Ever since I posted a blog post about a year ago about my struggles with my grandson’s acting career, people have been asking me questions. The most common one is, “How do I get my child into acting?”
I’m not an expert, but here are a few of the best local resources in Dallas, Texas for the parents of would-be child actors. Feel free to ask questions – if I know, I’ll gladly answer. If I don’t, I’ll say so honestly.
I’ve written about some of the scams, pitfalls, and realities of raising a child “in the business”, so I’m not going to cover them all again. Here are the links to previous articles with general information on spotting the scammers who prey on children’s dreams, what to expect to spend to get your child’s career off the ground (hint: pay for classes, head shots, wardrobe — don’t pay for unnecessary services that promise to let your child “cut corners” as they build their resume).
- Parents of Would-Be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers
- What a Real Audition Opportunity Looks Like
- Advice From a Reluctant Stage Grandma
- 5 Things Parents of Would-Be Child Stars Need to Know
Here is the list of local acting classes talent agents respect from the Linda McAlister Talent website. My grandson Kameron is represented by Linda McAlister Talent, and they have never steered us wrong, so I put a lot of faith in their recommendations. (For the record, I’m not related to Linda McAlister, and I have only met her a few times. She is my grandson Kameron’s agent, but we only met last year. Both of us just happened to marry unrelated men with the same last name.)
Every kid, no matter how talented, needs to be in acting class regularly. This isn’t something you do for a few weeks or months and then “graduate”. Most agents require their talent to be in ongoing classes in order to remain on the roster. Kameron studies with Nancy Chartier’s Film Acting Studio — for my money, it’s simply the best. I can’t say enough nice things about Nancy’s professionalism, ability to motivate and teach kids and teenagers, and the way in which she pulls the best from every student.
We also like the Movie Institute, which has just moved into marvelous new space in the old Valley View Mall (Preston @ LBJ Freeway). If you haven’t stopped by Valley View lately, go and take a look. It’s being revitalized as a gallery and performing arts space. The Movie Institute’s Kamp Hollywood is the place in North Texas for would-be filmmakers, and they have great weekend workshops on everything from making horror films to stage combat.
Schools like S.T.A.G.E., Dallas Children’s Theater, and Summer Stage at the Dallas Theatre Center, and the Dallas Summer Musicals Academy of Performing Arts are also good. This list only scratches the surfaces of the resources available. Pick the one that fits your financial situation, your child’s interests and abilities, and your schedule.
Every agency has its own methods for submitting and considering new talent. Look at their website, and follow their rules. You don’t need to pay someone to “market” you to agencies. Once your child is ready for an agent, a teacher or acting coach will likely refer you or arrange an introduction.
Whether you intend to join the actor’s union or not, I think that a SAG-franchised talent agency is a good idea because the actor’s union has a strict code of conduct for agents, and the rules help to protect children. For example, you can’t be a SAG-franchised agent if you charge audition fees. SAG-franchised agents can’t meet with minors without their parent or guardian present, and meetings with a child actor must take place in a public place (never a hotel room, the agent’s home, or the child’s home). I like that. This list is in the order it was shown on the SAG website; I didn’t add any kind of rank order.
THE CAMPBELL AGENCY
Two Turtle Creek
3838 Oaklawn, St. 900
Dallas, TX 75219
MARY COLLINS TALENT AGENCY
2909 Cole Avenue, Suite 250
Dallas, TX 75204-1307
THE CLUTTS AGENCY
1825 Market Center Blvd., #380
Dallas, TX 75207
KIM DAWSON AGENCY INC.
1645 Stemmons Fwy., Suite B
Dallas, TX 75207
THE HORNE AGENCY
4420 West Lovers Lane
Dallas, TX 75209
LINDA MCALISTER TALENT
100 Oak Lane
Waxahachie, TX 75167-8412
There is also an agency called Core Talent that is not SAG-franchised that some parents seem to like. Their website is http://www.coretalent.biz/ I don’t know much about them, but Kameron has friends who are represented by them.
Note that reputable talent agents get paid when their actors work. So they want actors on their roster who will show up for auditions prepared, and they want actors who get cast. There are no up-front fees. Typically, the “salary” paid to a child actor is a base fee plus the agent’s commission. The agent invoices the film company for the work their actors perform, the money is paid to the agent, which then forwards the money to the actor, minus their commission.
Money & Taxes: Facing the Facts
Your child probably isn’t going to get rich working as an actor in Dallas, Texas. If they start when they’re in early elementary school, they may be able to pay their own way through college — if they’re really, really lucky. But don’t count on it.
