This is Our Story
So here you have it - Dylan and Ellery working through the ups and downs of being child actors - their mother and I working hard every day to ensure their success not only as actors, but also as well-adjusted members of society.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Fred Segal has this great annual sale and when possible we take advantage of it. While shopping, a lady calls out to Dylan using his character name from an episode they were working on (Mother & Son) a year earlier.
As they connected, hugged and talked the lead actress informed Dana that she had requested Dylan once again to play her son in another episode being shot this month; such an honor for Dylan.
My phone text alerts me as to what’s taking place in Santa Monica; as I read Dana’s quick text it occurrs to me how really cool it felt to see this kind of sincere recognition and memory retention this well-known actress was extending to our son.
As I envisioned the live scene playing out at Fred Segal with our family and this kind actress, many thoughts ran through my head, however, one in particular stood out, good things happen to good people, this was Dylan’s moment of recognition.
Dylan is such a great person to be around. His sense of respectful playfulness, an extraordinary level of sincerity and kindness, and of course it doesn’t hurt to be a talented actor make him a likable child.
Hollywood is a beautiful place; a setting filled with amazingly giving people, one must earn the genuine treatment and it must be real in return, in our family we ask only for the opportunities to earn the gift of being on set.
We define great work as preparation, punctuality and politeness additionally recognizing that we have a responsibility to respect the entire business process.
Repeat business opportunities come from businesses that are reliable and delivery of a great product - a reliable and dependable product and our little actors are the product.
The quicker one understands this reality the better. It can be challenging because this is an often emotionally charged process for us parents; the good news is that it’s easier than we often make it - RELAX have FUN do GREAT WORK!
We are grateful for this exciting entertainment arena we are privileged to play and grow in. We know Hollywood will remember you when a part is right for you and if they trust you, good things will happen.
Our posture is to be kind and real. Fact is, this town has a great memory... Good, Bad or Ugly. Let them remember you and your children as the "good."
Monday, October 6, 2008
We worked for five months towards the opportunity and hope of booking “Eloise Goes To Paris.” The last of Ellery’s six auditions was a noon session with the Director Charles Shyer on Saturday, February 2, 2008.
After the audition we dropped off Stan (Ellery’s Coach) then headed over to our neighborhood hangout Aroma Café. Ellery ran inside to visit as I caught up with a friend just outside the library seating area. Ten minutes later I walked in and took note of Ellery standing at the head of a table engaging with 4 adult ladies - Ellery, submerged in girl talk, was looking quite cute. I quickly noticed one of the ladies was a tenured Hollywood actress.
Respectfully I quickly wrapped up the conversation and thanked the ladies for making time to visit with Elle. When I looked at the leading lady to say thank you, she ask if Ellery was my daughter and I proudly answered yes. She then placed her hand on her heart and said a few very kind and sincere words with respect to Elle.
I never told Ellery who she was; I just left it at a table of nice ladies who appreciated the loving spirit of a sweet little seven-year-old with whom they enjoyed talking and laughing.
Fast forward to April, Ellery auditions for a MOW leading role, and a few days later she is awarded the leading role, WOW!!! Ellery was scheduled to report to set on a Tuesday, and on Monday we get a call inviting us to come and meet the other leads who happen to be filming just a mile or two from us.
As we enter the set, the actress who I mentioned above looks at me, I ‘m reading her lips and I'm thinking she is saying something regarding Ellery. That’s when I figured I must be hallucinating on set, maybe a little too excited. A few minutes later the introductions start and I hear the other leading actress say something to Ellery about someone recommending her for this role,... now I’m really dreaming!
Did I mention that I had a cold and was a bit stuffed up and a little disoriented? :) The next thing I hear from the other leading actress is that she was so happy they took her recommendation and chose Ellery for the leading child role. I have never been so astonished in my life and had no words. I only held back tears of appreciation that I cannot begin to express. I’m staring at this kind actress. I say to her, "how do I respond to something as kind as what you have done for Ellery?" My heart pounding with joy, I gave her a hug and thanked her.
WOW, what a moment that was!!!
She told me that since that day when her and Ellery first met she had not stopped thinking or talking of her, which really got to me; I can’t believe I held it together.
We all know how hard we work to earn the chance to make set. This was a leading role. This gift came by way of an actress who believed in a little girl she had met just two months earlier and after only chatting for 10 or 15 minutes.
If lessons can be learned for other families though, it is a testament to the impressions we all make in the first moments of meeting someone - no matter who they are or what they do. If we make it a point to treat all people with respect and to teach our children to speak up, shake hands, smile and present their true selves, we never know who we will impress or leave an impression on.
Ellery spent five splendid weeks working with this incredible team. From the Director, Producers, Cast & Crew she, was part of a family and an experience she will treasure forever. Her relationship with this wonderful person has blossomed into a real girly friendship; they have breakfast and movie dates they’ve even included Dylan in on the fun.
Once again, Hollywood has such a big heart; there are great and giving people everywhere, embrace the friendships, we can’t have enough real friends in life, its all fun! CS
Monday, July 28, 2008
Jack Palance, holding his finger in Billy’s Crystal’s face, proceeds to tell Billy’s character "its all about that one thing." This carries on through both City Slickers films and makes total sence in both.
I personally relate to it because life is about figuring things out. It's about finding those very few successful things which lead to happiness, but like anything you have to decide what is important to you. What will you truly sacrifice to earn that thing in life that you want so dearly??
