Child Casting Basics
Gabrielle Schary (Casting Director) gives expert video advice on: What type of child can succeed in an acting career?; Are certain 'looks' in child actors easier to cast?; Does a child need to have perfect looks to succeed as an actor? and more...
What type of child can succeed in an acting career?
There's really no way to know until you try. Sometimes the most seemingly beautiful, and talented children don't respond so well on camera. Sometimes the shyer, quieter kids have a spark that's so natural you just have to hire them on every job. They just have something. So there's no real formula.
Are certain 'looks' in child actors easier to cast?
General looks are easier to find. Some children look more typical than other children. Some advertisers want a typical-looking kid. It's usually driven by who their customers are. Sometimes you want more of a Midwestern look. Sometimes you want a beach look. Sometimes you want an urban look. Kids are kids, so you can't really manipulate their looks as much as you would adults but typically the look that is most popular is the natural look, not a look that has been over styled with hair, jewellery, or makeup on kids. Usually it's the natural look, the right out of school, in their play clothes. Just go be a kid.
Does a child need to have perfect looks to succeed as an actor?
Offbeat-looking kids or quirky-looking kids, kids that are in growth transitions often do really well because that speaks to people as a very natural place. There are commercials that really require a lot of fashion, a lot of style that do require the perfect features. That's what the look of those commercials go for. But oftentimes, you will get the kid with the ears that maybe stick out, or the teeth that are half in, half out, or freckles, that kind of thing. It really depends on the product and that's why there is no good and why there is no bad because it just depends if you are doing a fashion layout for a print campaign or if you are doing a commercial where a kid is eating a sandwich and walking down the street.
What kinds of personality traits in a child are more suited to a career in acting?
I would say a child who listens is probably the most suited to career in acting. It is a very valuable trait, and also to be a child that is comfortable with themselves. A lot of kids have tons of energy, but the kid that has a little bit more patience, that is a little bit more comfortable in a room are best. If they are secure with who they are and a child that is really given a lot of nurturing and time to do with what we ask them to do, is usually the best kid.
How much acting experience does a child need to get cast?
Well, for commercials, not so much. For theatrical, stage, or movies, where there is very dramatic direction or intensive amount of lines to memorize, you would need more training and coaching for that. But, for commercials, by and large, a lot of commercials don't even have any dialog. So, it's a quick look at the quick reaction, and for example it might be a child in the backseat of a car eating an apple, or it might be a couple of kids playing with an action toy. So in those circumstances they don't need any acting ability. They just need to be able to listen, and be able to be patient enough to do what needs to be done.
How do very young child actors learn their lines?
When they get older and they can read, it's easier because you can actually get them the copy before they come to the audition. If it's more than a few sentences, they can work with it. We try to encourage the parents not to work with them because what will happen is that the children will parrot the way the parent says it. That will backfire nine times out of ten because we don't want a kid saying it the way a parent would say it or an adult would say it. We want the kid saying it the way they would say it. So, often I will tell a child what I need them to say, and then if they can't remember it word for word, what they give us back is sometimes even better. They just say it in their own words. They tell us why they like the product, or what they're going to be doing. If they can remember what we've told them line by line, great. If not, they can tell us in their own words, and sometimes that's better.
How can a child get acting experience?
You can get a child acting experience by going to as many auditions as possible, by hiring a coach, or signing up with a workshop, and on that note: it's very important for parents to be wary of over-priced workshops and over-priced managers and agents that want big down payments and big financial commitments from the parents. Those typically are not the professional coaches that are really going to help the children. So, when I get a call from a parent that says I was approached in the mall, this company wants me to go down on Saturday and they want 1400 dollars for a six week program and they want me to go to their photographer for another 2500 dollars in pictures. I tell them that's a cash cow for those people. Those people aren't going to get you jobs in a professional, commercial situation in New York or L.A. or Chicago. What you want to do is either hire a local photographer or take some good pictures yourself of the kids at the park, get the pictures to agents. A respectful and a professional agent will only charge you after they have gotten you the job. So, if they get you a commercial for Sears, they'll get their commission when you get paid. They won't have you pay up front and so that's pretty much the limitless test.
