Welcome to our year-end three-part series on issues specific to young actors! Thank you, readers, for having written in with so many great topic ideas. Over the next three weeks, I hope to get to all of ’em (and if I miss a few, heck, that’s what the Your Turn section is for).

I’d like to lead off with a thought about the decision to inject kids into the showbiz world to begin with. You’re making a choice to expose your child to the rigors of a business that can drive even its adult actors to addiction, exploitation, and emotional breakdown. Sure, some parents will say they have no choice in the matter, as their kids must, must, must perform, but — as I’ll address in detail in the closing week of this series — it is your choice. Parenting involves many tough choices. One of them is whose “wants” win.

So, assuming you’ve already decided to allow your child this pursuit of a showbiz life, just remember that you will need to be a parent (whose concerns involve all of the “usual” protections you would have, raising a child) and a business-savvy professional in a world where even the MBAs who have studied Hollywood leave town scratching their heads. If you’re brand new to this (or even if you’ve been spinning your wheels for a while and need to get re-oriented), please bookmark BizParentz.org and read every word there. It’s an essential resource (one of many, but certainly the most comprehensive and up-to-date I’ve seen).

The Basics

Is there a booking ratio for children like the ones that you hear for adults (1 out of 50 auditions)?

Wow! Is that true? Is there a “booking ratio” out there that people are buying into? Please don’t do that. It’s all fiction. Well, it’s not all fiction as much as it is the experience only of the individual about whom that ratio is true. There is no formula for the number of auditions yielding the number of bookings for adults or children. None. So, don’t fall for it. When you hear this kind of talk, just nod politely and say nothing. It’s all mind taffy.

Is there a type of child that is more in line with this business? Although the child should be confident, outgoing, and want to do this, is there a type that is more bookable (such as a loud, outgoing child, over-enthusiastic child, child that listens, child that is directable)?

Wanting to pursue acting is key, as is confidence and commitment. As for what type of actor is “more bookable,” that’s going to vary with each CD and depend on factors such as what type of project you’re talking about, what the character breakdown was like, and the many other factors that go into casting each individual project.

I would imagine, if I were an agent looking to sign a young actor (and that would mean I’m looking for what makes an actor most castable on the greatest number of projects over time), I’d look for qualities ranging from confidence to directability. A sense of wanting to be there and a supportive — but not obsessively involved — family. Certainly enthusiasm is important, but too much energy can come off as manic and that’s disconcerting. A child who is too shy or a parent that is too pushy is going to be a turnoff.

What are the main characteristics that CDs look for in children? Is it a natural child who takes direction well or a child with more energy?

For me, I like to see a natural, intelligent child with interest in the project and the process. Directability is definitely important. We understand, usually, that energy levels can fluctuate wildly based on the other activities of the day and don’t actually give “extra points” to a child who is perpetually “on” during the audition. Honestly, most of my casting decisions involving children have come down to the waiting room behavior of the entire family and the kid’s chitchat before and after doing the sides in the audition room.

We came very close to a pilot (down to four kids)! My son really wants to get into the movies and he does have an agent. My question is: Is there something more I can do for him? I send him out on Actors Access a lot. I’ve sent him just about everywhere but never got anything. Do I just wait? Or keep plugging? Is it luck? Or someone who knows someone?

This is almost exactly like what adult actors face, in their pursuit of acting. Submitting on Actors Access is a great habit to get into. If you’re getting auditions and callbacks, you’re doing things right. Just be patient and keep at it. If you’re getting into the room for an audition, but not getting callbacks, consider working with a coach to see what’s missing in those reads. If you’re not getting into the room at all, ever, then perhaps it’s the photo you’re using or lack of credits on that resumé.

Definitely, relationships are going to be the best “shortcut” (and it’s sooo not a shortcut) to any opportunity, but relationships take time to build and patience to cultivate. I would say, since you had an opportunity to go in for a pilot and your son made it to the final four, you’re going to need to focus on nurturing relationships, putting together your own work (Hello, YouTube!), and the patience required to really make it in this business.

