Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Submission Photos: Look with Me!

How Does a Children's Modeling Agent Look at Submission Photos?

As you may know, I was a print agent at a great NYC agency for a year in addition to my seven years in the biz as a model mom.  I belong to a few Facebook groups that serve the purpose of discussing headshots -- what makes a good one, is this a good one, whom do you recommend, etc.  I know my way around a decent headshot, but I’m going to talk about submission photos now.  Please note: THERE IS A DIFFERENCE!  I often see parents talking about their child’s new headshots when they are not really headshots… or parents thinking babies need professional headshots… OR WORSE: anyone in the industry telling you that a baby needs professional headshots.  We are NOT talking about headshots, but at the type of good cell-phone photos you would be using for submission.  I thought it would be helpful to know what it is EXACTLY that children’s print agents want to see when you submit your child for consideration.  What I’m going to do here is share what’s going on in my brain when I look at a submission photo.  (Please note: all of this info is based on current accepted practice in the NYC children’s print modeling industry.  This info will NOT carry over to adults or other divisions of print modeling.)

I grabbed a few “stock” photos (these are photos available on the internet for use or purchase, for any purpose; these are NOT children I know and I am presuming all parents involved have signed releases for their children to be used in the images).  The stock photos tend to be pretty good, but I picked a few that I can pick apart a little and a few I can praise as submission photos.  All of these kids are adorable so I am not commenting AT ALL on the “looks” of the child, but rather how I see the submission photo

Photo “Submission” 1:




Aw, happy first birthday, little dude!  Cake smash and other “styled” photo shoots show up in baby submissions often.  Doesn’t get much cuter, right?  Well, a few problems here.  What’s the biggest problem?  The hat?  It’s a problem… but the biggest problem is that I really have no idea what this child looks like.  I need to see a face -- full on, full-frontal face.  Eyes.  They eyes are a key feature to what draws us into a child.  Then, the hat: I don’t know if this baby has any hair.  After all, it is a first birthday photo, and I need to know what kind of hair this child has for his age.  Overall, save these styled shots for friends and family.  First, there is really too much going on here for me to give this child a good look.  Second, styled shoots like this tend to have a lot of editing/photoshop so we might be missing some key features.

Photo “submission” 2:
This is the perfect baby submission photo.  Plain background (can be any neutral color like a beige wall or a grey sofa), simple white onesie, good light on the face, and a clear shot of exactly what this baby looks like.  I even see the baby is sitting up, so that gives me more information about what the baby can do.  If you have a baby or young toddler you would like to submit to an agency, MEMORIZE this photo!  ALSO: this is the type of photo you should be sending to your agents every 2-3 weeks if you have a baby in the business.  Cannot praise this photo enough.


Photo “submission” 3:




This kiddo is pretty cute, but… right, the hat.  I can’t see what’s going on with the hair or head shape. But what if I threw down this one:  Let’s say I get this photo in May.  What does this photo tell me?  Ok, it’s at least 5-6 months old.  Which means, I have no idea what this baby looks like NOW.  Today.  NEXT!

Photo “submission” 4:



I’m really hoping this one is obvious… but that doesn’t mean we don’t get shots like this all the time!  I think she’s cute, but I have no idea because I have actually already moved on through three other submissions in the time I would have written this sentence.  Never hats; never sunglasses.


Photo “submission” 5:




This is an example of a great submission photo.  Nothing distracting in the background -- just grass.  The simple top is good -- notice no distracting words or logos -- just a minimal pastel something or other that blends into the shirt.  (I see the girl -- not the design.)  This is a happy, natural face with a little personality -- not a forced grin or squinty eyes in the light.  Her hair is natural, which clients love.  My only issue here is that I want to see a full-length photo as well, but this girl would get a call for sure.

Photo “submission” 6:

So yeah, this happens too.  Especially for girl submissions, I would see a lot of styled photo shoots.  A couple GIANT problems here: do not send bathing suit photos of your child to anyone, especially anyone seeking photos of children -- even this type of “innocence” can end up in the wrong place.  Gonna wander off a little here: You model a bathing suit for Target?  It’s up in Target?  Great.  But even as your agent I don’t want to be submitting bathing suit photos of children unless a client well known to me is asking specifically for the photo.  My daughter did an adorable bathing suit shoot with a really talented Canadian designer (shout out, Danica!) so there is nothing wrong with that if it’s in your comfort level and you and your agent is booking you with a vetted client.  NEVER LET YOUR CHILD OUT OF YOUR SIGHT AND ONLY YOU DRESS AND UNDRESS YOUR YOUNG CHILD.


Ok, back on track here.  So no to the bathing suit in the submission.  No to cheesy styled photos -- I can hardly find the child through all of that seaweed.  This child looks like she has pretty eyes, but upon closer inspection it appears as though her features have been significantly smoothed out in editing and her eye color may have been altered as well.  I even detect some makeup.  NEVER EVER submit a photo of a child wearing makeup.  Real, working child models do not wear makeup (look at a Children’s Place ad).  For some reason, people have an inclination to make children look older.  In child modeling, children should look as young as possible for as long as possible.  And one more thing:  the hair accessory.  Please, no hair accessories.  Maybe a little clip or pin if you need to keep hair out of a child’s eyes, but don’t do anything that distracts me from seeing the child’s actual hair or head.  You want me to see your child’s face; not some giant flower bow headband thing.

Photo “submission” 7:


Let’s pretend a parent actually submitted this.  This is a RULE-FOLLOWER!  Plain background, solid tshirt, the child is looking at the camera with a natural expression, and nice light.  This is what you are aiming for.  If you are submitting a toddler, memorize this picture!  Full-frontal face and good focus also make this a winner.


So, let’s review the rules.  I even made a handy checklist for your convenience!
Next time, let's talk about something else that's VERY important about your submission. Hint: No, you're not willing to travel.

Thanks for reading! Please respond here, via email at thebizzymama@gmail.com, or on The Bizzy Mama facebook page. Also, check out my Instagram @thebizzymama and my daughter's public account, @bizzyholland

Friday, May 3, 2019

Are GIANT castings worth it?


Well hello! It’s been a while!  I’m 100% back on the parent end of things after spending a rewarding and very fast-paced year as a print agent in NYC and another year dealing with some annoying health issues.  I want to be able to share some of my “double wisdom” from being on both sides of the desk.  I may even repeat some older topics with some greater emphasis – we’ll see!

There’s one thing I’ll throw out there right away: while I was working as an agent, the business itself was pretty much exactly as I imagined it.  My intuitions and insights as a savvy parent kept me grounded in day-to-day operations.  A few surprises, but nothing too major.  I also walked into the agency with some pretty good insight in to industry parents (from my own interactions) and parents in general (from my teaching career).  This leads to where I’m going with this post:

Are giant castings worth it?



