How to get your child into commercials and television

Got a talented child with the personality to be on TV? Here one mum shares her experiences and insights into having a child actor and how to get them into the spotlight

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If your child’s got a theatrical side to them, they like the idea of being famous – and you think they’ve got the talent and character to make it big – how do you get them into acting, particularly television commercials or TV/films in general? And what exactly can you expect life to be like if they do start getting frequent roles?

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I’m mum to one 7-year-old child, Bodhi Rae. My husband and I initially decided to enrol Bodhi Rae in Saturday drama classes mainly because she is an only child: she could go for a whole weekend interacting only with mum and dad and no other kids.

We figured it was important for her to have some time with other children at some point on a Saturday or Sunday, and she’d always loved singing and acting in school plays so we thought acting classes were a good fit.

From there, Bodhi Rae was asked to audition for the drama school’s affiliated agency – and now she’s at the point where she’s started being put up for various castings.

I should also say that her dad is an actor and signed to an agent, and a few of Bodhi Rae’s auditions have come via his agent who’s been asked to find a dad and daughter duo for various commercials including ads for big brands like Mercedes.

I thought I’d put these step by steps in place based on my experiences for anyone who’s keen to get their child into the world of TV/commercials but isn’t sure where to start…

Step 1: start with acting classes

First off, your child does need to enjoy acting and being in the spotlight. Once they get to 6 or 7, you’ll probably know if you’ve got a performer on your hands and from there, you’ll want to think about getting them into a weekend or evening acting class.

A couple of well-known chain acting groups that you’ll find across the UK are Stagecoach and Pauline Quirke Academy – the one my daughter attends.

Here your child will do classes of around 3 hours, usually on a Saturday – and they’ll get to try different kinds of acting like musical theatre, comedy, and film.

Courses usually cost around £80 per month but check with your local branch.

Children are divided into age groups and you’ll usually get to attend a show at the end of every term. They might have some script work to do between Saturdays, so be prepared to spend time helping them learn lines and lyrics.

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Step 2: find an agency

No actor can make it without an agent, so if you’re serious about your child getting into acting, this is the next step after establishing classes.

The good news is that, often, acting academies like Stagecoach and Pauline Quirke Academy have agencies attached and, after a few weeks of attending classes, your child will hopefully be invited to an audition with the possibility of going onto the books if they do well.

If they get accepted, your child officially has representation and this is when you could find the offers start rolling in.

Step 3: get the best head shots

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Either when your child goes for their audition with the agency, or when they get accepted onto the books, they’ll probably ask you to pay for head shots using a photographer they have chosen.

If you want to provide your own photos in addition, you’ll have to fund these and ask that the agency use the images you want them to on their website.

My husband is also a photographer and took the above shots of our daughter (Danann Breathnach Photography) so luckily we didn’t have to find the money for these.

But what’s vital to know is that the quality of the head shots your agency uses will play a huge part in your child getting castings: their photo is the main thing a director or casting agent will make a decision on regarding whether or not your child gets asked to come in for an audition, so if you are able to spend out on a well respected photographer, I would say it’s definitely worth it.

Try  to have a variety of shots, too: some close up, some smiling, not smiling, showing teeth and not showing teeth, and so on.

You want your child to seem as ‘natural’ as possible and for their personality to shine through, so choose the most authentic shots you can to showcase them.

Step 4: get an entry on Spotlight

As well as having your child’s profile on the agency website, you’ll probably also be advised to put them onto  Spotlight, a website used by casting directors to find adult and child talent.

It will cost around £100 per year and you’ll need to include head shots and basic information about your child. You can include showreels / voice reels too when you have them.

The contact details you list on Spotlight should be your child’s agency, who will pass on any offers of castings.

Step 5: understand what happens at castings

Your child’s agency will be in touch if they’ve been chosen to go to a casting. They are normally at just a day or 2 of notice, and are generally after school hours or during school holidays or weekends, though at times you may need to decide if you’re going to ask your child’s school for a day’s absence if you’re taking your child out to go to an audition.

Prep for a casting will vary. Sometimes you’ll be given a full script: your child won’t have to learn it off by heart but it’s definitely good if you have a read through with them before the casting.

