Is your kid ready for the industry?

With my little tyke! 

With my little tyke! 

Friends have often asked me how to get their kids started in the industry- in print, commercials or in film/tv.

Before answering, I always counter with a question:  Why do they want to start their kids in the business of acting/modeling?

For my family, it’s a natural fit and started as an extension of my career.  My husband had already been supportive of me taking my son to “real family” commercial and print auditions since he was 15 months old.   And as parents, we feel that these opportunities may help build up his college fund and interpersonal skills. Most importantly, we agreed that if he stops enjoying this, we won't push him to continue.  It's important to us that he enjoys his childhood and that is what we stay focused on. And I remind myself to stay vigilant that I don't put my dreams on him.  My son's now four and is still in the business because he loves being in front of a camera, often asking me to videotape him or photograph him.

Clearly we have some advantages: I apply my industry knowledge to my son’s career.   He’s young.  He is part of a great ethnic demographic.  Plus, some of my agents represent my son.  But let me give him the credit he deserves:  My 3 year old son took a meeting with three agents by himself... and then got signed in all three departments- print, on-camera (commercials and theatrical) and voice-over!  I truly was not prepared for my son to walk into that interview without me.  I had put my momager hat on and was ready to coach him, and then leave the room after I made sure he was comfortable.  But the agent gently explained that they wanted to see how he reacted when I wasn’t in the room at all.  Of course, I was in the lobby with a clear view of him  seated in front of the window, and I could glimpse his tiny head bobbing in response to the agents' questions. To this day, I'm still curious about what they talked about!

When my son starts school in the near future, we may reconsider his involvement in the industry, but for the moment, we’re in a good place with the time commitment. Most importantly, we feel supported by his agents.  They understand that he’s a young child and he will have some good days, and some days where he won’t be up to auditioning due to family or just regular kid commitments like birthday parties and T-Ball games.  It’s my responsibility to stay on top of communicating our book-outs when we have a conflict and are not available to audition. 

The reason I share our experience is that I feel the main impetus should be that your kid wants this more than you do.  Sure, there can be great money to be made, but it is a business and will require real commitment. The sacrifices and time commitment are dependent on your child's age and stage.

I have advised friends to explore this basic homework and then re-evaluate.

1- Take photos of your child.  Take them often, on different days.  Help them enjoy getting their picture taken.  Encourage them to be as natural as possible.  As parents, we’re privy to special moments of happiness. If we’re prepared and patient, we can capture our kids' most happy selves on camera.  These are the photos to submit to agents.  No need at this stage to hire a professional photographer.  This exercise allows your child to get comfortable in front of a camera.  From these pictures, put together a one page (headshot style or 2-4 photo zed print composite style) and print these economically for auditions and submissions.  I personally have had great success with Vistaprint flyer offers or I have even printed them at Costco.

Here’s a professional photographer's advice on this:
Headshots for kids

2- In a relaxed way, keeping it all fun, video your child when they are involved in a task and get them to talk about what they are doing.  This gets them used to expressing themselves naturally without feeling intimidated by the camera -at this stage don't ask them to look into the lens... keep it organic.   Next step: video them while you interview them.  This becomes a mock audition.  This way, they can get used to standing on a mark and answering a few SIMPLE questions directly to camera.  I.E.:  What’s your name?  How old are you?  Can you sing the ABCs for me?  What’s your favorite TV Character?  Etc.  Allow them to be themselves while trying to help them learn little technical things like standing on their mark and slating (saying their name to camera) and taking direction.  Keep this to a fun 30 seconds-1 minute.  Then let them watch the video play back with you.  They should enjoy this process. The caveat: Be careful not to over-train or over-rehearse them.  Kids should be kids on-camera!  Not a robot version of themselves trying to be mistake-free. 

After exploring these simple tasks at home, it will be clear whether your child truly enjoys being on-camera or not. And… if they don’t enjoy it, especially when their beloved parent photographs or videotapes them, well, they may not be ready to go on actual auditions just yet. 

If they are ready to go forward, and they are the catalyst for this new adventure, then visit the below links and go for it! Remember to enjoy the ride!

There is an abundance of information online, and these sites are starting points to explore.

Backstage Forum

Backstage Kids Topics

SAG-AFTRA Young Performers

The Actors Network

I got the chance to interview a wonderful children’s manager Wendee Cole.  Hear what she had to say from her industry perspective:

Once you’ve taken the leap of faith, and are enjoying the journey, here are more links to help you and your kids along the way.

Backstage Article: 8 ways kids stand out in commercial auditions
Backstage Article: Headshots

Cynopsis Kids Edition

I wish you and your family much joy and much success on this adventure!