April 21, 2011

Becoming a star entails hard work

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Television at 7:37 pm by dinaheng

The walls of the Children’s Division at The Campbell Agency are lined with photos of smiling, talented youngsters who are vying for modeling and acting jobs in the Dallas metropolitan area and beyond.

In the world of entertainment, where representation is often key to getting a child an audition for television and film, modeling, or voiceover work, it all starts with impressing the right agent.

While looks and talent are primary considerations, a child’s personality and the parent’s attitude are equally important factors in the eyes of agents who are bombarded by applicants who want to be Hollywood’s next bright star.

“I think part of it is the glamour, or perceived glamour,” says Barbara Blanchette, who handles the broadcast side of The Campbell Agency’s Children Division. “People don’t realize how much work is involved in this business. They think, ‘My kid’s cute and can do this.’ But it’s a lot more than that.”

To be cast in a TV show or film, for example, children must have the willingness to make fun of themselves, do silly things, and be outgoing without their parents being in the room. They must be able to bring whatever qualities they have to the part, interact with adults, and be able to handle the rejection if they’re not chosen.

“When kids come in, I like them to do extra work on shows when it’s available so that they can see what happens on set,” Blanchette says. “It’s a long day, and doesn’t pay much. People don’t realize how long you sit around and do nothing. It helps them make the decision on whether this is something they really want to pursue.”

A huge factor in whether a child is signed by the agency is the parents’ personality and attitude.

“If the parents are hard to deal with, I don’t care how cute or outgoing the child is,” Blanchette says. “We have too much to do to deal with parents who are going to be cranky or send in an e-mail every day about their child. Their child is not the only child we represent. It’s even worse if the parents annoy the client.”

The Campbell Agency receives 250 child submissions a week for openings that occur only when a child drops out of one of the various age and ethnicity groupings, which ensure that each child does not end up competing against numerous others with similar backgrounds inside the agency.

“We go through everything that comes in,” says Diana Dyer, director of children’s print for The Campbell Agency. “With print, look is more of a consideration. We like to have a wide variety of ethnicities because that’s what advertisers want now. We want children whose personalities come across when you meet them.”

Outside of Los Angeles and New York, Dyer says Dallas is a huge print market, with many department stores and commercial work for products being shot in the city. Chicago, Atlanta and Miami are also centers for print and film work.

The Campbell Agency can electronically submit its clients for jobs in other markets, but concentrates most of its efforts on local opportunities.

What do clients want? When it comes to choosing models in fashion photography, Dyer says, size — based on height — is the biggest factor. For commercials, age is key.

“Generally, advertisers want kids who are older than the age group they’re trying to target for their product,” Dyer says. “For example, Hasbro might want eight to 14 year olds in their ads. We get submissions from everywhere, but because of the turnaround time, it usually doesn’t work unless the child lives here. People call today (for shoots or auditions) tomorrow, and the parent has to be with the child.”

On the broadcast side, the demand for child actors begins about ages six to eight, when kids can read a script, up through the teen years. Blanchette says there’s not much demand for the “awkward braces age,” but jobs pick up again at 16 to 18.

Even when a child is accepted for representation, there are no guarantees of getting hired. For those who do work, compensation can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars a year. The average income ranges from $2,000 to $12,000 annually, minus the cost of providing the agency with the child’s photos, which are used to market the youngster. The more a child works, the higher the income.

“One girl made over $50,000 at age five,” Blanchette says. “One child, at 18 months old, did a Pampers box, and every six months, we negotiate to keep using the image. That  child is now 10 years old, so if parents are smart and put the money away for the child, it can add up. Dallas is a smaller market to compete in, so it’s a great place for kids to build their  credits and resumes.”

Beyond the money, both agents say there are more important benefits that children who work in the field receive.

“It builds self-esteem,” Blanchette says. “Kids learn to get out in front of people for auditions, and it it makes them less inhibited. On a film crew or commercial set, they’ll have 50 to 60 people out there, and they learn to accomplish what needs to be done in a certain time.”

Dyer says on the print side, children learn to follow directions and work with adults, which helps them follow instructions in school. The better they do in school, the more likely administrators are to let the kids out of class to attend auditions or to do jobs.

“The children who do well are a little bit more mature,” Dyer says. “Most of our kids are straight-A students and do extracurricular activities. We don’t want them to miss out on things growing up, like a Valentine’s Day party at school or birthday party. We think it’s important for them to have that normality.”

When it comes to finding a reputable agency, Blanchette recommends checking with your city’s film commission or with the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles (www.sag.org). She notes that a legitimate agency should never charge for representing a child.

And one last piece of advice to parents…

“Let your child be your guide,” Blanchette says. “If they want to do it, back them wholeheartedly. But if you want to do it, then you do it, and leave your child out of it.”

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