There are as many types of castings for print work as there are clients.  Each client seems to have its own slight variation on their typical casting.  I’ve taken my daughter to the giant two-hour plus waits and to meet one-on-one with a client in her design studio.  Some castings are done with a lot of back and forth photos and maybe a video clip.  There are so many submissions and direct castings that you don’t even know about happening on a daily basis.  But we all know the ones that stand out are the ones most parents refer to as “cattle calls” which are usually still request castings – just giant.  (Cattle calls are typically not request castings but maybe open to entire breakdowns and sometimes even open to the public.)  Some are so big they go over two or three days, dividing up ages or agencies to spread out the volume of kids.  Some actually try to see a zillion kids in one day (or maybe 400+).

Usually the name of the client is pretty exciting, so parents will gladly hop on board the casting train, excited about the opportunity regardless of the hassle of whatever wait there will be.  (Will they complain?  At least to each other?  Yes.)  I also want to remind parents or let you know if you’re not part of this loop: one of the NYC CDs who holds the biggest castings advertises her breakdowns online so any unrepresented parent can submit (emphasis on unrepresented – she does NOT like it if you submit AND your agent submits, so DO NOT do it).  Whenever this CD posts, agents will invariably receive 5-10 emails that day from parents asking if you submitted their child.  Yes; yes we did.

So there’s this parent (clues seem to indicate it’s a dad who’s relatively new to the industry) who thinks he can shake up the industry by encouraging parents to refuse large castings because “there has to be another way.”  If all the parents refuse the large castings, then maybe they just won’t happen anymore!  Apparently, the goal is to end large castings and have everything done via photo submission.  Cute, right?

I didn’t know about this little movement until a friend pointed it out to me and, well, I have some thoughts.  A lot of them!

Here’s my first reaction: you know when you have a job in a company or group and things go pretty well so you decide to take on another employee?  And you get this new employee right out of whatever school and that person comes in and points out everything he/she thinks should be done differently after like, a week on the job?  I sense this is what we have here.  You can have the best job ever but still have to write the TPS report.  Or muck out the stalls.  Or track down the non-compliant patient.  And those things are always going to suck and no matter what, you’ve tried it all, there just isn’t another way to do it.

So, yeah.  Think back to your initial meeting with your agent.  We told you there could be direct castings, in-person castings, and giant castings.  We said pack for the day – snacks, changes of clothes, toys, comfy shoes, and be ready to hurry up and wait.  And chances are, once you’ve been with your agent for a couple of seasons, you’ve done them all.  But I want to emphasize something: you need to know that when you go to a casting, you will be meeting with a casting director, a production team, the actual client, or a photographer – or any combination of one or more of those people/teams.  Chances are, if it’s a giant casting, you’re with a CD and a production team or photographer.  If you’re going to a callback, then the actual client might be there.  So just tuck that into your mind so you know the cast of characters and that different castings may actually be with different people.

How does a giant casting work on the agent’s end?  We would get the breakdown, which tells the genders, sizes, and probably height ranges of kids needed for the campaign or project.  We would then put together a sampler (generated by our website) of everyone who fits that breakdown.  So we would sort for all boy babies, 9-12mos, size 12 mos and create a sampler for that and make a link.  The CD would click on the link and see our babies that fit those specifications.  We would make a link for every breakdown and package that all together in one email to the CD.  After a week or so (or maybe even a day, depends on the CD’s timeline), we get a list of requests.  THEN we send the requests with all the job info to the parents, get confirms (track down confirms as well) and send the confirms and unavails (you should have booked out!) to the CD.  That cycle continues back and forth through the callback.  I just want to remind you of something and this is a fact and not an “oh poor me” – the only time agents get paid is when kids book.  So, all of this is done with the goal of having up-to-date info, great photos, and cooperative parents BECAUSE WE WANT YOU TO BOOK.

But “there has to be a better way” guy wants some reasons why CDs/clients still hold these castings when they are sooooo inconvenient and torturous to little ones and their parents.  Let’s get this one out of the way: these people are not early childhood advocates and it’s not their job to be sure little Simon is happy and entertained during a giant casting.  It’s not their job to make sure nap times are upheld or you didn’t have to put little Tina in a car for too long and pay a lot in tolls.  You are wandering into THEIR business where they assume you are ready, willing, and able to take part.  They may see 400 kids today and 200 adults the next day.  Their job is to pick people who are right for their project.  No more; no less.  (Note that this is different on set – usually there are more plans in place to keep kids cooperative and relaxed during a shoot.  This is where the wranglers come in.)

But here are some very practical reasons why castings of any size are not going anywhere (because someone wanted a list):

1)      A lot of kids do not look like their photos.  They are not always up-to-date (AT A MINIMUM: babies need to be every two weeks; toddlers every 3-4 months; school-age every 6 months… and when you get to six or so and up, pro pics are great BUT we all know they are styled and edited.  Really, though, great snaps need to be added regularly – ideally, once a month.)
2)      Can the kid handle the photo shoot, or is a little one super clingy and shy?
3)      If it’s an older child, is the child surly or bratty?
4)      Parents are not reliable about size updates.  Sorry – they just are not.  And even when they are, a measurement at a casting never seems to match any other casting or what we have on file.  And that’s not something we can argue with.  (UPDATE SIZES MONTHLY!)
5)      Is the parent a hot mess and someone you don’t want on your set?
6)      How does the kid’s hair look in person?  What’s the texture like?  What types of looks can be styled with that type of hair?
7)      Does the vibe of the kid match the brand?
8)      The agent only sent one pic – from the chest up.  What does the child look like full-length?

Those were just off the top of my head in the morning, before coffee.  Dude comes back with:

"As for the kids’ behavior, disposition, parents’ behavior, etc., isn’t that for the agents to know these things about their talent and then the casting director putting trust in the agency to sift out the ones that wouldn’t work out?"

Well, perfect world, yes.  And an agent is not going to send anyone who is difficult to work with.  However, as parents, we know that kids change on a dime and they may have been totally cooperative a week ago and now they are going through a new phase.  I may have a baby who booked everything at nine months and now that she’s eleven months, she’s impossible to work with because she just started walking.  How many times have you met with your agent?  Were you not on your best behavior?  I know we rejected gorgeous kids who seemed impossible at the initial meeting.  But agents do not see their kids very often.  With our daily load of work to book jobs, seek new clients, create samplers, meet new models, we simply cannot meet with our kids more than once a year.  We rely on parents to tell us when the kiddos are “not into it” or at an impossible age – and unfortunately, sometimes we will find out the hard way when things don’t go well on a job.  We DO NOT WANT THAT – because it makes us look bad and it puts the client in a position of having to pay a kid they couldn’t work with.  And we’ve had difficult parents blackballed from brands because maybe they were having one bad day.  (I’ll tell you all about my daughter’s COLOSSALLY bad audition in another post.)

I also used this analogy: I would not hire a contractor to do an expensive job on my house without meeting him/her/them first no matter how highly recommended that contractor is.  Hiring 15 models for a few days’ project ends up being big money for that client.  If they want to meet the kids first, they are entitled.

Anyway, this parent who is starting this movement says that things will change if parents refuse to go to big castings.  A few more pearls of wisdom for you: if you refuse castings when you are not booked out, that’s a great way to get dropped.  If a different agent is willing to pick you up afterwards, go ahead and try that again.  I can predict how each office in NYC would respond to that.  If you refuse, I can find three parents and children thrilled to replace you – because agents can sometimes make a couple of replacements in these circumstances.  I also probably have a few hundred submissions in the inbox I haven’t gotten to yet.  I need kids on my roster who will book.  You refuse castings?  You’re not booking… so… next.

