I was talking to my son about an interview I was preparing to do with a mom about parenting kids who work in the entertainment industry and my son, Dylan, who is a 14 year-old actor, asked me, “Why don’t you interview me? I know what it’s like to be a kid in this business.” The kid’s got a point! So I interviewed him. We covered a lot of ground so this is edited for readability. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
Erin (Mom): Why don’t you introduce yourself.
Dylan: Hi, I’m Dylan. I’m an actor and I do voice over and I have a lot of other interests, but mostly I like mountain biking. I’ve been acting since I was two-years old when I was in my first Walmart commercial. We moved to Chicago for a few years so I didn’t get back into acting until I was 9. Now I’m about to start high school. I can tell you that every kid is different and might feel differently or have other insights or experiences to share, but this is what it is like working as an actor from my point of view.
Being a kid in the entertainment industry can be like riding a roller coaster–a roller coaster that’s on fire! It’s exciting, exhausting and a little scary, so you just have to jump in, secure your safety harness and hang on through the loop-de-loops. Things can be pretty slow one week, with hardly any auditions, then all the sudden you find out you’ve booked something in Vancouver and you’ll be gone for weeks. So you rush around to get everything organized for the trip only to find out that the production got cancelled. See what I mean?
And there was that show that was filming in Italy.
Oh yeah. That would have been cool.
Really cool, but also we’d have been away all summer, which would have been hard on our family to be apart.
I’m always trying to keep everything organized for all of us and not over-schedule you kids, but how do you balance school and acting?
Balance is almost impossible. I ask my agent to book me out for important activities, like my mountain bike races and practice and for school… I just do my best to stay ahead when things are slow and get to know what my teachers like so I can turn the work into them the way they want it. But sometimes it just isn’t possible.
For example, a few months ago I had to miss a few days of school for a call-back, a wardrobe fitting and then the filming of the commercial. I hardly had any warning that I booked the job, so I emailed my teachers to tell them I would be absent, and got homework from other kids in class–or some teachers post it on their websites. My mom had to write a note to excuse me from school early, which did irritate one of my teachers because I got pulled out during the middle of her class.
When I’m working on a shoot I always have to do 3 hours of homework on set with the studio teacher on the filming day. Then I get a report card from that studio teacher that I bring back to my school the next day, to prove I did my work. I still have to do all the assigned homework and get it turned in on time or make arrangements with the teacher to get an extension. Even with all of that, it might not be an excused absence.
The rules might be different for different states. Our readers can look the rules up at your State’s Department of Labor website. (www.DOL.gov or for CA https://permits.dir.ca.gov/ewp/)
I think things are more flexible at private schools or performing arts schools but a lot of the actors I know are home schooled so they don’t have to worry about absences. For me, I prefer to go to public school. I like being around my friends and, even though I love my mom, I like learning from all of the different teachers.
Thanks Dylan. I love you too (laughs). But I remember when you had to be homeschooled for three months when you worked as a photo double on that George Clooney directed movie, Suburbicon. You had a lot of trouble getting the wifi signal on set so you had to retake that science test several times when it crashed in the middle. That really cemented your opinion about online homeschooling. I think a different online program might have worked better, but I agree. I like that you’re learning from the expert teachers at school and that you can easily take the AP classes and be a part of the robotics club through our public school.
Yup, that was frustrating for me…Even though we live in Los Angeles, my school isn’t really set-up to deal with a kid who misses random school days for work: It’s hard to get homework ahead of time; I’ve had to stay late to make-up a test; and I have had to get good at speaking up to make sure I got the points for my homework that I did on set. Because I’m in middle school I have 7 different teachers. Some of them are very cool with me missing class for a film and others seems really annoyed by it.
Yeah, it has been problematic when you’ve missed school. California labor law allows kids to have up to five excused absences for work, and each one can be up to 5 consecutive days, which would be 25 days. Of course, not all shows shoot 5 days in a row, so if each shoot is only 1 day, it could be as little as 5 excused days.
Can you talk about a typical week for you?
Well, I’m at school all day and, in my opinion, I have a lot of homework, roughly 1 to 2 hours a night. Plus, I really wanted to take both orchestra and wood-shop so I have to go into school an hour early to fit in an extra class that started before first period. Our school requires a minimum of 12 hours of community service hours, so once a week I volunteered to tutor other students in the library after school. Umm.. I’m very busy before I even get to my fun activities and acting work.
To be honest, I’m not that excited to get out of school early because I’m missing stuff I need to learn, and it’s hard to catch up or walk out mid-way through a lesson. So, although I love getting auditions, I wish I didn’t have to miss school or my other activities to do it.
