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.


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.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dear parent of Bizzy's classmate,

Dear parents of a child in my daughter’s class,

I don’t know much about you, so I feel a little unsure addressing you as “parents.”  Maybe you are a parent?  I don’t want to make too many assumptions here, because that is why I am writing to you – I feel that some assumptions have been made and I certainly don’t want to do right back to you what I fear you have done to me.  I mean, us.

Let me tell you how I know about you.
Last week (or so), my daughter came home from school with a project called something like “All about Me.”  You probably saw your child’s, as well.  It’s a grade school rite-of-passage; it seems like there is some version of it every year.  As you’re aware, I’m sure, it’s a chance to introduce themselves to the class and teacher as well as to contemplate their own identities.  It included birthday and location of birth, maybe a few things about appearance and pets (I really don’t remember too many specifics) but when we looked at one particular fact in our home, we stopped short.

The sentence starter was, “I live with ___.”

Easy enough, right?

My daughter answered, “my mom.”

But that’s not entirely true.  She lives with her Mommy and her Mama, two brothers (depending on the day) and a few pets.  But, whatever.  Regardless of the combination of who’s home on which day, there are always two (that’s TWO) moms.

In a state of suspended disbelief, my wife and I went through some rationalization in our own minds.  She must have run out of room, we thought.  Maybe she was being creatively succinct – “mom” representing just a shortcut for the two of us, rather than saying “my mom and my mom.”  But something didn’t sit right.  We each hesitated for a couple minutes, and then – very carefully – started probing.
“Why didn’t you say your moms?”  one of us asked.  She answered something like, she ran out of room. 

But you know when your child answers a question and you know their answer is not the *real* answer and you need to keep going?

So we did.  And we asked a few more questions.  Finally, one of us said it.

“Were you afraid to say you lived with two moms?”

Our daughter hung her head down, like she didn’t want to answer.  And of course we gently probed her, and encouraged her to share what she was thinking.

“____ told me I couldn’t have two moms.”

OH.  Well.  It happened.  We knew it would…we just didn’t know when.  I mean, no matter how much you think you’re ready for it, it kind of stings when it happens.  And all we could answer was, “Well, ___ is wrong.  Because you do, and it’s ok.”

If only it were that easy.

Now, I can imagine there could be some really terrible situations that may cause a child to feel shame about their parents.  If a parent had succumbed to the horrors of addiction or criminal activity, a child might feel shame.  History has always dictated some sort of shame to befall children: bastardry, divorce, what have you.  I know there are people who see same-sex parents as less than optimal, but I’ve never been quite ready for a seven-year-old to be the great informant on that one.

See, I know you read this.  I know, because my daughter has come home and told me that your child has repeatedly called her “Bizzy Mama!  Bizzy Mama!” to the point that other kids have joined in.  

So, for that, I’m grateful.  Because I can use this space to let you know a few things.

We’re a loving family.  My child comes home every day to a home full of animals, dust bunnies, clutter, and discussion.  We have thousands of books.  I’m not even exaggerating – we probably have tens of thousands of books.  Most of which we have actually read.  We understand there are as many perspectives as there are Americans (330,000,000) and we really, really love our country.  We devoted significant portions of our lives to learning and studying and teaching about our nation.  We’re idealistic; we believe in the good and the hope and the future.  We DON’T feel the need to make America great again (Dad?!?) because we know it already is great.  We’ve never worked for for-profit corporations because we have, instead, seen our calling as service to others.

We’re Christian.  –ish.  In that, we were raised to be culturally Christian and we belong to a church, but we don’t see ourselves as superior.  We hate to grasp onto one religious identity because we believe there are so many and who are we to say what is better?  But we believe in the unconditional love and forgiveness and acceptance that comes along with the Christian tradition, so that’s how we identify.  We see our religion as one where all are welcome – not one where some are shunned.