But – are the giant castings actually worth it?  Yes.  Kids book.  There are kids who go to the same CD and client and book on the fifth time.  First time.  Never.  Maybe they will not book one client with that CD but will book a different client with that CD.  Maybe a kid will book one division (say, a circular) from big castings but never book another division (like store signage).  You never know.  It’s just part of the whole scene.  Some smooth and simple castings and some that are huge.  You may even hit one that’s small BUT you still wait two hours!  You just never know.

Remember, you have chosen this industry for your child.  It is a business.  I think if you read through my blog posts you will see over and over and over that THIS IS A BUSINESS.  Your child is passing through a business that has been around a very long time and will be there for a very long time when your child is done.  You have agreed to the travel, the tolls, the parking, the waiting, and the inconveniences of wrestling around a busy city.  There are many joys and certainly – like any job – many pains in the butt.  But if the business if not for you, gracefully bow out.  Your child is not entitled to a smooth casting for every brand.  Everyone wants that, but things happen – there are going to be doozies.  This is not youth soccer where everyone plays, you can go to the coach or board with complaints about playing time, or the hours of the concession stand.  You should be incredibly fortunate that your child has the chance to participate in this industry – I participate in national advocacy programs for child models and actors and there are parents and children everywhere would do anything to be close enough to a major market to participate – and they do some pretty stupid things thinking they are getting a real shot at this business. 

So maybe turn the table a bit.  Be grateful and endure the challenges.  You know what’s best for your child.  If this isn’t it, so be it.  If you don’t know all the ins and outs of a business, don’t think you can jump onto the scene and make a great movement to change it.  It’s really not realistic.  If you’re really bent on sticking it to the man, may I recommend taking on DMV in Connecticut?

Check out my Instagram for dog and family and some modeling/acting posts @thebizzymama or my daughter’s @bizzyholland and follow the Bizzy Mama facebook page (I announce new posts there) or feel free to comment here or email at thebizzymama@gmail.com





Sunday, October 29, 2017

From the agent side! No punishment...no spite.

The Bizzy Mama is just a different mama now.  Still Bizzy…still a mama…so what’s new?  Well, my daughter has slowed down in the biz.  She’s busier with her own stuff now and has wanted to stay closer to home doing camp (in the summer) and tennis, ballet (including the Nutcracker – and all of the various foul-language versions it earns the closer we get to the performance), Girl Scouts, softball and other kid stuff like birthday parties.  BUT: she still wants to be a movie star and a model, so once a month or so she’ll still want an audition.  It’s nice to dabble a little on that side without the full drop-everything-and-run schedule we used to have.

But what is the Bizzy Mama doing every day?  I’m an agent now, y’all.  Yup.  Full-fledged.  So now I can write to you knowing the business backwards and forwards – inside and out.  And really: stop the presses NOT – I don’t have any major revelations for you.  What I can do is 100% answer your questions honestly and truly.  And the one that so many parents seem to want answered…Do agents punish parents/kids (for whatever reason)?

I’d like to put an interlude in before the actual answer (an imagine me nudging a colleague and saying this under my breath) “Do they even know how we make money?”  If a kid who can book the job is not put forth to casting or the client and we don’t book the job, we don’t make money.

Actually, I’m going to put in another interlude.

When I was in my first few weeks as an agent, people kept asking me how different it was on the other side.  I shrugged my shoulders often and said it really wasn’t *that* much different than what I expected – I felt that I had a really good handle on the business.  (Emphasis on business.)  I’m observant; I tend to absorb as much as possible; I soak it all in; I learn what I can.  What actually DID surprise me, though, was the extent to which the agencies need to hustle to get bookings.  And this really shouldn’t have surprised me – I was just somewhat oblivious to the competition out there.  Beautiful kids galore, happy agents, right?  Well, sure, but it’s like any other “agency” or brokerage – be it realtors, auto dealerships, travel agents.  They all have perfectly wonderful things to offer but ultimately a client needs to make a choice.  And that’s the way it is among the child modeling agencies – there are a good handful of solid, reputable agencies in NYC and they all have hard-working agents and gorgeous kids.  Clients only need so many for their projects.  Try as we might, we cannot really convince Gap or Amazon to increase the number of kids they may book to make it all go around “so it’s fair” (ugh, jeeeez, now there’s another blog post).  It is, as they say, what it is.  Bottom line: we compete.

So if you do something YOU THINK pisses us off – or ACTUALLY pisses us off – are we going to punish you?

I’m not going to speak for any other agents, but I’m probably pretty safe in speaking from the perspective of a sane business person who needs to make money: I’m a professional.  I am not going to “punish” you.  If you do something inappropriate, I am going to tell you.  If I think it means we cannot work together, I will warn you about that and we will come to an understanding about how to go forward.  If it really breaches our professional relationship, I will cut you loose.  Otherwise, we will move on and I will continue to represent your kid just as zealously as I did yesterday.  Because I need to make money and I get that is the reason we are all here.  But I will not play games because I do not have the time nor the energy (nor, frankly, the brain cells – I am an aging woman) for that and I hope you will not spend any time thinking, “Did I do something wrong?  Why haven’t I heard from them?”  if we haven’t emailed you recently.  (Hashtag office coffee fund: pay a dollar every time a parent writes, “We haven’t heard from you – I hope I didn’t do something wrong!”)

No, no, no, parents.  We want to work in partnership with you.  We need your updates and photos and cute stories from vacations.  If you were 15 minutes late to a casting that one time because of an accident on the West Side Highway, WE GET IT.  You called and you let us know and when casting called, we were on top of it.  That ONE TIME you didn’t book out even though you have been perfect about booking out for TWO YEARS?  Ok, ok, maybe we’ll say “Please don’t forget to book out at least two weeks in advance next time!” but we PROMISE that is NOT going to stop us from submitting your child every time we get that breakdown.  There are even really bad things you can do that might not make us punish you – and I’m not even going to say what those are because I don’t want you to think you can get away with them – but the bottom line is, we don’t punish you.  If your kid is capable of booking a job – WHICH IS WHY WE SIGNED YOUR KID – we will not stop submitting your child for jobs.  Because this goes back to the whole business thing and making money thing.  “Punishing” you -- that is spite.  And spite does not run a business.  Spite does not pay the rent, does not put gas in my tank, and does not buy my child’s dance shoes.  So until spite takes the form of currency, it has no place in business.

