How To Get Your Child Into Acting - Advice From An Experienced Stage Mom - Part 1
The Author's Daughter Filming a Scene with Dylan and Cole Sprouse on the Set of, "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody"
Does your child love to act? Has he/she expressed an interest in being in movies, or on TV? Do you think your child has what it takes to be cast in commercials? Would you like to help him/her reach this goal, but don't even know where to begin? I can help!
I am an experienced stage mom from California. I have two children who've spent several years working on TV show, movies, commercials and in music videos, in Hollywood. Here is our story, followed by my advice on how to make it all work, and not get conned out of your hard earned money in the process.
My daughter started acting at the age of 12. She began by taking drama classes at her middle school, and acting in the school plays. She also took very affordable acting classes through our local school district. She drove me crazy for a full year, asking me to help her get acting roles in Hollywood. My first reaction was...no way! I was raised in conservative New England, and still being fairly new to California, I thought that Hollywood was a crazy place. When her passion for acting continued to grow, I realized that this was really her choice to make, and that my role was to help her to realize her dreams, all the while making sure she remained safe and grounded throughout the process.
I signed her up (as well as her younger brother) with a children's management company called Studio Kids Management. This company works with the majority of the casting companies in Hollywood, and places children in paid, non-speaking (background) roles in movies, TV shows, commercials, and music videos. No audition was required, and the only money we paid was a $50, one time, registration fee. This company took a very reasonable, 15% commission from each paycheck that my kids received from the acting jobs that Studio Kids arranged for them. I give Studio Kids very high marks. The roles they got for my kids were above and beyond my expectations. This was a great way for my kids to begin their acting careers. They did not need to audition for these types of roles, and therefore were able to work a lot. They learned about set protocol, rules, working with directors, and handling some long work days. They were able to keep up with their regular schoolwork, as they were required by the child labor laws to attend class on the set for three hours a day.
Almost a year later, and after taking several acting classes from highly respected instructors in Hollywood, my daughter auditioned for, and landed an agent. Please know that a legitimate talent agent will NEVER take money from you up front. Agents work on commission, and earn a small percentage from each of the roles that they secure for you. Once you get to this level, you are auditioning for most every role. Know that it takes many, many auditions (in most cases) to land your first role. There were several days that we drove from Orange County to Los Angeles (a good three hour round trip) for a ten minute audition. The good news is twofold. First, if she got the part, it was worth every minute of effort that was put into the pursuit of it. And second, most of the casting directors are very nice, and your child is never rejected on the spot. If they like him/her they will call your child back, via his/her agent, for a second audition (a callback) within the week. If the casting people are not interested in your child for that role, you just won't hear back.
Both of my kids have had some very exciting roles. Both kids worked on the entire first season of, "Everybody Hates Chris." My daughter played a small part on an episode of, "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody." My son played the ten year old version of Piper's son (Wyatt) in the finale of, "Charmed." My daughter worked on commercials with Jesse McCartney and Jamie Kennedy. My son played a soccer player in the movie, "The TV Set." My daughter has modeled for websites and catalogs, danced in a music video, and had the main speaking role in two commercials for Cox Communications. I could go on and on. But, you get the gist of what is possible.
In hind site, this was a wonderful experience for the kids. They met and interacted with many different people. They had the thrill of being a part of something much bigger than themselves. They learned a lot about the entertainment industry, how to behave on set, follow directions, and what it takes to hold down a job. They also added some money to their bank accounts in the process. The kids were treated very well, and did not have any bad experiences. I think they grew quite a bit, and became more worldly as well. They maintained totally normal lives while they were acting. Acting was basically one of their extracurricular activities. The fact that they were able to experience Hollywood, while still being kids, gave them the best of both worlds. I found that this was also a great way for a new stage mom to start as well. I learned a lot from Studio Kids, and time spent on various sets, about the workings of Hollywood and the myriad of child labor laws.
The Author's Children Filming a Scene with George Clooney on the Set of, "The Good German"
Parent's Checklist for Helping Their Child Reach His/Her Acting Dreams - Part 1
1) Enroll him/her in school drama classes, or local acting classes, to make sure their dream of being an actor is not just a passing fancy. This will give them the opportunity to learn the basics as well.
