Modeling in Japan FAQ: Tourist Visas

I get email from girls everywhere asking questions about modeling in Tokyo. Here’s one I get almost every week- the modeling in Japan visa question. It’s a good question and it’s important you come over to work the right way.

I will arrive in Japan with a tourist visa because most agencies want to meet me at first, before I can sign a contract. Or get a working visa.

Is it usual that agencies are doing it? And is it possible to change a tourist visa into a working visa, while I am in Japan?


Japan is strict… they don’t let illegal workers slide by. There is no “working under the table” in the modeling world (at least not in the professional, commercial modeling world). So unfortunately, you can’t legally work on a tourist visa, and most agencies won’t sign you unless you have a proper foreign residence card. As a tourist, you’re not legally allowed to make money in Japan doing any kind of work. And because a tourist visa is only good for 90 days, you’d be hard pressed to get settled, get registered with the agencies, and scramble to auditions (provided you’re invited!) and book real work. I booked a job about three weeks after coming to Japan, but I think that was a case of beginner’s luck.


My advice: If you’re a native English speaker (or fluent in English) come over on a teaching visa: the work is plentiful and the hours are usually audition-friendly. Check here for job listings. Find a teaching job that requires only 20-30 hours of teaching a week and will sponsor your visa, so you have time to pursue your modeling and acting career. You can model on a teaching visa, and if you get a contract and model or act full-time, you can switch to and artist visa, but it’s tricker to get. Teach part-time, and even when you’re not booking or auditioning, you should be networking, getting photos, and learning as much about the industry here as you possibly can.

For a complete guide to visas in Japan, check out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s website:

One of my readers is coming over next month on a teaching visa to pursue modeling. I can’t wait to hear about her progress and share her story with you. Ganbatte!


Modeling Basics: Commercial Contracts and Usage

So you’re a new model slash actor and you’ve done a few test shoots, maybe some spec student work, and you’re finally booking some small jobs. Then you get the email from your agent that looks something like this:


Exclusivity, buy outs, residuals, usage… these are all commercial contract terms you’ll come across in your modeling career and you need to know what they mean to decide if doing the job makes sense for your career long term.

Exclusivity means just what the email suggests: you’re signing an agreement saying you won’t do work for a competing company for a fixed period of time. If you sign an exclusivity agreement, make sure it’s for a fixed period of time that makes sense for you, and that it’s not “in perpetuity” (meaning forever). Is it total exclusivity? Web only? Cable TV? Print? Protect yourself legally by knowing exactly you’re agreeing too.

eBay holiday commercial

Holiday commercial for eBay. Usage: national cable for four weeks.

Usage means how the work will be distributed (B2B, television, print) and for how long. When you do a job you agree to where the work will be seen and for what period of time. Again, “in perpetuity” requires some thought.

Residuals are payments made for repeated showings of an actor’s performance. This is why national network TV commercials pay so well is the U.S.. You’re paid a small sum of money every time that commercial airs… everywhere in the country. If you land one of these babies… congratulations. You will be picking up checks from your agent every two weeks until the run is completed. Enjoy the ride.

Buy outs mean that you receive a fixed some for the work. No usage renewal, no TV residuals. You do the work, take the money, and the rights of the work belong to the person or company paying for them. Be very careful with buy outs, because this work can be used forever and ever any way the company wants. If it’s a small holiday promotion in a local area, it’s probably not a big deal. If it’s a global internet and print campaign… talk to your agent and really consider the pros and cons. Can you live with this work being out in the world ten years from now?

Delicious Living Magazine. Usage: Total buy out cover shot.

Delicious Living Magazine. Usage: Total buy out cover shot.

Knowing what you’re signing means you can make smart choices to really grow your career. Modeling and acting isn’t all about being fancy and famous. It’s a business, and you’re the owner. So think long term when making choices about where and how your face will be seen.

Ganbatte and break a leg!





