Ordinary Family Doing Extraordinary Things

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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT

~ Getting Your Child into Show Biz ~

Mel's Memo

Top 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions

1Where do I begin? My child wants to pursue a professional acting career so how do I get started?
This is the most frequently asked question. I like to think the parents who ask this already know there child wants to pursue acting professionally because in my opinion that is the most important question. First, it doesn’t have to be intensive to start but get some training and experience. Next locate a credible talent agent in your area who represents working actors not big time stars. Find out when they are auditioning new talent and do everything they say. Go to the meeting or open call completely prepared. Most likely they will ask for a picture and a resume and have you run lines, that they give you in advance or on the spot, with a reader or the agent themselves. Usually they will film this audition and get back to you to let you know if they will represent you. If they want you they will give you a list of things to do. This may include getting decent headshots and registering on sites so they can submit you to casting companies who post jobs. Be ready to drop everything with a moments notice to audition. It’s nice when you can submit tapes but often you have to audition live and this means last minute travel. Just this week my son taped for a project on Sunday and we were traveling to set by Tuesday. It can be a whirlwind. Do everything your agent tells you to do. You have to stay on top of all communication from your agent and keep your information, headshots and resumes up to date. If you are not easy to work with they may drop you.
2How do I know if my child really wants to pursue a professional acting career?
This is extremely important for two reasons. First, the amount of personal sacrifice for a parent and family to support your child through this journey is immeasurable. Second, being on location away from their school, their friends. their life is not an easy task. It’s a huge sacrifice. Not to mention the countless auditions and sides learned, possibly without ever booking a thing. The driving force needs to be the child. They have to want to do it so when they do their zillionth audition and still don’t book a job they are discouraged but not resentful or tortured. Because of my background, my children were in, around and on the stage from birth. My big kids began asking to do television and film when they were seven and four years old. Because of her exposure to the business, my three year old has recently begun to ask to start acting too. The only acting world I knew when Payton and Bryant were little and began to ask for a talent agent was the theatre. I had no idea where to begin. We moved from Northern California to Raleigh North Carolina in 2007 and I immediately found David Ira Wood III and his Theatre in the Park. I was anxious to resume acting and especially wanted to find projects I could continue to do with my children. We’d been doing productions as a family for years and for me it was the best of both worlds. Being a mother has always come first. Long rehearsal schedules take me away from the family so much so if we can all be on set rehearing together it is helpful. My husband is very supportive of this and comes to many of the rehearsals to support us. He says we made him a lover of theatre. He's even participated a time or two. My children were not forced to participate in stage productions. They were exposed to it and took to it like naturals. I always tell people if they want to know if their child really wants to act, take their children while they are little, about three or four years old, to live performances, a musical, a play, a ballet. Be sure to choose something that has child performers that tells a story they can understand and relate to. If they are on the edge of their seat the entire time and without persuasion say, “I want to do that!” the moment the curtain goes down, you’ll know they have the desire. If they do, sign them up for a class or audition for a play. While I wouldn’t recommend background work as a path to a successful career, being and extra onset is worth doing once as an exploration into the business. Not only do these things further your investigation of the level of your child’s interest but you are doing things that can be put on an initial resume to try and get an agent. It’s a win/win.
3Where can I get good training?
When it comes to becoming good at a craft, my philosophy for seeking out good teachers is always the same. No matter what one is trying to learn, a good coach will teach them skills so that they have tools they can use and count on to be a strong performer, athlete, writer, seamstress or whatever it may be. For example, If my child wants to be a ballerina, I will opt every time for the whole in the wall studio with a teacher from a legitimate dance company who turns out strong talent and will give my child good training. I will always choose this over a frilly studio whose only goal is to put her in an expensive costume and teach her the same dance over and over for an entire year for a recital. I want her to get good training so she can dance any dance well. With the exception of young children, who should just be having experiences and a good time, or a first experience strictly for exposure to see if my child likes an activity, I try and find a network of coaches who are good trainers. I don’t like bullies. Some very talented people who have the experience and skill to teach children have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid and push them or worse. I prefer to hire teachers who have the ability to relate to and connect with kids who use better methods than bullying to reach my children. I’m all for a final performance but only when it is putting training to work and is the culmination and experience of good solid training. If you are in the Raleigh area the number one acting coach is Estes Tarver. He is expanding his class offerings and I will have the privilege of teaching his youngest class ages 4-7 as well as an intro to acting class for older kids at his studio, Moonlight Stage Company. You can find his class offerings at www.moonlightstageco.com
4How do I know if an agent is reputable?