NOTE: DO NOT PAY A PROGRAM THAT CHARGES FEES FOR ACTING OR MODELING LESSONS AND PHOTOS, THEN PROMISES YOUR CHILD ACTING ROLES! The only acting roles that they can guarantee are called background, or non-speaking roles. Studio Kids, and another company called Central Casting, can both get these parts for your children, and have access to far more of them than the "acting and modeling schools." When your child signs with an agent, that agent is most likely going to want new pictures of your child anyway. When they are ready for more advanced acting classes, there are books that list the most well respected instructors in Hollywood.
2a) IF YOU LIVE IN THE LOS ANGELES AREA: Call Studio Kids Management, or Central Casting, and sign your child up with one of these two companies. I prefer Studio Kids for children, as kids are all they handle. You will find that they offer a much more personal approach. They will call you directly with offers of roles for your kids. Central Casting handles both kids and adults, and has a much larger list of actors to work with. They use a voicemail system where you have to call in each day to find out what jobs are available. If you are not one of the first to call back and accept that job, you won't get it. With either of these companies, you have the option to accept or decline the roles your kids are offered. TWO NOTES HERE: 1) It is ok to pay the registration fee up front to one of these two highly respected companies. You will make back all of that money with your child's first paycheck. 2) DO NOT decline offers for roles for your kids too often. The management companies will call on their most reliable actors, and those that decline roles will be called upon less and less.
2b) IF YOU DO NOT LIVE IN THE LA AREA: There still may be opportunities to act in movies and TV shows. Each major city has a Film Office. You will need to google this to find the contact information for the one nearest you. They should be able to provide you with a list of agents and casting companies, as well as information on how to access casting notices (lists of auditions for roles) for your location.
3) Apply for an Entertainment Work Permit for your child. Under NO circumstances will your child be allowed to work without this. Make sure to complete and mail in the free application ASAP, as it can take several weeks to receive the work permit back in the mail. You will need to renew this work permit for your child every six months, until they are 18 years old. See the link below, for a copy of the application for an Entertainment Work Permit..
4a) Plan your schedule so that you will be able to accompany your child on the set. It is important to know two things here: 1) Everything in Hollywood is done at the last minute. You will most likely receive less than a day's notice when your child lands a role. 2) You, or an appointed guardian over the age of 18, needs to be on the set at all times with your child. If it is not going to be you, you must give the adult who will accompany them, a letter of guardianship specific to that day's events. The letter must contain emergency contact information for you. See the link for a sample Letter of Guardianship below.
4b) Plan your child's schedule so that you can make last minute changes to accommodate his/her acting jobs. Your child will need to bring three hours worth of schoolwork with them to the set each day, or they will be sent home. The section of the child labor laws dealing with education is very strict. The length of time a child can work in one day, depends on their age. When your child gets a part, plan on being on the set much longer than the scheduled amount of time.
5) Find a very reasonably priced photographer who has experience taking headshots (photos of a person from the shoulders up,) and have several color photos taken of your child. Have them wear different clothing, and show a variety of expressions in the photos. Reproduce ten copies of your favorite photo (preferably one with a warm smile) in 8 x 10 size. Make sure the photos are professional quality. This is important. Even if your child is just beginning, they should present themselves in a professional manner right from the start.
6) Create a resume for your child. It will need to list their name, age, height, weight, hair and eye color, as well as an e-mail address and cell phone number for you. It can be very basic, but should list any type of music, dance or acting training that they have had. Add to it any type of acting they have done, such as school plays. It should also list any special skills your child has. NEVER list your home address. See the link below for a Sample Resume.
7) Go to your local bank and open a Coogan Account for your child. Child labor laws require each child actor to have a bank account that their parents aren't allowed to access. This trust account will stay in tact until your child is 18 years old. He or she is the only person who will be allowed to access those funds at that time. Fifteen percent of your child's earnings from their acting jobs will be required to be deposited into this Coogan Account. The Coogan law is named for former child actor, Jackie Coogan. Coogan's parents, unbeknownst to him, spent all of his earnings, leaving him almost totally broke by the time he reached adulthood. For more information on Coogan Accounts, see the link below.
How To Get Your Child Into Acting - Advice From An Experienced Stage Mom - Part 2
Learn More in Part 2
This information should get you started. I have much more information to share with you as well. Please see my second article on this subject entitled, "How To Get Your Child Into Acting - Advice From An Experienced Stage Mom - Part 2." Also feel free to ask me any questions you might have in the comments section below.