Chat with a Pro: Actress Laurie Burke

Laurie and I got started in acting at about the same time in San Francisco. Often when you go to castings, you’ll end up in a room with sixty other girls who look just like you. But seeing each other time and again isn’t why we became friends- she’s a girl’s girl, the  kind of actress who sees you as a partner, not competition. She’s a triple threat: theatre, commercial, and voiceover- she’s been the voice of Google and in countless big brand commercials. One of the sweetest and most talented women I know, Laurie has taught me a lot about what it means to work hard on your craft, but I’d never asked her about her start. Here’s what she had to say.

CP: Acting is a tough profession. What made you decide to go for it full-time?

LB: I was working full-time as a Sales Representative for Nutraceuticals (vitamin ingredients). I realized I wasn’t happy. I had this gnawing feeling that I just wasn’t fulfilling my potential. I was stressed out and my body was doing some funky things in response. My doctor said to me, “I don’t know what you do for a living but it’s not worth it”. I wasn’t rich but I was single with a pretty good disposable income. I looked at the clothes in my closets, my lifestyle of going out to dinners & spending what I wanted, and I thought, “What am I doing this for? I don’t need all this stuff, I just want to do something I love every day”. That’s when I realized time is far more a commodity than money…how you spend each and every moment is the most important thing in life.

CP: That’s a serious lifestyle commitment. Tell us about your first professional job. Laurie

LB:  I was on “Medium” (NBC). It was really fun because I got to spend 2+ hours being made up like I burned half of my body and was lying in a hospital. I was super nervous and freezing! Patricia Arquette was holding my hand in the scene and I apologized for being so cold. She said, “Well, you’re a good actress”. She was REALLY cool.

CP: What an AMAZING first gig! How did you get it?

LB: I was living in L.A. and signed up with a casting agent through a friend. I played a woman who burned down the house and killed her daughter…I still joke that a casting director took one look at my picture and thought, “Yep, that’s what the woman would look like.”

CP: HA! You’re silly. So, what was the process of getting an agent like for you?

LB: I was working without an agent for quite some time. I went to a casting notice which turned out to be an Agent. She asked if I was represented and I said I wasn’t. Then I auditioned on the spot. Then she said, “Well, you must be shopping around for one so let us know if you’re interested in signing with us”. It hadn’t occurred to me to “shop around”. I did, and ended up auditioning for, and signing with, a friend’s agent-he recommended me. I’ve been with them now for about four years and I’m really grateful that they represent me.

CP: Wow that’s good to know. I went out almost straight away with an agent so it’s nice to hear about experiences with and without agents. You have a ton of formal acting training. Talk about that. Company - Not Getting Married Today Scene

LB: I took courses in college, some in L.A. and at the American Conservatory Theater (SF) and THEN I went away to Europe for two months and studied at European Act at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London-Paris-Berlin-all through the London Actor’s Center. I was the only American out of about forty-five actors. I LOVED IT and I will always continue to study!

CP:  I need more classes! So what about auditions? How do you prepare?

LB: I look over the sides and try to memorize as much as I can. I decide what to wear (what is the look of the part), how I’m going to wear my make-up and hair, etc., and I make sure I have my head shot and resume and arrive early (especially when you don’t have the sides ahead of time-I use the extra time to prepare!).

CP: What advice do you have for people who want to get into the business?

LB: First – STUDY! If you really love to do this, then you will really enjoy studying too AND you will want to be the best you can be. Remember, it’s how you spend each and every moment of your life-so if you love to act…ACT! ANYWHERE – you don’t have to be in L.A. or N.Y. just do it as much as you can!!I also believe in continuing to study all things creative-always!!I learned that from my Dad (an amazing Actor who is 83 years young, retired, and still learns something new every day…right now, it’s more piano, last year it was painting).  You have to really want to do this. Look at it as YOUR TIME and YOUR LIFE. Treat the art, business and colleagues with respect and appreciate and enjoy your time doing it…remember-you GET to do this!

Thanks for chatting with me- I know how busy you are. Break a leg sister.

