Kids In The Industry
“My child wants to be a star” (or perhaps stated more accurately, “I want my child to be a star!”)
Please read on for more information about basic things to know: agents, auditions, work permits, Coogan accounts, & more. Above all, remember that your child is one among thousands of really cute and talented kids who are competing for a small number of jobs – success in the entertainment industry involves a number of factors beyond just cuteness and talent (sometimes, one has to be satisfied with the fact that the job didn't get booked because one didn't have blue eyes and a size 10 foot).
Children Working in the Entertainment Industry
The entertainment industry is defined in California state regulations as “...any organization, or individual, using the services of any minor in: motion pictures of any type (film, videotape, etc.), using any format (theatrical, film, commercial documentary, television program, etc.), by any medium (theater, television, videocassette, etc.); photography; recording; modeling; theatrical productions; publicity; rodeos; circuses; musical performances; and any other performances; and any other performances where minors perform to entertain the public.” [8 CCR 11751]
Does My Child Have What It Takes?
Sorting through the myriad of resources available to families of children aspiring to become professional actors requires just as much careful research and decision making as buying a house or choosing an attorney for estate planning. Your child must also possess the disposition and the skills to work as a professional in the entertainment industry – training via acting classes, dance classes, voice lessons, etc. is important so that your child can confidently and skillfully face the grueling (and often disappointing) audition process. Accompanying the title “professional” actor or singer or dancer is the expectation that the child is prepared and willing to work side-by-side with adults, oftentimes for very long hours. School age children are also required to complete 3 hours of academic instruction with an on-site certificated studio teacher during their work day while employed in the entertainment industry. Having a job in the entertainment industry for both adults and children is WORK!
Agents and Managers
Agents and managers represent talent on a commission basis only. It is illegal for talent agents and managers to charge a fee upfront for their services – in 2009, the state of California passed a law protecting actors from such scams (see the press release from the Screen Actors Guild website regarding AB 1319: http://www.sagaftra.org/files/sag/documents/AB1319_Press_Release_Oct_21_09.pdf). Please note that the above-mentioned California legislation which is also known as the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act also regulates the operations of talent training services (such as acting schools, workshops with casting directors, etc.) and talent counseling services (e.g. those who charge a fee to make connections with agents – this activity is permitted if compliant with AB 1319 regulations).
Once again, never pay a fee to anyone promising to obtain employment; also, no one is permitted to "sell" you an audition for an agent, casting director, or a job. In short, do your research!
Entertainment Work Permits
All minors aged 15 days to 18 years of age employed in the entertainment industry must have a permit to work issued by the California Department of Labor. There is no fee to obtain an entertainment work permit. The following instructions are from the Department of Labor website:
The permit can be obtained by the new on-line application process, by mail or in person. If you are a parent or guardian who wishes to apply for an Entertainment Work Permit for a Minor on- line, click on the Permits link above. If you wish to apply by mail or in person, the application for permission to work in the entertainment industry must be filled out completely and mailed, along with any required documents and a pre-addressed, stamped envelope, to any office of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. To find the nearest DLSE office, use the division's office locator. Please note that the Van Nuys Office, located at 6150 Van Nuys Blvd, Room 100, (818-901-5484) is available for walk-in service. Due to the current state budget constraints and inability to fully staff the Unit, the new hours will be Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Unit's office will be closed from noon to 1:00 p.m.
The permit application has a School Record section which must be completed by the child's school (if school is not in session, the application lists other acceptable documentation that may be presented to satisfy completion of the School Record section). In elementary school, usually the child's teacher will complete the sections rating your child's attendance, academic performance, and overall health. In middle and high school, either a counselor or other office administrator will complete those sections. All applications must be stamped or embossed with the school seal in the appropriate field. Please note that an entertainment work permit is not the same as a standard minor's work permit which cannot be issued unless the minor has already been offered a job and presents documentation for such work. Some high schools are unaware that an entertainment work permit is different and will not fill out the permit application without documentation that the minor already has a job offer – in such cases, please explain to the school administrator that you are not applying for a regular work permit but that your child is filing an application for an entertainment work permit for which there is no job requirement.
