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Getting a Proper Composite Card (Comp Card)

As usual this “model behavior” column is fueled by aspiring models that I meet during my travels through the plus size model circuit.

A few weeks ago, I attended a beauty pageant for plus sized women.  I was on hand to check out the pageant but I was also there to collect an award.  After the show, I went backstage to chat with some of the contestants.  I happened upon a young lady that I didn’t know but she obviously knew me.  I stopped to give her a few words of encouragement because I thought she was really beautiful.  She in turn accepted my words and reached in her bag and pulled out her composite card.  I took one look at that card and knew immediately that I had to do a column on this subject because I see aspiring models making the same mistakes across the board when it comes to their comp cards.

WHAT IS A “COMPOSITE CARD” OR “ZED/Z-CARD?

A composite card (also called a ZED or Z card) is a model’s business card. As with ANY business card, you should never leave home without it.  It’s what you leave with a client to keep you fresh in their minds.  It’s all your information, in one little neat, easily accessible package. Many agencies will not even meet with you until you have your comp card done – because that is the tool that they use to market you.  The printing and reproduction quality of the photos and the comp card is extremely important. Poor reproduction makes your images look bad and as a result – YOU look bad.  I don’t want that for you.

I noticed several things out of whack immediately about this young lady’s card.  The first thing I noticed was that the SIZE of her card was a little odd to me.  It was smaller than the average size comp card.

WHAT IS THE INDUSTRY STANDARD SIZE OF A COMPOSITE CARD?

Professional composite cards generally measure in at 8 x 5 to 8 ½ x 5 ½ inches in size.  The size can vary about a half an inch, depending on your agency’s preference.  Any other size silently tells someone that you are new to the business and haven’t done your homework.  With the advent of the Internet highway, the information is right at your fingertips.  Just go to GOOGLE and type in your question and watch what comes up.  If you get conflicting information, keep researching and look for consistency in the numbers and/or information.

HOW MANY PHOTOS ARE NECESSARY TO PRINT UP A CARD?

When I first signed on with Wilhelmina in 1995, I remember that my very first photo shoot I did to try and put together a composite card was absolutely disastrous.  I didn’t like the photographer and he didn’t like me and that came across in ALL of my pictures.  I walked away from that shoot without a single usable photo.  Not one.  The clock was still ticking though – so I needed to shoot again quickly to try and get some decent photos.  The second shoot went much better than the first and at the end of the day my very first composite card had TWO photos on it, one on the front and one on the back of the card.  There is no hard and fast rule about how many photos you should put on your card; you can do two, three, four or even five photos.  But the key is that the number of photos you use should be your two, three, four or even five STRONGEST shots.

A lot of new models believe that the more pictures that they have on the card, the better it looks.  This was the second flaw I found with this young lady’s card. She had a ¾ quarter shot on the front of her card but her hair swallowed up her face in the photo; and then I flipped the card over and noticed that she had five shots on the back of her card.   She had two full body shots and three headshots.  Unfortunately, out of the five shots she put on the back of her card, three of the photos were in the same clothing and the two body shots were out of focus and one was so small I needed a magnifying glass to see the details.  Not a good look.

All you really need is two STRONG photos to print a composite card.  A beautiful head or beauty shot is what is generally recommended for the front of your card, since it’s the first thing that people see.  If you only have two really good photos to start then the second photo should definitely be either a full body or ¾ body picture.  This way the client can get a pretty good idea of what your body looks like.  Two head or beauty shots on your first card is a no-no.  Variety and versatility is the key here.  Don’t rush the process and DON’T update a solid two-photo comp card by adding 3 or 4 new pictures that don’t measure up to the first two.  Clients notice little things like this.

Once you have tested a bit more and gotten more comfortable in front of the camera, you can begin to build your book and start creating new cards.  As a new model, you will more than likely update your cards more frequently as you discover new things/ways to move in front of the camera.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT PHOTOS FOR YOUR COMPOSITE CARD

When choosing pictures for your composite card, the best advice I can give you is to NEVER CHOOSE THE PHOTOS BY YOURSELF.  Often we don’t see ourselves the way that others see us, so you definitely need a few good eyes and some experienced people helping to select the photos that will get you the most notice.  If you are signed with an agency, you definitely need to go through your photos with your agent/booker.  He or she is the person who gets you through the doors of an audition; they usually know what looks/photos will work with their clients and which will not.  You do NOT want to put your card together WITHOUT consulting your agent first.  If you are currently unsigned, I will assume that if you are reading this column then you have already taken the necessary steps to begin networking within your industry.  Therefore you should already know a couple of folks with some experience in the business.  Ask if they have a little time free to help you select some photos for your card or your book.  Remember, their word is NOT law; you are just looking for feedback.

Mark the photos or proofs that have gotten positive feedback (you can use the person or persons initials for reference) and then go back to your agent to make your final selections.  Remember that if your agent/booker isn’t feeling your card, they probably won’t push as hard to get you through doors.  It will just sit on “the board” and will be of use to absolutely no one.  Be smart about your photo choices – don’t be defiant about it.  If your agent tells you that the picture of you with the excessive cleavage is a little too much (and they ask you to remove it from your book and not to put it on your card) but YOU think it’s sexy – don’t be foolish enough to leave it in YOUR personal book (the one you take to castings) or sneak and make an alternate card using it anyway. (lol…yeah, we have ALL tried something like this at least once in our careers).  Folks DO talk in this industry and it (the gossip about YOU) will probably get back to your agent at some point.  Trust me when I tell you that your agent knows their clients a lot better than you do.

