At least twice a week, I have someone ask how I got my children into show business, and can I help them get their child in as well. My son has been working as an actor since he was 15 days old, and has had a few good things come along. His little brother is getting started as well. So I have been a “stage mom” for 8 years. I’ve learned a few things. I have a quick questionnaire I like to use to vet someone who thinks they want to put their kid in the biz.
1. Driving. Do you like it? Does your kid mind being in a car a great deal of his life? Depending on where you live, you will spend several hours in the car. However much time you think I’m talking about...triple it. Add Los Angeles traffic to the mix. You, and he, will eat in the car, he will do homework in the car, you will do business in the car, change his clothes in the car, and sometimes sleep...in the car.
2. Cuteness. This factor matters not. I don’t care if they are blonde and blue, gorgeous mix raced, redhead and freckles, they can be the most beautiful child walking the face of the Earth. If they aren’t easy going and flexible...they aren’t going to make it 5 minutes in this business. All looks, shapes, and sizes are welcomed, as long as they can behave like your grandmother at church. They need to be quiet in a room full of kids bursting with energy. They have to bounce back and forth from car eating to one shot of 60 seconds to be brilliant, then back to homework. Your biggest hope is they don’t have a meltdown before their audition for any reason. After is fine...just not before.
3. Electronic hell. You use devices a LOT. You constantly check your phone for emails or texts from agents and managers for auditions. These are most likely for the next day. Sometimes they are for the same day, and sometimes require you to do a “self-tape.” This is where you have to have an area in your home where you tape, with a great deal of specific directions. You have to save it, use iMovie or something similar to edit it, then know how to upload it to a casting site. Sometimes it’s too big of a file, do you know how to compress it? The list goes on. Some people get so frustrated they just pay others to do it for them. There are 3-6 online casting networks your agency will expect you to keep updated with photos, resumes, and size information. If you aren’t good with computers, up to carrying your phone in your hand constantly, and willing to learn something new daily, this business will not work for your family.
4. Rejection. Can YOU handle it? Chances are your kid can and, in their younger years, they forget about the audition or the job immediately after the audition. YOU need to be able to do this, too. If you can’t let rejection roll off like water off a duck’s back, stay away. Your child, although PERFECT for the job, praised by the casting director, may get the callback. Then they will get the “hold” or “avail” and then BAM someone else is cast. This happens so much it becomes a painful routine. It happened to us recently 5 times in a row. I thought I was holding some kind of record, until I met a mom whose kid has been held and released 9 times in a row. You will have weeks or even months of a dry spell, then a booking will come when you are planning on going on vacation. Are you starting to feel me? This business is business, and it doesn’t wait for our school concerts, trips, an accidental black eye and doesn’t care about your life. If you can’t make it, someone else can.
5. Other people. This one can be a blessing, or a curse. There are all kinds of parents out there in the business. You have the intense know-it-alls, the starry-eyed newbies, the actors whose kids are actors, the parents living vicariously through their kids, the dance mom types, the “I’m not a crazy stage mom but I might be a little bit of a crazy stage mom” and more. I think I may be the latter. I have a network of about 100 moms that are amazing. I had no idea how much support I would get from them until I had them. The stereotype that all stage moms/dads are awful is untrue. There are many great people involved. You have to actively seek your people, and keep each other’s secrets and be a shoulder to cry on. Those other “awful” people exist, and when they appear, they can put a damper on an entire cast and crew. Is this starting to sound like a competition reality show? It should.
6. Stress. How are you at coping with massive amounts of it? I will give you an example. My son auditions often, and was being considered for a huge HBO show, with an Academy Award winning actress. We had not heard anything and assumed we did not book it. Then it’s the night before the school musical dress rehearsal, where my son was cast as the lead. I receive a 7pm call asking if we could be somewhere at 8am, and do we have any conflicts until August? Both agent and I are under the impression he might be booking this role, and I’m squeamish because I don’t want him to miss his school dress rehearsal. We wait that night until 11pm, and never receive an email or text or call or smoke signal. We press on, I do not sleep, and we take him to school and then dress rehearsal. We relax over the weekend, to then be called Monday to double check the conflict again, as they are still considering him for 3 roles. Guess what? We NEVER heard back from them again. We saw kids post on Instagram they booked the roles, and that’s how we knew it was over. Now I ask you, how much wine would it take for you to shake this one off?
7. Money. He will not make as much as you think. Unless they hit more than a few National commercials or a series regular job, it’s not an instant jackpot. It’s more money than they would have not working, but it’s not paying for college overnight. There are exceptions, but I’m talking about the norm. You put a lot of effort into non-union work that may only pay $100 a day. If that still sounds good, consider the money you will spend to make it. Gas, wardrobe for auditions, head shots, and maintaining website subscriptions, a few random things here and there like acting classes or coaches, coupled with paying your team 10-20% commission may make that 100 dollar day sound less attractive. You have to do these days, to build resume, reel, and gain your child experience. The investment can be deeply rewarding, and these expenses are a tax write off for the income earner, but know what your are making and spending before you get involved. Some people pay for every advantage they think might be available to them. I’ve personally taken a frugal approach, and it has worked out well for us so far.
8. Organization. Are you organized? You will need to maintain updated work permits that involve thinking ahead, getting school to sign off, and submit in time to make sure they don’t expire. Every time your kid grows an inch, changes shoe size, or gets a haircut, you have work to do. You will open a special bank account, deal with SAG once you have to, and get your child, and yourself, a passport if you don’t have one. You will need to keep copies of all these documents and have them ready at a moment’s notice.
9. Balance. If you are an A-type parent and really want your child to experience everything childhood has to offer, this business may, or may not be for you. You will anger your baseball coach, miss practices, games, tests and school. You will get nasty notes from school that your child is missing too much school, being taken out early too many times, and your teacher may not like how many times you have to set up Independent Study situations. I’ve been very lucky with our schools and teachers, but I know some that have not. Speaking of teachers, there will always be a “studio teacher” on set that is not only a teacher, but an advocate for your child that all labor laws are being followed. They rule the roost on set, and you will not always like them. They all have different styles, and although they are supposed to follow a firm set of guidelines, you find some are left to interpretation and at the end of the day, what the studio teacher says, goes.
10. Disappointment. There will be far more of this than excitement from booking amazing things. We know, we’ve booked them. Being on set with major tv or movie stars, having your own trailer, your child soaring and beaming as their true talent shines and their work ethic pleases all involved. A movie premiere, a red carpet walk, the royal treatment? There is nothing like it. Some would say the 100 auditions you had to go on to book this one great gig is so worth the win when you get it. All the hours spent learning lines for jobs he didn’t get, all the driving hours, all the close calls and holds where you wonder, “Is it our turn this time?” You, and he, will be disappointed far more than not. Are you built for this? I’ve grown a thick skin over the years, know never to take it personally, we know we should take on the attitude of onward and upward with every disappointment. Are you willing to do this? If you think every job that they audition for should be theirs...you are in for a painful, long haul.
Some people have read all ten things and still think YES, we are still in. Well, then, my friend, I will help you join my crazy, fun, rewarding tribe. Google kids talent agencies in your area, follow the online submission process and then follow their lead. If anyone asks you for money up front, demand you take certain classes or use particular photographers...walk away. There are plenty of fantastic, legit, hard working people out there that work hard for our kids and help us along. You will have the expense of getting started like head shots, and some online subscriptions, but nothing outrageous. Just remember, if your kid isn’t loving it and having fun, follow their lead. Like every sport or hobby, some kids love it and some don’t. Go with the flow. And break a leg!