See Laurie’s magic here.




modeling resume

Business Basics: Build The Perfect Model Resume

The model resume. After your photos and/or your reel, your resume is the most important tool in getting work. Good work begets more good work, which begs the question: how do you fill a resume when you’re just getting started?

One word: hustle. Get as much entry-level work as you can. Obviously starting out, it’s going to be slim, but you can build a respectable resume fairly quickly by submitting heavily your first few months, doing test trades, and getting as much training as you can afford. Here are a few ideas for seeding your early modeling or acting resume:

  • That headshot photo shoot you just did? That goes under “Print”
  • Register at every casting agency you can and scour the listings daily
  • Submit for EVERY job you’re qualified for and comfortable with
  • Do TFP work with photography students
  • Find photographers who need models for portfolio updates or stock photography
  • Get involved local theater and improv groups
  • Do student films, internet shows, and spec commercials

Once you start getting into bigger and better work, you can prune your resume to include only the biggest brands and names. Your resume is only one page long because you need to have it printed on the back of your headshot. Here’s my resume, after nine years in this business. Now I’ve done hundreds of ads and countless videos and one-off commercials, but I’ve only included the marquee names that I know show the range and production level I’ve worked at.

resume template 2013


You have work to do… get out there and break a leg!

Welcome to Yokohama! Our Video!

It was such a joy working on this shoot with GaijinPot. If you’re thinking about visiting, here’s my wrap up post that gives all of the information about where we went and what we did. Yokohama is such a special place, a gorgeous waterfront city– it reminded me of San Francisco (I admit I got a little homesick while we were filming…sigh.). Thanks to Anthony and the ACTV crew for being super fun to work with. Can’t wait to shoot again!


Acting for Models: How to Memorize a Script

Before I get into the actual methods… quick preface: in the dramatic acting world, most casting directors won’t care if you memorize lines verbatim. Being off-book right away would be an impressive feat for a new actor in a full-length production. BUT… commercial work tends to stay close to the script because the client is selling a product. So this post is just a few acting basics for models getting into commercial acting. Whether it’s a creative project, an audition, or a full-on production (hooray!)… here are a few methods I’ve stolen from actor friends over the years.

Theatre. In way over my head here...

Theatre. In way over my head here…

The Stack Method

For short commercial scripts with scientific or otherwise tricky language, this is my go-to. I usually stack lines while I’m cleaning, or doing laundry, or my nails… always some rote task so I’m slightly off-focus and my mouth is forced to memorize the words. Mouth and tongue muscle memory is especially helpful for tricky verbiage. Try saying “multi-mode, molecular microplate reader” casually and confidently in a string of sentences… unless you’re an industry expert this kind of phrasing doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue.

The Write and Cut Method

Script work

1) Write it out. Recopy the script word for word. Read it through several times out loud.

2) Write it out again, but remove the vowels. Again, do several read-throughs.

3) Last re-write. Write it out again, but only write the first letter of each word. My lady actor friend Becky shared this one while we were working on the stage production of “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown,” and Robert Downey Jr. talks about this method on Actor’s Studio. (P.S. this entire episode of Actor’s Studio is amazing…).

The “Talk Over Me” Method

1) Another share from my actor friend Thomas. He had a lengthy monologue he had to nail in one shot (stage work is intense!). Between rehearsals, he’d ask me to talk “at” him (explain my day, or how to do something) while he recited his lines.

Best stage dog ever.

Best stage dog ever.

Memorizing lines takes time, and memorizing thoroughly and right away allows you to make the choices you need to build the right character. Invest correctly, and make your shoot day as easy on yourself and everyone else. Break a leg!

Japan Video Shoot: Yokohama for GaijinPot

Just wrapped Day One of a two-day video shoot for, where I also contribute as a writer. I’d never been to Yokohama before and instantly fell in love with it. Shopping, art, gorgeous waterfront views: Japan is more than Tokyo.  Check out a few behind the scenes shots.



Beauty kit in my room... I like this place already.

Beauty kit in my room… I like this place already.



