How to Become A Child Star: Advice for Parents of Child Actors
Original HMB post on August 1, 2014
I received an email recently from a woman we had made small talk with at an airport. She’d done an internet search for information on child acting, and how to become a child actor, when she came across an article on my kids and recognized us from the airport! She sent the kindest email, asking if I would share some advice for parents of aspiring child actors. It got me thinking. We by no means have this whole thing figured out, but when I stopped to think back to when we first started I realized that we have learned so many valuable things from so many incredible people, why not put it all together? Knowledge is power in this industry. Even more so than power, knowledge is safety and as parents, the safety of our children should be our first and foremost priority in life. We have been blessed to have met some of the most knowledgeable and truly helpful people in this business.
I’m happy to introduce you to them while sharing what we have learned about child acting and the industry on our journey thus far.
Learn as much as you possibly can about anything related to child acting- and learn from reliable sources. The Hollywood Mom Blog, edited by Tracy Bobbitt, is chock-full of invaluable information about getting started in the entertainment industry. Tracy covers just about everything you need to know in the industry- there are tips and tricks of the trade, columns from experienced parents, and even casting calls and open auditions. Check out the Hollywood Mom Blog on Facebook and Twitter as well, where you can post questions and engage in discussion with other parents, both novice and professional alike. The BizParentz Foundation is another must read. Founders Anne Henry and Paula Dorn are not only incredibly experienced in the entertainment industry, but they are tireless advocates for child safety in the industry. Their website has page upon page of information on child safety and industry scams, as well as must-know information like industry lingo, the truth about pilot season, and the seldom spoken about culture of child abuse within the industry. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit down to really read through the Hollywood Mom Blog and the BizParentz Foundation. Consider it a crash course in parenting a child actor and a must-do before proceeding any further.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently interviewed “The Voice” vocal coach Ricky Martin asking if he would put his sons in show business. He replied, ”I would support my kids if they wanted to be artists but I would never push them into something. They’d have to pull me,” he said. They would have to pull me. I have friends who’s kids have literally pulled them into this industry. I even know some who pulled back, initially trying to dissuade their child from walking this path. I don’t blame them. It’s a tough world! Unless your child is pulling you, I’d venture to say you don’t belong here. “Child acting” is just that, child acting. It isn’t, and can’t be, about you the parent. It can’t be your dream, your goal, or your passion. It can’t be about the glamor and stardom. Acting is hard work, really hard work. It takes an intrinsic passion to push through all of the rejection an actor will face before they meet with success. Of course the rewards can be many and wonderful. There is so much for our children to learn in this world if it is truly their passion. It may sound harsh, but examine your intentions. If your intentions are nothing more than that (yours), maybe you’re not pursuing this for the right reasons. But what if you find yourself in a situation similar to ours, with two young infants who stumbled into this world accidentally? Or everyone stops you to say your baby is gorgeous and should be modeling. Clearly your baby or toddler can’t “pull” you into acting, but you’d like to give it a shot while they still have those adorably chubby cheeks. I would caution you to consider that baby modeling and acting is about much, much more than an adorable face. In fact, I’d argue that it is less about an adorable face and more about the child’s personality and temperament. Generally speaking, is your child content to be separated from you? What does he do when you walk into a room full of people? Can you hand him off and watch him light up the room or does he prefer to stay in the safety of your arms? Does your child get tired quickly and cranky easily? Because unfortunately, photographers and directors don’t schedule their work around your child’s nap times. If your son or daughter has an overly extroverted personality and go-with-the-flow temperament, go ahead and explore your options further!
Ever. No really, not ever. There are dozens upon dozens of scams out there in which people prey on star-struck parents, waiting to take you for thousands of dollars with false promises to get your kid on the next big Disney show. They’ll say you need to pay for showcases to put your child in front of agents, pay to put your kid on their website, pay to take irrelevant classes or pay to use their exorbitantly expensive photographer. But that’s not how the industry works. Here’s a quick glimpse into how it does work. A client is looking for models or actors for an advertising campaign or film. They go to a casting director requesting to see the available talent. The casting director then reaches out to licensed talent agents and managers, who submit the kids they represent. The children who are the best matches may be offered an audition. And it is all free. All of it! I swear! If anyone tries to tell you otherwise- they are scamming you. You never pay to audition. You never pay an agent. Real agents and managers only make money when your child (their client) works. So that modeling company that wants to charge you for ridiculous classes before they showcase you to “agents”? Turn and run. That “Disney” casting call you heard on the radio promising to put your child in front of top producers and directors if you book their trip to Orlando? Run even faster. The real people in this industry, the agents, managers, casting directors, producers and directors, will never ask you for a single dime or try to sell you a service.
