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Kelly Kel May 16th, 2003 10:52 PM

Casting Child Actors
I wasn't sure where to put this....

I'm looking to do a short - no more than 15 min. for an online festival. The story that I would *like* to shoot involves a group of neighborhood kids. It's a very innocent story of boys against girls. Or girl in this case.

There is no plan for distribution, only for entry in this particular contest and their website.

My question is: How difficult is it to find a child actor that would be willing to work for no pay - only possible minor online distribution through the contest site? My ideal is for children aged 7-10 - two to three boys and one girl. I've scanned all my relatives, children of friends, but they are all either too young or too old.

Do you guys have any suggestions or should I go back to the drawing board?


Akos Szemenyei May 17th, 2003 12:19 AM

It is possible, but,

1. A kids attention span is approx. 2 - 4 hours if they are interested, after that you have to bribe them with all sorts off stuff to keep going.

2. The parents will probably tag along since you don't know them. So you have to make sure that they are willing to sacrifice time and you have to keep them happy as well.

3. To make a kid learn lines and act, and don't get anything for it, well the parents will probably say no, unless they really want their kids to become actors.

4. A 15min short, if you do a good job it's minimum a 2 day shoot 12 hours a day, and that's if you have adults, of course if you don't have lighting and very basic mastershots I guess you can do it, but then you have the "kid" factor, you just never know what's going to happen.

So in my humble opinion you should go back to the drawing board. Just so you know, kids and animals are the toughest to direct and get good results.

Kelly Kel May 17th, 2003 12:20 AM

So in my humble opinion you should go back to the drawing board. Just so you know, kids and animals are the toughest to direct and get good results.

That was kinda what I was thinking, but wasn't sure if I had missed a key trick in casting.

Thanks for an honest answer. =)


K. Forman May 17th, 2003 05:15 AM

It really depends on the kids you pick. Some are easy going hams, some are the spawn of satan. Check with the local schools, and meet with Teachers. Most classes have some sort of scenes they rehearse for plays, why not yours? Give the kids and school credit and copy, as well as snacks, and they might be happy.

Your plan hasn't even left the drawing board yet, it's too early to go back. Try a little harder.

Richard Alvarez May 17th, 2003 06:09 AM

Check with the local theatre school.

Marco Leavitt May 17th, 2003 09:45 AM

Definitely don't give up. Every project is going to have its challenges. Working with kids can be tricky, but not impossible. Think of how many Christmas pageants and other child productions take place in schools and churches every year. The key is the parents -- if they aren't driven and supportive, it won't work. But believe me, there are a lot of parents out there determined to make sure their kid has every opportunity to succeed in the arts. The kid should want it too. My girlfriend has a theatre company and has worked with kids in the past.
Here are her suggestions:
1. Start with local dance schools. Speak with the management about putting up a flyer, and if you can, get the instructors to recommend some of their students. Children in these programs have the drive and the discipline you're looking for.
2. Attend local children's theatre productions. The parents will likely be in the audience and you can approach them right there.
3. Contact local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troop leaders.
4. Seek out the directors of elementary school theatre productions and get their recommendations. They are always teachers and know tons of talented kids.
5. Ask the local school district if you can put up flyers, Here (Albany, N.Y.) the school district allows flyers so long as they include a disclaimer stating the project has no affliation with the school.
6. Put together an impressive portfolio you can show people so they don't think you're some kind of weirdo.
7. Times being what they are -- never approach children on the street! :)
Hope this helps.

Kelly Kel May 17th, 2003 10:16 AM

Wow, Marco. What an excellent post. =)

Thanks for all your suggestions. They are very informative and I can tell that you've had some experience with this in the past.

I think my main concern was one you mentioned - seeming like a weirdo in such odd times. I'm not a parent at this time, but I can see where I would be concerned with letting my child do something such as this - although given if I knew it was legit, I'd love for them to be active in the arts. I'd want the parents to be there at all times for both the obvious reasons and it's nice to think that parents would want to be involved with their kids that much (although, having experience with less than stellar parents, there's that chance that parents might see you as a babysitter and simply leave their kids with you - not good).

Thanks so much for all your posts, guys. I'll definitely keep all these points in mind. =)


Peter Wiley May 17th, 2003 02:19 PM

Years ago I was child "actor". I got my first part in Antigone as a child who led the blind sage around. My second part was the prince in "A Winter's Tale" by Williiam Shakespeare. The demands were greater than film -- nightly rehersal for weeks . . .

How did I get these parts? My father was PhD. student in directing at a big ten university. ("Wiley's got a kid, maybe he could do it . . .").

Why was I chosen? In large part because no one wanted to deal with stage parents. My parents, being in the "business", so to speak, understood what the demands would be, had few ambitions for a career for me in the theatre and could help me keep the whole business in persepctive.

I would not look for kids in dance schools etc., because it's very likely that their parents will not have an appropriate perspective -- quite the opposite -- and that could make your film project a living hell. And kids who are trying to act are often just really awful because they have no concept of how to be natural. Much better off getting kids who can be kids (compare the kids on Barney to the Kids of Sesame Street and you'll understand what I mean).

So my advice is don't look for the kids look for the parents first.

Bill Pryor May 17th, 2003 03:19 PM

We have been casting kids for many years now. It's often painful, but also sometimes we get some great performances. Most of these shows have been educational for schools, form lower grades through college.

We use local talent agencies when possible, but also go to the schools that have theater departments. And, we have used one private theater place--a guy who teaches acting classes for kids. Local theater groups are good too.

There are some basic things we've learned over the years...first, always cast kids who are slightly older than the part...ie., if you want a 10 year old, use an 11 or 12 year old...second, about 8 or 9 years old would be the lower limit of kids we use, and any younger than that are usually problematic...third, make sure you have a full time person (kid wrangler, we call her) assigned to watch the kids when they're on location...fourth, write out everything for the parents, call times, pickup times, etc...fifth, don't plan on long shooting days--and plan on lots of breaks and have snacks available (but not a lot of candy--some kids can get on a sugar high really easily)...make sure you ask the parents about any dietary restrictions. Have things for them to do when you're not shooting (the kid wrangler's job). When you break for lunch, put big trash bags over the kids...with holes cut out for heads and arms...because they'll spill stuff on their clothes. If they're having trouble focusing, take a break. Oh yeah, make sure you get talent releases signed in advance. Have contact phone numbers for the parents during the shoot. It's a good idea to not let the parents watch because some kids get nervous when their parents are around but perform very well when they're not.
Always audition lots more kids than you need. If you go into a school to do your casting, be sure to talk to the principal first, then the teacher of the theater class, and get permission slips and talent releases to the teacher at least two weeks in advance...be sure the teacher tells each kid they can't audition if they have not returned a signed permission slip...call the teacher a week in advance to see if all permission slips have been returned...have extra ones available for the ones that got lost...call again a day before the audition and check on permission slips. Don't be afraid to give kids dialog to memorize--in most cases they are better at that than adult actors.

Those are off the top of my head and I'm sure I can come up with more. Generally, they're great to work with, and theater department teachers love to cooperate. Be prepared to give every kid and the teacher a copy of the finished tape, and make sure you give credits to everybody, including the school and teacher and principal, etc. If you use a kid today who is great, don't expect him or her to look the same 6 months from today...building up a talent pool of kids is a fantasy because they grow really fast.

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