Tuesday, October 28, 2014

11 Steps To Prepare your Kids for Commercials. Advice from a Talent Manager.

Wendy Alane Wright is a Hollywood talent manager and the president of WAW Entertainment. Her clients have appeared on television networks such as ABC, NBC, TNT, CBS, Comedy Central, BIO, Lifetime, and more. They have booked TV shows including “Modern Family,” “Blackish,” “Extant,” “The Colony,” “Animal Kingdom,” “My Haunted House,” "Nightshift," "Walk The Prank," and “Henry Danger,” as well as hundreds of commercials for major spots including Shutterfly, Mercedes, Visa, Taco Bell, Honda, Legos, Hot Wheels, and many more. Prior to being a manager and a talent agent at Burn Down Entertainment, Wright assisted many high profile managers, agents, and publicists. For 20 years she was a recording artist, actor, and music producer, and is now the author of five books called, “Secrets of a Hollywood Talent Manager.” Wright teaches the business of acting all over the country and is on the faculty of the New York Studio for Stage and Screen in North Carolina For years she has appeared in numerous magazines, and on radio shows and talk shows including “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Wendy is also a Recording Artist, Actress, Author and Music Producer all  giving her a 360-degree perspective of the industry.

This morning I met with one of those excited parents who want to get their kids into show business for modeling and commercials. She carried her 4-year old daughter Lila into my office and the mother said, “This is Lila, say hello to Wendy.” The child refused to look up or say hello to me. They sit down and the mom asks her daughter to say hello to me again. Lila refuses.

Great start. I can already tell this doesn’t work, but I indulge her and ask the mom, “So what can I do for you?” Mom replies, “My daughter did a glitter photo thing with my friend and I wanted to see if we can get her into print work.
Well first of all,” I said, “I need to see if your daughter wants to be here. And I need to ask her some simple questions and have her answer them. That way I can hear how she talks and see her expressions. I also need to see if she can follow directions because on the set of a commercial or photo shoot she will get lots of directions from people other than mom that she absolutely has to follow.”

So the mom sets the child down off her lap and into a chair next to me. She turns her daughter to face me and I ask sweet little Lila 3 simple questions – How old are you? Do you like having your picture taken? What is your favorite color?
Before, during and after each question, Lila fought to get out of the chair, worm her way to the floor, whine, turn her back to me, and completely avoid talking. The mom put her back in the chair several times, told her to sit still, answer Wendy her etc. Of course, the child was having none of that.

I said to the mom, “She isn’t ready.”
During the rest of the conversation I had with the mother the child was argumentative, wouldn’t listen to what her mother said and the sweet mother laughed her daughter’s behavior off and didn’t make her daughter follow any of her own directions. Hmmmm. My assessment- Lila is a very pretty, precocious, energetic, and a stubborn child. I can see she has a great look and cute personality but at this time she is unmanageable and out of control.  Her mother doesn’t know how to discipline her or enforce what she says. I asked if it was her only child and it is. I assumed that.
Her mom still wants to know what she can do to get her daughter into commercials if indeed she is going to pursue this.

So many parents think their child is ready for show business. It is just not true so I gave her the facts. The kind of children we are looking for have the basics: They can look you in the eye and say hello, proceed to a chair they have been asked to sit in, and answer simple questions politely. The ones we really love do all of that with enthusiasm. Then when we ask them to stand up and move in front of the camera to a spot on the floor with an X – of course they can do that too.

I sent this mother home with 11 steps she can take to prepare her child for work in Print and Commercials. You can do these too!

1) ARRANGE MOCK PHOTO SHOOTS. Take your own child’s picture. Tell your child you are going to do a “photo shoot” today. Set out 2 outfits, have your child help pick their favorites. Go outside to the side of your house. Put your child in front of the camera and take her picture. Tell her to stand still, turn to the right and hold it, turn to the left and hold it smile. Bigger smile, great. Now a serious face. Then change into the next outfit and do it again. This gives your child practice in front of the camera in a structured way. You can do this once a week. (As you advance look at department store magazines and have your child copy some of the poses the other children pose in )

2) TEACH THEM TO SIT STILL. Have your child sit still for short periods of time at home for no reason, just because you said so. This is important if you have a child who has a difficult time taking direction. If they can’t sit still for you just because you said so without any discussion, complaining or temper tantrums, how will they be prepared to do it on the set? Habits are formed early. Just get your child in the habit of following your commands. In this business following direction instantaneously is CRITICAL and REQUIRED. If your child can’t do that they will not be able to work professionally until they can.

3) TEACH THEM TO ANSWER QUESTIONS IN COMPLETE SENTENCES. Because little kids can’t read yet, casting sessions for small kids usually entail the casting director asking children a few simple questions so they can see their personalities. They are looking for kids who answer questions in complete sentences.

For example, “what is your favorite color?” A bad answer would be, “ blue.”
A good answer would be, “ My favorite color is Blue because blue is also the color of the sky and my favorite shirt.

You can practice this at home with your child. Ask a specific question and teach them to answer you in full sentences WITH an explanation: "My favorite TV show is Spongebob because..... It will take prompting and redirection at first but eventually they will get in the habit of doing that. Be sure not to criticize or yell at your child if they don’t do this correctly. Just re-direct them to do it. The last thing you want to do is make them feel bad for not speaking up. This will only hinder them further. VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure your child practice speaking clearly and enunciating their words. So many kids mumble and sound like they have marbles in their mouths. Mumbling children do not work in Commercials.

