Shannon Escoto, Children's Modeling Agent

Editor's Note: 

Shannon Escoto is overwhelmingly modest about her professional success.  In fact, when I first asked her about her path, she told me it was “as unglamorous as you can get.” Nice try Shannon...there’s no fooling me!  This is a woman who built an entire division of a company from the ground up.  She serves as an advocate, mentor, supporter and savvy negotiator for the children whose entire modeling career relies on her skill and expertise.  It’s no surprise she is successful, in a cutthroat industry she also brings a heavy dose of empathy and kindness to her interactions.  I am completely blown away by her, and I know you will be too.  In fact, this post is very “Q&A” heavy towards the end, because I wanted to give Shannon an opportunity to share her amazing insight into the modeling and acting world, and describe what it takes to be successful.  Jump right in…if you dare…. ;)  

Shannon and one of her models, Owen Estee, at the agency. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Shannon and one of her models, Owen Estee, at the agency. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Shannon’s career started with a craigslist ad.   She was a senior in college, studying communications at the University of San Francisco, when she spotted an ad for a modeling agency looking for an intern.  She thought it sounded interesting, so she gave it a shot.

It sounded fun and interesting, much more than the boring internships my classmates were doing! I had no experience in the industry but had always been intrigued.
One of Shannon's models, Rocco, for Hugo Boss. Copyright Hugo Boss / Photo COurtesy Shannon Escoto

One of Shannon's models, Rocco, for Hugo Boss. Copyright Hugo Boss / Photo COurtesy Shannon Escoto

By the time she graduated a semester later, the agency was so impressed with her work ethic and innate ability to seek out “the next big thing” that they offered her a full-time position.  The role?  Launch…and grow…the children’s division of the agency.

I used to wait by the fax machine for casting requests, I would pull physical packages of models’ cards/headshots and have a messenger pick them up and bring them to clients around the city.
Laneya Grace (left) still shot from the music video for Avicii’s hit song “Wake Me Up,” that launched her career. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Laneya Grace (left) still shot from the music video for Avicii’s hit song “Wake Me Up,” that launched her career. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

What started out as a handful of young clients, many being the children of adult models signed to the agency, ended up to growing to the hundreds.  Over the course of ten years, Shannon built up the brand that is JE Model Kids, making it arguably one of the best kid’s agencies in the city of San Francisco.  She truly is the secret weapon behind the familiar faces.

Throughout my career, I’ve been proud of launching the careers of stars like Zendaya and Tyree Brown (Parenthood) and seeing my local kids in shows/commercials & ads nationwide. We represent some amazingly successful kids whose names you might not know yet, but faces you’ve definitely seen.
Skylardrew for American Baby Magazine. Photo by Stephanie Rausser, property of Meredith Corporate. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Skylardrew for American Baby Magazine. Photo by Stephanie Rausser, property of Meredith Corporate. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

That’s not to say that her path has been a seamless one.  With the explosion of digital technology, particularly the advent of social media, what was once a controlled and confined environment has taken on a world of its own.

It’s amazing how much technology has changed how we do business in the last 10 years. Now, everything is online and instantaneous, and many of the model kids have social media accounts that are run by their parents. This creates both opportunity and wicked competition; some perceive the posts as blatant attempts to brag about everything they are doing, which brings about insecurities for those who maybe aren’t getting as much work. The whole dynamic brings an entire new dimension to being an agent.
Jack Bright, who voices "Spot" in Pixar's new film, "The Good Dinosaur" at the world premiere in LA. Photo courtesy of Disney Pixar. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Jack Bright, who voices "Spot" in Pixar's new film, "The Good Dinosaur" at the world premiere in LA. Photo courtesy of Disney Pixar. / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

In addition to growing the division, Shannon has also found time to grow her family.  In the past three years she has welcomed a daughter and son of her own, which has made the relationship between herself, as the agent, and the parents of the children she represents that much deeper.

I’d say that I’m much more patient and empathetic especially now that I have kids. I am the middle(wo)man between my clients and my models, and I have to keep everyone happy. I have to make every model feel as if they are my only one, and that I know everything going on with them. As a model agent, I wear a lot of hats - bulldog/therapist/yes-woman/ego builder/BFF/Mamabear. It’s a tricky balance!
Shannon with her Family / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Shannon with her Family / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

JE Models now represents around 300 child models.  The agency represents babies, toddlers and kids of all ages for print, commercial, theatrical and voiceover work. They work closely with brands like Pixar, Gap, Inc., Pottery Barn Kids, Apple, Coca-Cola, Restoration Hardware, Tea Collection, and Parents Magazine, and have booked kids on TV shows, films & hundreds of national commercials.

 And perhaps most importantly, Shannon is particularly committed to pushing clients of all abilities, actively signing kids with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and other special needs, something she says is destined to be the norm of the future.

Collage of jobs booked featuring JE kids / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

Collage of jobs booked featuring JE kids / Photo Courtesy Shannon Escoto

What qualities or characteristics do you look for in a child model?  How are you able to gauge what will sell?

When we first receive a submission from a potential model, I look at the child’s age and clothing size; this is how we determine if they are currently marketable for the majority of our clients. Many clients select models by age or size as certain ages/sizes are more in demand than others. Then we look at the physical aspects of the child: from things like any unique, stand-out features that differentiate them from the next kid, or how much/what type of hair they have, their teeth and if they have bright, expressive eyes; if they are able to connect with the camera and if they seem happy and comfortable having his/her photo taken.

I like to see kids as they are, not “posed” or with any makeup at all. And then, even if the child is super cute, I have to look at our board and see if we have a place for them. If we already have two kids in the same category (age, size, ethnicity, look, etc.), we will likely not bring on another child with similar features. We like taking on new kids who fill voids on our board or who offer something unique to our clients, so we have a range. Although it seems like looks are the only focus, that’s not the case. Personality is just as important.