What will stop me from submitting your child for jobs?  If you ignore emails and phone calls and I’m not sure if I can reach you or not.  (It’s not punishing you – I can’t count on you, so I can’t risk being unreliable for a client.)  If you don’t send photo and size updates on a regular basis.  (I have no idea if I am submitting you for the right breakdowns – again, I need to be reliable for a client.)  There’s nothing more puzzling that going a few months without hearing from a parent and then reading them ask if things are slow and why they haven’t gotten anything lately…what am I ALWAYS going to write back?  “Please send us updated sizes and photos so we can make sure we are submitting ___ for the right jobs.”  We’re thrilled to hear from you – and I wish we had the time to reach out to each of you each month and do the legwork ourselves…but as I used to tell my students when they were clueless about their homework assignments, they have 6 teachers a day to keep track…versus me having 125 students a day to keep track of.  Now, as an agent, it’s even a little more than that.  (But I promise, no one just like your child.)  Bottom line: be 100% reachable when we contact you, let us know when you are not available, and keep up-to-date with sizes and photos.  If you drop off the face of the earth, I will stop submitting your kid.


So no, we don’t punish you.  We can’t operate on spite.  There will be slow patches, and it’s probably no one’s fault other than just a lull...season, size, which clients are in town, which kids are top bookers in the industry right now…did a butterfly flap its wings in a rain forest somewhere…and we really do want to work together.  We’ve got this.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Managing Those School Absences

Welcome to the first Bizzy Mama blog post under for which I have a new perspective: the AGENCY!  I have to say, though, I think I could have given the agency perspective on this one already.  Remember how I always say to remember that this is a BUSINESS?

So, thinking about BUSINESS, it only makes total sense to write about school and absences and your child’s job as a model/performer.  Right?  The thing is: somehow it does need to all come together.  Because that is the reality.  Your kid is a kid, who probably goes to school (of which some form is required by our society), AND your kid works in a legitimate, fast-paced and high-expectations business.  Making it all work can be a challenge, but it can be done.  It depends on a few things.

First, I’ll get this out of the way.  By having a school-age child and signing on to be a model/actor, you are accepting the fact that school absences will occur.  Unless you are in this ONLY for the summer, school absences are inevitable.  You really cannot have it both ways.  So accept that fact outright, and decide your game plan.  I’ve heard parents say things like, “Well, if they want to work with kids, they need to understand that school comes first!”  Unfortunately, modeling and performing fit into a mostly Monday-Friday, workday schedule.  For all of the adults in the business (production teams, photographers, stylists, etc.), it’s their job – and they operate according to a typical work schedule.  (I say “typical”, but there are shoots that occur on weekends and holidays, so I don’t want to make blanket statements.)  If your kid can’t work because of school – another kid can.  And I don’t mean to be mean by this – it’s just the way of the business.  If school absences are not acceptable for you, consider summer work or whether or not this is the right business for you.

I would say the most significant factor in pulling it off – achieving that balance for a kid who manages both work and school – is:  <dramatic pause> YOU.  The parent.  How you deal with everyone in the equation will make all the difference in the world when it comes to the great balancing act.  First, consider yourself a role model.  How do you present yourself in situations at school with teachers and administrators?  I will tell you 100% what NEVER EVER EVER to say.  Do not say this.  I taught high school for twenty years and I can tell you this is SUPER irritating.  Never say: “Will my child be missing anything next week?” or “Did my child miss anything important yesterday?”  YES, your child missed/will miss important things.  School is important; there may be some days more exciting than others; it’s all valuable.  Think about how to rephrase that.  “My son will need to miss some class time next week; what can I do with him to help him stay on track with his classmates?”  maybe add something like, “I know you may not have time to put together work in advance, but I’d love to know what you’re working on in math/science/social studies so I can help keep him on track as much as possible.  I’ll check in again at the end of the week for any suggestions you may have.”  So what you’ve done there is show the appropriate respect for school and the teacher, you’ve shown initiative to make up some of the gap between makeup work and class time, and you’ve committed yourself to communicating and keeping that communication open.  Human perspective: you are totally respectful and realize you’re in a collaborative situation.  You’ve agreed to take on some of this yourself and not burden others with your child’s extraordinary needs.  Very importantly, you’re not treating the teacher like some sort of learning servant.  (That was the worst.  I’m all for professionalism and expectations that your child has a great teacher, but when I would get these demanding letters about a kid needing a week’s worth of work because he’s going to Aruba right before mid-term exams, I would basically hate you.  No, I was not going to take significant time away from my other 124 students to make sure your pampered prince had a packet of work HE WOULD NEVER DO ANYWAY.)

I can say without fail that in any walk of life, you get more flies with honey.  The sweeter and more gracious you are, people will be much more willing to work with you.  Thus, the reverse is true: if you are a total pain in the ass, you will get nowhere.

Now here’s where I’m going to come in with the agency perspective.  If you need to focus on school BOOK OUT.  If you know your child has a pressing engagement – of any sort – bust especially in school, please book out in advance.  And you know what the school calendar is – if there is a week of state testing that your child cannot miss, book out.  Mom perspective now:  “We haven’t been busy with work much lately, so we don’t book out and just chance it.”  We’ve allllll done this.  And most of the time it works out just fine – we get where we need to be.  But it will never fail that the ONE TIME YOU DIDN’T BOOK OUT, a casting or job will come and…what are you going to do?  Your agent needs to know if you are available or NOT.  You can’t get a casting today for tomorrow at 3:00 and say you can’t pull your kid from school.  Remember, you’ve accepted your child will be missing school and you should be ready to go at a moment’s notice.  Once an agent has to go back and tell casting your kid cannot make it, it’s a real drag.  Sure, we know things are going to come up.  Especially in the winter, kids get sick left and right or weather takes a sudden turn for the worse, but these occurrences must be the exception and not the rule.

The school district itself is an important piece in this puzzle.  Some districts are very content to allow the absences, especially when the parent makes every effort to keep the transitions in and out of the classroom as smooth as possible.  The less you show up on the radar, the better.  This goes back to the whole how-you-handle-it thing.  I would say that districts closer to the hub of NYC are probably more understanding.  (Disclaimer: I can only offer advice for the NY market.  I have no idea how things work in other markets!)  The farther you get from the city, the harder it is, both because the districts may never have had industry kids or just the sheer challenge of distance.  More on that in a bit.  But you need to know that there are state laws about absences and how they are excused and how many are allowed.  For example, Connecticut (where I live) allows ten unexcused absences.  Modeling and a lot of one-day acting projects – in general – are going to fall into that category.  An absence can be excused by the district for some sort of amazing cultural learning opportunity, and I pulled that card when my daughter missed a day to shoot a pilot with a director who had just won an Oscar the year before.  (Side note: the pilot was not picked up, so…yeah.  But cool experience!)  But literally, that’s the kind of “reach” it has to be – and it’s up to the Superintendent’s discretion, so you can’t really play that extreme cultural opportunity card to go shoot for a toy catalog.  Illness, however, can be excused, so every time your child is legitimately ill, be sure to document that specifically in your own records or get a doctor’s note – that way, none of those illnesses will cut into those magic ten absences.