Don’t forget that your child is required to file a tax return in his/her own name if they earn more than $600 per year. Yes, you can still deduct them on your taxes if you pay more than half their expenses.
Waiting outside an acting class at Nancy Chartier the other day, a mother whose child had just been cast in his first film role was telling everyone else how shocked she was at the “low pay” offered for the role. In fact, the child was making SAG minimum — about $525 per day. That’s higher than nearly all of the jobs available to kids around here. When the other parents told her that, she was quite surprised.
The truth is that most actors work for free on student films or short indie films when they are starting out, just to get experience and build up some clips, or they start out as extras earning only a few dollars an hour. One way to get some experience before you go out and get an agent is to post photos and profiles on one of the reputable online casting sites.
So remember two things about money. You may not break even in the first few years. That means you may spend more in wardrobe, lessons, audition costs (travel, videotaping sessions, coaching sessions), and other expenses (head shots, demo reels, resumes, etc.) than your child makes. There’s also the cost in your (uncompensated) time. When your child is on set, you’re on set, too. And while most film companies will feed you and give you all the coffee or bottled water you can drink, you’re not getting paid.
Texas Work Permits for Children
Children under 16 require state permits to work as an actor (or in any other job). The permit is good only in the state that issued it – so if your child works in Texas, but is cast in a commercial filming in Oklahoma or Louisiana, you must get a permit for that state, too.
Some states (California & New York, for example) have stricter rules than other states for child actors, and you must set up a Coogan Trust Account – a special bank account where a percentage of their earnings is deposited. You can’t set up a Coogan Trust Account with a Texas bank, so if your child works in California, you’ll need to set up a bank account there before he or she can be paid.
A general overview of the rules for child actors in Texas is online at this link. http://governor.state.tx.us/film/production/laws_child_labor/
The application form to get a Texas word permit for a child actor is online at this link. http://www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/lablaw/application-child-actor-performer-authorization.pdf
Online Casting Sites
Casting directors announce casting calls through several channels:
- Via a post on their own website or Facebook page
- Via email to agents, requesting submissions
- Via email to actors who have signed up for notices
- Via reputable online casting sites.
Sometimes, anyone can submit a request to audition. For example, there are open casting calls for Star Wars going on around the globe this month, as Disney searches for the unknown faces who will become household names when the next generation of of the Skywalker and Solo family is cast.
More often, the casting directors pre-screen talent through agents first. About 85% of the auditions my child goes on are arranged by his agent. The others are direct submissions. For instance, on Black Friday, I’ll be chaperoning him while he films a zombie movie. It’s a role he got after someone in his acting class was cast, and told the producer they knew someone who could play their little brother. Then the actor already cast forwarded a casting call to us, and we submitted his resume, demo reel, and head shots.
Most agents ask talent to maintain profiles on four sites:
- Casting Frontier http://www.castingfrontier.com/
- Actors Access (AKA: Breakdown Services) www.actorsaccess.com.
- Now Casting www.nowcasting.com.
- Casting Network http//www.castingnetworks.com.
It is free to register with the casting sites, and the first photo is also free. There is a small fee for hosting a video/demo reel (about $25) and for extra photos. You can sign up for notices of casting calls, and self-submit if you do not have an agent, or if it is an unpaid project you’re doing to build your credits or gain experience. There is a small fee to self-submit – usually $2 for a resume and photo, plus $3 for a video link.
This is not a “post it and forget it” process. You have to keep your profile — especially your resume, photos, and contact information — up to date on the sites, or they’re useless to you.
There are also sites like http://www.shortfilmtexas.com/ that post casting calls for local actors. These are good, safe places to look for opportunities for a child to gain experience on a film set.
If you and your child are interested in working as an extra on major TV or movie sets in Texas, Louisiana or Oklahoma, be sure to register with MyCastingFile.com Most of the major casting directors in the region have banded together to use this site to cast background extras (not speaking parts) for films and TV shows. Note: minors can ONLY register if a parent or guardian is also registered. You can mark your child as “available”, and submit them for work without submitting yourself, or you can both submit. Just remember that if your child is booked, you have to be on set — but if you are booked and they are not, they probably are not welcome on the set.
I don’t think it’s safe to submit a child for a role posted on Craigslist or any site you aren’t familiar with. And I am very leery of any “audition” or “casting” call advertised on radio and TV, especially on programs aimed at kids. (Think about it: who pays to advertise? Someone who wants to sell you something.)
As noted in the beginning, this simply a list of some of the resources available to the families of children in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who want to become an actor. There are many, many more — and just because they aren’t on this list doesn’t mean they aren’t good choices for some families. It simply means that I am not familiar with them.