Hello Kitty getting eaten by a panda in Chinatown

Hello Kitty getting eaten by a panda in Chinatown



Dragon rock star t-shirt... :)

Dragon rock star t-shirt… 🙂



Me with the girls of Yokohama... so sweet!

Me with the girls of Yokohama… so sweet!

Excited to go back for Day Two on Friday. All told… it made me a little homesick for San Francisco. I miss living near the water!



actor's headshots

Model Basics: Interviewing a Headshot Photographer

(photo credit: Dex NY, via Flickr)

One of the most 

asked questions I get is about getting photos, especially headshots. Headshots are the business card for any model or actor, so getting the best shot possible is key to booking work. To use Model Mayhem vernacular, you don’t want a GWC (Guy With a Camera). You need a professional photographer, someone with the experience and equipment to get the shot you need. Whether you’re paying a high-end professional or doing a TFP (trade for print/photos), here are a few questions to ask any new photographer before you book the shoot.

1) Can I see your past work? Do you have an online portfolio?

If the photographer says “no” then pass. Even rookies will have work to show you.

2) Can you re-touch the images?If not, do you know someone who can?

Your photos will need professional retouching to take out any blemishes or other captured weirdness. Unless you are a Photoshop master please do not do this yourself. Over-edited photos look like you’re hiding something, and you must look like your photo—but it’s the polished version of you.

3) What will you use the images for? And for how long?

Unless you hire one, photographers are shooting you for their own purposes. What are they looking for from you? This is a crucial question because you need to control how your image is being presented (especially online). If a photographer wants to do “art nudes” or “glamour nudes,” kindly end the conversation and move on. Nothing wrong with nude work, just not for your headshot. 🙂

4) How many looks can we do? How long will the shoot be?

You’ll need a minimum of two looks starting out: a corporate shot and a more casual lifestyle shot. If you can do more—great! What about a sporty look? An upscale/cocktail look? The more range you can present an agent, the better chances you have of booking work. Also, defining the time will help you schedule the shot list and figure out when you need to move on or adjust your shoot schedule.

5) Where do you like to shoot?

If the photographer has a studio, ask to see the backdrop options (we’ll look at top choices in the next chapter). Outdoor headshots are a little trickier, but in my opinion, look the best. A real environment gives the photo depth and warmth. Ask the photographer if there are great outdoor settings you can choose from, or if you can scout a location that would work. Parks and areas with gorgeous buildings are great choices.

These questions not only protects both you and the photographer in outlining expectations, but also tells the photographer you’re a professional– even if it’s your first shoot. Having a business mentality shows you mean business, and in return, gets you the business you want.

Voice Over Work

Voice Over and the Remote Studio

This is a voice over spot for one of my favorite tech companies, Mindjet :).
Video turned out great too! SO fun to work with these guys. Now that I live in Japan I’m shooting remotely for them with a simple, at-home studio. You don’t need to be a tech wizard to set this up- it’s very basic but still high quality:

Get a Snowball. These are professional-grade, at home microphones you can buy online for less than $100.00. Add a pop filter to smooth out hard P’s and T’s. This set-up is perfect for voice over demos to send to your agent or a client.

Then download Audacity. This is an open source editing platform that’s intuitive and simple to use. Takes a little time to play with, but I produced high-quality demos for Mindjet in under an hour that sounded better than the work we were doing in the San Francisco studio. From Japan. In my pajamas. 🙂

The Vintage Wedding Shoot!

Dreamy. Sitting in a Tree is an amazing event planning company, based in Southern California. They specialize as wedding stylists but can plan just about any kind of event you can dream up. I love their style: effortless, modern, and elegant. And really… who doesn’t love a vintage wedding?

Vintage wedding photoshoot


Vintage wedding photoshoot

It was a big dress :)

Vintage wedding photoshoot

The dress was a vintage yellow prom dress the stylists bought on eBay… and it fit like a dream!

eyelash extensions


Rona of Luxe Image did the most amazing makeup, including these eyelash extensions. Perfection. <3

The photo shoot ended up in Utterly Engaged Magazine and can be seen here.


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