BY: MICAELA BENSKO
Our family is in the entertainment industry and it is a large part of our life. My husband’s credits include Co-Producer of Big Love, Production Supervisor on Nashville, Newsroom, and endless others. When our oldest daughter decided she wanted to be an actor, it caused me to reflect upon what I had learned over twenty years not just as a production spouse, but as a photographer in the entertainment industry on and off the set.
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When our oldest daughter decided she wanted to be an actor, it caused me to reflect upon what I had learned over twenty years not just as a production spouse, but as a photographer in the entertainment industry on and off the set. It’s my hope the following may help other parents facing the uncertain world their child so desperately wants to engage. Without having a sense of direction as a parent, this environment can easily become one of fear. Fear breeds panic, and with panic, well-meaning but potentially damaging decisions are made that quickly take the humanity out of the process of something that can truly be fulfilling if the proper perspective is maintained.
Once a child decides she wants to act,talking her out of it will be like wrestling a walrus out of a bikini.
In cooking there is a woman named Sandra Lee. I love her because she creates fabulous gourmet dishes with short-cut ingredients that cost half as much. Consider this my Sandra Lee recipe for the young actor lurking in your living room.
10.PASSION VS. TALENT: What is your child’s passion vs. talent? They don’t always coincide! Their love for acting may not necessarily be what they’re good at, so it’s your job to make sure you both are on the same page. The key is having an outsider’s perspective to back it up. It’s a lot easier to find out you can’t swim before you jump in the ocean.
9. GET AN OBJECTIVE OPINION: Get an objective and cost – free assessment of your child’s talent from a professional. Find an acting teacher in your local high school or college and ask if they can take some time to assess your child’s talent. You’d be surprised how much expertise you can find right in your own community that can help assess your child’s strengths in a supportive environment.
8. WALK BEFORE YOU RUN: Instead of spending thousands of dollars you may not have on many things at once, the first thing to do is enroll her in a reputable acting/auditioning performance class. She will learn the process of getting up in front of people and reading sides. After she has a class under her belt, submit her to an agency for representation. Sometimes classes have agents attend their class. Create a resume to include with her headshot. It doesn’t have to have a lot on it! Just be real and know this is a marathon, not a sprint! Too many parents go in expecting things to happen ASAP. Do this slowly and properly.
7. NO PAY TO PLAY: Don’t ever pay an up-front agency or management fee to be signed to their roster. EVER. These fees can sometimes be hidden in “headshot” fees where they get a kick back. Acting classes attached to an agency are another no-no. An agent can suggest an acting class or photographer but should not be financially associated with them in any way.
6. BEWARE OF ‘INVITE-ONLY’ CONFERENCE ADS: Watch out for ads for actors’ conferences that say “Invitation Only”. It is rare these events, that can charge up to thousands of dollars, are just for “selected” young actors or individuals. The entire process of becoming a working actor is done more with sweat and tears – with bursts of joy – rather than paying thousands of dollars to realize that in the end you still don’t have an agent. In this business, the invitations you should get excited about are call-backs and meetings. Not opportunities to spend money you don’t have on something that isn’t a sure thing but looks sparkly in the ad.
5. IT’S NOT ALL SUGAR AND HONEY BOO BOO: There is a documentary called THE HOLLYWOOD COMPLEX. This film should be required viewing for every parent considering a career in acting for their child. This documentary is as close to reality as it gets and is educational for anyone of any age entering the entertainment industry. If someone wants to act, there is little that will dissuade them. It’s the nature of the creative beast. But the greatest tool they will ever have is knowledge. This film is the inside scoop of what to expect upon entering the acting world. Sit them down and have them watch it with you so that when it happens to them, the highs and the lows, they’ll know the most important thing of all. They are not alone.
4. EMBRACE THE GIFT: If a child would like to act or sing or dance, it’s a gift from above for them to share their gifts with the world. So this is not at all meant to deter anyone from following a dream. This is simply a guide, having been a young actor myself, worked as a photographer in the business for years, and having been privy to the insider’s perspective as a producer’s wife for almost fifteen years.
3. THE NITTY GRITTY: When you introduce your child to the industry, go in with the frame of mind that nothing is a one-stop-shop that will create a career overnight. A career is built on many elements which come together over time.
But most importantly, she should have FUN. If acting is not fun for a child, then it’s not worth doing. Period. End of story.
2. THERE IS NO SPEED PASS: It helps if you know someone. But it’s never the answer. So often, well-meaning people ask how to get onto my husband’s show. It pains him to answer that even at his level, there is no magic wand. There is a hierarchy in place on any legitimate production for a reason. There’s a protocol set to maintain what little sanity there is, in an already insane industry.
1. MAINTAIN THE HUMANITY: The entertainment industy is built on people just like you. Parents raising families, that don’t always have the answers. It’s a land of passionate individuals trying desperately to fit in a systematic machine of parts all struggling to function as a unit, with higher-ups yelling at them to make it perfect. So forgive people in the industry if they seem cold, or on edge, or over-it. They’re tired. They worked 17 hours the day before, and you remind them of everything they were before they themselves ‘made it’. The short-tempered casting director, the agent who forgot your birthday, the development girl who never reads your script. They are not bad people. Jaded is not the word either. They are men and women who are in it all too deeply to walk away. It took too long, too many years of paying dues, to make a dream come true that in the end isn’t at all what they expected. The Grip who works too late to tuck in his son at night. The AD who missed his daughter’s play. The writer with ten pages of studio notes on a script that bares her soul. These are things no one will tell you, because in the industry you’re not allowed to complain. Because ultimately every one of them knows they are damn lucky to be there. This goes for actors too.
So on this road, remember it’s not about making it big. Even the biggest stars wish things were different up there.
Remind your child – and yourself – this is a journey of discovery. It’s a time to show kindness and respect to those you meet along the way. Even to casting directors who forget to smile. Because no matter how this ends up, the only way to truly be successful is to remember that at one time or another, every person in that room, sat on their couch in their living room. And had a dream.
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