Recently, I was interviewed about being a model-mom. I was asked a question that’s actually pretty common: “Where do you see this going for your daughter? What is your ultimate goal?” I think when I answer, I probably gave a response that would be similar to most of the moms I know in the NYC print market…which is TV, movies, and commercials. It seems like a natural progression, right? My kid is cute, kids on TV are cute, so voila! Now, there are some answers that may be more specific to print, such as a bucket list of clients or maybe a Vogue Bambini cover. I do know a few moms who wish to hang out in the print world, and that’s fine. I personally think it’s fun and cool to see my kid in pictures, but honestly after a while it becomes a lot of work with a relatively small financial compensation. (I’ll talk more about the money in the future.) My ultimate goal? SAG national commercial for a non-seasonal product, principal role in a film with an Oscar winning director or writer, and a recurring role on a TV show that lasts more than 3 seasons. (Syndication, baby!) I’ll take a side of Vogue Bambini with a gap store window, but hold the mayo.
This is where you can laugh yourself off of your chairs, because I could probably have better luck winning the lottery.
I’ll veer off for a second here. If you follow casting sites or get casting emails, you see terms like “singers who dance” and “dancers who sing” in breakdowns for stage work. If you think about Broadway for a minute, you typically assume that the actors are the whole package – obviously they can sing AND dance. Now I’ll bring this back around to our kids. I think it’s true that there are print kids who do TV and TV kids who do print. (I’m going to use the term “TV” to refer to all on-camera work – commercials, TV, and film – just to make it easier to write.) I didn’t realize that until fairly recently, maybe within the past year or so. Because so many of the moms and kids I know do both, I just assumed that was what happened for the most part.
I’ll explain a bit about how getting into the TV stuff works. Generally speaking, TV agencies will sign a kid once the kid is about five and has reading skills. The kids need to be able to read sides (the lines for a commercial or a scene from a show) for auditions. They need to be able to read them ahead of time, learn them, and be able to take a quick glance at them if they need a line when auditioning. This sounds hard for ME, let alone a five-year-old kiddo. For roles that are for babies or toddlers, agencies typically choose from managers’ kids. For the roles in the 4-6 year old range, many kids who play those parts are 6 or older. Six is a big age for child performers, because the number of hours they can be on set (under New York Child Performer Law) jumps from six to ten hours. If something is filming over the course of a day, it can be hard to schedule one person in a restricted time block. It does not mean that the kid would work ten hours straight – there are all sorts of regulations for rest and meals – but allowing the kid to be on set that long is easier for production. There are also restrictions under the unions like SAG (on-camera) and Equity (stage). Law supersedes union, which means the union cannot allow the kids to work more hours than the law states, but unions can create more protections and restrictions for child performers.
So, basically, if you’re thinking of TV work, five or so is usually the magic age. It was a little earlier for us. My daughter got signed by an agency at age three – she was incredibly verbal, expressive, and outgoing (that translates into she always asks questions and never shuts up). Even though most of the roles she goes out for tend to go to older girls, she is very comfortable with learning lines and auditioning. We’re working on the stuff that goes along with that now, like responding to feedback during an audition (be sadder, be happier, be surprised, etc.). Imagine walking into a room of strangers, bright lights, and a camera at age 3 or 4 and being able to bang out a performance. That’s the kind of thing that made me realize my daughter had something a little special and extraordinary – and I should pursue performing arts for her since she seemed to have a talent for it.
Let’s fast forward a year or so. I wanted to consider options for the future, and I wasn’t really thrilled with the agency where we had started. I felt like it was very heavy on commercial for kids, and not as strong with legit (on-camera/TV). I decided to shop around a little bit, and decided to meet with at least one different agency and one manager. My daughter was only four, but had a couple of commercials under her belt, so we were able to get appointments pretty easily. I scheduled the appointments for the same day, and we met with the manager first. I waited outside the office while my daughter went in, and within moments heard her chatting up a storm. She does this thing when she goes into offices – which, now that I write it, sounds totally creepy – where she wants to sit at the desk and play office. This typically involves about $10 worth of post-it notes as well. Anyway, some people find it charming. She wants to take charge and own the conversation. Sounds annoying, right? That, however, is the kind of personality agents and managers look for in child performers.
After a while, the assistant invited me in. The manager gushed over my daughter, and told me this: “When she walked in the door, I thought I was looking at a print kid. And then she opened her mouth.”
That’s when I started to think about the whole print kid versus TV kid thing. When I go to print go-sees, I typically see at least several moms I know and kids I recognize. It’s like a little meet up or reunion, sort of…for print kids. When I go to TV auditions, I may see a kid or two that I know, but there is a whole different crop of kids there. These are the TV kids. While I know that personality is essential for the TV side, I’m not really sure what the other differences are in the kids. Everyone looks great. Honestly, I don’t know a lot of “just TV” moms, but I would love to get their view on the whole thing. Did they try print and not like it? Did their kids not have a “print look”? Or was it never even on their radar?
TV moms, give me your take on all of this. I’d love to hear your perspective on the print side. I started some thread over on Backstage (or here) or feel free to add a comment here, on my facebook page The Bizzy Mama, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org …I’m also on Instagram at TheBizzyMama. Don’t forget to share the love by clicking on the brown icon below…I want to become a top-ten Mommy Blogger! I’ve taken a few days of lately, so I need some love!