Advice for Child Actors – By Sherri Killam-Williams

I am often approached by moms of child actors asking for advice, so today I am providing that advice, thanks to Sherri Killam-Williams. Sherri is a freelance writer and occasional script supervisor and actress. She has worked on two movies – Secrets in the Fall, and In Gramps’ Shoes – as a script supervisor and on the film Grim Reapers, as a production assistant. Her best job, however, is as the mother of actors Andrew Wilson Williams (Season of Miracles) and Ryan Patrick Williams (Trouble with the Curve).

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Think your child has the chops to be an actor on stage or on film? Answer these questions honestly first:

  1. Can your child (and you) stand constant rejection, sometimes for no other reason than the casting director went to school with someone who looked like your child or had the same name and didn’t like him/her?
  2. Are you willing to drop everything you’re doing at a moment’s notice to drive several hours for an audition or callback or tape a scene for a casting director who needs it by the end of the night?
  3. Do you have a good relationship with your child’s school and is your principal wiling to be flexible when you have to pull your child from school at a moment’s notice?
  4. Can you keep your mouth shut when a director is berating your child for not doing exactly what he thought he should be doing?
  5. Are you willing to pay for your own hotel accommodations so that your child can work local?
  6. Are you willing to pay money for professional headshots, classes and all of the places you must drive as your child pursues his career?
  7. Is your child cooperative and willing to take direction?
  8. Can your child work at least nine hours a day without complaining?
  9. Does your child eat anything served to him/her?
  10. Are you willing to sacrifice your career or free time for your child’s career?

If you answered “no” to more than three of these questions, you really need to reconsider your efforts in getting your child into film, TV or stage. Too many people say, “Well, everyone tells me how cute little Johnny/Katie is and what a great personality he/she has and think he/she would be perfect in movies.”

Acting is more than just being an attractive person, it’s also attitude and ability. I’ve seen parents push children on stage who wanted to be there about as much as they wanted to take a test.  The children, frightened to death, could not even sing for an audition or talk to the director. Needless to say, the children were humiliated and will probably never audition for anything again. Make sure acting is something the child wants to do. It’s hard work and takes dedication on the part of the parent and the child. Child actors must be great readers and be able to quickly memorize lines and develop a character for a script. Actors must be willing to listen to directors and be cooperative with everyone on a crew. I’ve seen directors lose their cool with actors who could not take simple directions like, “Act like a kid who is having fun on the beach!” The children couldn’t do it and two other boys ended up with more screen time and better pay because they had the ability to look like they were having fun on the beach, even though it was a 50-degree day.

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Sherri with her sons Ryan Patrick Williams and Andrew Wilson Williams on the set of “Secrets in the Fall”

FINDING AN AGENT AND OPPORTUNITY

Much of acting is availability and opportunity. Your opportunities for good film and TV auditions usually come through a reputable agent. You’re not going to see legitimate casting opportunities on craigslist. Those listings are usually casting for extras. As one agent said, you do an extras role to get experience on a set, maybe once or twice. Most extras are treated like pieces of the set – living furniture or coat hangers. Rare is the case in which an extra will be given a line. On some sets, extras are not even offered food and are expected to bring their own snacks and water.

So, how do you get an agent? Most agencies are located in bigger metropolitan agencies. Ask other actors you know who represents them. Use a search tool like Google to find agents in your area. Do your research. Look at reviews, if any are available, to see what people are saying about a particular agency. After you find some that you like, study their submission rules then FOLLOW them.  Most agents will tell you the first mistake new actors make are not following submission guidelines. NEVER call an agency inquiring about a submission. Go online, look at their submission guidelines and follow them. If an agent wants a head-and-shoulders photo and a body shot, send that. Do not dress in provocative clothes or sunglasses and don’t use a photo that only shows part of your face. Don’t use hats or other props. The agent wants to see your face. If you’re 16 and over and female, you can do simple makeup. If you’re under 16, makeup should be minimal or hardly noticeable. Send in your resume.  Do NOT call the agency asking if it got your submission. You will be contacted if the agent is interested in you.

If you are contacted by an agency, follow the directions they give you for your audition or meeting. If they send you sides (part of a script), memorize it and develop a character. Dress appropriately for the interview. Be punctual for your meeting. A young actress kept breaking meetings with an agency close to us and the agent finally decided the actress was not worth seeing. If you can’t follow the rules or make it to a meeting, the agent figures you’ll do the same thing at an audition for a project.

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Robins team members huddle in “Season of Miracles”

WE CAN MAKE YOU A STAR

Workshops or meetings in which you are promised stardom because you and several hundred other people are picked from a crowd are a dime a dozen. Several even champion faith as their foundation. Don’t be fooled – these groups thrive and live off of your hard-earned money. My children and I knew a young man who did one of these acting classes – he and his family spent thousands of dollars on classes and headshots with the promise of representation and movie roles. We tried to warn him this company was a scam and had several lawsuits filed against it, but he was intent on stardom. He wound up with unusable photos and no career.

Do your homework. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You can and should pay for legitimate acting classes. Again, research is your best friend. Look up the person teaching the class on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) to see what kind of credits the instructor has. If the instructor has none or only extras roles, you should run fast and far and look elsewhere for your training.

We have been incredibly lucky to work with professionals like Shay Bentley-Griffin of Chez Group in Atlanta. Google Ms. Griffin and you’ll find her name as the casting director on many, many projects. She’s legitimate and the classes offered by her company are well worth the money you pay. There are other casting directors, acting camps and acting schools that are legitimate and well-intentioned.

HEADSHOTS

Do you have an agent? If you answered “No,” then you don’t need a headshot. Most, if not all agents, have particular photographers they want their talent to use. Let’s say you pay hundreds of dollars for headshots and your new agent doesn’t like them. You’ll have to go pay more money to get new headshots. Use your camera to get good shots for to send to an agent, but wait until you have representation to pay for professional headshots.

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Donna Botts, production coordinator; Vickie Odeneal, makeup artist and Sherri Killam-Williams script supervisor; after a long day filming “In Gramps’ Shoes.”

OTHER TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Training, headshots, agents – it all seems like a lot to keep up with and I haven’t even told you about having to maintain your child’s profile on casting sites like Actors Access or 800 Casting or making sure your child has a good online presence. I spend hours each day on my two children’s careers and they are now 16 and 22. We have been acting professionally for 11 years. It has been a wonderful, wacky, wild ride full of new experiences, quite a bit of travel and meeting new people. It has also been full of heartache, lost roles and having to bite your tongue as your child gets yelled at by a director or is placed in situations that could be dangerous. If you work on a union set, your child is well-protected; a non-union set is a different animal and those sets do not have abide by union rules like number of hours worked or having a tutor on set. My children have been treated well on faith-based films and secular films and by the same token, have been treated very unprofessionally on faith-based films and secular films.

My children love acting. They were born to do this – I see that as they develop characters and strive to improve their skills with each audition, with each role. Has it been tough? Yes. Has it been rewarding? Incredibly so.

As the mother of two young working actors, I’m often asked how they got into the business. If you’re the mother of actors, you’re automatically looked at as the scary stage mother, but I tell people, “This is their dream, not mine.”  I have been the supporter of their dreams, not the initiator of them.

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The last day of filming “In Gramps’ Shoes” was a busy one. From left are: Sherri Killam-Williams, script supervisor; Chip Rossetti, director; Greg Robbins, first assistant director; Donna Botts, production coordinator and Andrew Wilson Williams, actor.