Have you ever thought of modelling but didn’t know where to start? Today we’re talking to freelance model, Robyn Francis, about the tips and tricks, common misconceptions, and ins and outs of the world of flashes and photographs. There’s an air of mystery surrounding the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry. Robyn’s candid interview sheds some light and puts it all on the runway.
Fresh Print: Hi Robyn. Thank you so much for talking to Fresh Print! We love talking to people who have followed their passion. How did you get started in modelling?
Robyn Francis: Allegedly, my parents wanted me to start modelling when I was 13/14, but I don’t remember them saying anything about it. I put myself into modelling when I was 23. I saw a casting call at a local agency and went to it after work one day (this is called “being discovered.”)
Fresh Print: In Toronto?
Robyn Francis: I started modelling in Niagara Falls (I’m from Fort Erie, Ontario)—a runway show, some promotional work—but I didn’t have the time for it. An agency almost always needs you at the drop of a hat, and I just couldn’t miss work left, right and centre for modelling gigs that didn’t pay. I stopped for a few years and moved to Toronto. I landed an editorial for an online magazine in February 2012 and have been trying to get into bigger things ever since.
Fresh Print: What was it like starting out?
Robyn Francis: I was so nervous for my first shoot! Another first-timer was scheduled right after me, and having her there somehow made me more relaxed. Luckily, the photographer, Richard Sibbald, was outstanding at giving direction to new models and it went over really well.
Fresh Print: My knowledge of modelling comes from Tyra Banks reality shows. Can you give me a little bit of a rundown on the kinds of modelling?
Robyn Francis: There are many different types of modelling including creatives (someone comes up with a concept, like 20s bridal), fashion/editorial (magazine-like shots focusing on clothing, awkward pose, and an “anything goes” attitude toward makeup), and glamour (focusing on the beauty of the model.) I’ve done all three, but prefer creatives and editorials. I find glamour really boring. I’d rather do more edgy modelling than the basic “Look, I’m so pretty and also a bride.”
Fresh Print: Do you find that you get typecast?
Robyn Francis: I feel pretty average, modelling-wise. I am told that my look is very “classic.” I have a pinup body that can also be used for fashion, but my face isn’t high-fashion at all. That’s why I get so much bridal work. I also have a hard time doing beauty shoots since my elbows are so pointy they make every angle of my arms much harsher than they should be.
Fresh Print: You also have piercings.
Robyn Francis: The piercings shock everyone who meets me for the first time. I don’t have enough tattoos and piercings for alt (alternative modelling) but I have too many for most agencies’ tastes.
Fresh Print: What do you do when things like that get to you?
Robyn Francis: I don’t do much. I just do the work that they want me to do! Modelling is like any other freelance job: be happy you got the gig (lol.)
Shoots can surprise you. I have one picture that I adore so much. It was one of my favourite shots ever. I was so happy, for once, in my own clothing and was working with a photographer I’ve been working with many times. He took this wickedly dark shot of me that I didn’t realize was happening. I thought it was a standard beauty shot, forgetting just how much makeup was on my face. It ended up looking like something out of Teen Goth Vogue and I adore it.
Fresh Print: I’ve talked a little about body image in my previous articles. Modelling gets some negative publicity. Do you have thoughts on that?
Robyn Francis: There are a lot of misconceptions about modelling, of course. I eat food. I LOVE milkshakes and pizza, and all that crap they tell you to avoid. I’ll avoid those foods before a shoot, but on a recent shoot they actually ordered us pizza for lunch on set! One model took two slices and stacked them on one another to make a sandwich. How’s that for shattering expectations? I haven’t yet met a model who is anorexic, afraid to eat in front of people, or is on some crazy fad diet. Maybe I’ve just worked with awesome models!
Modelling does not mean you need to do anything you’re uncomfortable with. Some models do lingerie/implied/nude/fetish shoots and get paid a lot of money for it, so you can do that if you want. I’m not into nudes. Yes, you can have an artistic nude, but so many “photographers” or GWC (guy with camera) just want nudie pictures. Anyone can look pretty in a nude photo. There’s not much variation in posing to make a nude interesting. You don’t need to go nude to be a model. Coco Rocha’s entire career is based around her not even posing in underwear. Ever. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with my body, it’s that I don’t want to be branded as a model that will take her clothes off. I like fashion, not skin. There is a local girl here who does mostly nudes and her fanbase is exploding. I don’t want to recommend taking off clothes to gain a fanbase. I would like actual work, not just facebook fans.