Now here’s some inside scoop (teacher perspective).  I learned that it’s very difficult for a district to deny a child credit or advancement if they don’t have a regular practice of doing it.  So, let’s say your child had 18 unexcused absences from working.  The school threatens to deny your child credit for the year.  If your district has a no history of doing this for children (here’s the catch: educational records are PRIVATE and you would have almost no way of knowing how it handles other kids’ absences), it would be very difficult to suddenly “make an example” of a child.  If your district is always a fascist about this, you have very little recourse.  But it’s a Catch-22: you don’t know what they usually do, so you need to play your cards right.  However, if you missed more than the limit last year and they suddenly change their tune, you kind of know how they handled it last year and maybe you don’t have to worry as much.  Here again is why it’s important to keep on top of the work and keep the communication open: if your child is doing well, it’s harder to initiate these types of clamp-downs on kids.  Beware, though, that with all of the electronic record-keeping that schools do, there may be an automatic letter or phone call from the social worker when absences get near the limit.  And yes, we have received both.  How did I handle it?  First, I knew the letter was automatic and required by law that they notify me…so I didn’t specifically respond.  Absences noted.  Thank you.  When I got the phone call, I thanked the social worker for the update and assured her I was aware of the situation, promised to provide documentation for the excused absences, and make sure my daughter was doing well.  And that’s all I had to say – there was no grand inquisition.  In fact, in a later and unrelated conversation with the social worker, I joked that the whole conversation sounded like she was reading from a script.  She admitted that, essentially, she was running down a list of things she was required to say.  So don’t take it personally – let the school do what they need to do, and graciously thank them for their concern and remind them that you always want a good partnership between home and school.

Am I saying to suck up?  Yes, I am telling you to suck up.  You’re causing them more work (for both the classroom teacher and the administration) and you need to think of it from their perspective: this is a pain in the neck for them.  They probably have some really annoying and ugly conversations with parents, and I’m willing to bet that person who called you dreaded getting on the phone with parents.  Not everyone is as nice as you are!

Why do schools care so much – don’t parents always know better when it comes to these decisions?  Well, first, their job is to educate your child to the best of their ability, and they want to do it well.  Next, schools are actually rated and judged – by the state and federal government – on attendance rates.  I’m not entirely sure about the funding being based on attendance rates; I think it’s true but I’m not entirely sure how that works on a day-by-day basis.  Usually the attendance rate on one specific day is requested by the government, and the school must report the attendance percentage.  If that number is low in relation to similar schools or the state/national average, it can mean penalties for the school in terms of reporting requirements or future funding.  Remember No Child Left Behind?  I honestly have no clue how much of that law is still intact, but that single attendance statistic was something upon which a school could be deemed “failing.”

The next question I often get is, “Should I lie and say my kid is sick?”  No.  Don’t lie.  I say my child has an appointment.  If they ask, I say it’s a casting or a shoot.  Lying will only bite you in the butt in the long run.  You don’t need to divulge all the gory details, but they will ultimately end up knowing why your kid was absent.  And as a matter of moral and ethical principle, I don’t think you should put your child in a position of having to lie.  If someone asks your kid where he/she was yesterday and you tell your kid to lie…?  No.  Just don’t.

And another “what if”:  What if your child suddenly isn’t doing well and the school is saying the absences are having an effect or your kiddo’s performance?  For heaven’s sake, pull your kid from modeling and performing.  Contact the agency.  Book out until further notice.  Reconsider when the performance has improved.  Period.  This is not debatable in my mind.  There is no argument that modeling/performing can be a better experience than performing well in school.  Can it be an excellent experience for a child in addition to strong school performance?  Yes.  But in place of?  NO WAY.

I’ll come in now from the agent perspective.  Is it realistic to tell the agency you can only make castings and bookings after school?  Not really.  Castings for school-age children DO tend to start at 3:00, and I think that is pretty standard.  Here’s where distance comes in: if you live far from the city, like we do, most castings require an early dismissal.  I’ve taken that on and accept it as part of the business, just like the absences.  Do I think it’s fair to refuse a random casting that does pop up smack in the middle of a school day?  Yes, I think that’s reasonable because it’s rare enough that it won’t make a huge dent in the big picture of casting.  I would not bite your head off.  As an agent, I would ask casting that my school-age kids be scheduled after 3:00 pm, and hope for the best.  But can you request that bookings only be after school?  No.  Bookings occur during regular business hours, and that’s why you are in the business – to work according the standard operating procedures of the industry.  There’s no way of knowing the exact time your child will shoot when he or she is submitted (sometimes months) in advance of a shoot.  If I know that you are unavailable until 3:00, I probably cannot chance getting you booked for a 10:00 am shoot in four weeks – and knowing I would have to decline the booking with the client.  Bookings are the grand prize in this business, and we have to do everything possible to secure them – not risk losing them.  There are some clients out there who are somewhat mindful of school and may schedule older kids later in the day so they can get in some school, BUT – big picture – they schedule the kids according to what makes the most sense to production’s schedule.

I’m going to circle back to my big advice here.  Be gracious, be sweet, and work your tail off to keep your kid on track for doing well.  Obviously if you get a long booking or are going to be working on a major on-camera project, the whole game changes.  There will be set teachers and state and union requirements for daily school work, and that’s a different story.  I hope I addressed the overall concern about occasional work-related school absences from my multiple perspectives...let me know if you need any more info!


As always, follow my Bizzy Mama facebook page where I announce new posts, feel free to respond on Backstage, shoot me an email at thebizzymama@gmail.com, or check out my silly pet and family pics on IG @thebizzymama.  I work for Take 3 Talent now, so you can check out their website at www.take3talent.com for more agency info.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Should my child do...freebies?

Ok.  Deeeep breath.  I’ve been threatening to do this one for a long time…and I think it’s finally time.  For a couple of reasons.  More on that to come.

It’s the freebie blog post.

I’m not touching Pay-to-Work here – see my posts from last year for that.  This is all about working for free…or for trade (goods/products).  I have heard a range of opinions on this.  And by range, I mean parents, agents, photographers, designers, etc.  It is not a topic many people are ambivalent about.  I will say this: you know whose opinion I really haven’t heard?  The kids’.  I really haven’t asked any kids how it feels to work for free.  So, I’m going to try to take the kids’ position in this.  (But realistically, we know that involves a large dose of parent as well.)

Here goes:

Should my child work for free?

Let’s just do a quick disclaimer: I’m not going to be a hypocrite.  We have done them.  I am not even going to say 100% never will we do one again, because there may be some circumstances (which I will explain) where an unpaid job might be a good move.  But I’m going to say, at this point in our career and lives: no, we won’t do unpaid jobs.

Now, there is a lot of grey area when we start thinking about what, exactly, is a job.  If your friend designs toys and they want to do a photoshoot for their Etsy page, is that something you should say no to?  You probably think it’s a no-brainer – why not?!?  It’s your friend!  Of course you would volunteer your kid!  And if you say no, you’re being a douche, right?  Well…if your child is a professional model, is it ok for a friend to use your kid for his or her professional abilities for free?  Here are some ways to think about this, and I’ll let you decide for yourself.  If you are a physician, and your friend has every symptom of strep on a Sunday and just can’t deal with the walk-in, would you write a Rx?  What about when your friend throws out his back and just wants a few Oxy?  And next week it’s happening again.  OK, so maybe that is an extreme example.  It’s your friend, and that was a big jump there with that analogy.  Now you’re a plumber, and your friend’s sink is clogged on a holiday.  Happy to help.  Now your friend is adding on a couple of rooms, and is asking you for a week’s worth of free work because you’re friends, after all…you’d be saying no to paid work that week, and it would be a week without any earnings…not just a week when you’d be home hanging out.  Or maybe it IS a week when you’d be home hanging out.  Slow period; why not help?  But your friend across town now knows you did that huge free job for one pal, why not him too?