What is a 'comp card' or 'headshot'?
A comp card or a headshot is a visual aid that helps you to be recognized, and it gives you exposure to people who will potentially hire you. You'll always take one to an interview when you go. You might mail them out to as many casting professionals and agents as possible. A comp card is basically a collage of different looks, whereas a headshot is typically one shot.
What are the costs involved with getting a child into acting?
It's only photographic fees, which are less than $500. You could get a competent photographer to take some good pictures of your child; some smiling pictures, some action play pictures, some more subtle, quiet moment pictures, and put them on a comp card, which is a presentation card. They're usually about 5 by 7. Or, you can do 8 by 10. You should have a collage of photos that show the different looks that a kid has. If the child is proficient in baseball, or dancing, or gymnastics, you would want to include a competition picture or a team picture there, because often we need a little leaguer to slide into third. We're going to need a little boy or girl that's been on a softball or baseball team. We've done commercials where you need to be able to walk a balance beam, so we'll look for gymnasts, swimmers, you name it. If they want to find a real kid, it could be anything that the kid does in their own life.
What do casting directors look for in a child's headshot?
For me, I can't talk for all of them, but for me, I look for the expression in the eyes when I'm looking at a bunch of pictures. I look for a sense of ease and comfort in their face and their being. Just natural. If kids aren't natural for commercials, it's painful. So if a child's hair is overdone or they're obviously not comfortable with their smile, you can just tell. It's mostly in the eyes, though.
What do casting directors look for in a child's resume?
If we're looking for a specific skill, we look for those skills on the resume. If we're looking for a child who needs to be able to take direction, then we'll look for any plays they've been in. We will also look if they have had any coaching, and any previous work they've been involved in, so that we understand that they've been in front of the camera, and not just here for Mom and Dad. This means that they've actually been in front of the camera, been asked to stand somewhere for twenty minutes, and then moved somewhere and do something for twenty minutes. Are they directional or not, do they take direction, and that's what we'll look for on those. By in large, it's really the look, unless you're going for specific action, you just really want a personality.
How does a child actor get an audition?
By obtaining representation, typically a manager or an agent who has knowledge of what casting projects are going on in their town will be able to secure an audition. Our company doesn't do open calls per se. I know some companies do and you'll see open calls posted on things, such as on different websites or in newspapers when they are just looking for any kid in town within an age range to show up. You can go to those interviews as much as you can. But if there is an interview by a casting professional or a network then you'll need to be submitted through the channels of an agent or a manager.
What is an 'open call'?
An open call is when a company or an entity wants to throw the widest net out that they can. They'll typically advertise in newspapers, online, and in fliers. They'll pretty much say "Saturday from 8 till 3, meet at the corner of such and such, all kids, all types, all ages". That would be an open call.
Does a child actor need a manager and an agent?
Typically not. If a child starts working a lot, and they're doing theatrical, print and commercials; the parents may opt for a manager because it becomes a full time job. But, if your child is going out once or twice a month and maybe booking a couple of things a year, I don't see the reason to have to spend money on another commission, instead of outing that money in to your child's fund. Unless you need the manager, you're probably fine with an agent. If you can't get an agent, and a manager wants to take you on - I have seen children who have got an agent because a strong manager has taken them on. So every case is different.
Can a child actor have just a manager and no agent?
For a while, but you really want, it's for commercial work and print work you want representation, the best job will come through an agent.
How do agents make casting directors aware of their child actor clients?
If I have a project, and I'm looking for something specifically, I'll contact the agents that I know and trust, and tell them what I'm looking for. They'll go through their files, and they'll say "Here are my two or three best". Then, we'll bring them in, and we'll get to meet them. If we do a project down the road that's similar to that one, we'll obviously remember, and bring them back. With commercials, they go by so fast that we typically call our agents, the ones that we work with regularly, and rely on them to tell us who's available, who's interested, who we can get from them, and have them come in to see how they do.