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The reality of being a child star


According to a survey of school children , who were asked what they most wanted to do as a job, over one third said they wanted to be famous. Being a popstar, A-list actor or famous footballer ranked well above more traditional careers, according to the survey, which was a marked difference from 25 years ago when the most popular career aspirations surveyed were teachers, banking staff and medics.

Although I hate to dampen the little ones’ dreams, being a celebrity is not all it’s cracked up to be, and being a child star is even worse (just look at poor troubled Lindsay Lohan or Macaulay Culkin). I’m pretty appalled to see Facebook covered in adverts for child model castings, and promotions on parenting websites asking for budding child actors. In my opinion, it’s not a great idea for 99.9% of people. The rare few children who are tough enough to take the pressures need a strong support network, but it’s the parents I worry equally about.

Having worked in TV now for over 10 years, often with little darlings and their parents, I thought I'd put together a bit of information to consider BEFORE you start to sign your little starlet up to an agency or a casting:

It's often all about looks.

You need a thick skin to be a model or an actor and children are no exception. If you don't mind strangers looking intently at pictures of your children all day then that's one thing, but their looks, number of chins, head size and any distinguishing features will be spoken about openly. Remember also that the viewing public can be equally as critical. If you're conscious that Precious has inherited the family's squinty-looking eye then be prepared to be told that this is the reason they didn't get the gig. It can be a cruel industry, so the effect of this on your child (and on you) is certainly something to think about.

Not all children are right for it.

Having worked with child stars before it's important to consider whether the child's personality will suit (and enjoy) the work. I have genuinely found that the more relaxed the child is the better - and by relaxed I mean seriously chilled out to the point of being horizontal - which isn't your average child. Babies in particular can be very spooked by the lights, the people, the noise and the atmosphere, and most babies I know would not like it one little bit. If your child is shy, clingy, likes a routine, dislikes strangers or unusual environments whatsoever they will absolutely hate it (and so will you).

You may make a loss.

Child actors and models aren't always paid as much as adults. Remember, you (or a licensed chaperone) will need to be with them all the time, so any fee paid will be for your time as well as theirs (minus the agency's fee, which is usually 20-30%). Most companies don't pay travel, so consider that you may have an 8am call time in Birmingham, requiring a hotel stay and transport, which may cost more than the actual fee. (Another note - call times to set are often early, and are often in central London, so think carefully before committing yourself to taking tube journeys alone laden with buggies and outfit changes requested by the client).

It's no place to be precious.

Although many people will be highly considerate that children are present most sets/studios really are no place for children to spend time in. They are loud, draughty, and full of frazzled crew (not to mention full of cables, heavy flat scenery and regular expectations of complete silence - don't expect any naps to take place here, nor for games to be allowed). If you don't want to risk Junior's first word being the 'f' word then it's probably not worth it. (Plus, be prepared for a Director to want to see a sleeping baby for a shot at 2pm, followed by an eating shot at 3pm, then if filming over-runs you may be wrapped well past bedtime. If you or your little one are even remotely routine-orientated then this is certainly not your calling.)

This will become your job.

As mentioned, children legally require a chaperone at all times (you) so you'll need to be available and VERY flexible. If you have other life commitments (such as a job, hobby, dog or another child) be prepared to miss these on a regular basis. Parents who work will find it difficult to agree to a constantly changing filming schedule, and will be unable to accept last-minute bookings which may mean an end to the bookings altogether. It's a small, competitive industry and you will be expected to be at their beckon-call.

Paper pushing.

If you dislike paperwork then this might send you loopy. You'll need to organise a license for each job, so be prepared to get school or nursery signatures, health forms and local authority approval (and then possibly do it all again if/when the filming schedule inevitably changes or even gets cancelled). Once they are older, you may even need to arrange private tuition for the lessons they will miss. If you are looking for an easy life this certainly isn't it.

Consider the role.

Although most brands and TV programmes are fairly generic, you will get the odd role that will require some thought, on behalf of your child (the ill-fated illegitimate son of King John in Game of Thrones, for example, or even The Exorcist). That film, show or advert will forever be available for their future friends, partners and children to see so make it a wise choice.

Choose a reputable agent.

I hate to say this but not everyone plays by the rules, and you need to make sure you are given a fair fee, know that you will actually paid at the end of it and that both you and the client are made aware of the rules (although strict laws exist with regard to children's work hours, many will still push this to get the shot they need). Be prepared for your child's photographs to be on the internet for all to see (and I mean ALL) and that you may often be cancelled at the last minute, putting all your carefully made plans into disarray. A good agent will talk you through the process and should be on-hand to answer any questions.

Although this may all seem rather daunting I genuinely believe that some children (and some parents) are perfect for filming, and thank goodness they are - we need babies and kids in films, stills and on TV (a nappy advert with no babies would be rather odd, after all). Please understand though that it is a very small minority of very laid-back bubbas who will tolerate* all the lights (*enjoy is a strong word), re-takes and new people pretending to the their mummy (be warned how this may make you feel, too - having buxom actresses carrying around your pride and joy 'not in the way they like to be held' can be hard for even the most relaxed parent). I never say 'don't do it' but I warn you: it's not easy. If you're looking for a good way to build up their university fund then I suggest starting up your own mini beast zoo...plenty more fun and it will probably pay more.

What do you think? Is it a bad idea to become a child star? Or are some children destined for fame? We’d love to hear from you! Join the discussion on Facebook and don’t forget to take part in our latest online paid surveys, to earn money in your spare time, and make sure your voice is heard.

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