What options are available to help determine how to help your child actor? If the child is not booking, but the agents are still sending the child to castings, is there anything a parent can do (except be a fly on the wall) to determine how to help the child actor? If you are not receiving feedback from CDs or agents, but the agent still sends the actor to castings, do you assume that the child is fine? Asking coaches is risky due to the possibility of them just wanting you to purchase more classes with them.

I wouldn’t worry too much about coaches trying to sell you on classes you don’t need. If you suspect that is happening, simply train with another instructor for a while, so that your young actor gets something new from the experience, even if the training component wasn’t the missing element. That way, it’s not a total waste of time or money.

If you’re still going out, and especially meeting with the same CDs repeatedly, it’s the same for kids and adults: You’re getting invited back because you’re doing something right. So, just keep doing what you’re doing and employ that all-important patience. Agents don’t keep actors on their rosters to be nice. They do it because they believe in the actors’ ability to book. Eventually. So, just keep at it unless you’re getting signals that you’re not wanted in certain casting rooms anymore or an agent is dropping you. At that point, there is definitely work to do to get back in the game!

My daughter is losing confidence. They tell her she’s a great singer, but when the role calls for singers, they prefer someone who has on-camera experience. How can one get any on-camera experience if they are not given a chance? I see the kids that they pick for the parts she auditioned for and they can’t even act or sing. What is wrong with this picture?

Well, there is no recipe or formula for why any one person books over another, perhaps more talented, person. So, learn early that you’ll be happier (and your child actor will be more balanced) if you embrace the mystery that is this business. Why are kids that “can’t even act or sing” getting the parts? Someone, somewhere — in a position of power to hire — doesn’t share your opinion about those kids’ talents. And unless you’re in that position to hire, it doesn’t matter — in the long run — what you think about who should’ve gotten the role, right?

As for the question of getting experience when no one will give you the chance, ah yes, that’s the Catch-22 that this business is famous for. It’s where the Internet and the cost of video technology have become the great equalizer. We’re at a point in this business (and in our lives) where anyone with a couple hundred bucks and a clever idea can buy a camera, create a series, and have it “go viral” on YouTube. And the industry takes notice of such things, big time.

Because there is always the debate of whether charisma or talent is the bigger factor in booking a role, when you’re not getting your shot at it, you have to take matters into your own hands. If you can’t book copy-credit-meals projects in order to have some usable tape on yourself, find another way to prove that you can do the job. Do it yourself. This is true for adults and kids, but the novelty of a child actor creating his or her own web series is an even bigger benefit.

How do you get in the door at a casting office and how do you stay there until you book?

Easiest way to get on a casting director’s radar is to have an agent or manager who pitches you on a project the CD is casting for which your child’s exact type is needed. Without an agent or manager, you have to hope casting directors you’re targeting are open to receiving direct-from-actor submissions, attending CD workshops in which your child is participating, or at least looking at the postcards you mail with career updates from time to time.

One of the most frustrating things I find is getting my children in front of a CD that has not seen them before. We have done the postcards and e-pitches and notes on submissions, but nothing. We have been told that it is really tough to break into the market because they call in the top ten most of the time. What would make a CD call in an unknown talent and what could we do to make them notice us?

Well, I can’t imagine that CDs would create a “top ten” list of child actors (even if that might be the case, sometimes, for adult actors of a particular type) and exclude all others. Kids grow so fast and are so completely out of the running for roles within months of when they would’ve been perfect for them that it seems silly for CDs to limit themselves like that.

It may feel like it’s hard to “break in,” but that’s when the energy you spend on those DIY projects can make all the difference. Getting into plays where CDs who don’t know your work can check you out is a great idea. Even if they don’t see your kid, a great review can be a huge boost! Check into showcases and workshops that specifically target CDs and agents who are looking for kids. Also consider classes that feature a “graduation performance” element. Lots of scouting goes on at those.

My young one looks older than she is. Will this be a problem for very long?

Yes. Pretty much until she’s an adult, unfortunately. See, there are these Child Labor Laws that make it most advantageous to cast the oldest possible child who could reasonably look the younger part. I’ll get into this more next week, but yes, an older-looking child is going to have the hardest time getting cast simply due to the fact that he or she cannot work as many hours as his or her older but younger-looking colleagues.