After we decide that we are interested in a child who has submitted, we invite them in to meet us so we can see their personality and make sure everyone is on the same page. When we bring a child in to meet with us, we look to see if it seems like the interest is stemming from the child (rather than from the parents) and for personalities that work well in this business: outgoing, happy, loves to meet new people, chatty, but not bouncing off the walls. A couple of red flags are kids who just want to play on their parents’ phones –this meeting is for you, kid! - or can’t follow directions or act like they would rather be anywhere else. They need to have good manners! We are sending them to our clients after all, and this reflects on the agency as well. For babies, I just like to make sure they are smiley and ok with new people. During this process, we are interviewing not only the child, but the parents as well.

How much of a factor are the childs parents in making a decision of whether youd like to represent the child or not?  Do you deal with crazy stage-parents?!

It’s definitely a factor. This is partly why we want to see each child with their parent in person. We work with the parents as a team, so it helps if we like and trust each other. The parents who have stars in their eyes are the ones I am leery of. They have to be realistic and I try to set expectations. Also, I look out for little signs that the child is leading the interest. I like parents who support their child and will do the work to get them where they need to be, but let their child speak for themselves and answer my questions. While on set, parents need to let the clients do their job and keep to themselves. I’ve definitely had clients who will not re-book a child because the parent was a nightmare on set.

Parent availability (you have to be able to drop everything to run to a last minute casting!) and willingness to pull your child from school/sports is something we talk a lot about in the meeting as well. It’s ideal if one parent stays home or has complete flexibility at work.

Yes, some of the parents are more, shall we say, involved than others. The worst is when parents compare their child to others or ask us why their child didn’t get a casting when their friends’ child did. Everyone is not going to get every opportunity and you have to keep perspective. I take my job seriously, but really, we’re not curing cancer, we’re taking pictures. Your child is healthy and doing something fun, this is not the be-all, end-all. If your child not getting a casting or job is your greatest problem in your life, you should thank your lucky stars.

For someone interested in pursuing modeling or acting for their child, what advice would you give?  

I have LOTS of advice. I could seriously talk about this all day…

The first is, be careful what you wish for! {Laughs} The fact is, your kid could get two jobs a year or two jobs a week, we can hope, but we can’t predict the future and how they will do in the market, so you have to be OK with giving up the reigns a little bit. Flexibility and trusting your agent are key. Parents have to know that we are doing everything we can to get their child work and trust the advice we give them. After all, we don’t make money unless their child works! We work on commissions taken from the jobs we book.

The following are my three key pieces of advice:

1. Stay on top of your child’s career (updating photos and work permits, calling your agency back when we call, following our advice, etc)
2. Be patient
3. Let your child have fun! Don’t put pressure on them; it should be fun for them. Otherwise, every casting and job will be a battle between you and your child and/or add undue stress on your child….not what anyone needs!
-Have realistic expectations. Modeling is not the glamorous life portrayed on TV. You will spend a lot of time in the car or in a cramped waiting room. Very few kids skyrocket to superstardom.

Normally, models start out in their local market doing print work for catalogs, online sites and some commercials. Think of every go-see (meeting with a client) as a positive experience for your child.

-Evaluate your lifestyle. Again, you must be flexible. If both parents work full time, your family travels frequently, or if you are unable to pull your child from school for jobs and auditions, you might come to the realization that modeling is not the right path for your family. I’ve had plenty of people drop out because they could not commit to going to castings or even bookings with little notice. An easy going demeanor is really important for all parents. Your child may be cancelled or booked for a shoot at the last minute/night before and you have to be able to adjust & roll with it. It really is a whole family decision, especially if you are going to have relatives help out with driving or care for your other kids. If you have multiple children, are you able to arrange or pay for child care for your other children when you need to bring your other child to see a client? You can’t bring siblings along. If your child plays a serious competitive sport, are they going to be ok missing some practices/games? We always respect that kids are kids and have lots of activities, but when an opportunity comes up, they have to sometimes sacrifice other things.

Your hours are manageable (or so it seems), but what about your career has made you enthusiastic and motivated to be a full-time working mom? How have you found your balance?

Honestly, I fought for it! I made it very clear to my bosses that while I love the company and my job, my family is my priority. Especially now that I have two kids (Alejandra is almost 3, Nico is 6 months). I want to be with them as much as I am very lucky that I can still have my own career that I have molded to work with my life. I am able to drop my daughter off at preschool every morning and leave work by 5:30pm most days.

Like most people, I am always connected, before work, during the evenings and on weekends, to respond to after-hours client needs. It’s not just a 9-5 (what jobs is these days?!). Luckily now we can do almost everything via our phones and laptops, but I like being in the office and we bookers feed off of each others energy in the agency. We often collaborate and ask each other for advice and opinions. And it’s nice that when someone calls, one of us bookers answers the phone (we don’t have a receptionist). I think that’s important for clients and models/parents alike. My husband is extremely supportive and really helps with that balance as well. And our nanny who keeps the kids happy and safe gives me peace of mind throughout the day.

Finally, what has been the best advice youve ever received? 

My favorite piece of advice is from the agency owner, John. Make your work a “N.A.Z. (No A**hole Zone)”.Work with people with whom you have mutual respect and courtesy. This can be difficult to do in this industry sometimes, but you will be infinitely happier if you abide by it. Cut out the nasty, ego maniacal, and downright rude people, no matter how much money they bring in. They’re not worth the headache.

To learn more about Shannon’s agency, visit the JE Models Kid’s site here!  @je_kids @jemodel


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