The SAG-AFTRA website (the union that protects film and television actors) has a list of union-franchised agencies from each and every state and Hollywood Mom Blog has a list of agencies cultivated by parents of child actors. These agencies are a safe place to start because you know they are legitimate. Search for agencies in your area. It’s also a good idea to do a simple Google search and read as much as you can on any given agent or agency. Google the agency name and add “scam”… if something pops up, see that as your red flag and search elsewhere. When you’ve found a local agency, browse their website or call to get their submission guidelines. Then follow them. Submit the type of pictures and the exact information they ask for, nothing more, nothing less. Many agents view hundreds of submissions a week. While the fifty page scrapbook you’ve made containing every photo you’ve ever taken of your child is surely a family treasure, no agent wants to see it. Just send what they ask for. Then you wait. If they are interested, they will reach out to you to set up a meeting.
Please note that I didn’t say expensive. I said good! For young children, generally age 3 and under, agents don’t want professional pictures. They just want a natural snapshot of your baby. They will usually ask for a “headshot” photo and a “full-length” photo. They want to see a close up of your baby’s face and a full length shot of their whole body to see their proportions. They don’t want to see how adorable your baby is after eating a chocolate sundae or wrapped in a cute hooded towel after a bath. Surely as parents we love such pictures, but it never ceases to amaze me some of the photos I see people post to a casting directors Facebook page or in online photo contests. No matter how cute that messy face photo is, resist the urge to share it with a talent agent. Instead, pick out a bright solid colored shirt, brush her hair (without bows or hats), find a neutral background, and take a zoomed in photo of her face and nothing but her face. Then zoom out, making sure the background is simple and clean, and take a full body shot. Maybe take a bunch and choose the one with your child’s most natural expression. The key is to make sure the focus is on your child not on the neon colored plaid shirt she’s wearing or the circus clown behind her. Voila! You have snapshots to submit to an agent!! If your child is older and needs professional photos, the focus should be the same. Do some research on what a professional headshot looks like. Google your favorite actors or scan IMDB and bring a few photo examples to a local photographer. A professional headshot is a very specific kind of photo. It should be a tight shot of your child’s face in simple colors that compliment their skin tone and eye color and without crazy distractions in the background. It doesn’t have to be super expensive. If your child does sign with an agent, you will likely need to invest in some more professional head shots and they will have to be updated frequently- but if you are just starting out, remember that quality is far more important than cost.
Admittedly, a great deal of the work in this industry is located in Los Angeles and New York, but so are tens of thousands of kids just like yours auditioning for each and every job. The difference is they have experience in the big markets and you don’t. Until your child has successfully exhausted your local market and is quite literally pulling you to the big city, there’s really no need to be there. It can actually be detrimental to your child’s confidence and career to go too soon. Work your local market. Take advantage of school plays or community theater, take an acting class, seek out student films at a nearby university, register with a background casting director, submit to a local agent. Get your child as much experience as possible. Help them build their skills, their resumes, and most importantly their confidence before you even consider moving them into the largest markets. There are actually many states experiencing a big boom in entertainment opportunities. Louisiana, Georgia, New Mexico, and North & South Carolina all have wonderful opportunities in television and film. But even if you are not local to one of these hotspots, it is likely that you are within driving distance of a decent market. Find it and jump in.
The entertainment industry can be an incredible world full of wonderful people and experiences. Our sons started working when they were 18 months old. They are now four and on location in New York City filming their first lead role in a movie. It has been an amazing journey for all of us. I think the most important thing I’ve learned along the way is that it is important to keep learning. As a mother of two child actors, I am always seeking out information and asking questions. Not a day goes by that I’m not Googling something, consulting with our managers, speaking with more experienced momagers, or asking our sons if they want to continue acting. If you can do the same, seek out as much knowledge as humanly possible and follow the lead of your child. Buckle up and hold on tight, you’re in for a wonderful and wild ride!