When putting the final choices together for your card, keep in mind that versatility is most definitely the key here.  You want a variety of clothing looks (elegant, sporty, bathing suit or lingerie, facial expressions (you definitely need one smiling) and working tear sheets (if you have them) and a lot of color in the mix on your cards.  Avoid the mistake of putting two shots from the same shoot, in the same outfit on your card – I don’t care if they are both phenomenal shots – just pick one. And don’t forget to have them retouched BEFORE you make your card – if the photo calls for it.

WHAT OTHER INFORMATION GOES ON YOUR COMPOSITE CARD?

The other thing I noticed on this young lady’s card was that some pertinent information was missing from her card and in its place was some unnecessary information as well.

  • Your Name
  • Agency or Your Contact info (Logo/Address, phone, email, web address, etc.)
  • Height
  • Weight (Not always required – it’s a matter of preference-most plus sizes don’t list it on their card.)
  • Bust Measurement / Cup size (FYI – your BRA size is NOT the same as your bust measurement.  Get measured properly and then put both on your card).
  • Waist Measurement
  • Hip Measurement
  • Dress size
  • Shoe size
  • Hair color
  • Hair length (short, shoulder length, long)
  • Eye color
  • Union Affiliation (SAG/AFTRA/EQUITY) if applicable

One more thing:  When listing your measurements on your card, it’s a good idea to put both US & UK sizing/measurements on your card if you have the information available.

HOW MANY CARDS DO I NEED TO BEGIN AND HOW MUCH WILL I HAVE TO SPEND?

The going rate for a comp card today starts at about $150 for approximately 100 cards (or about $1.50 per card) and can go higher depending on which reproduction company you choose.  Usually agencies will have a deal with a specific reproduction company and you might be lucky enough to get an insider’s rate.  If you are an unsigned or freelancing model, shop around for the price that suits your needs, keep in mind that no matter the cost – the quality of the final product must still be top notch!  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sacrificing quality to save a couple of dollars.

Most agencies require models to purchase cards in batches of 100-200 cards and no more.  This is more than likely because the newer you are to the business; the more you will have to test until you “find your stride” in front of a camera and can get “the shot” quickly.  As you blossom as a model, your agent will need new cards to show clients how you are progressing.

A lot of models think that getting 500 copies of a composite card is a good thing.  On one hand I understand this sort of thinking – you figure you will save money in the end and once you use the cards up – it’s time to put a new one together.  This is NOT smart business thinking for a model.  The fashion industry does NOT work in this manner.  They want what’s hot! The want new, fashion-forward and current looks for the models they select to represent them.  The want the strongest possible girls with the strongest card possible on their boards.  Simply put they want you to replace a weak card – quickly.  They don’t want to wait until you use up your 500 cards.

On the flip side, if a particular card is not working or getting you the attention you want from clients, you don’t really want to continue giving them out.  It will become a nuisance after while, the fact that your phone is not ringing off the hook should let you know that your card is probably not generating interest the way you expected.  If you just went and had 500 copies of the bad card printed, you are simply stuck with the extras and will probably be better off sending them out as Christmas cards to your friends and family.  It’s better to start with the initial 100, send them out and wait and see what the response to the new card will be – then you will know if you need to reorder more of them.

HOW OFTEN DO I NEED TO UPDATE MY CARD?

It can vary from agent to agent and it also depends on what the response is to your card, your budget and how often you change your look.  When I first started at Willy, I had to update my cards every other month or so.  I could only do what my budget could afford but once I found my stride and figured out what worked for me and what didn’t, the whole process became easier.  As I matured and grew in the “game”, my agent and I worked to put a card together that was so strong that I worked off that particular card for over a year.  But that is not an easy thing to do by any stretch of the imagination.  It really all comes down to a luck of the draw – you just never know what people are going to like or dislike.

FYI – ANY drastic changes you make to your appearance (new haircut/color, drastic weight loss, nose job, breast reduction/enlargement etc) means that you must test and put together a new card immediately – your new changes have just made your comp card dated and/or no longer current.

KNOWING WHEN AND WHO TO GIVE YOUR COMP CARD TO

I have given away many cards throughout my career and one of the main things I learned is how to weed out exactly who I should give my card to.  When this young lady asked me if she could give me her card – the first thing I asked her was:

“Do you know who I am and why are you giving me this card?”

Lol…she said that she knew who I was and she was giving me the card in hopes of me recommending her for some work.  (Which I will actually do, if I see something in you that says to me that you have potential.)

Comp cards are very expensive and you don’t want to start giving them out to just anyone who asks for them.  Guys give me composite cards all the live, long day – even AFTER I tell them that I don’t really deal with male models!  Make sure that who ever you are actually offering a card to is actually IN whatever business YOU are trying to be in and if you can find out if they can even remotely help your career advance BEFORE you offer up your card.  New models often think that by tossing around comp cards at an event will keep you fresh in a person’s mind and it just might – if your card is good and they are actually a person who deals with models.

It does you absolutely no good if your card winds up on someone’s mantelpiece or in their “circular file” i.e. the garbage can.  A lot of other aspiring models will ask you for your comp card, in order to study yours and/or either copy it or use it to make their card better. Which is fine but they should do it on their dime and not yours. I have a long time friend of mine who has managed to snag a copy of almost every card I have ever had – just because she’s a fan.  I don’t mind giving her a card because she’s a close friend but I draw the line at folks asking me for a card as a souvenir – It’s simply not cost effective for me.  But YOU can use those extra 500 comp cards that you have left over from your first order of cards for those purposes – lol.

At the end of the day, your composite card is your calling card and the best representation of you (besides your book) that both you and your agent have.  Think long and thoroughly about what is going to go on your card in order to give you the best shot possible in this business.  You only get one chance to make a first impression – Always make it a good one!

Lastly, thank you to the young lady who gave me the inspiration for this month’s column and thank you for being a good sport and allowing me (yes, I did ask first!) to use her as my example this month!

 

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