We swear.  Honestly, that’s probably as bad as we are.  Maybe a few snarky comments about Walmart shoppers (of which we can be included, so who knows how bad that can really be.)  We’ve spent nights awake crying about students who have attempted suicide; we watch cable news into the wee hours to see how unrest plays out; we’ve raced to donate blood when disaster occurs.  (Note: they’d rather have it on a regular basis than when disaster strikes.)  We feel guilty when we bring home a pad of post-it notes, despite the hundreds and hundreds of hours we’ve spent on “our” time grading papers and prepping lessons.

Why do you think we can’t exist?

Why do you feel the need to say this in front of your child – to the point that your child has the confidence to announce this to MY child?

Maybe your belief system tells you that a child should have a mother and a father.  Biologically?  Sure.  But for the day-to-day reality of my child’s life, she sees two parents who love each other.  And disagree.  And laugh.  And talk passionately about real-world events.  We correct grammar. We call each other on bullshit.  We cheer for the Red Sox.  I – personally – clear my calendar to watch the Housewives.  We read books, try to eat healthy foods, go to Dairy Queen, drink in sinus-curves of moderation, and talk about gas prices.

How different are we from you?

We own a home, pay shitloads of taxes, and support our teachers.  We vote in every election.  We donate at least as many toys to Toys for Tots as we have children.

We’re good parents.

And we would never.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER.  Make our child think that any other parents were any less than good parents.

And we would be ASHAMED if she ever made a child think they or their family were less than ideal.
If we EVER said something to our child that made her tell a peer that they weren’t every bit as important and valuable and loved as someone else…we would be mortified.  We would fall to our knees and beg you to forgive us – and live to our dying day ashamed of any pain we caused your child.  Or any reason we caused your child to believe they needed to hide who they were or who they came from.

Children don’t choose their families.

Adults DO choose what they say to their children.  And children like to repeat what they hear.

And unfortunately, YOUR child repeated something they heard (I can only assume from you) to MY kid.

I can handle it.  It causes me pain, but I expected it – because I know intolerance and hatred (yes, it’s hatred, and that’s a strong word, but it applies) exist.  I hate that it exists.  (There’s my hatred.  I hate intolerance and I hate hatred.) 

But here’s where we differ.  I WON’T tell my child what I think of your view of my family.  I know your child has caused my child pain.  I could say that out loud; I could teach my child to hate the haters, but that seems kind of simplistic and petty.

My job, however, is to teach my child how to think for herself.  It’s going to take her a long time to realize that she has to get past what others think and to think for herself.  We’ll do all the self-esteem building we can.  Ultimately she’ll feel good about herself; feel good about us.

The real proof?

The real proof will be what she tells her children about others.

And if not one child – not one child EVER – goes home and feels inferior because of something my grandchild says to them?

Then I’ll know I did the best I could.

Can you say the same?

Yours truly,

The Bizzy Mama

Thanks for reading...feel free to comment here, on my facebook page The Bizzy Mama or via email, TheBizzyMama@gmail.com  You can also check out my instagram for fun pics of my kid and pets.  Usually I write about children in performing arts, but sometimes other parenting issues happen!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

About those photos...I mean, OUR circus.

Sometimes I like to start with a story.  I’m hoping that this story will send this post in the direction of my thoughts, so read on for a bit and you’ll see where I want to end up.  Please note, though, I went back through my archives to see if I used this before and I don’t think I did (?) but if I’m repeating myself, just hang on a bit.

Several years ago, I posted a picture of my daughter on Facebook.  We had a long great day somewhere doing something…I don’t even remember.  She was asleep in her carseat.  We know those moments…so sweet and QUIET…anyway.  Got some likes, some “how cute!s” – you know the drill.  I also got a private message from an old friend, who wanted me to know that the carseat straps were not in the right place.

Now, I could have gotten defensive.  I could have blown it off.  But I didn’t; instead, I was effusively grateful.  And you know what?  I made sure those straps were in the right darn place EVERY TIME I strapped her in until we went to the booster seat.  EVERY TIME.  Because I didn’t know it on my own, another mom stepped in to help me out.  She wanted her knowledge of safety precautions to help me.