Classes for Children

What’s best for kids? Private coaching? Classes? CD Workshops? Nothing?

Depends on the young actor’s age, but generally, private coaching for specific auditions tends to be the most effective use of your training budget. If the actor is already intelligent, natural, and confident, there’s the potential of harming his abilities by over-rehearsing and over-training too young. I’d hold off on CD workshops until the young actor is really at the top of his or her game, consistently. You’ll have a hard time coming back from a bad first impression, if you showcase too early.

At what age should child actors train and what type of training should be given?

I’d say, almost never before the age of eight or nine, unless there are some major issues consistently being brought up during feedback from auditions and meetings. Because what we’re looking for is a combination of natural intelligence, charisma, and the ability to take direction, there’s very little that training can add to that, if the actor is already at that baseline. If the actor is shy and needs to be brought out of his or her shell when auditioning, that’s less a concern for acting class and more of a socialization issue. Meeting new people and practicing confidence will help.

Eventually, getting into a good scene study class or learning the art of improvisation will be immensely helpful, but I still wouldn’t rush into any of that before the age of seven at the earliest. Only if there are some blocks being reported in feedback from auditions should there be any focus on training much younger than that.

Are basic classes for auditioning techniques enough or is improv needed?

Auditioning technique is a fine class to take, but also not really necessary, as long as your young actor is good with meeting new people, not painfully shy, and able to deliver lines without having been over-rehearsed to do so. I recommend improvisation for every actor, as it comes the closest to teaching actors how to “be natural” and invite spontaneity, which is wonderful in every audition situation.

How much coaching or class is necessary for a child? Most kids seem natural at it and I thought too many classes would make them too fake, but I have met young children who are in improv classes, etc. Is that something the CDs look for on a resumé?

Ah, now that’s a good question: Do we look for training on the young actor’s resumé. The answer is: sometimes. Credits first, because we need to know if the actor has on-set experience (helps with risk assessment). But without credits, certainly the existence of some training from an instructor whose work we respect can make a difference. I agree that “too many classes [c]ould make them too fake,” and I’ve seen that happen more times than not. (But I’ve also seen mom and/or dad over-rehearsing children to the “too fake” degree, without classes at all; so it’s not just a training issue. Sometimes it’s the influence of an over-zealous parent.)

In the absence of professional-level work (or even community theatre and student films, to some extent), your child’s training becomes much more important to us, when we’re perusing a resumé and deciding whether to bring in a young actor for the first time.

The coach we use does not hold theatrical workshops for any child below the age of eight. She does commercial coaching for younger children. We are waiting for our two-year-old to get a couple years older before even sending her to classes. Is this the norm?

Your coach is smart. Children under the age of eight don’t really need theatrical workshops and may not even need much one-on-one coaching for specific auditions. I’d wait far longer than a couple of years to put your toddler in regular classes. All we want a two-year-old to be is a two-year-old. The risk of causing more harm than good is very real, at this age, when it comes to training.

Does it look better to have one ongoing acting coach or individual workshops on the kids’ resumés?

Depends on the age, depends on the level of credits also on the resumé, depends on the coaches and workshops you’re talking about, depends on the child’s natural ability. If it looks like you’re going from one-time workshop to one-time workshop, all over town, that’s not going to impress anyone. If, however, you’re hitting a few, key workshops with coaches whose area of expertise lines up with what your young actor needs to cover (memorization, eye contact, improv, audition technique, shyness, settling down and focusing), that’s fine. And there’s no real reason to stick with one coach for a dozen years unless there continues to be personal and professional growth due to that ongoing relationship. This is true for both child actors and adults.

Are there any good voiceover coaches for kids out there that give you an all-inclusive price (including a demo tape for your agent)?

Y’know what? I’m not sure! I would imagine that any of the VO coaches that adult actors use might offer packages for young actors as well (or be willing to make a referral). I hope that any readers who know the answer to your question (or any of these questions, really) will write in! If so, I’ll be sure to share the responses in a follow-up piece.

How do CDs view classes taken at big theatres (like South Coast Repertory)? Does it matter what theatre they are taking the classes at? I assume it does, because I guess it does also matter who your acting coach is.

