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How to Break Your Child into Acting
Lights, camera, action! Welcome to the captivating world of Hollywood, a place filled with power, prestige, wealth, celebrity, glitz and glamour. That’s the fun side. The flip side is loaded with setbacks, insecurities, rejection, disappointment, defeat, and unmet desires. As a producer, wife to a filmmaker, and former actress, I’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly side of the entertainment business. And, although it’s a tough industry to crack, parents are lining up, in hopes of giving their child a shot at fame, and a chance at fortune.
Unfortunately, many parents take shortcuts when trying to jump-start their child’s acting career, wasting time, money, and momentum, because they have no idea on what it takes to break into the business. Yet, even with all the pitfalls, if properly handled, a child’s acting career can give them a significant head start on adulthood, help them develop leadership and teamwork skills, improve their self-confidence, and generate a steady stream of income.
So, whether you’re paving the way for the next child star, or cultivating a passion they’ve already expressed, you need to start with a basic foundation of knowledge. Below are ten principles, every parent should know, if your child is considering the actor’s life.
1. Get Familiar with SAG-AFTRA
SAG-AFTRA (also known as, The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) is a labor union that represents over 160,000 film/television and background performers. Although your child may not be a member of SAG-AFTRA yet, this union offers many valuable resources for young performers. They even hold a young performers orientation at local SAG-AFTRA headquarters once per month. Visit http://youngperformers.sagaftra.org/ for more information.
2. Get Your Child Some Acting Experience
If your child is old enough, have them audition to be in a play, whether a local production or school performance. Or, find a student film that is seeking kids for their next project. This is where you can test the waters. Do they enjoy being on set? Do they love the stage? If they’re too young for plays then determine how they are around other people. Are they sociable and outgoing, or shy and withdrawn? Observing them perform in front of a crowd, will give you an idea of your child’s talent and interest.
3. Find a Good Acting Class for Your Child
Acting classes for kids typically begin at age four or five, so check your local trade magazines or the Internet for youth acting classes. Find a reputable class by doing the research, getting referrals, acquiring references, checking the ratings, plus digging into the instructors’ background. Don’t just pick the first class that pops up on Google. Do your due diligence. An accomplished instructor will bring out the innate abilities within your child, and there’s no substitute for a great acting class.
4. Get a Headshot
It’s important to have a headshot of your child to get them in the right doors with casting and talent agents. This 8 x 10, professional, photograph is a vital tool in getting your child work, so choose your photographer wisely. Because babies and toddlers are growing so fast a simple snapshot is normally okay for them. And, be forewarned, if a self-proclaimed, “talent agent” wants to send your child to their photographer for pictures then proceed with extreme caution, if proceeding at all. It’s probably a scam, and the agent is more than likely receiving a kickback from that photographer. Speaking from experience, be very careful; the road to Hollywood is littered with victims of fraud.
Sample Beginner Resume
5. Get Your Child a Resume
Once your child gets a few credits under their belt then add their experience to a resume. Be sure to include their name, your contact phone numbers; their statistics: hair color, eye color, date of birth, height and weight; relevant acting experience; and any training or special skills they have. Once you have their resume you can print it on the back of their headshot, or some people post it to websites they’ve created. Sometimes agents and casting directors will hire a child based solely on their charm or look, but since this is such a competitive field you want to do everything you can to make an unforgettable impression, just as with any job interview.
6. Find Good Representation
Now that you have a great headshot and resume it’s time to find representation, whether it’s a talent agent or a manager. There are two main types of agents, theatrical (agents for film and television), and commercial (agents for commercials and print work). The agent’s primary role is to find your youngster work. Once a job is booked, and your child is paid, the agent will receive 10% of their earnings. Check with SAG-AFTRA for a list of Franchised agencies that specialize in representing children.
Some parents opt to begin with a talent manager, who is generally easier to secure. The manager’s principal job is to help guide your youngster’s career, whether it’s locating the right acting class, helping them create a demo reel, or showcasing their talents to potential agents. You can contact Talent Manager’s Association for more information at http://www.talentmanagers.org. Managers will make 10-15% of your child’s earnings.
Once you’ve complied your list of potential representatives then you will submit a photo and resume to their office, and if they’re interested you may be called in for a meeting or audition. Remember, agents and managers receive tons of submissions per week, so be patient, but remain persistent.
7. Let Your Child Audition as Much as Possible
The more auditions your little actor goes on the more seasoned he or she becomes. Auditions are where you’ll see plenty of hopefuls vying for the same spot as your child. Don’t be intimidated; don’t get discouraged. These times are where they’ll get some of the best experiences, especially if they are still deciding whether this is something they really want to pursue. And, be prepared, your child may have two, or more, auditions per week, so make sure your schedule is flexible, or that you make proper arrangements for them. Acting’s a true commitment for both the parent and the child, and sometimes you need to be ready at a moment’s notice.
8. Be Prepared for Rejections
99% of the time your child won’t get the job they’ve auditioned for. It’s the nature of the business. Your little angel may be the most talented, and cutest kid in the room but still receive a big fat, “no,” because they don’t have “the look” the casting director needs for that particular project. Rejection can be very difficult for a person’s confidence, let alone a child’s, so it’s up to the parent to encourage them, as much as possible. Make the auditioning process a fun, family-affair, and don’t dwell on the outcome. It’s an accomplishment just to get an audition. Hopefully, auditioning will build their confidence and self-worth, if not then you should reevaluate if this is the right field for them.
9. Decide if Your Child Really Wants to Act
As mentioned earlier, acting is an exciting profession, but don’t be distracted by the potential notoriety, riches and esteem that can accompany an actor’s career. As a parent, you should be able to determine if acting is fun and appealing for your child or burdensome and stressful. Don’t force this industry on your son or daughter if they aren’t ready, or don’t really want to pursue it. Don’t be one of those over-zealous parents trying to live vicariously through your child.
10. Don’t Get in This Business Just for the Money
According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, 72.1 percent of actors make less than $5,000 per year, and less than 2 percent of the thespians making above $5,000 earn enough to own a Bentley. Some actors have been pursuing this craft for years and are still juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet, but they love what they do. The harsh reality is that most actors don’t make enough money to earn a living, let alone to raise a family. So, make certain your child is acting for the love of acting because financially, they’re better off setting up a lemonade stand.
The business of acting can be a challenging profession, especially for children. But, if you follow these ten guidelines and continue to educate yourself about the world of entertainment, you and your child will be well ahead of the pack. And, if you think your future star has the requisite talent and passion, commitment and drive then get ready, get set and go for the dream.