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The following post is a chapter from our book, Working in Thailand: How to Ditch the Desk, Board the Flight, and Land the Job, written by Patrick Taylor and Karsten Aichholz.
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Unless otherwise noted, all quotes by Andi (last name withheld for privacy), model.
What’s the most dangerous situation a model can expect to find themselves in?
A snapped stiletto heel on a high catwalk?
A case of tummy trouble after a few too many free vol-au-vents at a post-shoot rap party?
In the case of Andi, an American model working in Bangkok, try large-scale civil unrest.
I remember seeing the military marching down my street and having a curfew imposed and thinking about how naive I had been when I first arrived.
The year was 2010—a watershed year for the country.
A tense stand-off between the government and the protestors of the UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship), otherwise known as the Red Shirts, had reached boiling point, and violence was spilling out on to the streets of the capital (and beyond).
Me and a few other models actually went to the mall [Central World, which was the site of one of the largest protester camps] and walked among the Red Shirts to check it out and take pictures with a few of them. Later on is when the—I think—Australian ended up getting shot. So it became a really real situation. I would be on my way to castings and my cab driver would get a call to turn around because people were throwing things off of overpasses onto cars.”
Things on the home front were equally chaotic.
When modeling agencies send their models abroad, as they had done with Andi, they generally keep them together at one apartment complex.
As one might expect when a large group of young, attractive people are holed up together in an apartment complex in a foreign land, things in these model apartments can get a little debauched.
The model apartment I lived in when I first came to Thailand was insane. There were quite a few Brazilian girls and one of them was 15. These girls never seemed equipped to handle the stresses of the industry and this one in particular ended up getting sent home after the agency found a joint in our apartment and threatened to drug test everyone in the apartment. Very sad, but pretty common.”
Andi’s Thai adventure began, as it does for many other models, by being scouted by an agency in her home country (in this case, the United States).
Bangkok was actually my first modeling contract ever. The first time I went over, I had just turned 18, in November, 2008. That first contract was 3 months long and I had quite a bit of success while I was there. I did magazine editorials, billboards, etc. I left and did contracts in Greece and South Africa, but then went back to Bangkok where I was for almost a year.”
Getting work as a model generally requires going through modeling agencies, who will then (hopefully) set you up with jobs in your assigned/chosen location. Andi was lucky enough to be scouted for her first Bangkok contract.
I went to a large event that had been advertised on the radio and made it to a second round hosted in Dallas. There were agencies there from all over the country scouting for talent. There were thousands of actors and models there and I ended up walking away with the second highest amount of callbacks from the agencies and luckily had my choice of agents to pick from. I went with a very small agency based out of California that had a focus on the Asian market.”
After working out her first contract, Andi had to apply to modeling agencies directly. Her advice for aspiring models hoping to get in touch with an agency is straightforward enough.
The way I worked with other agencies was pretty simple—contact them through their webpage and send in your best snaps, portfolio pics, stats and a little bit about yourself and what you are looking for. If they are interested you will here back, but it’s just like any job you want—chase it up if you don’t hear anything.”
When it comes to choosing an agency, Andi suggests keeping things small.
I always prefer and encourage people to go with smaller, but still reputable, agencies because you will get more personal attention and get more help if needed. [To big worldwide agencies] you are just another face and you are easily replaceable. They do not care about you and your concerns and most of the time they do not have your best interests at heart. They are all about making money for themselves.”
One important thing to note here is that like any other job in Thailand, a Thai work permit is essential.
Anyone who has had the enlightening cultural experience that is a trip to Bangkok’s Immigration Office in Chaengwattana will have seen the angry (and slightly bizarre) posters displayed prominently on the office’s walls and doors, reminding models and actors that they, too, must hold a work permit to work legally in Thailand.
In recent years, the Labour Ministry have announced a crackdown on models without work permits, threatening a prison sentence of up to five years and/or a 100,000 baht fine if caught without one.
In many cases, your agency—if they are, of course, legitimate—will handle this process for you.
The agency took care of it for me. I remember going to some government office with my ‘keeper’ to apply for it. I’m not sure how long it was valid for as the agency kept hold of it.”
Once you’re set up in Thailand, you can start taking jobs. These jobs can vary from the traditional catwalk-style shoots to modeling for commercials and catalogs. The amount of hours required, and the pay offered, differs enormously.
You can make $120 [around 4,000 baht] for a full days work if you are doing catwalk or make $3,000 [around 100,000 baht] for eight hours for a box of hair dye.”
As a general rule, the less glamorous commercial work pays the best, while the glossy magazines pay comparatively poorly.
The rate at which jobs are offered can be inconsistent.
Some people did really really well and others not so well. I would have a month where I had three to five jobs and pulled in maybe $3000 [100,000 baht] total, and then would hit a really big couple of jobs and pull in $7,000 [around 230,000 baht]. But other months were completely dry. Some people—even though they were stunning—couldn’t seem to pull work. I can’t tell you how many castings I went to for TV commercials, but I rarely made it to the next stage for those castings. I had some girls in my apartment that came in and left owing the agency money as they had not made enough to repay their flight tickets and accommodation to the agency.”
In order to score jobs at castings, your personality and character go a long way.
Obviously motivation and attitude is a huge factor. Be super, super polite and friendly when you go into castings.”
One other thing to consider is the cut your agency takes for these jobs. Andi considers:
anything below 35%” a fair share for agencies. The more experience and better book, the better rate you can command.”
When it comes to dealing with agencies and negotiating a fair cut, networking in Bangkok is your friend.
The best place to network is at the city’s many model nights, which take place at some of the hippest clubs and bars.
I think model night was good. I met some great people that showed me the ropes and gave me some great tips. The modeling community is extremely tight in Bangkok. It will be very easy to network and make sure you are being treated fairly and if you are unhappy with one agency it is usually very easy to make the switch over to another. Of course, you have to not get sucked into it only being about the party.”
Finally, Andi’s advice for newbie models is simple—put the work first.
I enjoyed every single day to the fullest, made great friends and worked my ass off. But maybe if it’s your first time getting into modeling, focus on the job first and not everything else that comes with it. It is very easy to get caught up in the free things, booze, and the lifestyle if you let yourself.”
It’s easy to understand how one might get caught up in the glamorous side of the industry.
I remember one time going to models’ night and hearing some random dude would be hanging out that night. We all had VIP tickets to his show afterwards. We all hung out with him and I enjoyed the show a lot and had no idea of the gravity of who Tiesto was. Things like that happened pretty frequently.”
Now, on to You
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