SCR has a great reputation and everyone knows it. There are a few key artistic centers, including big Equity theatres, that offer classes for young people and they really do stretch the participants to be their best. That said, there are some CDs who will place lesser value on classes taken at a theatre, since they specialize in casting film, TV, commercials, etc., and don’t see the overlap. So, as with any training, I’d recommend that you get out of it what you can and then move on to grow in other directions as your child’s needs dictate.

Determining Your Child’s Primary Type

I like your previous article on “branding” yourself. I am curious to know your opinion on whether this applies to young kids and, if so, how do you figure out what their brand is?

Discovering “type” is one of the most essential elements to finding success as an actor. And yes, young actors have primary “types” just like adults do. In fact, young actors have a bit of an advantage, since their type categories are broader than those adult actors tend to fit into.

Additionally, young actors are expected to slip in and out of primary type categories as they grow, so they’re given the opportunity to redefine themselves more frequently than adult actors.

What are the primary types for young actors? Here’s the list from Self-Management for Actors. Obviously, there’s room for hybrid types, but this is a good starter list.

Young Females
ingénue/innocent muse

Young Males
bad boy
nerdy kid/future genius
paste-eater/super uncool

Is there a distinction between commercial kids and film kids in looks? How would you determine what your child is? Is there a current look?

I’d be careful, pigeonholing a child into a commercial or film “look,” since the trends in the industry change so frequently. Yes, I realize this makes me seem like a hypocrite, having just talked about the importance of determining primary type (even for young actors). But because commercials can suddenly be very mainstream in feel, and then incredibly gritty or indie-looking, and then totally over-the-top Disneyesque, I’d hate to say that a young actor should be set on one path based on a look, when the needs of the industry change so quickly.

How valuable is it really for your child in the industry if it speaks more than one language?

If your child could reasonably be cast in roles of various ethnicity or heritage, the ability to speak several languages could absolutely be beneficial. However, if your child speaks Spanish but could never be realistically cast as a native Spanish-speaker, it’s less exciting that he or she is fluent in Spanish. So, if you have a child who looks Japanese, consider having him or her learn a little Japanese! It could be very helpful, down the line. (And since kids learn languages much easier than adults do, it’s worth doing earlier in life.)

Headshots for Young Actors

How important is a good headshot? How much do CDs expect an ever-changing child to look like their headshot?

The general rule is this: Until your child actor is earning enough money from acting gigs to reinvest into headshots, you’re fine using snapshots. Since most initial casting is happening online (and it will be after you’re invited to a preread that you’ll hand over a hardcopy photo), the snapshot is just fine. That way, it’s expected that the child look exactly like that photo. (See, because you didn’t have to spend more than a few bucks for the snapshot, it had better be dang current!) Composition is important, but you’re not expected to be a professional photographer. Just choose a photo that captures the essence of your child. That’ll do!

What age should a child really have a professional headshot done? Does a CD want to see it by three, five, eight, or do they think it’s ridiculous? I’ve seen moms with headshots of newborns. I know that’s just plain nuts, but what is an appropriate age? If you just have a regular pic, will the CD automatically think, “Umm, unprofessional,” even though it’s a young kid?

An “appropriate age” for professional headshots would be, I believe, at whatever age the actor is making enough money to reinvest in the photos. That’s the first criteria. Absolutely, if the young actor is represented by an agent or manager, that representative will want the best possible tools to market the young actor to CDs. So, be prepared for that expense, but do not ever sink money into photographs taken by a photographer your agent or manager requires you to use. That’s the formula for kickbacks and it’s illegal.

If you’re flying solo (with no agent or manager) but still auditioning regularly, I’d say the age of seven or eight is a good time to consider professional headshots. Don’t spend too much, though! Kids change so quickly that you’re going to have to reinvest in photographs at least annually. All the more reason to do your best with a shutterbug in the family!

Honestly, when I see a professional headshot of a newborn, as you described (or one of those $500 highly stylized headshot packages of young kids), I wonder why the parents are throwing their money away on photographs (and if that means they’re skimping on classes or missing out on the opportunity to have their kids join a theatre company or — worst of all — overcompensating for lack of talent and ability by throwing money at photography).