4) TEACH THEM TO REPEAT LINES. In auditions, small children will be asked to repeat lines with enthusiasm. I LOVE Jello Pudding. It feels good in my tummy. At home you can work with your child by having them her copy sentences. You tell them to repeat after you; "I love honey nut cheerios." Mom can I go play at Jimmy’s?, What time is dinner? Mom, Billy was playing with my truck and he broke it. “No one makes Cool Laid like my mom.”

To get more ideas watch TV commercials and listen to what kids your child’s age are saying. Write down some of the sentences have your child repeat them.

5) TEACH THEM TO STAND ON THEIR MARK IN FRONT OF A CAMERA. Put an X on the floor with big thick tape. Have your child stand on the mark …and stay on it. Give you child 2 lines and have them memorize them. Then ask them to say them to you – while standing on the mark. Have them stand still and help them stop from fidgeting, pulling on their clothes, swinging their arms etc. Encourage them to speak up, say the lines with enthusiasm, smiles and lots of energy,

6) PRACTICE TAKING PICTURES WITH PHOTOGRAPHERS. Find local photographers. Call local photographers and ask if they want to shoot your for their book. Also ask local photography students. They need models and experience and your child needs experience in front of the camera and taking direction form a non-parent. 

7) FIND LOCAL TRAINING. When kids are little (under 5) there is not much you can do for training. The most useful training you can give them to prepare and build their skills the ways I mentioned above.  But if you can find a local little dramagination class for kids doing improvisation or little plays at your local theatre company or church do that would be great. It will give them practice speaking up and some little performance experience.

Your child may be already putting little shows on at home. Make a big deal out of this give it your full attention. Everybody in your house can stop what they are doing, take seat in front of the child and watch their little show. You can even invite of few of your friends to watch. Tell your child they can do their “show” at a certain time. Let them know it’s coming up in 2 hours, then 1 hour, then ½ hour. Help the child pick put an outfit. Make some popcorn, relax and enjoy! NO criticism. Only applause.

8) GET PROFESIONAL HEADHSOTS When you want to get an agent or Manager for your child and you need headshots. To get started you can send shots you take yourself if they are good. BUT PLEASE!!! Don’t waste your money on professional headshots, especially if your child isn’t able to behave yet. They are kids who are very talented but can’t take direction. There are kids who are less talented and can take direction and are easy to work with. The ideal situation is a very talented kid, who can take direction AND is easy to work with. If you have a talented child at home who you can tell loves performing, singing and dancing, help them develop the discipline they need to translate that into the business world of show. When their behavior is up to snuff and they can stand up in front of casting directors, photographers, managers and agents and follow directions, speak up clearly and express themselves with enthusiasm then your child is ready for professional headshots. Go shot them! Wear solid primary colors without logos – red, blue, purple, green. Choose a happy, smiling big energy shot and a serious more soulful shot. Upload the pictures to ARGENTUM.COM and have 8x10’s printed out with your child’s name on the front and mailed to you.

9) CREATE A RESUME. You need a Resume to go with your child’s headshots. Your child’s resume will have your contact information and information about your child’s skills, experience, training, hobbies etc. Yes, even children have resumes. Albeit they are fairly blank when the child first starts, but they grow along with your child. You will put every acting class, dance class, commercial and print work they do on their fledgling resume.

Cut the resume down to 8x10 to fit perfectly behind the 8x10 Headshot, and then put one staple at the top and one staple at the bottom.

10) FILM A 1-MINUTE VIDEO OF YOUR CHILD’S PERSONALITY Technology makes it easy to communicate with agents and managers. You need a 1-minute video to capture your child personality. You will email this video to talent agent and managers along with your child’s headshot and resume.

To make the video: put your child in front of a blank wall (not in the bathroom, cluttered kitchen.) Use a well-lit room. Put the child on an X on the floor, have them stay on it, say their name and age and have them talk about their favorite friends, Disneyland, a funny story what they like about school, or their favorite TV show, etc.

Upload that video to You Tube and mark it unlisted. When you are ready to submit to kids agencies or kids management companies, you can send the You Tube link in your emails ALONG with their headshots and resume.

10) Create an LA Casting account and submit her yourself - to print stuff.

11) SUBMIT TO KIDS AGENTS AND MANAGERS After doing all of this wonderful prep work at home with your child for a year or so, your child should have some discipline, know how to speak up, stay on their mark, look at the camera when they talk, answer in complete sentences- these are the kinds of kids that do commercials and print work.

Remember when you meet with agents and managers don’t bring sick kids, reschedule, make sure your child has plenty of sleep the night before, don’t bring them tired or hungry to meetings, put them in clean clothes, with shiny squeaky clean faces and hair brushed. Always bring crayons and a coloring book in your purse so children can occupy themselves in a calm way that doesn’t wreck havoc on the offices you are visiting.

You can learn tons of information about getting your children started in TV, commercials and print in my new book “Secrets Of A Hollywood Talent Manager; How To Break Your Kids Into Show Business” available on my website. www.secretsofahollywoodtalentmanager.com

We are always looking for talented kids. Give your young child the best chance for success by preparing them well. Good luck!

Wendy Alane Wright, Talent Manager WAW Entertainment

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