Last month I wrote about getting started in Voice Over and I realized that I never covered the question that I get asked more than any other… “How do I get my kid started in acting?” That is partly because this blog is aimed at people who are already in the business and my articles are generally read by parents who already have kids who are working actors. But just in case you are a new parent or just new to Ms. In The Biz, here is the inside scoop.
I’m not trying to discourage you but if it turns out that you do find this article discouraging, it is a good sign that this is not the path for you. After more than 10 years of my children’s involvement in the entertainment industry, it is with unquestionable certainty, I can tell you that unless your child is driven to do this work then it’s not something I would recommend. Simply put, here is why: it is difficult to get into, hard to quit, time consuming, and expensive. It can entail long hours in the car; hundreds of fruitless auditions; questionable roles, I’ll have to tell you about some of these doozies later; plus missed vacations; battles with the public school over absences and, in some cases, switching to homeschooling; disappointment; rejection; and friends who are jealous or just plain miss spending time with your child. If you have multiple children it can even be hard on the child who isn’t working and will definitely, at some time or another, put a strain on your family, even if you don’t have to relocate for three months to shoot in Italy.
Sheesh! That was a lot and I’m sure other parents would have their own list of challenges.
In this article I’m only going to go over the nuts and bolts of getting started. It might seem boring, but these first three things are immensely important. If you’re not willing to take the time to get to know them intimately, then you probably won’t have the energy to chauffer your child to auditions, meetings with agents or managers and all the classes, headshots and plethora of things required for your child to have a chance in this business. It can be fun and rewarding, but most of all…it is work, that’s why they’re paying to employ your child. If you’re still with me then read on.
In order for your child to work in entertainment you will need the following:
- An Entertainment Work Permit
- A Coogan Account
- A Parent or Guardian
Entertainment Work Permit
In the United States according to the Department of Labor children under 14 require a permit in order to work. There are numerous laws in place to protect children from abuse, for detailed information you can read more on the DOL website under the Youth in Entertainment Section.
Each state is responsible for distributing these permits through their Department of Labor (DOL) offices and if the state law differs from the Federal law then it is the state law which is followed. For example, if you live in California children do not become adults until they are 18 and require work permits until then. You need to provide the birth certificate or a passport and have the school sign the application anytime you renew while your school age child’s school is in session. This permit expires every 6 months, but it is free to apply for it and renew it. In general, states that tend to have a lot of filming or live theatre also require work permits.
There is a long sad story here that is worth a read, but the short version is a young boy named Jackie Coogan made millions of dollars acting but his mother and step-father spent almost all of it. He sued them and the lawsuit brought awareness to what must have been far too common of an occurrence so California enacted the California Child Actors Bill also called the “Coogan Act” or “Coogan Law”. It requires that kids working in California have a blocked trust account set up with an approved bank or credit union and that production companies deposit 15% of the child’s earnings directly into the account. Some banks won’t set up this account until you have booked your first job. It is a quick thing to set up, so you’ll be able to get it done with one trip to your local branch, but talk to your bank now so you know the procedure and you’re ready to go.
Different states have similar laws but even if you live in a state without this protection it would be wise to set up a trust or college savings account for your child and deposit 15% of their earnings into it. Your child will thank you for it when they grow up. The SAG website has more information for you here.
The law only requires 15% be saved but it my opinion that you should save or invest even more of it for your child, as much as you possibly can. There are a plethora of investment funds that would be worth your time and effort to explore. I’m not a financial advisor so I’ll refrain from naming specific companies. It is not hard to research so do your homework.
A Parent or Guardian
This might seem obvious but I’ll say it anyway, your child needs to have an adult present with them on-set 100% of the time they are on set, even when they are being schooled in a separate area with a studio teacher.
This person is responsible for communicating any school-based needs to the studio teacher and coming to set prepared with 3-hours of school work.
If this person is not a parent, they need to have a legal form giving them the authority to look after and make decisions for your child while they are under their care. I am not a lawyer so any questions about setting up someone other than a parent to act as the on-set guardian should be answered by someone familiar with the laws in your state.
The parent or guardian should be well versed on all of the child labor laws, on-set production rules and the studio teacher requirements. More than familiar really, you or the person watching your child should be an expert on these rules to make sure that the production is following the law and keeping your child safe. SAG has a lot of great information that you can read even if you or your child aren’t in the union yet. Studio teachers have rules to follow as well, you can get educated on what they are required to do by going to the studio teachers website.
Yes, I know, I know… this wasn’t on the list at the top of the article. That’s because it isn’t a requirement to get started working but you will want it and considering how many productions film outside the US you may need it sooner than you think. You should get your application in now for you and anyone in your family that may accompany your child if they have to film abroad, especially since you need it to go to Mexico or Canada now.
It will save you time, money and stress to get it done ahead of time, so you can avoid expediting fees and worrying that it won’t arrive in time. People have lost auditions and jobs because they didn’t have it. Production companies don’t want to gamble on the person who doesn’t have it ready to go. Plus having a Passport can speed up paperwork on set when you’re filing your I-9.
Are you still with me? Good, because that was only the bare necessities.
So here is your homework assignment:
- Get your child’s Work Permit
- Talk to your bank about a Coogan or Blocked Trust Account if you’re not a Californian
- Learn your states Child Labor Laws, Production Employment Rules and Studio Teacher Requirements
- Apply for a US Passport for your child and any possible travel companion
If I left you wanting more, then read some of my previous articles to help you navigate parenting in this exciting (crazy) business! There are lots of good tips, great classes and strategies for keeping some balance in your life.
Break a leg!