I noticed a thread on the Showfax message board that mentioned actors should not try to put a compilation of headshots together in one 8×10. I totally understand that this shouldn’t be done when submitting for parts, but what about submissions to talent agencies?

A good snapshot should be plenty to submit to talent agencies. Even a collection of snapshots or school portraits will do. Considering the fact that most actors (no matter what age) will be asked to shoot new, professional photographs within weeks of signing with an agency (Note: beware of the kickback behavior I described above!), it shouldn’t matter too much that the photos you first submit to an agent are snapshots. No need to go way into debt to create a composite card or some other modeling-type multi-look or two-sided headshot when you have no idea what the new agent will need, in order to market your young actor.

Many articles that I read say snapshots are okay for children submitting to talent agencies. After having them professionally done, I can see how my lack of photography skills could cost our daughters in opportunities. I also found that our daughters were more focused with a professional than with us. Could you talk about the best children’s headshot photographers in LA?

This is another great topic for you awesome readers to help out with! I have no clue who the “best children’s headshot photographers in LA” might be. Sure, I have my favorites photos of young actors, but I don’t keep up with who took them, so I’m not the best person to ask about this. So, readers, if you have a list of your favorite photogs you’d like to share, that email address below is waiting for you!

Your Child’s Resumé

Before I get to specific questions about kid actor resumés, I just want to state that — if your child has an agent or manager — you should defer to that representative on matters of resumé format and content. They have a standardized way of presenting actors’ credits and the CDs who work with those reps know what to expect on the resumés that come through their offices. If your child does not yet have representation, the guidelines spelled out at Billing, Billing Revisited, and a related Your Turn apply to young actors just the same. Exceptions to those general guidelines follow.

There are concerns about identity theft if we place their correct DOBs on the resumés. Should we put age range instead?

Age range should be evident from the photograph and, with kid actors, DOB is appropriate on a resumé, as there are very specific reasons we need to know a young actor’s true age. I’ll get more into child labor laws and the various ages at which this makes a difference to casting in next week’s column.

A reason CDs love you for putting your child’s date of birth on his or her resumé is that you are instantly making us aware of your child’s current age, regardless of how long we have held onto that headshot. Without that DOB, we’ll have to do some digging, and we may choose to eliminate your child from the running in favor of another child with similar look and credits, because we can confirm — at a glance — how old he or she is.

Of course, identity theft is a legitimate concern, and because you never know where your child’s hardcopy headshot will land, it becomes important to protect some information. Never, never, never put your child’s Social Security Number, home address, or school’s name on the resumé. Never! That’s Safety 101.

But I see DOBs on just about every child actor’s resumé I receive. Of course, I’m receiving them in the room at an audition, since the pre-selection process is happening via electronic submissions (and DOB is available right there in the actor’s online profile, which is somewhat more secure, since you, hopefully, are only submitting to CDs whose projects you know to be legit). But who knows where the hardcopy headshot and resumé will end up after the project is cast? The horror stories are out there, so there’s got to be a better solution.

While this isn’t industry standard by any stretch, if you’re really concerned about identity theft, consider putting your child’s age/birthdate information on the resumé in this form: “Age 12 as of December 2007.” Then we know how current your young actor’s photo is and, even though we don’t have the actual DOB, we at least know how old your child was as of a certain point in time. That’s mostly helpful (and a good compromise).

Should pageants even be mentioned in a kid’s acting resumé? After we got our daughters an acting coach and they had to unlearn some of the mannerisms, I’m having my doubts about including it at all, even though they won several times.

If you are truly pursuing acting, pull the pageants off the acting resumé altogether. As you’ve learned from the experience your daughters had with the acting coach, there are mannerisms associated with pageants that don’t help a young actor in the pursuit of acting. There’s a stigma attached and that could hurt your young actor more than help her. Consider including the “wins” in the Special Skills section of the resumé if you’re really attached to them, but honestly, I’d recommend pulling off pageant-related activity altogether from an acting resumé, as the two worlds aren’t really connected.

What about singing?

Unless the resumé is a singing/musical theatre resumé, singing ability should be included in the Special Skills section only.