So here’s where I’m going.  A couple weeks ago, there was some online discussion of some photos that were taken by child photographers.  (As in, adult photographers who shoot children.)  My initial reaction was that I wanted to share some thoughts on those, but I couldn’t because I was outrageously busy taking care of ailing family members and going about the usual summer mom stuff.  I was just too busy to write and too tired at night to get started…and I’m actually glad some time went by.  I will say point blank that believe that photography is a form of art and that photographers work to capture a vision – whether it’s a head shot, editorial piece, or purely an artistic image – through the lens of a camera to preserve a tiny bit of time into a long lasting image.  We hire people to shoot our kids because, hey, we don’t have what it takes.  That said, there were two types of photos involved in the discussion: one type was capturing girls performing authentic movements and the other was more artistic, in which a child was used to create a scene as imagined by the photographer.  It’s really immaterial for me to describe the specific photos in this post.  They exist; they’re controversial; they feature children; people reacted.  

What I decided to address, instead of the images themselves, were the reactions that moms had to the images.  Two reactions, in particular, got my mind buzzing a little bit.  And you’ll see where I was leading with the carseat story.  I’m going to start backwards, though.

First, here’s an argument that really pisses me off.  Sorry if this argument belongs to you, but it’s a bad one.  I’ve heard it before and I saw it again this time, so it’s out there.  “If you think the images would be attractive to a pervert, you’re the one thinking like a pervert.”  Um, NO.  Many of us moms actually think about what types of images may cross lines we don’t want our children crossing.  See, here’s the thing.  WE, as adults, can make decisions for ourselves.  Our children CANNOT.  I can decide if I want to wear a low-cut shirt or booty shorts (I don’t) and I can deal with whatever fallout there may be.  Maybe it’s catcalls or maybe it’s a tremendous sense of confidence that I’ve got it and can flaunt it (or maybe I just don’t care what people think and that’s cool, too).  Our children cannot intellectualize the potential reactions that people may have to what they wear or how they appear and while we want to build healthy body image or recognize their talents, WE need to be the filter that decides how our children are presented.  There’s a reason our parents didn’t want us wearing a full-face of makeup when we were eight.  It wasn’t just because it wouldn’t look right; it was also because they knew we shouldn’t really appear adult until we were actual adults.  Adults are sexualized constantly.  Hormones arrived during puberty and control sex drives.  I can defend myself if someone makes an advance toward me and I can understand that I will probably be seen as a sexual object to someone, somewhere, at some point.

Here’s what really sucks about that argument.  Our society has created laws that define what are inappropriate looks for children.  Lawmakers, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, and juries examine those laws daily – to decipher what falls into the category of right and wrong legally – and those people are probably not perverts.  Asking a jury to determine if an image is child pornography is not asking the jury to think like perverts.  It is asking them to make an objective decision based on a legal framework created by our elected officials.  Who, I’m reasonably sure, were probably not thinking like perverts when they made the laws.  The laws were made to punish people who create and disseminate images determined to be inappropriate enough to be illegal.  So, again, NO, trying to objectively analyze something to determine if it is inappropriate does NOT make someone a pervert.

Now, all that laid out, none of the images featured children in any pose or state of undress that would technically be rendered illegal.  If that were the case, it would be in the hands of justice by now.  I will say, though, that many perceived these images to be closer to NOT okay on the continuum of what is or is not acceptable for images of children.  And many thought they were TOO close to not okay.  Now, I probed a little bit.  I talked to the photographers in each case, and gained some insight into their work.  It was helpful for me because I understand where their images came from and I invited them to engage in some of the online discussions to defend their work.  There are two (or seven or a hundred) sides to these stories or perspectives, and it is fair to acknowledge that they have reasons for their creations and that they stand by their images.  I’m not entirely sure that they knew about or could predict all of the reactions and fallout from the discussions, but to be part of a discussion about the images was probably more productive than getting second or third hand interpretations.  

