Recently my son was “pinned” for a series lead in a brand new show. It is part of the new trend of streaming platforms filling up their schedule with fresh content. It is very exciting for us but also very confusing. Up until now we had mostly booked independent films, TV co-stars, web series and most of all commercials. So between the three of us, we’ve signed plenty of contracts but nothing that would require more than a week of work. This, however, was a whole new thing.
Not long ago I sat in a Q&A with a casting director for a major kid’s network. He was telling humorous stories about parents living in markets outside of LA, who were actively fostering their kids acting careers, only to be completely surprised to find their kids getting an offer for a series regular that would require a move to another state. The parent would say, “So you want me to move to LA?” and he would say back, “You’re the one who submitted an audition for a job that would require a move to LA, not me.” I laughed at how silly and naive these parents were and felt smug knowing that I lived in LA already so we wouldn’t have to move anywhere.
So here we are, cranking out audition after audition – mostly self-tapes – for all kinds of jobs. We audition so often and only rarely get a callback or a job offer so it becomes more of an exercise, another roll of the dice. I did notice that the job that sparked this article was filming outside of LA, but it didn’t list much detail in the audition request. There was a wide range of availability, around 6 months, but I certainly didn’t think that was the commitment, I thought it was a window of availability not a request for 6 months of solid work. It was a new show, so I assumed they were deciding when to shoot the pilot. Well, I was wrong.
We first submitted for this job in March of this year. Then nothing. In September they sent out a request for another self-tape, the script was similar but different. We weren’t sure if it was a callback of sorts or if they were starting fresh with the casting. So, we sent in another tape. Then about two weeks later we get a very short email that reads.
“Please be advised we will be sending your client a pre-test option later this week. Confirm availability from December through July.”
We were excited, of course, followed by confused. What the heck is a pre-test option? I assumed it was a chance to screen test, which was correct. What I didn’t know was that it meant negotiating the contract for the next 4+ years of my son’s life before we even went in for the screen test. This particular show had an order of a full season so there would be no pilot and he would be required to live on the other side of the country for at least 6 months. And by the way, that six months was going to start in about 8 weeks. So, KARMA right? I shouldn’t have laughed at those other parents, because I was just as naïve.
According to my agent most shows are NOT shooting in LA. The Atlanta, Vancouver, New Mexico, Florida, New York, Chicago, Toronto and overseas opportunities are only growing. It’s true, we have had to prove that we had valid passports more times than I can count when submitting on jobs. I just thought that he would get a few more co-stars or guest-stars, small or medium sized roles in films, et cetera… before he’d be up for a series lead. The only thing I can say confidently about this business is that you cannot PLAN for anything. It doesn’t move in a linear way and A + B does not always equal C.
We had to have many long and interesting family discussions. Did we want to move? Did I want to be away from my husband and my daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes and would need a certified nanny to stay with her when my husband traveled? Where would this nanny even sleep? What about my other work commitments? What about keeping his grades up? My 13 year-old son loves acting but didn’t want to miss all the fun activities of his last year in middle-school. He had joined a new sports team he was excited about and he just found out that his crush liked him back, so he was looking forward to asking her to ‘hang out’ because “middle schoolers don’t date mom!” I mean, that’s just the outer candy shell of the complications this would cause our family.
At the end of the day, our family’s happiness is the most important thing to us, so for a hot second we actually considered walking away from it and not signing the contract. However, one of the other things that we value as a family, is a great adventure! So, in the end that’s what won out, over the nerves, over the fear of missing out on regular life and over all the other obstacles that come with working in this industry.
I’m so grateful that we have such a wonderful team of people around us. Both our agent and manager were very supportive as we worked through the decision. Despite the fact that they could potentially lose money based on our choices, they were one hundred percent behind my kid. They wanted him to be happy and confident about the decision that could impact the rest of his life and definitely the next 4 years, which we all agreed is a lot for a 13-year-old kid to deal with.
I could go into a LOT of detail about the contract negotiation process, it was intense. Part of the reason they do the option (code for contract) before the screen test is so they have the advantage in the negotiation. If they’ve already fallen in love with your kid your side of the power seesaw has the most weight and you can get more concessions. However, at this stage in the negotiations you’re just one of several kids who have been pinned so you’re the one left up in the air with your legs swinging while the production company decides who to cast. It was interesting, and we are all better for going through the process.
He went in for the screen test only to find out that there were at least 4 other kids up for the same part, and possibly more on the East coast going in for a separate screen test. At this point, all we know is that he did his best and he had a great time at the audition. That’s really all I think anyone can do. Prepare and enjoy the process then let it go! We will have our answer one way or another in a few weeks – it’s one of the things in the contract. Until then we’ve put it behind us and now we are paying a lot more attention to where the project is filming and for how long, BEFORE we submit an audition.