Question from cc: "I have thought about putting my boys in commercials, but hesitate because the whole thing seems so foreign to me. I have actually had people approach me about my children doing commercials, but I am always a little skeptical of strangers (I live in los angeles). How do you know who is a worthy contact? Where do you start? Who do you start with? Is there value in the experience for the child? I appreciate your thoughts and love your insight. "
My response: I personally think that if anyone approaches you on the street, they ought to know better. If I were an agent and saw a kid on the street, I would approach the mother very business-like, hand her my business card and invite her to contact me if she was interested. I wouldn't want to seem interested in her children in an inappropriate manner, so I probably wouldn't swoon over them. So, just use your mommy gut when it comes to that.
As far as getting them into the business, aside from knowing someone already established in the business (which is your best route, a direct recommendation from them), then you have to "hit the pavement".
Ross Reports is the only resource that lists agents. When you read a listing, just check to see if they represent kids and in what capacity. Commercial usually encompasses commercials, voice over and some print. Legit covers soaps, live theatre, tv and film.
So, you just need some photos (high quality snapshots are fine) of their face and a body shot, and a letter of intent. They probably won't read the letter, but at least give them the option. Just make sure you include names, ages, DOB, weight, height, and clothing & shoe size. They are usually looking to fill spaces in their depts. based more on race, age and size then whether or not you have an adorable kid.
As far as value in the experience. I think before you start you need to have good reasons to start. Establish some rules or a philosophy about it. For eg. when my baby daughter started modeling at 16 months my husband and I made some rules: If the baby cries when we get to the casting, we leave. We will not bribe our children, we will not force them to go. We will explain the opportunity and leave it up to them to decide (when they are older...3 and up). We will only have positive feedback for them.
What I don't like to see at a casting: A mother yelling at her child for "not cooperating". The kid didn't ask for this, the mom is the one that chose to schlepp that day, if it was stressful, it's not the kids fault.
I don't like to see a mother who is a wreck (let herself go) and her daughter is completely put together from head to toe. Yes this is all on the surface, but to me it is a strong indication of a severe imbalance in that relationship, their home and possibly the child has undue attention and pressure put on her to succeed, and become rich for the family.
I don't like to see children travel long distances for an audition, (unless the casting people flew them out). Bizarre.
I don't like to see kids taken out of school.
All of these circumstances tell me there is inbalance.
As far as value, as long as your child is comfortable in the environment, which is very much an adult environment...then I see a lot of value: acting, discipline, learning about an entire industry, people skills, rejection, memorization, socialization. Unfortunately the talent is sometimes treated as "super special", and put above say, the crew or the Kraft Services Staff. Be sure to teach your child to respect everyone even if they seem like your servant for the day. And make sure that you demand respect around your children. Without being a witch, ask people to have a "blue skies" rule, where they cut out foul language etc. And there is a lot of money involved when you get a national commercial, so paying for college is not a bad thing! You will have to join SAG (eventually), which is about 1500 dollars plus yearly dues, and you will have to open a trust fund to put his earnings into....it's the law in LA.
And speaking of the mom's role. You are being judged/auditioned just as heavily as your kid. I have been to castings where the director will write a note that says: Cute kid, crazy mom. So, just remain down to earth, low key, supportive and NOT a know-it-all. Reserve your words for when you need to be your childs advocate:
My child needs a break, my child needs a snack, please don't use that language in front of my child etc. This is your son, and he is more important than a job. Also, just take it one day at a time, and constantly reasses how your son is doing in "the business" and know that you can step out at any time. Don't let it swallow you up and rule your life.