose the booty photos," but in fact these sorts of pictures are a regular staple of FHM and Maxim magazines, which major actresses are featured in all the time. From Mila Kunis to Rachel Bilson, they've almost all done Maxim or FHM and had some type of back shot taken. Are you saying the rules are different for women of color or are you saying it's different to do this sort thing *after* you've become an established actor?

Okay, we are talking about urban models who want to do commercial print, not some actresses promoting a project in FHM. If they want to get a good agent and make a casting director like them, I would highly advise against bringing booty shots into the office. That's just crazy talk. What purpose would a booty shot serve in making a casting director think you're the right girl for a toothpaste ad? I'll wait.

Well, you're certainly right that Lauren London's foray into urban modeling was relatively tame. But I would disagree that once you cross the line there's no going back. There's Vanessa Williams, who actually did adult photos for Penthouse and is a well-established actress now. And there are more examples than just Lauren London when it comes to getting a start in urban music videos: 1. Eva Mendes was a featured player in Will Smith’s “Miami” music video in 1998, before landing any significant acting parts; 2. Alicia Silverstone starred in three Aerosmith music videos in the early to mid-90’s before landing her breakthrough role in "Clueless," in 1995; 3. Sanaa Lathan was in Babyface’s 2001 “What If” music video before becoming an established actress; 4. Leila Arcieri starred in Q-tip's “Vivrant Thing” in 2000 and was in the premier issue of KING magazine and went on to a successful career as an actress starring in the Howard Stern produced sitcom, "Son of the Beach," guest appearing on "CSI: New York," and starring in features such as "Wild Things 2"; 5) LisaRaye McCoy, has been featured in Tupac Shukar’s “Toss It Up” videos as well as “Would You” for Benzino and Master P’s “Ooowwhee" before going on to star in "Player's Club" and getting her own reality show.

Hmm....well......Vanessa Williams did not pose for Penthouse. She did that artistic shoot with another model years before she became Miss America. The photographer then shopped the photos around in order to capitalize off of her new fame. The only publication that would buy them was Penthouse because Vanessa had not given consent to their sale. The photos were actually quite beautiful and there was nothing pornographic or raunchy about them. I think the grace with which she handled the fiasco is what helped in saving her career, but she still had to work very hard in bouncing back.

In your list of women 1-4, can you really consider that urban modeling? I mean come on, Will Smith? Aerosmith? Sanaa Lathan is the daughter of Stan Lathan, she didn't need a Babyface video to get her start. I had to google the Leila woman and I recognize her. Still, her KING shoot was before the urban market took a nosedive. I don't consider LisaRaye an exception. Her career, even filmography, is still largely urban or marketed directly to blacks. Reality TV is neither modeling nor (real) acting.

By no means am I saying that urban models should hang it up to dry. I said "some" urban models take it too far and cross the line. I'm talking about extremely raunchy photos (bordering on pornographic, if not so), butt injections, huge implants, etc. The women who can make the transition, do not cross that line. I can't think of a seamless way to segue from urban modeling straight to mainstream TV/film. But if an urban model wants to be an actress, one of the best ways is to start with commercial print/commercials.
How you were able to use your darker complexion to your advantage? Some aspiring models consider being darker a handicap, but I think being brown skinned can actually work to your advantage because it makes you more unique. Can you also talk about the challenges it poses?

I would never look at my skin color as a handicap, especially when it comes to modeling. As I’ve said twice before, everything has it’s place. Commercial print modeling is all about marketing and demographics. Black women buy shit just like white women do. Ad agencies need to appeal to us and therefore there is a huge market for brown skinned models. No, we aren’t used as much as white models or ethnically ambiguous models, but well....such is life. There is still plenty of work out there for us.

Even when it comes to acting, which is MUCH harder for black women to break into, I never see my gorgeous brown skin as a hindrance. If anything, my concerns are always hair related. I’m usually the only or one of the only black women with natural hair at TV show/film auditions. Sometimes I question whether or not straightening my hair or getting a weave will yield better results, but I NEVER question how my skin tone plays a role. Seeing your skin color as a handicap is just giving yourself one more excuse to fail.
Where do you see your career a year from now? You remind me of an actress named Tamara Taylor who was a big commercial model in the 90s and went on to become a successful actress and is now on the show "Bones." Do you see yourself as more of an actress or model in the future?

A year from now, I hope to be regularly booking guest star roles on TV and auditioning for more film roles. In TV, you really have to climb your way up the ladder, starting with co-star roles, then guest star roles, then series regular roles. I see myself as more of an actress in the future, but I still hope to model for the rest of my life. I moved to NYC to study and pursue acting, modeling just sort of happened for me. I got sidetracked from acting for nearly two years and now I’m working full force again. My dream would be to work as a series regular on a hit TV show while doing movies between seasons. I’d LOVE to have a big cosmetics campaign one day. I’m also seriously considering a move to Los Angeles at the end of next year.

Why Los Angeles?

The majority of TV shows and films are produced, cast, and/or shot in Los Angeles. It's just common sense to be there if you want the best shot at having a successful acting career. Besides, the weather is just too damn seductive.