Self-employed people and professionals with special skills (electricians, mechanics, lawyers, accountants) GET this.  They know what it’s like to be asked all the time for stuff for free/favors/etc.  And I’m going to do it – here it comes – photographers know what this is like.  Everyone who knows you wants a deal, a break, a discount…and those professional and personal lines get blurred real fast.

Have I asked my physician friends a quick medical question?  Sure.  Have I asked my attorney friends a quick legal question?  Yup.  Here’s where I draw the line and where the line should be drawn: if I need treatment or expertise for which that person would ordinarily be compensated, I probably wouldn’t ask.  And if I did?  I would offer to compensate appropriately.  I would show that person that I place a value on their services.  It is THEN up to that person to say no, we’re buddies – I got ya this time.

Why, suddenly, are children out of the whole equation in their professional capacity and their need to be valued for actual work they perform?

Hey, mom: I’m looking at you.  Is this kid at the photo shoot for YOU or for the kid? 

I am just as guilty of this as anyone else.  Yes, I have brought my daughter to photo shoots because I wanted the photos.  I wanted the experience; I wanted to see the pictures; I liked the photographer; I wanted to hang out with other moms; what have you.  Now, however, my daughter sees modeling as work.  And she knows she gets paid, and pretty much does it because it’s a fairly fun way to make money.  (Our big issue now is the commute – when she was little and could be entertained with an iPhone for the whole time, it was no biggy.  Now that car time means missing playtime in the neighborhood and all that good stuff.  But if she wants money toward something, she knows she has the option to actually work.)

The types of shoots I am talking about are shoots that are usually done for emerging designers, who may want to show their garments at a trade show, and want a look book or some magazine ads to promote their brand.  In many cases, these emerging designers are working on a tight budget.  I am not going to pretend that these are people sitting on piles of money just to deprive small children of a pittance.  (Although those designers do exist, and there comes a time when you’re doing well enough to pay – so do it.)

I can assure you – however – in most cases, those photographers are getting paid.  So the studio gets the fair going rate, the photographer gets the fair going rate, the hair/makeup person gets the fair going rate.  Your kid?  Well, there’s no shortage of people willing to work for free, so there is really no demand to pay the kids.  You see this on Facebook all. The.  Time.  Photographers and stylists hold Facebook castings, where they post what they are looking for and parents post a pic and info about their kid in the comments.  The client/designer looks through the comments and picks the kids they like based on the photos and info.  Casting: done.

Now, there are photographers and stylists out there in facebook-land that I happen to like very much who do this.  They know how I feel and I respect their position.  For the most part, they believe that everyone in the equation should benefit: meaning, if everyone gets some kind of good compensation, whether it be money, products, or photos, it can be fair all around.  And for the parents who do freebies, I think this is where they fall on the continuum.  They get the dress or the shoes or whatever, and their kid gets some photos and experience, and they go merrily on their way home.

Re-read what I wrote above about the plumbers and the physicians.

In New York and California, child modeling and performing are regulated by labor laws and, as such, there are rights, responsibilities and protections that must be integrated into the working conditions and payment structure.  For example, in New York, 15% of the child’s gross earnings need to be deposited into a trust account, and children must have a permit signed off on by their physician and school official.  The law doesn’t specify whether a job is paid or not – so these requirements apply to ALL child modeling.  If you your child is doing a freebie job or getting paid in clothes, what are you going to deposit?  How is your principal (who signed off on that permit) going to feel about your child missing school for – essentially – for doing a favor for a designer (whom you probably never met before).

Maybe I’m coming down a little strong on this.  So now I will offer you a couple of scenarios when doing a freebie or an unpaid job may not be the worst idea in the world.

Your agent might recommend one.  Test shoots or editorial work may be opportunities with top industry photographers that could truly benefit your child.  An agent may set up a test shoot for you to get photos for your submissions, and you won’t pay/get paid but you will get actual value added to your marketability.  Some agencies do this for older kids just starting out who may need more than a snapshot for submissions, while babies and younger kids can get along for a while with great snapshots until they have tearsheets for submissions.  An agent may recommend your child for an editorial shoot, which is when a top-tier photographer borrows clothes for a creative shoot (using the photographer’s and stylist’s visions, as opposed to the client’s vision on a paid shoot) to be submitted for magazine publication – and here, the quality of the magazine matters.  The types of shoots that could benefit your child in this case would be publications like Babiekins, Vogue Bambini, or La Petite – essentially advertiser (not purchase-price) supported publications that are available from news or booksellers.  High quality industry stuff.  This is not to say all agents support this – it depends on the agent, so it might be handy to know your agent’s opinion on this.  Some editorial work is actually paid – but it’s a very low rate.  Parent-centered magazines pay less than $100/hour, but they are usually great photos so agents work with them.  My daughter once did a shoot for Elle Italia kids’ edition, and it paid something like $150/day for a full on-location day.

It may be worth it to do one or two freebies early in your career to get a couple of good tearsheets to use for submissions – but this is REALLY risky.  And here’s why.  If the photographer is unknown in the industry, or not one that agents particularly enjoy, even getting payment “in photos” is useless to your child’s career.  If the photos aren’t useful, you can’t say the same things I hear over and over: “it’s to build the portfolio / gain exposure / etc.”  Your agent may not want to use or see those photos at all.  If the photos themselves are good quality, the clothing or styling may be wrong for your child’s look – and again, useless for submissions.  Just because your child is modeling something does not make the work professional model-quality.  AND, if those photos end up “out there” on social media or at trade shows, they might actually make your child less marketable if they turn out badly.  (And frankly, this is a risk you take that you will only realize once the photos are released!)

Maybe you don’t have an agent and this is your only way to model.  Well, go back to what I’ve written above.  The photos could be useless, there are labor regulations for any kid working (represented or not) and you are assuming all of those same negative outcomes regardless.

Designers and photographers aren’t going to like this post – and I’m sorry, but I am not here to defend your interests.  This is about the kids.  Would a professional photographer do a shoot for a designer in exchange for several garments?  Highly doubtful.  If a designer has a low budget, consider whether you can afford live models at this phase in your career.  You can hire a great photographer to photograph your clothes without kids.  Or, you can come up with a nominal affordable fee (try $100/hr), hire 2 or 3 kids, and make the shoot as efficient as possible: two hours.  (It’s no coincidence that freebie shoots often go on forever: there is no imperative to stay on a by-the-hour model budget!) Don’t do it on a weekday and expect kids to miss school for your shoot.  Have every bit of styling drawn out ahead of time, ask the kids to come with their hair the way you want it, and skip any makeup or grand concepts.  Back to my analogies from before: I am not going to budget and plan for a new kitchen with all sorts of changes in lighting and electrical placement but begin the project with no line item for the electrician because I will get someone to do it free “for experience.”