The next argument that I don’t like is: “Not my circus; not my monkeys.”  In other words, these are not my children, and it’s not my place to get involved in the discussion/controversy/or, dare I say, drama. This is actually a great argument in many real-life circumstances: workplace drama, for example.  And, actually, many parenting issues.  But when children are put in a compromised position; and yes, I am suggesting that these are compromised positions – and I mean that as, they may be bad positions, but they may not be. You decide.  (And “positions” here is both literal and figural.)  My child being strapped incorrectly put her in a compromised position.  For all the time I had her in wrong, was she harmed?  No.  Could she have been harmed in an accident?  Absolutely.  Get what I’m saying?  I’ve said before that it is hard enough to be a parent without people judging you.  And it is.  But when someone steps in and asks you to really think about a situation in which your child may be unsafe, isn’t it reasonable for a person to put that out there for parents to know?  What if we framed these concerns in civil discourse, and gave parents multiple perspectives to consider when they could be putting their child in legitimate harm’s way?

As an advocate for children in the performing arts, I WANT parents to hear my advice.  I am getting into their circus and trying to help them protect their monkeys.  But if anyone has a perspective that may help other parents, isn’t that fair to share?  Haven’t you experienced moms ever suggested to a new mom a way to get a baby to sleep?  Are you judging her, or are you trying to give her another idea?  Aren’t we kind of in this together at some point?

Look, what’s done is done.  The kids in those photos all over social media are there.  Can’t undo it.  But maybe some parents will hear/read these arguments and say, you know what?  I’m going to think twice about putting my kid out there.  ALL of us, and I mean model/actor moms and moms not in the industry, probably have photos of our kids on the internet.  Some photos are going to be more likely than others to end up in the eyes of perverts and sickos.  Come on; you need to realize this.  If you know this and still want your kid to be in the photo, take one step further.  Will your kid want to be in this photo?  I made this point before, but I’ll drill it in.  The other day, my mom reminded me that I can make decisions for myself; my wife can make decisions for herself; but my daughter cannot.  (I think my mom probably thinks we’re a bit too free-range in how we raise our daughter; and, honestly, she’s probably right.  I think she was referring to bedtime.  Hell, it could have been anything.)  By being a parent, you are charged with not only making parenting decisions for yourself, but also “childing” decisions for your kiddo.

Couple examples here.  A parent recently shared with me that her son did a shoot for Pull-ups.  Cool, right?  He was on packages for years!  Years.  Like, from the time he was five until he was ten.  Ten.  Can you imagine the teasing this kid faced when peers saw his picture on a Pull-ups bag?  It sucked for that kid.  Another mom shared that her daughter did a Halloween costume shoot and her daughter was put in a costume that ended up in a widely-published article about inappropriate costumes for kids.  She was mortified.

Let me throw this out there.  If you put your tween on the internet in really revealing poses, are you going to be happy with all the boys in her school passing around that picture on their cell phones?  Trust me; I taught high school for 21 years – I’ve seen it happen.  And it doesn’t take much to get a hormonal boy excited.  Even if it’s an authentic pose that your child is very, very proud of, imagine that camera angle being slightly different, and it may not be so compromising.  I studied Misty Copeland’s Instagram feed, trying to see what kind of poses she posts.  Check it out.  But remember: she’s an ADULT and she, herself, can make the decision about what she posts.  (And if you’ve seen ballet, we all know that men’s junk is OUT THERE.)

Any time you post something, ask yourself: will this photo end up on every fourteen-year-old boy’s phone in your daughter’s class?  Is this photo likely to appear on the computer screen of a forty-year-old man’s computer at 3:00 am?  Will my child hate me in five/ten years for posting this?  If you are totally confident in your answers to these questions – and if your child would be totally confident in the answers – go for it.  If not?  Or if you are unsure?  Stop.  Please.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

NYT writes about "summer kids" and I respond.

Ahhhh…summer kids.  Whatta topic!  The New York Times published a story yesterday about summer kids in the New York City modeling market and I can’t resist responding!  First of all, here’s the link to the story – it may be helpful to read it before you read my response:  Link here.

It’s no secret that New York is a prime center for child print modeling.  Name a brand…any children’s brand or store/catalog that sells children’s clothes…and chances are good that they shoot in New York.  And, historically, NYC has been *the* location to shoot over the summer: decent weather, great studios and locations, and tons of beautiful kids.