Fresh Print: You mentioned model Coco Rocha. Do you follow fashion trends?
Robyn Francis: Not all models are into fashion. I’m not. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked to bring certain clothing items to a shoot and just not had it. I live in jeans and tank tops. During this interview I’m wearing 10 year –old fuzzy pants and a hoodie. You would never look at me in my daily life and think “model.” Still, you get to wear some crazy clothing. I wore a $30, 000 skirt last week. I did a booty shake in it!
Fresh Print: What is the biggest misconception about the industry?
Robyn Francis: That I make a lot of money (lol.) I hardly make any money modelling. It doesn’t pay the bills unless you do promotional or commercial work. Commercial doesn’t mean TV; it just means advertisements. It’s the highest-paying modelling you can get. Most shoots don’t pay. Creatives and magazine shoots might pay in product. Runway gigs sometimes pay in free products. Mostly you get paid in other people’s business cards. My family asks me all the time if I’m making any money yet. My answer has been “no” for years. I’m not sure what that says about me.
Fresh Print: What are your thoughts on unpaid work?
Robin Francis: Unpaid work can be really, really helpful. You never know where any single shoot will get you. Yeah, it sucks travelling around and getting yourself ready for non-paying work, but you ARE getting experience and word of mouth contacts. I have recurring unpaid work with a bridal group and I’ve been in magazines, wedding shows, runway shows, and plenty of photos just for them.
That being said, I’ve started only taking unpaid work if I don’t have to do all of my styling myself. I don’t see how it’s fair for a photog to pitch a shoot idea to me and then expect ME to provide wardrobe, makeup, hair-styling and then still be able to produce great photos. If it’s self-styled, it often looks self-styled, and that never turns out nice. Shoots should be a collaboration.
Fresh Print: So if the pay is bad, why do you keep doing it? What keeps you going?
Robyn Francis: It’s great fun, just like any hobby! I do want to get into an agency, but it’s hard when I’m in Niagara and the top agencies are all in Toronto (and two of them, Ford and Elite, closed.) I’ve tried to find an agency, but what always holds me back is knowing that they will expect me to drive to Toronto to go to casting calls for free work. I would only sign with an agency that could actually work with me. The problem is that there are so many girls that don’t have obligations, live with their parents, and can go to gigs whenever the agency wants.
Fresh Print: What is a typical shoot like?
Robyn Francis: A day on the set varies. If there’s not a whole team to help out, it’s just you, the photographer, and probably the photographer’s assistant to help with posing, lighting, and set design. If there’s a crew then there’s a lot going on. Makeup and hair are done at the same time while the photog and an assistant set up the shots and plan everything. In a high-production shoot, there are photog assistants, wardrobe assistants, set assistants, and everyone helps out. The model’s job on set, yes, is to pose and help the photographer get the images they need. It’s almost never hectic, and there’s A LOT of waiting around (hence the many behind the scenes shots from models all over the world.)
(Haphazard-Faceless Toronto Arts and Fashion Week 2013. Robyn starts at 7:10)
Fresh Print: What was your most uncomfortable experience on set?
Robyn Francis: So far? Icky sets and awkward guests. Some models bring escorts to shoots, and those escorts sometimes make a situations really awkward. Would you be able to stand around in your bra and pantyhose if someone else’s boyfriend was there? It’s weird. Even worse: Parents.
Fresh Print: What would your dream job be?
Robyn Francis: My goal is commercial work, whether print or video. I would love to land steady commercial work for any type of clothing store/brands. Even makeup brands, but those are largely US based. I’d love to get things going in Niagara, fashion-wise. I’d be happy enough here if I could continue to get better, paying, or higher profile work.
Fresh Print: What advice do you have for new models and those getting into the business?
Robyn Francis: The most rewarding experience is definitely being on set with new models—helping them out, giving them tips—specific things like how to hold your hands, which angles of your head are softer than others, how to disguise a potbelly. It eases the new girls and gives them an idea of what a good pose feels like (since you rarely have a mirror to watch yourself pose.)
I would say throw yourself into it! Don’t expect miracles, and don’t expect fame…or even money. Hunting for an agency is work. Find one where you look like the models they already have, but be slightly different. A portfolio should have up-to-date Polaroids/digitals. If you change your hair, your portfolio needs to be updated.
Fresh Print: It was wonderful talking to you. Before you go, do you have a modelling confession?
Robyn Francis: I have ripped an $18,000 gown during a runway show. Hearing the hem on an expensive wedding dress rip is terrifying!