It’s been a whirlwind summer of New York City adventures for Terri Murray and her four kids, and they’ve got the pictures to prove it.
Not just snaps in front of the Statue of Liberty or in Central Park, although they’ve got those, too.
The Murray children, from Fort Mill, S.C., spent the summer breaking into the world of professional modeling and acting. In four months they’ve built portfolios striking poses for big names like Gap Kids and Toys R Us, and filming movies and TV shows alongside A-list actors and directors.
The journey started in January, when Murray’s 9-year-old daughter, Peyton, left a tearful message on Murray’s cellphone.
“I want to be on TV. Will you help me?” Peyton pleaded in the message, emotional after watching TV and deciding it was her calling.
Peyton, Murray’s oldest child, had always been a natural entertainer: the one who reveled on stage but also had a mature demeanor.
So Murray made an appointment with the Evolution talent agency in Charlotte, which launched the careers of Brooklyn Decker and Jessica Stroup.
Agency co-owner Brittany Mumford was encouraging. She told Murray that Peyton’s look would appeal to casting directors and that she could likely get work in New York.
Murray, a stay-at-home mom who home-schools her two oldest children through a Maryland-based online school and runs a health coaching business on the side, began hunting online for New York agents. Husband Scott, a regional vice president for a financial services company, was supportive.
“I wanted to teach Peyton that if you have a dream, you go for it,” Terri Murray says. “Why not shoot for the moon? Go big with your dreams.”
‘Not all fun and games’
By February, Murray had researched New York modeling agencies and booked an appointment at Generation talent agency for Peyton and her 7-year-old son, Chase.
The agent agreed to represent them on the spot. When Murray mentioned she had two other daughters, Blayke, 2, and Saylor, 5, the agent asked to see photos on Murray’s camera phone and instantly agreed to represent them, too.
So Murray decided to take a six-week chance.
She and a live-in nanny brought the kids north in mid-May and settled into a hotel in a New Jersey suburb to start attending auditions.
Adjusting to the pace of New York living was a challenge.
Peyton and Chase’s online school year didn’t end until early June, so they had several hours of schoolwork to complete each day.
Calls about casting auditions would come in, sometimes several a day, and the family would traverse the city by subway, bus and cab. The nanny would take three of the kids to a park or attraction while Murray accompanied the designated child to the casting call or shoot.
Texts from her agent had to be answered within minutes, or they’d lose out on an audition. Casting directors would text Murray in the middle of the night asking for her kids to appear before them the next day.
“It’s not all fun and games,” Murray says.
But the jobs started immediately, and, she says, the kids were having fun.
When Peyton was picked to model in a fashion spread for the Italian magazine Vogue Bambini, she and her mom were astonished to learn that the hairstylist had been flown in from Italy especially for the shoot.
Peyton says smiling came easy when modeling back-to-school and holiday fashions for retailers Little MisMatched, Lord & Taylor and Gap Kids. Earnshaw’s, a trade magazine for the children’s apparel and merchandise industry, outfitted her in a couture gown and a teased-tall hairdo for its July cover.
Three of the kids worked on a marketing campaign for HSBC bank, as well as stock photography shoots depicting a family camping trip, a clam dig, beach day and marshmallow roast.
On some jobs, the children were paid an hourly rate for all the fittings and modeling work – $125 per hour was a common amount, Murray says. Other times they were paid a flat rate for a job. The most any of her children made from any single job was the Gap Kids ad, which paid Peyton $1,050, Murray says.
Some kids spend the summer modeling in New York with the goal of amassing a college fund. Murray says her goal was simply to break even, and she says she did, despite the hotel (at $4,500 a month), nanny, food and travel expenses.
Chase modeled for print ads including Hannah Anderson, and was cast as a “featured extra” in several TV shows and movies, including HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” two big-budget movies scheduled to open in 2015 and an HBO series pilot. For one movie, Chase spent an entire night filming in Long Island.
Even Blayke, 2, got a piece of the action, modeling in a Toys R Us ad. Some of the ads, such as the back-to-school ad for Little MisMatched, have already appeared online and in print. Others, like the Gap Kids holiday ads, won’t appear for some time.
During their free time, the Murrays explored the city, riding bikes through Central Park, having high tea at The Plaza Hotel and seeing “Cinderella” on Broadway.
When the six weeks were done, the jobs were still coming. The kids weren’t tiring of the auditions and shoots, Murray says, so she decided to stay until the beginning of August.
Sure, the pace was hectic, Murray says, but she and her kids bonded in a unique way over the summer, sharing a king bed, exploring a new city and enjoying travel and food adventures all along the way.
“It was a great chance for us to go to New York, and we got to be together. Right now our lives are very woven.”
‘Dedicated to my work’
With school starting again, Murray says she doesn’t have a master plan for her kids’ modeling and acting careers.
Chase and Peyton returned to New York in late August for parts in a Lifetime movie and a photo shoot for New York City fashion photographer Gina Kim.
In addition to her agents in New York and Charlotte, Peyton is signing on with an agent in Atlanta, where an increasing number of TV shows are being filmed, and has dreams of performing on Broadway.
Presenting herself comes easily to Peyton, who seems to bask in the glow of a newspaper photographer’s camera at her family’s expansive Fort Mill home one rainy August morning.
She says she enjoys being in front of the camera, and getting her hair and makeup done before shoots is “really fun. You get these hairstyles you never could do with your own hair,” she says.
Did she ever grow weary of rushing to auditions and photo shoots?
“Sometimes I was like, ‘Please can I just take a break?’ But I’m pretty dedicated to my work, so I’d just get up and go.”
Shawn Carter, Peyton’s agent at Evolution in Charlotte, says part of what makes Peyton successful is that “she looks her age.”
“The key is being natural,” Carter says. “Peyton is very comfortable in her skin and is a very natural talent.”
Marc Soper, director of Carolina Talent Agency, which represents Chase and Saylor, says the Murrays’ experiences this summer are not unheard of, but that kids absolutely must have the right look, the talent, and parents willing – and able – to hustle to auditions and jobs.
“It’s really the luck of the draw. I’ve had kids go up to New York for the summer and they only get one or two jobs,” Soper says. “Other kids go up there and they’re the golden egg (being cast in a recurring role on a TV series, for example). It’s a matter of what the flavor of the week is.”
Murray says she wants her children to grow into well-rounded kids who have time for sports teams and sleepovers and summer camps.
“It’s important to not be so focused (on modeling or acting) that the only thing in your life is this.”
Murray says she’s well aware of the crushing pressures to be thin enough or sexy enough that female models experience once they hit puberty. She says she’s considered a forced modeling hiatus for her kids once they reach the teen years.
But for now, the work is fun, she says. Her kids are young and the lifestyle fits.
“They grew up a lot this summer,” Murray says, smiling.
And she has the pictures to prove it.