It’s also no secret that year ‘rounders – the NYC models and their parents – have probably rolled their eyes at least once and said, “Ugh…a summer kid booked that job.”

The truth is, the NYT article kid of rubbed me the wrong way.  Not because I thought it would recruit even more summer kids, but because I thought it kind of both skewed the realities of the industry and skewed the realities of the summer kid experience.  Hopefully, I can clear up some of that.

First of all, the NYT did a good job with their sources.  FFT/FunnyFace Today and Charlie Winfield are highly respected in the business.  Everyone I know who has worked with Charlie says he’s a great agent and, above all, a great person. My daughter started freelancing with FFT for her first foray into the business and, while we didn’t work directly with Charlie, the agency and their reputation were nothing but professional.  More notably, they have been around a LONG time, and they know the business inside and out.  So, score one for the NYT on choosing an agency to profile.

Now I’m going to say score ZERO for the NYT’s choice of parents to profile.  They chose summer kids and parents to write about because they wanted to show the extreme of people throwing thousands of dollars at…potentially…no return.  Notice how they did not profile any returning summer kids nor did they profile kids who are regular bookers in their home markets (such as Florida).  They seemed to profile these people as chasing some fruitless dream…spending thousands of dollars they probably didn’t have (notice they didn’t profile a child whose parents are investment bankers, for example) on some dream of MAYBE making $20,000.  More on this in a minute.

I feel the article portrayed both child modeling and “summer kids” in ways that didn’t give an accurate picture…and in ways that were pretty elitist (typical for the NYT; full disclosure: I read it daily and respect its historical value as a national newspaper of record, BUT I believe most of its feature stories err on the side of the white shoe) and pretty “surface” in their overview of the industry.

Many parents I know wonder why agencies even take summer kids – why wouldn’t they show more loyalty to their full-time talent?  There are a few reasons why an agency may want to have some new faces on hand for 6-8 weeks in the summer.  Traditionally, the summer has been THE busiest time in NYC.  Now, I would say, from my experience, the busier end of the summer is June/July.  Guess what: NYC schools, and schools within a two-hour radius (considered the “local” distance to NYC) run through almost the end of June.  And what happens during June?  Field trips, sports banquets, concerts, playoffs, tournaments…all reasons why local talent “book out” (let their agents know they are not able to work).  Southern and Midwestern schools tend to get out mid-May…and if they want to come work in New York, that’s a busy time for photoshoots…and a time when many NYC kids are not available…it makes perfect sense that an agency may want some new faces to fill their rosters during those busy times.  Couple that with the extra work in the summer, and you can see why agencies might be interested in taking on some extra kids during the summer.  On the flip side, there are many local kids who work primarily in the summer because of school and activity schedules.

Many local parents have been speculating that there isn’t as much work as there used to be in the summer, so having the extra kids in town may not be as necessary for agencies as it once was.  One of my friends (shout out!) keeps a spread sheet of each go-see/casting/audition and job her kids work, and she has the evidence that it’s not quite as busy in the summer as it once was several years ago…yet others say that there is the same amount of work per year, but it’s spread out throughout the year rather than being summer-heavy.  There are new brands popping up all the time, and this year I can think of a couple of west-coast companies that shot in NYC for the first time back in the spring.  So, overall, it seems like coming just for the summer may no longer be as advantageous to hit the super-busy time.

Back to where I take MAJOR issue with the NYT article.  It focused on a handful of families that appeared – according to their description – to not necessarily be in the best financial position to make such a big gamble.  Joey Hunter’s estimation that a busy child model can POTENTIALLY (emphasis mine) make $20,000 a year is true – I know a top booker can make $50,000-$60,000 (and by top booker, I mean TOP booker who works constantly) but it’s also possible that a regular booker (2-3 times a month) could easily make under $10,000.  That’s all based on 52 weeks.  If a family is here for 7 weeks…well, the math shows the reality…there is almost no opportunity for a financial windfall.  Child models get paid SIGNIFICANTLY less than adult models…and remember, most adult models don’t make much either.  (Here is a past post I wrote about what child models earn.)