Although the business has changed in recent years and submitting auditions by tape, rather than in person, has become very common, agents are still very regional. I suspect this will also change but it hasn’t yet. Agents represent new talent that live in a geographical area in close proximity to the agent’s physical location. As an actor builds their resume or physically moves to places like New York City or Los Angeles, it is common to get representation in the larger markets. Generally you start with the most reputable agent in your area. How do you know if they’re reputable? Check out their talent. Usually one can find out who an agent’s clients are by looking on their professional website. See what kind of work their clients are booking. If you are outside a large metropolitan area most likely the local agents have relationships with agents in larger markets and the majority of their clients are mainly meat and potatoes actors and are traveling long distances for work. Having an agent should be a mutually beneficial relationship. We do not have a signed contract with our children’s talent agent. As I type this, I just heard a rather famous actor on set today say, “Any agent or talent agency that makes their talent sign a contract isn’t worth their salt.” Our team consists of a local agent in Raleigh, an agent in New York and a Manager in Los Angeles. None required a signed contract. Agents and managers want to work with talented people who want to work with them. Our team works tirelessly for us even when they go long stretches with no commissions. Agents work for the hope that you may be successful. There are no guarantees for anyone. To help keep it mutually beneficial, it’s important to pay your representation promptly. There should be little to no cost to get started and you should never pay to audition or for representation. The cost of Headshots should not be greater than a couple hundred dollars especially to start. I paid far less than that. Travel expenses for auditions are paid by the actor(parents) unless you are being flown in by a production to meet producers and the director or for a screen test. Another possible upfront cost is training and this should be reasonable. Don’t fall for the scams where they offer you a contract if you pay for thousands of dollars worth of training. Our local agent grows talent by occasionally offering legitimate workshops with casting directors, managers or coaches at a reasonable cost.
5How much money do child actors make?
I promise, by the end of this response, you will have concrete answers to this question and I will not continue to be vague but let me start by saying, I cannot disclose what my children have been paid for their work. We sign contracts promising to keep such details confidential. Prior to my personal experience with things like this I, as many do, assumed all actors including children were millionaires. When I saw a child on the big screen I thought they’d “made it” and were set for life. When people said you have to choose this career because you love it I assumed it was because so few experience real achievement not that those who were actually cast in television and film had a long journey to any significant financial reward. One may assume royalties equate to big payouts for life but that too is rare. Another variable when discussing actors’ pay is what one considers “a lot” of money is relative to their own life experiences. I think the misconception that an actors’ big break means big dollars is a plus for Hollywood. It can help to feed the frenzy of the glitz and glamour of the red carpet. Don’t mistake me, the red carpet is a blast but in some ways it is a mirage. All who walk it are not rich and famous in fact, a small fraction is. The few that are the highlight of the red carpet feed the press and help create this fantasy of fortune and fame that the masses are drawn to. This is not a negative thing. It’s a great deal of fun and so much good can come from a mantel like Hollywood. What do actors get paid? A Q or Quotient Score is the recognized industry standard for measuring consumer appeal of personalities, characters, licensed properties, programs and brands. It takes the romance out of it but actors are in many ways a brand. As with branding, Q scores can help measure an actor’s familiarity and favorability, two factors that greatly determine an actors on screen value. Although an actor’s Q score may not be specifically discussed in contract negotiations, if they are expected to headline a feature, how recognizable and well liked they are most likely is considered. As an actor gets more and more work under their belt and subsequently builds their familiarity to a consumer base, the monetary value of the actor goes up. Very few child actors are recognizable and favorable enough to carry a film or television program to a broad demographic so it is rare that children are paid what famous adult actors are paid. Until they contribute to the reason a fan base goes to see a film or tunes into a favorite television program it’s likely they will be paid SAG-AFTRA minimums or the minimum pay required by the actors’ union. The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is an American labor union representing over 160,000 film and television principal and background performers, journalists, and radio personalities worldwide. I’ve attached a link to a chart with the current contracted minimum pay for performers doing SAG/AFTRA contracted work. Click for minimum pay SAG/AFTRA chart Before you get too excited about minimum pay, let me briefly explain that agents and managers are deservedly paid a percentage of the actor’s gross pay. This is a combined total of approximately 20%. More if the actor has a publicist. The work is seldom steady. Children are highly taxed as they can rarely claim themselves furthermore their allowable deductions are few. Children are required to put 15% of their earnings into a Coogan Trust that they can access once they reach adulthood. While this forced savings is wonderful and prevents a child’s hard earned assets to wither away on the many expenses a child actor has, the interest rate trusts like these earn is criminal. Needless to say, if you or your child is considering a career in acting be certain you are passionate about the work. The sacrifice is too great and the initial net payout is too small to do this work if you don’t love it. In the end the financial pay off may or may not come but if you yearn for the work then the rewards of the heart are far-reaching.

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