Entertainment work permits are good for 6 months, and it is crucial to keep track of work permit expiration dates – a child who has an expired permit will not be allowed to work, so it is a good idea to begin the renewal process shortly before the expiration date of your child's entertainment work permit. You must present the actual entertainment work permit at the job site – copies will not be accepted by the employer under any circumstances (keep the permit in a safe place and do not lose it!). The studio teacher will usually sign the back of the work permit. Remember to retrieve your child's work permit at the end of the workday.
For specific details about State of California child labor laws, please consult the Child Labor Law pamphlet at http://www.dir.ca.gov/DLSE/ChildLaborLawPamphlet.pdf. This pamphlet contains a plethora of information including maximum number of hours of daily work based on age, procedures for obtaining work permits, and state certification requirements for studio teachers. The California State Department of Industrial Relations website also details information on minors and employment (https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/dlse-cl.htm) – scroll halfway down the page for the section entitled Entertainment Work Permits.
The State of California requires Coogan Accounts for working minors. These types of accounts are also known as “Blocked Trust Accounts.” By law, 15% of the minor's gross wages are required to be withheld by the employer and deposited directly into the Coogan account within 15 days of employment. Most major banks offer Coogan/Trust Accounts, although each financial institution has different requirements for opening such accounts. Please make sure to open a Coogan Account for your child prior to his/her first job since the employer will require you to provide a Coogan Account number in order to process payroll. The SAG-AFTRA website has complete information about the Coogan Law (see http://www.sagaftra.org/content/coogan-law).
Odd and Ends
Once your child has an up-to-date Entertainment Work Permit, Coogan Account, and an agent, familiarize yourself with using a GPS system. You will be doing a lot of driving. Check voicemail and e-mail frequently during the day in the event that your chid's agent has an audition appointment for you. Make sure to call the agency back promptly to confirm, and DO NOT BE LATE for your audition time . . . traffic is not a legitimate excuse for being late (lateness for auditions can indicate to the casting person that you may not be punctual for a job call time if your child is booked).
Audition appointments are sometimes communicated by the agency after your child has been dropped off at school for the day, so it's a good idea to keep a bag in your car with several changes of clothes appropriate for a variety of audition wardrobe requests (e.g. “casual,” “dressy,” “holiday attire,” etc.). Jeans that were clean at the beginning of the school day may be covered with playground dirt or tempera paint by the end of the day, so include a change of jeans. Unless specifically asked to wear a uniform for sports or Scouts, all audition wardrobe should have no visible logos, no matter how small.
An audition backpack containing the following items is handy to keep packed so that you can grab-and-go at a moment's notice:
• Binder or folder with copies of Entertainment Work Permit, Coogan Accout info, Casting Frontier barcode, current sizes for clothes & shoes (sometimes a parent who may not be familiar with clothing sizes will be taking the child to auditions where there will be a form to fill out called a “size sheet”); also, know the talent agency telephone number.
• Comb and or hairbrush. Depending on your child's hair, you may also want to carry hair product that can help to tame stray ends or to refresh spiky boy's hair.
• Snack and a bottle of drinking water.
• Notebook, drawing paper, markers, pens, pencils, etc. to provide a quiet activity – after signing in at auditions, children can sometimes wait an hour or more before being called in to the audition room.
• Homework supplies (ruler, pencils, eraser, writing paper) – children must often go directly from school to auditions. This schedule can entail long hours in the car both before and after the audition . . . Los Angeles area rush hour traffic can make for a very long day for a child who has left home for school at 7:30am, gone from school directly to a 4pm audition on the West Side, and then finally gets back home to the Valley sometime after 7pm.
• Change or credit card for parking meters (for nonunion auditions, be prepared to end up waiting 2 hours or more before your child is seen – park accordingly).
Plan to arrive early at the audition so that your child can go to the bathroom and learn any lines BEFORE signing in, especially if your child does not yet read.
Remember to keep that entertainment work permit current and bear in mind that because of state budget cuts and reduced staff, work permit applications and renewals processing may not be as fast as in past years.
If all of the above still sounds like fun to you, great . . .
However, if it doesn't sound like fun to your child, think carefully before you commit to spending $500 on headshots. By the way, when your 6 year-old starts to lose front teeth, there are always the “flippers” that your child will need to fill in the gaps (some clients specify no missing teeth) – flippers cost about $400 and are not necessarily comfortable for the child to wear. Again, remember that the entertainment industry views child talent as employees who must be willing to work under sometimes difficult circumstances. Good luck!