I see that these families have shelled out $7,000-$15,000 on their kids’ modeling and that really makes me sad and kind of angry.  I’m being judgmental here – sorry – but is that really the kind of money a family of modest means can shell out on something with a very small chance of recouping that amount?  I (and other advocates in the industry) feel very strongly that this is a profession in which children do not need to “spend money to make money.”  Are there legitimate expenses?  Sure!  Commuting expenses, meals on the road, headshots for acting…these can all add up.  Even local kids have these expenses…but for the most part, the kids are working and can cover the bulk of them out of their earnings.  But the expenses being numbers being in the thousands?  That’s just not an accurate picture of what it takes to “make it” as a child model.  (And what does it mean, exactly, to “make it” anyway?)  They quoted a child saying she was hopeful about booking a Toys R Us shoot…and you know what that pays?  $100.  Maybe $200 if things are going slowly on set.  After commission: $80 (or $160). 

And this is a HUGE reality: rent in NYC is OVER THE TOP expensive…and add in the meals (food is more expensive too)…let’s just say that’s a GIANT expense in addition to what these families have already shelled out.

I do know some families who have had VERY successful summers.  When the work was plentiful, and the kids were booking 2-3 times a WEEK, and working in TV as well as print, a good summer could bring in $10,000-$20,000.  Those kids also booked national commercials, which paid very well…but I would also say it’s somewhat unusual to be here for 7 or 8 weeks and get “out there” for many auditions.  Their chances for success increased over time because they built relationships with agents and came for a few summers, so they were probably able to get out and be seen right away when they arrived.  These kids who had these successful summers would be the exception and not the rule.

I also know many families for whom the expenses are reasonable within their finances.  I guess that suggests that coming to NYC for several weeks is an option for the wealthy, but -- I’m being judgy again – I’m kind of put off by the use of GoFundMe.  To be fair, the people contributing are probably fully aware of what they are paying for…but are they aware of the slim potential for a return on the whole investment?  Is it fair for the kids to have the pressure on them to book jobs and earn money so they can go back home and prove themselves?  Or is it going to be ok to go home empty handed?

If you noticed the ages of this children in the article, most were 11 (and I think one was 7 and one was 12).  Those ages are absolutely unrealistic representations of the "promise" of child modeling.  Obviously FFT would not have taken on kids who were unlikely to book, so their sizes matter more than their ages -- but child modeling ends, for the most part, at size 10.  There are a few jobs for size 12 (and I have seen boys go up to 14 on occasion), but it is highly unlikely that an 11-year-old would be building connections and a portfolio in this one summer that could give a jump start to working next year -- because the odds are great that they would be too big.  It's also worth noting that it is difficult to break into child acting at that point, as well, because many of the kids working at that age have been in the business for several years and simply have more experience and time working with their managers and agents.

My final criticism of the article is the title: “Kid Models (and Their Moms) Trade Summer Fun for City Auditions.”  That is total BS and shame on the Times for that.  Coming to NYC for the summer – or any amount of time – is an amazing experience.  Learning how to navigate city life – from the streets to the transportation – is something that can be a benefit to anyone.  If you can get around NYC and adjust to the pace, you can probably make it around any city in the world (language aside).  There are so many things to DO – and many can be free or low-cost.  Saying these families are only auditioning and having NO fun is just irresponsible journalism – probably designed to get the readers to shake their heads and tsk-tsk what these desperate mothers are doing to their children.  And really, castings and auditions simply do not take up every hour of every day.  You may have three in one day, work a few hours the next day, and have a few quiet days.  Even if I’m kind of down on the whole spending all that money for child modeling, these parents do deserve some props for taking the risk of leaving their comfort-zones to give their kids a NYC experience.  I’m two hours away from the city (but was educated and lived there) and one of the reasons why I like my daughter being in the industry is so she can experience and navigate the city.

So, yeah, expensive.  Probably not going to pay off much in modeling.  But the experience?  Pretty darn great.  And, hey, if you have the money, you can hit up Hamilton, right?  If not: you can’t beat Mister Softee and a good water playground.  (I know which one my daughter would prefer!)

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