Can a kid actor’s resumé include commercials? Print work? I know an adult’s cannot. Are kids’ rules different?

There are definitely different rules for kid actors’ resumés to a point. I’ve seen print, runway, commercials, etc., listed on kids’ resumés simply because it’s an indication of, “This kid can work, has worked, will continue to work,” which is pretty dang important, when we’re looking at two equally “right” young actors and one has on-set experience of any kind and the other has none. (This is especially true, the younger your child.) That said, you still NEVER list extra work on an acting resumé.

Some people will find creative ways to “promote” their kids’ extra work. Don’t. There is an easy way to know whether the work your child did was background or principal: Check the contract. And if there was no contract, check out the above-linked columns on Billing for guidelines. If you feel you absolutely must list your child’s extra work on his or her acting resumé (and, again, I beg you: DON’T), please only list it in the Special Skills section, as a means of letting us know your child has had some on-set experience. But it’s so apples-and-oranges different from principal performing work (yes, no matter how featured the work may SEEM to you) that you need to keep it as far away from the list of actual acting work (which is what the resumé is supposed to represent) as possible.

When new to the business, should child actors include school plays and plays from drama classes?

Absolutely! I know that every student in the first grade got a role in the class play, so it’s not like your wee one beat out a bunch of people for a big role in a major project, but it’s good information (in terms of risk assessment) if your child was cast as the lead in that production (vs. “fifth tree from the left”). Just remember not to mention the name of the school (see safety tips, above).

What do we do when a child has a light resumé? What do CDs really look at in reference to the resumé? We think that the kid who has more work on their resumé than mine is going to book that job, but then do the CDs consider the child even if there isn’t a lot on there? I mean, how are they going to get more on their resumé unless they land a part?

Again with the Catch-22. Remember to embrace those DIY options to show off your child’s talents. Until we see those productions, however, you have to sort of trust that we’re open to seeing new actors (especially when they’re very young). The greatest joy in casting is “discovering” that new actor that no one else has taken a chance on, just yet. So it might as well be your child!

A first resumé is going to be “light.” That’s okay! Own where you are in the industry and be willing to grow. Yeah, the actor with more professional credits is going to get the audition pretty much every time (because he or she poses less risk, to producers), but there are slots for “newbies” too. Having the right look and being on our radar gets you the shot. Doing good work gets you the job.

And that’s true, no matter what age you might be!

Not wanting to pad my daughter’s resumé, I have no clue what to call a TV role that has lines, is given single-line credit with her character name, but is cast as an extra. Do you default to background work? Call it featured? Cameo?

Well, if the role was booked as extra work and the lines were given while on set (without a contract modification taking place right then and there, along with pay upgrade), it’s still extra work. The lines were given as a means of creating some moment on set and, in the finished product, those lines might not even be audible (better not be, if this is a SAG project we’re talking about. Because then, you’d better believe there’s an upgrade required).

“Cameo” is not really a billing term you’ll use until you’re very famous and taking part in stunt casting, to do a small role in a major project. So, don’t use that term. And if the role had lines, it’s definitely featured if not supporting… unless the situation is as I described in the above paragraph (and there was no upgrade, no change in contract, no change in pay). Because there are different casting directors hired for the casting of principals and extras, it’s important that you stick to the truth of what the role was. And extra work doesn’t go on an acting resumé. So….

My child trained with JRP. I know, I know. Now what? Do we just act like all that training never took place, because the whole operation is such a scam?

An option for those who have taken classes at any “questionable” facility is to simply list the type of training and the individual coach’s name. No one needs to know that you studied “Audition Technique with Steve Smith at JRP” when you can list “Audition Technique with Steve Smith.” Certainly, don’t lie if you are asked where that training took place, but absolutely there are CDs who will see certain facilities on an actor’s resumé and think, “Oy vey. A family of newbies. So new they don’t even realize what a scam they’ve been a part of. Eesh. That’s gonna be too much work for us, even if this is a wonderful young actor. Let ’em wisen up before we take a risk.”

Postcards for Young Actors

Postcards. Do they really work?