Yes, I don’t like pulling you out either, you always end up missing the same class that you have for last period. However, since you are SAG, the casting offices have to schedule your auditions after 3 p.m., but callbacks can be anytime during the day because there are producers or directors in the room.
That’s true, but even when the casting directors schedule auditions for after school I usually still have to leave early to make it on time. Most auditions are about an hour or more away with traffic. You like us to be early. (Pointing to Erin) She always says, “Early IS on time.”
I know a lot of kids really like to get out of going to school, but I really don’t. There are lots of kids who might enjoy homeschool, too. It just wasn’t for me.
Besides traffic, being busy and missing school or other activities is there anything else that you don’t enjoy?
Well, for me, another down-side is that none of my friends at school are actors so they don’t really understand why I’m missing school or cancelling plans with them at the last minute. Besides the unpredictable schedule, managing my friendships is one of the hardest parts for me. I don’t like explaining to friends, or to kids who I don’t even know that well, why I missed school. It usually goes like this. A classmate walks up to me….
“Hey, you weren’t in class yesterday, did you shoot something?”
“It was for a call-back.”
“Oh, for a TV show.”
“No, a commercial.”
“Did you get it?”
“Really, (excited) what is it for?”
“Really? (disappointed) Huh. It’d be cool if it was a TV show.”
I don’t know if it is because we live in Los Angeles or if this is teenagers everywhere, but kids here are really unimpressed with acting. Unless it is for something they think is super cool or a huge successful show. So, I really don’t like talking about it to them because I feel like I’m being judged all the time. And if I do get a cool part I don’t want to come off like I’m showing of–and I never tell them how much money I make. That would just be awkward.
That sounds tough. Do you ever want to quit?
No, I don’t want to quit. Not yet, anyway. Sometimes I think I would like a break because it IS frustrating to miss a mountain bike practice for a TV show and not get a call-back or booked on it. Or when I was a photo double for three months I couldn’t go to my school on the days we weren’t shooting because the school made me un-enroll for the duration of the shoot. I really missed my friends during that. Plus, when you’re a photo double you work everyday, but no one ever even knows you were in the movie because you’re supposed to look like one of the other characters from behind. Oh, and I had to cut off all of my long blonde hair and dye it brown. That was not my favorite thing.
I totally get that, I’ve never had to cut all my hair off for a part. I definitely think this business requires a lot of personal sacrifice.
But I did have a lot of fun on that movie, too. It was a great experience working with everyone and I made friends with the kids in the cast, like Tony and Noah. It was cool learning exactly what a photo double does, but I also figured out that I would rather be the main actor or even someone with a small part rather than the photo double. I actually got asked to photo double for Noah again but I realized that if I kept saying yes to photo doubling, I was choosing that instead of getting speaking roles because for weeks or months you can’t take any other jobs. So it was really cool, but I wouldn’t do it again.
I know that despite all of the hard parts that you do love acting. What are the things you like most about it?
There are a lot of cool things about acting. First of all, being on set and working on a show is awesome. The people are great and you get to do so many fun things. Once I got to drive the golf card on the Warner Bros studio lot! It can be long days but you hardly even notice.
I love my acting classes and doing improv. I think most kids would learn a lot in those classes because it helps you be more confident in front of people and talking to grown-ups.
We get to take lots of cool classes, like last summer we learned how to ride horses and this summer I’m going to be taking surfing lessons. I’ve done skateboarding camp, tennis, snow skiing…so many fun things. It’s good to have a lot of experiences because it could come in handy for a part. I play four musical instruments and I’ve gotten called in for auditions just because I know how to play them well.
Do you have any advice for other kids?
It was really exciting when I did a screen test for a new TV show even though I didn’t end up getting the part. I really enjoy auditioning. I think that is the key. You have to just enjoy doing the prep work and going into the audition to entertain people, even if it is only one person with a camera in the audition room. Then you have to walk out and just not worry about it. I think because I have a lot of things I enjoy doing, it doesn’t really get me down when I don’t get cast.
So that would be my advice to other kids. I’ve been on a gazillion auditions and sometimes I book it, but mostly I don’t. So just enjoy yourself!
How about advice for parents?
Oh, that reminds me – kids, make sure you thank your parents! Cuz you’re in this together!
I guess to the parents I would say, just try to be supportive. I really like that you (gestures to Erin) help me prep my scripts and record them if it’s a self-tape, but you really don’t spend too much time rehashing things or dwelling on things that went wrong. Instead, I think it’s good that you ask me, “What went well? What can we improve?”, and ,”Was I as prepared as I wanted to be?” I think about those things for a moment and then it is on to the next thing. That has helped me a lot.