How to Become a Model: A Q&A With Sheree Hartwell of FORD/RBA

Becoming a model is an exciting and rewarding process, but sometimes the path to getting there isn’t as clear-cut for beginner models new to the industry. AFM talks with Sheree Hartwell, owner and director of the respected modeling and talent agency FORD Robert Black Agency (FORD/RBA) in Scottsdale, and answers all your questions about the beginning steps of how to become a model, building a lasting portfolio and how to be an industry success.

Sheree Hartwell, owner/director of the FORD Robert Black Agency in Scottsdale

Your background – How did you get into modeling? What was your experience(s) like? What were the easy/difficult parts to being a model? Did you ever think you would own your own agency like you do now?
I got into modeling when I was 12 years old and signed with FORD/Robert Black. I had a great time modeling while I was in high school and college. Arizona was a great training ground for me in the business. The industry has an illusion of glamour and there are many aspects that are extremely glamorous however there are many ugly sides to it as well. At the end of the day it is a business just like any other business. Yes, since I was a young girl, I was interested in the business, hence my early involvement in modeling. When I was in my late teens, I really took the business side of things and even was an intern here at FORD/Robert Black when I was 21 years old. I have been connected to this agency for more than ½ my life so not only is it my business today, it is in my blood.

Is it easy to become a model?
We are one of the only agencies in town who offers an open call to talent. It is the second Wednesday of each month from 2-4pm here at our offices. Potential talent can come into the office during that time and been seen by an agent. We suggest that they wear something that shows off their figure and wear little to no makeup. It is important that we see what they really look like without being ‘done-up’ We also accept photo submissions by mail. All submission information is listed on our website at

Should an aspiring model ever have to pay for portfolio shots and/or an agency fee?
New models that we sign will be asked to shoot with a photographer that we recommend. There will be a fee for this but nothing astronomical. Test shots should be no more than $500 and include 4-6 different looks, hair/makeup, and use to all of the images. The misconception in ‘paying’ for photos is when the talent is paying the agency directly thousands of dollars for photos. All talent that we represent is referred to a photographer and pays them directly. There is no money made by the agency from photo shoots. We only make our money when the talent works. Industry standard commission is 20%. So we make $20 on every $100 that the model does.

How does a model build her/his portfolio?
It is important to shoot with as many photographers as possible. This is the real training ground for a model. All photographers have different styles and way they operate. When booked on a job, you never know what you might get. Models need to be prepared for any situation. Models should be networking with photographers to see if the photographer is interested in shooting for trade. This really helps to build their portfolio.

What are the basic industry requirements (both female and male)?
The FORD/Robert Black Agency currently represents children (5 and above); teens and adults for modeling, acting, and voice-over work. We do not represent infants. For fashion, commercial, and plus-sized models, please send two non-returnable recent snapshots and indicate age, height, weight, clothing size, eye color, and hair color. Snapshots should be full-length as well as close-up. Fashion has a minimum height requirement of 5’ 8” or above for women and 5’ 11 or above for men. For adult and teen actors, please send a non-returnable current headshot, resume, and demo reel, if available. Actors will not be considered without a resume.

What do you look for when signing a model?
The obvious looks are important, but truthfully, we are signing more and more models/actors today based on their personality. You have to be able to show a client that you have a personality and that you are easily adaptable.

For more information on the FORD Robert Black Agency, click here.

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