Depends on what you’re saying with the postcard and to whom you’re sending it. Some CDs (like me) love postcards. We find them easy to keep, flip through, reference when facing an immediate casting need. Others don’t respond to them and toss them upon receipt. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send ’em, though.

Look at postcards like billboards on the side of the road. Coca-Cola doesn’t mount a billboard on Santa Monica Blvd. because it expects you to see the ad, slam on your brakes, and pull a U-Turn into the 7-11 to buy a Coke. They figure you’ll see the billboard, have some happy association, and when next faced with the challenge of selecting a tasty beverage, you’ll grab a Coke.

That’s how actors’ postcards work. You’re reminding us that you’re still out there. You’re creating brand loyalty. You’re teaching us how to ask for you, when you’re the “thing” we need. And that’s worth $0.41 postage and whatever the cost of printing the individual card might be, in my opinion.

Will CDs look at invitations for a play coming from child actors? Also, do CDs take trips behind the “Orange Curtain” (AKA Orange County) to see kids perform in theatre?

If we use the billboard analogy, above, it becomes less important that CDs act on the postcard’s information than that we’re aware your child is out there working — yes, even in the OC. I think CDs go to very little theatre compared to how much we’re invited to consume. It’s a matter of time management. I could have a fulltime job of attending live shows (including plays, staged readings, open mics, and showcases), going to screenings, and tuning into TV shows starring people who have sent me postcards. I kid you not. This would be my 40-hour-a-week gig, if I let it. There’s just too much to hit.

So, send out the invitations because they’re a good, cheap reminder for us that you’re out there working. And when we do show up to see your work, be really grateful. Because you have no idea how many things we’re not turning out to see. There’s just so much going on at any given time. And that’s a good thing!

Your Child’s Demo Reel

How important is a demo reel for kids? My daughter has one, but a CD told me they don’t even expect it that kids have one.

We really don’t expect it. Unless we’re talking about a professional child actor with several pretty high-profile credits, a demo reel is going to be outdated so quickly that it doesn’t stand up to the expense you’re looking at, in order to create it. Not saying it doesn’t help! Video is always very informative, as we’re trying to cut the numbers down. But I don’t know that I would advise parents of younger actors to sink money into creating demo reels before there’s enough “earning” going on from acting to make that a break-even scenario.

How should you go about creating your child’s reel? Are there any rules for children? Since they are kids and have less time to have that experience, what kind of information is good to put on one? Can we put stage plays, dancing, and singing all on one reel? Should we make a reel of just them slating and saying a monologue? Wouldn’t they have an edge with a reel on the casting breakdown and submission sites? What about non-speaking roles? Are those eligible for a reel?

The non-speaking roles (unless you’re talking about a non-sync-sound student film, with your child in a principal role with voiceover added in) are not really appropriate for a demo reel (since part of what we want to see, in looking at a demo reel, is how the actor sounds, listens, and interacts). I’d stay away from including stage plays, singing, dancing, etc., on a demo reel, since you’re going to have this reel compared to reels containing studio feature film clips, episodic television scenes, national network commercials.

When you consider the “world” of material we’re consuming, you’ll quickly understand how “sub-par” that “non-pro” work starts to look. And I understand how much you value it! I understand the great affection you have for that material and how completely sure you are that it shows your child in his or her best light. I get it! But this is where that whole Scrapbook Syndrome comes into play.

Hold off on creating a demo reel for your young actor until there’s enough professional material that is still relevant to how he or she would be cast today to make it worth the investment. If we need to see and hear how your young actor presents on camera and can’t bring him or her in for an audition, we’ll request an audition on tape, and that’s far more important an element for you to get skilled at providing than the perfect demo reel, when the actor is pre-teen.

Your Child’s Website

How do we go about setting up our child’s website? What companies and cost and such.

Head back over to the archives of Bad Websites/Good Websites II for all you’ll need to get started with developing and setting up a first actor website.

Is it important for a child actor to have a webpage? If so, should it be more a representation of the child or more a professional site? How does the information on Bad Websites/Good Websites relate to child actors?

The big difference is that you’ll need to use those parental protection instincts to make sure you’re not over-sharing about your child. Keep location information vague. Never mention what school your child attends. Curtail your need to share “family news” type information via this website, as that can be a treasure trove for predators.