Parents, take this advice to heart.  Really think about the value of your kid’s time.  (And yours, since you are always the unpaid escort.)  I honestly think it will be more valuable for your child’s self-worth and esteem in the long run to have placed importance and value on your kid’s time than having a few modeling pictures in a box under your bed in ten years.

Photographers, you don’t work for free and you have the power to advocate for these models.

Designers, work within your means.  Place a value on what you need to get ahead.  Don’t do it on the backs of kids just because they are kids and cannot advocate for themselves.  (Parents: advocate for your kids.)

Agents, counsel your talent.  Let them know what your expectations are about this type of work and explain your policy and position.  Explain your role as a protector of the best interest of the child, and how their work needs the oversight you provide.



I saw this posted on a photographer’s Instagram last night, and I thought I would share it here.  A LOT goes into their work, and really, you put a LOT into raising your child.  Demand what is right.  You advocate for your kid in so many ways – why not this one?

On another note, the timing of this is pretty good since it’s likely to be my last post as “just” an industry mom.  I’ll be crossing over to the other side soon – the agency side – so I look forward to wearing a new hat in this crazy, exciting business.  Hope to run into you there!  But, as always, I will never stop being an advocate for what’s best for kids.  You can count on hearing from me about that!

Ok, so let the flood gates open.  I’m sure I’ll hear a lot about this.  Comment here, but if you want to discuss more, I’ll post on the Bizzy Mama facebook page and on the Backstage Forum.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Should we do self-submits?

Self-submits: there are a whole range of opinions on this one!  A self-submit is when you scan (or scour) the casting websites (in NYC, there is NY Casting – or LA Casting on the west coast; Actors’ Access, and Casting Networks, to name a few) and they often have “ads” in which a casting director/company/filmmaker would post a breakdown for actors (parents) to submit themselves for a role.  These can range from print opportunities to student films to indie productions that want to save money by doing the casting themselves – and one friend (shout out!) submitted her son for a role in a film that was released at Sundance and received wide acclaim – score!  So honestly, there can be some cool stuff out there.  We have done some self-submits in the past that have resulted in auditions and bookings, and my daughter has worked on two Columbia MFA films, which were great experiences.  There are also casting calls for extra work, which I addressed in a previous post.  Allegedly, politicians have used casting websites (or companies) to fill audiences when necessary.  I’m thinking the actors probably signed NDAs (non-disclosure agreements: they cannot talk about it).

Anyway, should you self-submit?  My first nugget of advice is: always ask your agent or manager.  Some agents and managers may feel strongly about this, and you should know their opinion right off the bat.  Personally, we tried a few when we first started, and I sort of gave up looking.  Especially when your kids are older and have more school and extra-curricular commitments, it might not be worth it to do castings, auditions, and jobs in addition to what your agents send you.  The student films my daughter worked on were in the summer, and didn’t interrupt any of her scheduled activities.  I found the students to be professional and kind to us, and I really enjoyed those experiences.  My daughter did, too.  They didn’t involve any pay, so I didn’t need to worry about working out financial concerns with agents and overall, which helped in my decision whether or not to submit.  When I discussed extra work, I said it might not come with the type of experience that can make your child a better actor (and some of you disagreed and shared experiences that were beneficial to their kids, and that’s cool too – but you know my opinion on the subject).  These WERE experiences that were beneficial to my daughter learning to take direction, be patient, and persevere.

If you don’t have agents, self-submissions are probably your only way to get into the business.  And the following advice can apply to everyone.

My general opinion on self-submission is this: beware.  I often think there is a reason things are open to self-submit and not (necessarily) going through agencies.  Sometimes totally legitimate projects are looking for really specific people that agencies might not be able to find: unicycling skateboarders with punk-rock looks might be too specific for agents to find, so casting is casting (tee hee) a wider net in hopes of finding that specific person.

But, often, there may be something to the job that agents aren’t really going to like.  Let me post one that I screen-shot for you to examine.  Can you see anything here that an agent wouldn’t like?




The first thing that may jump out at you is the rate.  The range is WAY off.  $250 for a commercial session fee is WAY below the going SAG rate.  It’s about $100 more than an extra rate for a TV program, but about $350 less than the going session fee for a SAG commercial principal.  If your child would be on set for more than 2 hours, that rate pays less than print.  And that’s ridiculous for a “commercial.”  Anyone can look up the SAG rates to make comparisons between what these breakdowns offer versus industry standards.

Are you thinking, “But what about that buyout fee?”  It’s still SIGNIFICANTLY lower (and I mean, lower by like FIVE FIGURES) than what a national SAG commercial could gross for your child.  That alone is really suspect.  AND, how many kids might they shoot?  Two?  Twenty?  What are your chances of ACTUALLY getting the buyout fee?  What’s going on here, I’m wondering?  It just doesn’t sound like a commercial for a tech giant with oodles to spend on their advertising – something like that would usually go through a major agency, be SAG, and… show all of that in its pay.  Google is not a mom-and-pop local shop looking to buy some time on cable channels to try and expand their business.  This is a HUGE red flag.  Now, you may not know all of this if you are new to the business – but that’s why I’m here, right?  This must be something like a spec-commercial, which an independent group may be doing to try to pitch to Google to get their attention and hopefully maybe somehow convince them to use the commercial or use their agency.

But there is an even worse problem with this project.  And it’s really a potential deal-breaker for future jobs for your child.  Really GOOD future jobs, like the ones I described above – that a real Google commercial should be.

Can you find it?

One word: PERPETUITY.  Perpetuity means FOREVER.  You are giving that group the right to use your child FOREVER for a tech ad.  In addition to that strange money configuration, there is no way an agent would touch that.  No agent would give a company the right to use your child forever.  Especially for a tech company!  And here’s why.

Tech companies – and pharma companies, I’ll add – usually demand exclusivity.  That means your child could not appear in ANY ads, print or commercial, for another tech company for… PERPETUITY.  Forever.  That is what’s called a conflict, and a company does not want your child to be a face of some product and… also their product.  They see your child and is it for Samsung or LG?  No.  They want consumers to associate the visuals with their product and their product alone.  If your child was pitching a tablet two weeks ago, the next tablet company would not want anything to do with your child for a long time.  You know that guy who is in the cell phone commercials saying, “Can you hear me now?”  Why did he show up now for some other wireless company?  He is no longer under the terms of his conflict.  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH MONEY THAT GUY EARNED… and now earns AGAIN by being in that second campaign?  I’m going to guess no less than seven figures.  (If anyone knows the guy and I’m wrong, please correct me…but if I’m wrong, it’s probably closer to eight figures than six.)

A SAG commercial is going to pay actors in 13-week segments.  And maybe even DOUBLE scale if it’s a product that would demand exclusivity for usage.  And they need to keep paying you in 13-week segments while that commercial airs.  AND another tech company won't even want an actor for a period of time (like one to three years) beyond the time the commercial airs.  That’s often why a project might pay double scale – they know that their ad would limit earning opportunities for similar projects.