At other times, you might just be given the overall synopsis for the advert. And occasionally your child will be asked to talk a bit about themselves: we took Bodhi Rae to a McDonald’s TV commercial where the children were asked to take in a number of objects that were special to them to talk about.

You’ll be given a set time, and the casting directors will work hard to make sure you’re not late in, but take drinks and snacks. Often, you’ll be perched in small, sometimes busy waiting rooms so you want to keep occupied.

Your child might do the casting alone – with just the casting director, and, usually, camera person – or with other potential actors, child and / or adult.

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You probably won’t be told what to wear to a casting but make sure it’s comfortable, clean and neat. Smart jeans and a simple, not-too-busy top work well for a boy or girl.

Remember that often your child will be filmed so anything too loud or patterned might be distracting on camera.

Decisions on who will be used following a casting are usually made a few days after auditions. If you haven’t heard anything after a week, the chances are your child didn’t get the part (they usually don’t call if it’s a no).

One thing to note is that this is a really time-consuming part of the process, and if you’re serious about getting your child into the acting world, you will need to consider how available you’ll be to take them around to various castings.

I work in an office from 9am to 5pm so wouldn’t be able to get Bodhi Rae to evening castings at all, though I can manage weekends. My husband is his own boss and works from home so is able to take her around to auditions: if you both work full-time, fitting these in could be tricky.

Step 5: if your child doesn’t get the part

It’s important that, right from the beginning of attending castings, your child knows that there is really nothing personal in how the director chooses who he wants to work with.

Often it’s about a specific look / style. If your child goes to a lot of castings but isn’t getting any further, you might want to gently ask them how it went to find out where they could do better: perhaps they need to listen more carefully to the director’s instructions or be more confident / a little less loud/enthusiastic.

But if they don’t get a part, don’t make a big deal of it. There will be other auditions – it just didn’t happen this time.

Step 6: when your child does get the part

It’s pretty exciting to hear your child has been offered a role! Though once your feet are back on the ground, be prepared for the admin that’s coming your way including:

  • information sheets regarding your child’s size in clothes, weight, height, shoe size, contact details, as well as passport information if the commercial / show is filming abroad (they often are)
  • getting a licence: the agency should help with this but you’ll need to get permission and signatures from your child’s school (usually the head teacher)
  • getting a chaperone: your child will need a chaperone on set. If this going to be you (yes, you will get paid separately), you will need to confirm your availability, which might mean arranging time off work and finding childcare if you have other kids.

It’s worth noting here that commercials are often filmed in school term time, and can mean your child takes 2 or 3 days out to do them.

Make sure you talk to your head teacher and your child’s form teacher about what a great opportunity it is for them and why you hope they’ll be supportive in your decision to take your child out of school, if that’s what you decide to do.

Otherwise it could be a battle you need to fight time and time again.

We’ve also found on a few occasions that we’ve been told Bodhi Rae has a part, we’ve gone to the school, got forms filmed out, sent passport images etc – only for everything to fall through at the last minute.

Getting an acting job is a bit like buying a house: just like you don’t own the house until you have the keys in your hand, you don’t have the job until you’re on set!

So this business can be a bit of a rollercoaster like that.

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How much will my child get paid?

This totally depends on the job, and the company. Your child might get a voiceover-only role and be paid around £200 for an afternoon’s work.

Or, if it’s a big advert like McDonald’s, they could get thousands, usually divided into a performance fee and then a repeat fee (usually a lump sum which can be way more than the performance fee).

You should know that usually at a casting you will need to list any other work your child has already been in and if they’re on, say, a big commercial running on television, it’s unlikely they’ll get cast again for the time that ad’s running.

Of course, what you do with the money is up to you: we’ve started a savings account for Bodhi Rae to have when she’s 18.

Though we do also give her a small chunk (maybe £20)  to buy herself a treat if she wants to, so you may want to think about that.

After all, it’s a competitive world and getting a part in any commercial or show is a big deal and deserves a big thumbs up ?

Pics: Getty/ Danann Breathnach 

Tara Breathnach is Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums: her daughter has attended Pauline Quirke Academy in Islington since 2018 and has appeared in a number of short films and commercials. Danann is Tara’s husband and a London-based actor and headshot photographer specialising in actor head shots including children’s photography.

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