Otherwise, the information in the three-part Bad Websites/Good Websites series is good for young actors too.

Should we have a website built and, if so, when in their career do we do that? What do we put on them? Is this where we can incorporate all the different videos they have done? Dancing? Singing? Plays? Showcases? I can definitely see the advantage of having a website. I can also see some disadvantages with strangers peering at my child and thinking nasty things or worse yet planning nasty things.

Now, a website is a fine place to share footage of the non-demo reel type material (plays, choral performances, dance recitals). That way, if a CD has visited your child’s website and wants to see more (but non-traditional footage), the option is there. And on your child’s resumé, you should note that there is footage available at this website (spell out the URL). Those who are interested will check it out!

As for the “strangers peering at your child and thinking nasty things,” I’m going to say this and try not to come off as harsh or un-caring (remember, I was a kid actor, so I mean this with my heart in the right place).

You can’t control what others think. Ever. You can’t control what they plan either. And even in a non-showbiz childhood, there are “bad guys” who think and plan nasty things about you, just because you’re a child. It comes with the territory of being human and existing among predators who also happen to be humans. But you, as the parent, have chosen to put your child in a more “public” world, by indulging his or her interest in show business at a level beyond school plays or community theatre.

And for every CD or agent you want to click over on that website for information on how to cast your darling, you can bet there are a half-dozen non-industry “bad guys” clicking, thinking, doing all manner of “bad things” because your child is right there on their computer screen.

So, it’s a double-edged sword. You want your child’s career to be high-profile enough for the buyers to have interest in visiting his or her website. But not so high-profile that any “bad guys” happen by. They’re gonna. Period. Refer back to the second paragraph of this week’s column for context. I wish it weren’t true, but it just is. This is an adult business (and an adult business that messes up some of its adult participants beyond repair). Choose wisely for your child. She’ll thank you for the thought you put into that choice.

I’m wondering if it’s time for a website for my daughter. She is an actress, a voiceover artist, a singer, and a model. She is making strides in all these areas and as a mom I would love to create a website to send to family just to say, “Look at what all she is doing. We are so proud!” However, as this thought popped into my head, I began to realize that it could be a wonderful marketing tool to link to her submissions. My concern is first for her safety. Should this be a password-protected website? Likely not, as promoting her wouldn’t likely work if I did it this way. On the other hand, what is my objective at this stage in her career? Not to build a fanbase but to let industry professionals know of her success by the click of a link. Right? Is timing crucial?

Password-protecting a website is a great idea, except for the fact that you will basically prevent all CDs and agents from ever visiting the site. Yes, even if you provide us with the password, we’re not gonna bother with that extra step (and many non-tech industry folks won’t even know how to advance past that login screen).

And really, you are hoping to build a fanbase! A fanbase of CDs and agents and producers and directors and managers and screenwriters and ad reps! Heck yeah! So, once you do enter the realm of the showbiz pursuit for your child, you want fans and you want that website to get traffic. If that means you’re only comfortable with buying the domain name and redirecting the site to your child’s Actors Access page (see how to build a custom link, here), that’s just fine! A redirect to your kids’ IMDb page is okay too.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “We’re not even sure she wants to do this for more than a few months. This might be like that time she wanted a pony,” well, I’d recommend that you buy the domain name — or even something like www.yourfamilyslastname.com — so that you have the option of using it, should you need it. That way, you’ll have a site that you can repurpose with each update for whatever the prominent need might be (your youngest kid’s acting career, your oldest kid’s wedding, your new business venture, your family newsletter, photos of your new puppy, whatever).

In Closing

As with all things showbiz, I’d suggest that you worry less about “getting it right” and more about “getting it right for you.” I know the stakes are high, when you’re making decisions on behalf of your children, but there are no rules that apply exactly same way to everyone pursuing the work in all possible markets. That’s why it’s so important to read, research, and then do what works for you, in your market, in line with your experiences and results. Really, that’s the bottom line.

Join us next week for Part Two of this three-part series, in which I’ll cover topics such as Kid Actors in Regional Markets, Premature Moves, Child Labor Laws, and Avoiding Scams.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000807.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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