Latino models in short supply in Minn., casting agencies say

Latino models
Pam Brand, left, a freelance hair and makeup stylist, styles model Blanca Schellsmidt's hair Tuesday, April 9, 2013 before Schellsmidt is photographed for an electrical cooperative ad campaign about energy savings.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

When Paola Cardenas left Colombia for Minnesota nine years ago and began modeling, she thought the Midwest would be a quick stop before she pursued her ambitions in a place like Los Angeles, an international city that is home many Latin American immigrants.

But that changed after she married and gave birth to her son. Minnesota became home.

"Here people are really sweet," Cardenas said recently during a photo shoot at Quad Photo in Minneapolis. "I think it's a more relaxed market, it's not like that high fashion."

These days, Cardenas is in demand. Although Minnesota has long been home to the headquarters of big companies and the Twin Cities has a flourishing advertising production industry, modeling and casting companies have hit a hurdle. They say it's very hard to find Hispanic models. That's causing them to lose business.

Cardenas said she's one of only four professional Latina models in the Twin Cities.

From 2000 to 2010, Minnesota's Hispanic population grew by 74 percent to more than 250,000, according to the U. S. Census Bureau.

"I know sometimes they just call me -- only because they need the Latin," she said. "There is a Latin growing population and of course they have buying power."

From 2000 to 2010, Minnesota's Hispanic population grew by 74 percent to more than 250,000, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. In 2011 nearly 5 percent of Minnesota's 5.3 million residents were Hispanic.

The growing Latino population in the United States has an annual buying power of more than $1 trillion, and advertisers are starting to recognize that people in the Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican and other communities want to see people who look like them in commercials.

Alisha Thompson, a producer for Quad Photo, said advertisers request a Latino actor or model about three-fourths of the time. She tries to fill those requests by going to the 20-some agencies in the Twin Cities.

"I prefer to book local models -- to have models that can come in from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa even," Thompson said. "So if we can't find the Hispanic look that we want in Minnesota we have to go elsewhere."

That can mean contacting an agency in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles that will send a model to Minnesota, often at a higher cost. If that occurs, a Minnesotan misses out on a job that pays at least $187.50 an hour, and a local casting agency misses out on a roughly 20 percent cut.

Deborah Rosenburg Charloff, the owner of Caryn Model and Talent Management in Minneapolis, said members of her staff sometimes can't meet requests for diverse faces because they don't know enough Latino or Asian actors or models.

"We can fill the project if they're on a smaller scale," said Rosenburg Charloff, whose family has been in the business for 25 years. "But if they need a ton of choices, then it gets more difficult."

Part of the problem, she said, is that often the agency has a few days to gather people for a casting audition.

Latino models
During a break to reposition the photographer's lights, Pam Brand fixes model Blanca Schellsmidt's hair Tuesday, April 9, 2013 while working on an ad campaign for an electrical cooperative about energy savings.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"So we don't have a lot of time," Rosenburg Charloff said. "If we have a ton of choices of people on file, then it's easier."

Some say the state's acting and modeling industry is still learning how to reach out and build new networks into Latino and Asian communities.

"I think there's no question that there's really diverse talent here that would be interested in engaging in the arts as actors and models," said Lucinda Winter, executive director of the Minnesota Film and Arts Board. "I think the challenge is in trying to figure out how most effectively get the word to those people that the opportunities exist. And I'm not saying that in a critical way. It's a business challenge."

Lynn Steele, owner and president of Steele Casting in Minneapolis, said without being approached, most people don't think of themselves as models. Steele recruits people by haunting places like grocery stores and malls with her business card in one hand and a write-up of the ad she's working on casting in the other -- so people will think she's for real. But she hasn't had much luck.

"They're leery," she said. "Maybe people don't trust it."

To find potential models, Steele recruited the help of a priest at a south Minneapolis church with a large Latino congregation.

"He was so great and so into it and said 'great, come in on a Sunday, I'll introduce you after Mass," Steele recalled. "So I brought my camera and audition forms and took a bunch of photographs of people. My problem there was a lot of people didn't have transportation to even come to an audition if I needed them to."

Some also didn't have time to wait for hours at auditions without being paid, Steele said.

Even Latinos who work in modeling have trouble convincing others to try. Cardenas couldn't even recruit her own sister.

"She doesn't commit that much," Cardenas said. "You have to commit, you have to keep testing, sending in pictures... She's busy doing other stuff."

Those with enough dedication to work hard and succeed in modeling, often move to cities with larger modeling industries, like Los Angeles and New York, Cardenas said.

Still, the Twin Cities advertising production industry ranks fourth in nation for its size, said John Eighmy, a chair of advertising at the University of Minnesota.

Studies on the use of minorities in commercials show that when companies use minority actors in advertising, minority consumers respond by buying more of the companies' products, Eighmy said. But that doesn't change the buying habits of white consumers.

"So for an advertiser that might be looking at possible risks, this would suggest that there were none," Eighmy said.

He said as web advertising and the sheer number of needed images have grown, more of those images include people of color.