How Model Casting Calls Really Work, According to Jym Benzing

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Photo Source: Raquel Aparicio

Just like there’s no one way to become a model, there’s no one way to get into modeling casting, either. Jym Benzing began his career as an actor before moving into the casting side of the industry and then into casting models across genres. He’s worked for large beauty brands and upstart fashion labels, on magazine shoots and finding fitness talent for sporty projects. Those unfamiliar with the modeling world might be surprised to learn that each of these jobs requires a different type of talent. Benzing breaks down what else people should know about the industry before trying to make it as a model, and why it’s a good time for actors to pick up a side gig in the medium.

What can models expect from the casting process?
It’s usually quick. Expect to wait if it’s a big casting or a major project, but I want to keep it moving. Whether I ask for them or not, have your book and your comp cards. Leave one behind whether I ask or not. Come dressed. Come in with a good attitude. You’re probably going to have to do a series of digitals, a couple of poses to see you work in front of the camera. I would say for 50% of the jobs, we put you in front of a video to get a sense of personality. Are you comfortable in your skin? Are you able to come out of your shell? I usually ask a series of questions, and some of them are stupid, like, “You just won a million dollars, let me see your happy dance.” There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s just, like, are you willing to play along? Are you adaptable? Can you go there? I’ll ask where you’re from and then I’ll ask you to tell me an embarrassing story. Tell me about your prom date. I just want to see how you react. Are you willing to be honest? To have personality? If you come prepared, I notice it and it makes me very happy because it makes everything go by fast. I’ll say, put your hair in a ponytail, but make it quick, it’s not an updo and we’re all sitting there waiting. When people come in and they just do what they’re supposed to do, I’ll spend more time talking with them because I have time to talk.

Where do you source talent for your castings?
My eyes are always going, I keep notes. There are three ways I go about it. One is I get the breakdown and usage and send out to the agents. It could be sports agencies, modeling agencies, talent agencies, so they can submit the people. I know these are the people, they’re available for the rate and dates, and I don’t have to do too much questioning. Then are the ones where I start Googling. I just want to see who’s out there. I’ll do a little of my own research. I’ll search a hashtag to see what people fall into it and then I start looking at their Instagram accounts. If I really like them, I start Googling them more and then I make a list and I’ll find out how to get in touch with that person. And then the third way is probably me just asking around, thinking about who would be good for a project. Imagining if I had my dream person, who does that dream person look like?

“Models might know their light, their angles, they might know their poses, they are photogenic. But the best ones are the ones who create a story in the back of their head. ”

What should models know about the casting process?
The reason you don’t get the job usually has nothing really to do with you. There are so many different players; you can’t take anything personally. You have to understand rejection and you have to have a thick skin. There are so many different variables. You didn’t get it from the million people who went out for it. Other people didn’t get it, either. It’s like a puzzle. People also don’t understand that it’s not always the same person picking for each brand. Sometimes it’s the marketing director, sometimes it’s the marketing director of a different division. If you’re called in, you’re called in because I want them to see you. It’s not because I’m fulfilling a quota. I don’t want to present somebody who’s bad. I want to give them the best options that I can. They may not be getting picked all the time, but I keep calling them because there’s something I see in them.

What advice do you have for aspiring models?
Have time for failures, for you to figure things out. Don’t give me the same five poses because that’s all you know. We need people who have a thousand poses in their repertoire, people who are comfortable, people who can go all over the place. A new person is not going to have that. I always tell models and actors, before you go to a casting, do the research. If you’re going for a job, look up the photographer, find out their aesthetic, find out how they shoot, look at other models they’ve shot before. Find a model that you associate yourself with. If you are going to a magazine, look at the masthead, learn who the players are. If you like a shoot, look at the credits. Who did hair? Who did makeup? Why do you like it? You are a business. Save your receipts. If it’s getting your hair done, taking an Uber to a casting—these are things that are business expenses. You should act like a business. Always be ready. You never know when you’re going to get the call. Are you going to the gym? Are you getting your hair done? Are you maintaining yourself? Are you ready to go? Is your résumé up to date? Is your portfolio edited?

What shouldn’t people do in a casting?
These days, I’ve been very disappointed by how people come to castings. They don’t come with the books anymore. They don’t bring hair ties. It’s more work for me, but I started loading every model’s book into a chart, so when they come in, I can just click it on my computer and their book comes up. I’m tired of sitting around wasting my time for models. “The Wi-Fi isn’t working” or “Hold on, I have it on my phone.” “My cards didn’t come in yet.” I’m so tired of excuses. Be adaptable. Always be ready. You should have a hair tie. You should have heels just in case. You should wear something that complements your body so we can see your shape, whether it’s a tank top or T-shirt and jeans. Always think of yourself as a business. Be prepared.

What advice do you have for actors who are interested in modeling work?
This is a special skill. Models might know their light, angles, poses; they are photogenic. But the best ones create a story in their head. The ones who can really bring you in do it because they’re thinking of something. They’re acting, they’re using that skill,whether they realize it or not. The cool thing about the actors is they’ve already got it. They need to learn the posing and modeling. And then there are times you can find the actor because they are used to being in front of people and they know how to turn it on. They can think of those stories. A lot of them are trained, they’re coming out of conservatories. They have the technique to be able to be in front of the camera. It’s just a matter of getting used to being comfortable in their bodies.

What misconceptions do people have about modeling?
People think it’s just getting your picture taken, and it’s not. It’s not just about being pretty anymore. You have to be pretty and an actor and smart and know your angles. Pretty plus a business person. You have to know everything, because you are your own business. The more skills you have, the more jobs there will be for you. If you’re starting off, expect a good three years, I think, before you know who you are. You have to understand who you are as a model. What industry do you fit in? Are you an editorial model? Are you everything? Are you a beauty person? Are you a fashion person? Have a good couple of years of ecomm under your belt so you learn all your angles, you know the players, you get used to the lifestyle, the traveling, the back and forth, getting packed. I’m not casting anybody who is an unknown. People think you’re going to get discovered. It’s not going to happen that way. We’re not going to put money behind somebody who has no experience. We need to know your track record. Can you do it? Does your work represent what we want? We want somebody with experience. There’s a lot of money riding on you and a lot of people staring at you.

Ready to strike a pose? Check out Backstage’s modeling listings

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Elyse Roth
Elyse is a senior editor at Backstage, where she oversees all casting news and features content, including her weekly casting director Q&A series, In the Room. She came to New York from Ohio by way of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism, and now lives in Brooklyn. She might see and write about awards-worthy films, but Elyse still thinks “Legally Blonde” is a perfect movie and on any given night is probably taking in some kind of entertainment, whether it’s comedy, theater, ballet, or figuring out what show to binge next.
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