Have you been told that you have what it takes to be a successful model or actor and been promised by an individual or company that they can obtain work for you in those industries. Have they asked you to pay an up-front fee for screen tests, photography, portfolios or classes? If so, you may wish to do some investigating before signing any agreements, and make sure that any verbal promises made are in writing and included in the agreement.
There are many different types of businesses operating in this industry; talent agencies, acting or modeling schools, photography studios, management services, companies offering coaching services in specific areas and others. Find out what the company does before signing or paying anything. In addition, you may wish to ask for the name and telephone number of current clients so that you can verify the agency's success in obtaining work.
The definition of a talent agent, according the State of California is described as follows as part of the 1700.4 of the Labor Code:
1700.4. (a) "Talent agency" means a person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements for an artist or artists, except that the activities of procuring, offering, or promising to procure recording contracts for an artist or artists shall not of itself subject a person or corporation to regulation and licensing under this chapter. Talent agencies may, in addition, counsel or direct artists in the development of their professional careers.
In December 1995 the State of California ruled that only a licensed talent agent can book work for clients and charge a fee for that service. Talent agents typically charge 10-15% of their client's earnings. Ask the agent for their license number and verify the status with the State Labor Commissioner at (415) 703-4877.
Photography is a tool of the trade, so it may be necessary for you to provide photos (normally at your expense) for a portfolio or promotional purposes. You should not be required to use a photographer that the agent recommends and any payment requested for this purpose should be made directly to the photographer. If the agent is unable to give you specific guidelines on what they wish to see in the photographs (head shots, full figure, indoor, outdoor, etc) you may wish to ask for a copy of one used by a successful current client to use as a reference.