Does your kid have, “IT”? I’m referring to that little word that is commonly used to describe major talent chops in showbiz. Have you been stopped on the street, playground, supermarket by strangers cooing over your child’s cuteness factor? Do any of your kids mimic lines incessantly to their favorite Nickelodeon show or are they likely to be found hamming it up with their hairbrush in front of the mirror? “IT” is also the acting bug (no cure known, sorry). I’m here to help you figure out, “IT”.
Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, Remember the Titans) was a young teen when she was cast in her first role in The Horse Whisperer. She was luminous on film. Even in a small role, in a brief couple of minutes on screen. In person, she was a pretty normal kid. She lived in the suburbs outside of Boston, played field hockey at school and carried an earnest charm. She hadn’t really studied acting at that point but had an inherent natural ability. The story supposedly also goes something like this ... She didn’t have a proper headshot for her audition so she handed in a Christmas card photo! My guess was that it amused the casting folks. Kate was my first breakout client when I was an agent. I watched her grow into a fine actress with great success. She told me a few years later that when she was a little girl her grandmother told her that she was going to be a “movie star.” Who knows if it was that omen that led her on that path or if her grandmother had some insight into the makings of a movie star.
Navigating the New York scene can be daunting, time consuming and expensive for aspiring actors. Let’s suppose you do not have connections (unless your uncle is Spielberg). What will get your kid in the door? Talent, confidence and persistence, for sure. But you knew that already. Why not tag along with a buddy whose career is a wee bit higher up on the food chain? Hey, that can actually work. Have you considered availability? It’s such a simple thing yet one that can prove to be challenging for both you and your child. (I have three kids, I get it!) However, in terms of casting kid’s roles, availability can win a job! Things move very quickly and making yourself available will absolutely help. Another thing that industry professionals are looking for is ... interesting, well-rounded kids. Kids with diverse interests are always attractive and usually better actors. And, no matter how many hours of classes and coaching – above all, pure talent and “IT” wins hands down.
If your child seems destined and determined there are a few easy avenues to pursue.
• Rep your kid. Sort of. Talk to everyone you know in the business or knows someone who knows someone and network (any friend of a friend can be your new best friend!). People genuinely like to help others get started. Every single one of them has started somewhere.
• Do your homework. Read everything you can on the business. Check local papers and join a few websites that have casting notices. Try to familiarize yourself with legitimate reps. Avoid the scammers. Trust your instincts and use common sense. By the way, SAG/AFTRA has a list of all franchised agents in New York. Call them.
• Student films. This can be a rewarding experience, you’ll get some awesome film footage and you never know you could end up working with a future A-list director. A win-win. Colleges such as SUNY Purchase and NYU often put up notices at their school and online.
• Commercials. Commercial casting is more accessible to pursue than film, television and theater. They are often shot by established television and film directors. Relationships can be developed here as well for future employment. Start with local spots and promos. And, the short term time commitment is definitely a plus for kids.
• Fashion shows/modeling. Fashion shows and modeling are a fantastic way to showcase presence and beauty – two things that often ignite a career.
• Summer camp! Summertime offers an uninterrupted window of opportunity to focus on your child’s passion without the distraction of school. Stagedoor Manor, French Woods, Random Farms, Standing Ovation Studios, Purchase College and Harvey Cavalier are a few top-notch programs. Camp offers camaraderie and a fun factor.
At some point, you will need to hire a professional photographer for a headshot – an 8.5 x 11 photo print that best represents your child and captures their spirit. It should not only be great, it should bear enough resemblance so they are recognizable walking into an audition. Prices can range between $200 and $800. Ask for referrals and get references. A good shot is all that is needed rather than a comp card which has multiple poses. Choose someone that specializes in headshots for actors, has taken photos of other kids and has taken photos that you really like. Most photographers have online portfolios that you can review.
And note: If you’ve already made your new friend of a friend who has a friend in the business after the shoot may be a good time to call them to see which photo is their favorite.
• You don’t need to give anyone money upfront to represent you. Agents and managers are paid commission that is taken from your earnings after you book a job. They get paid when you get paid.
• Don’t be in a hurry to get your child signed.
• Don’t send them to an audition or set without you or a trusted adult chaperone.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, shall we fantasize for a moment that your kid has “IT”? Earning enough money for college (I can hear you yelling hallelujah!) or surprising you with hotel and airfare to the Caribbean just to say “thanks” ... that would be incredible. But, let’s keep things in perspective. The overnight success does not really exist. This business is a business and it is hard work. It requires dedication, maturity, resilience and more patience than anyone can imagine. Something else that is crucial and I cannot stress enough is – it is up to you to make sure your kid stays a kid. Stop if it’s no longer fun. You’ve got to be a kid to play a kid. Simple as that. Good luck and tell your kid “break a leg” from me.
Elena Deutsch-Glantz is a Westchester mom, former talent agent and manager and current consultant on obtaining a successful career as an actor. She is married and has three children and two dogs that help keep it real.
• Meet the photographer in person before hiring them. It is important that your child feels at ease with the person that will be photographing them. Otherwise, you may end up with stiff looking photos.
• Hair and makeup should be done in a natural way, not overdone. It should be age appropriate and you shouldn’t notice it.
• Wear a solid shirt with a flattering neckline and form. Something they feel great in.
• Clean backdrop or background. No graffiti wall or trees, etc. Nothing to distract from the person being photographed. No props.
• Ask your child to think of a wish or their favorite color while posing. This should add some dimension to their photo.