My daughter made it to the commercial and print callbacks (same ad campaign but two different casting directors) for a major tech company a few years ago.  The commercial would have paid double SAG scale and the print had a payout of – wait for it -- $30,000.

Can you see why I wouldn’t touch that particular self-submit with a ten-foot pole?  Or a hundred-foot pole?  (Sorry for the cliché – it seems like that kind of day in my world.  I’m sitting on my couch in my PJs writing a mommy-blog with Real Housewives on in the background.  If that’s not a cliché, I don’t know what is.)

Bottom line: my advice for self-submits is this:  BEWARE.  Scrutinize the terms.  Back to what I said before: there is probably a reason why this is not going through agents.  Keep your self-submissions to the guidelines of your agent, if you have one, and really, really, really consider what’s probably wrong with the project.


Thanks for reading!  Check out my Instagram @thebizzymama, email me at theBizzyMama@gmail.com and like my Facebook page (The Bizzy Mama) to know when I make new posts.  I also share these posts on the Backstage forums if you want to comment there.  Happy holidays and bring on 2017!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Should my kid do extra or background work?

Ah, extras…they are everywhere.  Any street scene, courtroom scene…restaurant scenes…airport scenes…dystopian zombies marching...you get the point.  Many of those people you see on the screen in a film or on TV are not just real people who happen to be in the background when the scene was shot.  (But sometimes they are: my brother-in-law was at Fenway Park when they filmed that scene in Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore running onto the field to stop Jimmy Fallon from selling his season tickets…and they just asked people to stay around after the game to be people in the stands.  Anyway, HUGE Sox fan here…I could go on…)  Where was I?  Oh, wiping a tear from my eye remembering 2004.

Anyway.

So, extras, or background work, are pretty important to filling in scenes in all sorts of productions.  If you subscribe to the casting breakdown sites in any major production city, you will see daily work available for extras.  Many adult actors work as extras between gigs or if they have some down time and need some cash.  For SAG members, who cannot work on non-union projects, extra work can help pay a few bills while running around from audition to audition to get principal work.  Productions sometimes need children.  Classroom scenes, playground scenes, and sometimes just kids to be walking down the street holding hands with their parent all may fit production’s vision of what they want to bring to the screen.  Learning to navigate the child performer business can be quite challenging – then add in this question: Should my child do extra work?  And it can get even more confusing.

SAG-AFTRA, the on-camera actors’ union, sets rates for all types of roles and markets and how much actors get paid based on where the commercial airs, or the network that airs the program…etc.  They have many combinations of negotiated rates as well as rules and guidelines for both productions and talent with the goal of creating safe, reasonable, and fairly-compensated work.  (Full-disclosure: I am pro-union.)  So, for the most part, extra/background work is paid at a set, consistent rate.  Principal actors are paid at their set rates…and talent can negotiate UP from there, but there can be no negotiation down on rates.  Now, working one’s way through learning all about SAG rules and payment structure can be a huge task.  For the most part, it seems like you need to talk directly to people at SAG or maybe a really experienced parent (with like, 3 SAG kids…there’s a mom on Backstage who is a whiz at this stuff) to know the drill.  Essentially, it makes sense for a kid to put off joining SAG until they are designated a “must-join” – which means you would need to pay the $3,000 membership fee before you set foot on set for your next SAG job.  (This typically happens between the child's second and third SAG roles.)  There are more opportunities if you can audition for SAG as well as non-union jobs, and since you CANNOT work non-union jobs when you are SAG, you want to keep your options open for as long as possible.  You also want to make sure you are able to pay the membership fee from jobs your kiddo has worked or is about to work – that’s why some agents won’t submit kids who are “must-join” if the role is not a well-paid one.

Ok, so hold onto all of that info for a minute.  I needed to set some background.

In all of the rate structures established by SAG (these are negotiated by union members and production management for a period of time for all members), let’s take TV as our example.  A one-day role on a program, such as a pilot, would pay about $950 per day.  A one-day extra job pays about $150.  So there is the money aspect.

Now here is what is really, really, really important.  You cannot – CANNOT – use extra work on your resume, or in a discussion with someone you are hoping will offer you representation or a role.  It’s basically a necessary, minimum-wage job (like many other necessary, minimum-wage jobs) that anyone can do – and it would not serve as any type of experience for landing principal roles.  This may sound snobby, but think of it this way: are you going to bring up the summer job you had at Taco Bell when you are interviewing for a CPA position after college?  No.  It’s just not relevant and serves as superfluous information.

Go back and read that again.  You CANNOT use it on your resume.

If you are wanting to do things in the industry with your kid to get experience, learn the business, build a resume, or – ugh, this one – gain exposure, this is NOT the way to do it.

Extras are often not treated in a manner we would prefer for our children to be treated.  There are SAG rules and workplace regulations, and I’m not talking about mis-treatment, but I’m talking about things like being out in the blistering sun without shade for hours while production sets up scenes in which you may actually shoot for five minutes or – not at all.  Or the cold.  Or bad weather.  Essentially, what I'm getting at, is stuff that's pretty uncomfortable and boring for kids.  I could go on and on, but on multiple occasions I have had moms say to me things like, “Wow, I really felt sorry for those kids who were extras while my kid had an air-conditioned (etc.) trailer…”  Production is focused on the principals.  It’s just the way it is.

Ok, so the money is lame, the treatment is lame, you can’t claim it as experience…so why do people do it?

I have a few friends whose kids do it, and they are perfectly equipped to do it when they feel like it.  They live in the city, they are homeschooled or do it during the summer, they like to experience interesting things – like maybe work as an extra in a period production (cool clothes) – and maybe pick up a little money.  In other words, it costs them nothing, they aren’t missing anything like school or their activities, they’re up for an adventure, and why not?  I have friends (adult friends and sometimes their kids) who might do it just for fun if it’s one of their favorite shows; I’ve never done it myself but I wouldn’t say never – I might not mind being a member of a mob behind a crime-scene tape on SVU.  Or in a restaurant scene in Odd Mom Out (LOVE, by the way).

Now here’s where I was going up above with all of that SAG background info.  If your kid is a must-join, and you do a SAG extra job, you are about to write a $3,000 check to go earn $150.  And then your child can only work SAG jobs.  And you have to pay dues, which is either a set minimum fee or a percentage of your earnings.  (Remember, I am pro-union, but I believe your kid should join SAG when it makes sense financially and based on the quality of the roles involved).

Would I let my daughter work as an extra?  No way.  I can’t imagine a worse way to spend a day with my kid than waiting around, probably being uncomfortable, essentially trapped until they release you – for not very much money.  It's bad enough when that happens at a well-paid gig (which has happened, and will happen to every child performer).  Would I work an extra job?  Like I said, just for fun – but I am an adult, and I can keep myself from whining or getting annoyingly bored and can understand that I am not there to be pampered.  Kids don’t understand that one job they may be treated really well and another there is no food or place to have some down time.  And – if there is no benefit to your kid professionally?  Why do it?

So, if you fit into the category of not spending a cent to do it and your kid isn’t missing out on anything better, maybe you could give it a try if you feel like it.  But, otherwise?  Trust me on this one – don’t.