Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Another stage mother post

Christine asked about how A-Girl got into the business and whether the money is good enough to make it worthwhile. I was going to email her an answer but thought that other people might have the same questions so I thought I'd do a post instead.

I hesitated to do this because what I'm going to say here might come off as bragging about my kid. What I want to do is give people an idea about what it takes - in my opinion - for a child to be successful in this business. I have to preface all this by saying that I'm not an expert. A-Girl's been doing this for about two years and I worked in commercial production about 15 years ago. That's the extent of my limited experience.

Ok - here goes. Here are the things that I think have contributed to A-Girl's success:

1) She wants to do this. It has been her idea from the beginning. When she was about three, she started asking us when she was going to be on TV and when she'd get to be in magazines. We thought it was cute but we didn't really take it seriously. Having been in commercial production and not liking certain bullshit aspects of it, I was hesitant to try to get her into the business. It wasn't until she was about five and she still wanted to do it that we finally decided to take her to an agent that specializes in kids. She loves auditioning even when she doesn't get hired. She loves working. We have always told her that she can quit any time she wants.

2) She works hard and the whole family makes sacrifices. She memorizes and practices lines before auditions and jobs. She takes direction very well - directors like to work with her because she doesn't goof around a lot and get distracted like some kids. She has dealt with eight-hour work days without complaining and without losing her energy level. Big D and I have had to take time off of work in order to take her to jobs and auditions. Luckily our bosses have been understanding and flexible with us. Our babysitters have to be able to drive so they can take her places. Her younger sister has had to go to auditions with her on numerous occasions. My husband left his job in order to take her to Asia. I've compared it to having a child that is an Olympic hopeful - they simply can't do it without the whole family making sacrifices.

3) She can talk to anyone of any age about pretty much anything. She can walk into a room full of strangers and not be nervous (or at least not let her nerves get the best of her). She likes being the center of attention (which is not always a good thing). We sometimes call her the "black hole of attention" because when she's around, she has a way of getting most of the attention. There's something about her that draws people in. She's got lots of personality. She's cute but not gorgeous - she looks like a regular kid, approachable. One producer told me that she's met kids (particularly in L.A.) who, at six or seven, talk to her like they're "working the room." She told me that she likes A-Girl because A-Girl's a real kid who happens to be mature enough to do the work and isn't jaded by the business. (Let's hope it stays that way).

4) She's been lucky. A-Girl has a lot going for her and she works hard but being in the right place at the right time helps. There are tons of cute kids around. Most of the time, it depends on the "look" a director is seeking. It can also depend on which actors they get to play the "mom" and "dad" and "brother." If they hire a blond mom, A-Girl isn't going to get hired. Also, she ended up with the part in Sound of Music, we think, because another girl turned it down. It doesn't mean the other girl is more talented than A-Girl, although she might be. It may have been that the other girl has theater experience and A-Girl doesn't. It could be because the other girl was blond and shorter than A-Girl. In the end, A-Girl's going to Asia and getting the experience, in part, because she was lucky.

So - the things that I think are important for kids in the business is they have to want to do it, they can't be shy or cling to their parents, they need personality, they have to have someone who is willing and able to schlep them around to auditions and jobs and they have to be in the right place at the right time.

By the way, most people in the business will tell you that it's unnecessary to pay thousands of dollars for headshots and "classes" provided by the Barbizons of the world. (I feel like I have to say this because my sis-in-law almost did that with her kids before I talked her out of it). Get a reputable agent (preferably one that's SAG sanctioned) and decent photographs. I think we spent somewhere around $500 for A-Girl's first set of headshots. (That's about $300 for the sitting fee and the rest for printing fees). We didn't get new headshots until A-Girl could pay for them herself!

Doing commercials can be highly lucrative - especially national commercials. A regional commercial that runs for a long time can also be good - A-Girl did a Meijer's commercial about two years ago and it's still running. Catalog modeling does not pay well - it's generally $75 per hour, minus 10% agent fees. The few jobs she's done have only been one hour each. Once we went to the suburbs for a job - we won't do that again. Print modeling (i.e. magazines, billboards etc.) pays ok - there's no union and the agents generally take 20% because collecting the pay sometimes takes more work (because it's non-union) but it's ok. Voice-over work is great - it's fairly easy, the jobs generally take very little time and the pay is good, especially since the time commitment is small. Theater doesn't pay very well but most people in theater will tell you that they don't do it for the money. In the end, A-Girl's Asia tour will likely cost us more than she makes only because Big D's leaving his job. She does get paid, housing for her and Big D is covered and they get a sufficient stipend to pay for food. Mostly we're doing it for the experience, to help her career and because she's so happy doing it.

I struggle to make sure I don't get invested in A-Girl being in show business. I went to a theater camp for ten years. I love musical theater and almost went to college at Bennington to study dance. At one point, I wanted nothing more than to be a movie producer. But I chose a different path for my life and I'm happy with my choices. She has to choose her own path without feeling like I'm living vicariously through her. I try not to behave as if she is a reflection of me. She is her own person and her success is her own (although see point #2 above). I will admit, though, it's really cool seeing my kid on TV!


Dawn said...

Hi Jessica. I love that you have started a blog and it is excellent reading! I have been neglecting my own of late, but I did write a lot for a few years. Look forward to reading more!

Morphing Mama said...

Jessica, Jessica, Jessica. What can I say except that you sound like an AWESOME mom. The more I read about you, the more I like you! So levelheaded, so genuine. You rock. Your kids are extremely fortunate.

Jessica said...

Oh Morphing Mama - you are so making me blush!! You are way too kind. But thanks anyway!

S2Momma said...

Jessica, what network should I be watching to get a glimpse of your little thespian? I'd love to see her! I loved what you said about her being the "black hole of attention." That's exactly how I would describe my three-year-old. It's fascinating and horrifying all at the same time...the way that she forces all eyes (and ears) to attune to her and only her. It's a quality I'm not especially fond of (probably b/c I don't share it) but I have to admit, if it could be properly channeled and honed, it would probably serve her well. Maybe someday if she ever shows an interest, I'd consider introducting her to acting or something similar. It sounds like your daughter really loves what she's doing and is finding some great opportunities. That's terrific! WTG, Mom!

Jessica said...

I know the Elmer's commercial is playing on ABC Family, Disney and Nickelodean. It may be playing on other channels, too. When I was a kid, I was like Abby - I loved being the center of attention and I was pretty good at getting it. Thankfully, I've learned to tone it down a bit as I've grown older. I think being involved in theater and dance helped because I got to be the center of attention in a productive way. Let me know if you see her commercial!