How many times have you heard it? “Your child is so cute, adorable, charming, perfect for show business. You really ought to consider it. And just think. You’ll be able to pay for that college education!”
Wouldn’t it be grand if it were that simple? You put your child in front of a camera, he or she flashes that winsome smile, and-- voila --you have an instant college fund.
In truth, getting a child into “The Business” is a big business, one of ups and downs, some successes and lots of failures, commitment and sacrifice. Still, with the entertainment industry so accessible in Southern California, the temptation for many families to go for stardom is great.
“This is a business and it has to be treated as a business,” warns Steven Simon, an agent with the ACME Talent & Literary agency in Los Angeles. “The product is the kid. Once they start to get into the business, there can be no more baseball, Cub Scouts, Brownies or after-school activities.
“This becomes their extracurricular activity,” Simon adds. “The only excuse for not going on an audition is that you’re sick or on vacation. The parent has to be just as dedicated and has to give up their life as well.”
Yet, many parents take the plunge, hoping the rewards will outweigh the sacrifices. “I really feel that if you have an anchor, a life, and put zero pressure on your child, it’s great,” says Heidi Jo Huberg of Burbank, whose daughter Mirna Rae, 3, has been modeling since infancy.
In fact, the most important ingredient to a successful show business career appears to be the ability of the parent to maintain a certain equilibrium in a child’s life.
“There’s a lot of standing around and waiting,” says Sally Solomon, a real estate agent in Woodland Hills whose son, Jon, 11, began his quest for stardom two years ago. “It teaches patience. But it has to be the right child. It can damage a kid if he doesn’t want to do it. Jon and I have an agreement. The minute it becomes not fun, he’s finished.”
Although Jon admits “it’s a drag” to have to go to an audition when he’d rather be playing with his friends, he also knows that there is an upside. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I did an episode of ‘NYPD Blue’ where I had a pipe bomb strapped to my back and I got handcuffed to three other people.
“I’m doing it for the money to go to college,” adds Jon, who wants to be an FBI agent when he grows up. “I’m just waiting for something big to happen and then I think I can let acting go.”
Of course, waiting for something big to happen can take an awful lot of time, energy and patience. “I know of children who have had to go to 75 auditions to get a commercial,” North Hollywood manager Lynda Goodfriend says. “I have one client who got two commercials within days of signing. It just depends. The child has to enjoy this, enjoy the auditioning process.
“The only reason to do this is because it is in their blood,” says Goodfriend, who also directs the Young Actors Workout, a North Hollywood acting studio for children. “If the child loves doing this, it becomes their favorite hobby. It might take 10 years to make a dollar.”
In fact, one of the hardest things about getting a child into show business is recognizing the financial pitfalls. Many parents end up spending thousands of dollars--quite often unnecessarily--to get their children into an agent’s office. Those in the know warn parents against companies that charge thousands of dollars to train a child to be a star, or any other company that makes wild promises for a large fee.
“There are management companies out there that lead parents to believe that their child will become a superstar,” says Solomon, who admitted making the initial mistake of signing a three-year contract with a management company that took 20% of Jon’s earnings. “Management companies are not allowed to negotiate contracts, so if Jon got a major role, we’d have had to pay another 10% for an agent. That’s 30% of Jon’s income that would go out the door.”
Parents seriously considering show business for their children should at the outset invest in nothing more than a roll of film, copies of some candid snapshots and a $3 list of agents who handle children, which can be obtained from the Screen Actors Guild, according to the professionals. The guild also distributes the “Young Performers Handbook” free of charge to inform parents about such topics as child labor laws.
“We screen through the mail,” says Cami Scott, director of the children’s division for both Ford Models Print and the J. Michael Bloom Office for Television. “There are certain things I look for. I love freckles. I look for something that is marketable, babies to teens, every type.”
Other agents recommend, particularly for older children, a commercial workshop that teaches youngsters what to expect when they go on an audition, how to look into the camera, and how to “bite and smile,” show-biz talk for eating and looking appealing at the same time. Many agents visit these workshops at the end of the session, scouting for new talent.
Once the youngster does get an agent, the costs begin to mount. He or she must invest in professional photographs and will be advised to take acting classes and possibly to get an acting coach. “It’s like a brain surgeon,” Ventura-based manager Judy Landis says. “They have to keep studying to keep sharp. They’ll get stomped on if they don’t. Even a natural actor needs to study.”
If children do get a job--and they usually get one through an agent and / or manager--there are those 10% fees paid to one or the other or even both.
“It sounds glamorous and it sounds easy, but it’s probably one of the most difficult jobs in the world,” says Evan Acosta, 18, of La Canada, who had to wait until recently to get into show business because “my mom didn’t want me to grow up as a screwed-up teen-ager.”
Although he got a late start, Acosta has already landed some small non-speaking parts on an infomercial and the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” “If you believe in yourself, you will never get discouraged,” Acosta says. “I loved the parts where I was in front of the camera. I’m just waiting for the day I can open my mouth.”