So often we fail to break things down to a simple understanding. What is your "one thing." Are you ready to stick with it?
I choose to believe that most of one's business objectives are simple. If we can remove the peripheral emotional aspects and truly identify what we are trying to accomplish we will know, without question, the exact hurdles we must jet.
So ask yourself -
Are you and your child interested in the craft of acting?
Are you interested in earning money for college?
Do you want fame?
What is your "one thing?" Is it reasonable? Is it respectable? Is it fair to your child?
Going back to the beginning of January 2006, I remember standing in front of the Oakwood Clubhouse in Toluca Lake. As I stood there with Dylan and Ellery each holding my hands and knowing there were many parents and children inside waiting for the evening's serving of a Hollywood professional to teach us all something new, I was blown away with this new and unknown universe. And in the same moment I knew, without question, there is an easy way to accomplish one's goals; it is done by way of breaking down the big picture and discovering the individual parts that yield success.
You must become a student of your opportunity at hand. In our case (and most likely in your case as a parent of a child actor) it was starting a new business, SHOW BUSINESS. And as much as I loved the business (or at least the result), I had no clue as to how to become successful at it.
I was confident, however, in knowing I could find the path to success. I knew we would need to relentlessly pursue our objectives while learning and taking note along the way, again, trying to always simplify our success matrix but never giving up and continuing to break down the success measures.
We are fortunate to have many dear friends today as we explore and enjoy this gift we live in (Hollywood). Being considered "working actors" is a dream world filled with excitement and reward!
As I listen, learn and sometimes advise when we gather to educate and understand our Hollywood path I hear many different things and see warming and sometimes unusual reactions.
I hear so many things that I could write a book, but here’s the point; when you remove the emotion, the guessing of what the casting office thinks (you will never figure this out, Do Not Spend Your Time On This Area) how they liked you, the gossip and spread of false information and so on, you will be able to get back to your "one thing." For our family - the decision has been made to focus on this: Do Good Work.
The only thing you have any control over is the work you are doing. You want acting to be your craft? Do good work. You want to make money for college? Do good work. You want to be famous? Fine - Do good work!.
Once you cross that casting room threshold, go in prepared and confident, listen and have fun, be your self - be real not ON! Do good work.
There you have it, simple, do great work, get great feedback and great booking results. We have learned to be just as excited to book as we are to receive a callback followed by confirming feedback. We have came close on some great projects and have booked great projects; we now know its about the work. If your child felt like they did good work and you had them prepared, that’s all you can do.
Remember, this is a lifelong path, there is no easy way in. Its tough work and like any business you must understand what the real what are defined as true measures of success.
Have fun, be real, be prepared, and most importantly, Love Your Children!
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
My advice to you when considering your options in regards to unions like SAG and AFTRA is don’t panic, don’t rush, and let the process take course!
So many thinking joining SAG is the answer for an automatic path to success. Although it is very important for a working actor to be a part of the union, it is even more important that you become a member when the time is right.
Obviously you must become eligible first. And while there are a few different ways to become eligible, my fear is that some parents are so eager to get their children into SAG that they go to extremes to make it happen. The problem is, using these "Shortcuts," may get you in to SAG, but what will you do once you're there? The work may actually come less often at first.
The truth is, there are no real shortcuts to joining. I suggest that you devote the same time and energy to finding solid representation and ensuring that when you get an audition you are ready. Once you have booked a few projects (SAG signatory) you will be required to join and things will work their way out. In the process, your child will have become truly ready for SAG.
Think of it like this - if you have a cocoon and are eager to see the butterfly, there are many ways to speed up the opening of a cocoon. You could force it open right? But would the butterfly be ready?
Without a doubt, becoming a member of SAG was a good thing for Dylan and Ellery, but it came on its own. It was not our goal or focus. SAG is very credible and many projects will ask for SAG only casting calls and for this reason, by all means join when your child becomes eligible.
For some, this is easier said than done. The cost is not minuscule. We could have joined much earlier than we did but my thinking was that we were saving $3300.00 to join and also leaving ourselves open forboth SAG and Non-Union auditions which would increase our booking opportunities.
In retrospect, I feel that the SAG-only casting calls way outweighed the non-union opportunities for us and this is most likely because the kids were at the appropriate stage to be joining.
One last point - I believe that becoming SAG says that you have worked and that you have been on a set and you have real filming experience. With young children, this is an important factor and a great resume builder. Being in SAG is an honor and a benefit, but one that is so because it is earned.
Best of luck to all of you - keep me posted on your successes!!
Monday, June 30, 2008
What we are looking at is behavioral traits; We may choose to not allow our kids to associate with kids who are disrespectful. Additionally we speak straight and with great clarity when our kids fail to meet our expectations. If behavior is good - hugs and pats on the back. If behavior needs improvement, we redirect.
Our number one objective is to raise kind, considerate and respectful children. We attempt to bring Dylan & Ellery up as confident and well-rounded leaders. Whether they choose to remain within the entertainment industry is their call, but how they treat others and communicate is our responsibility to teach.
Just the other day we were connecting the dots from our parental behavior to their behavior and in doing so found ourselves evaluating and asking ourselves what kind of parent leaders are we? If our behavior directly affects theirs, then are we behaving as "stage parents" or "child actor parents" (as previously discussed)?
My first thought on what defined the difference between parenting as a "stage parent" rather than a "child actor parent" was based on discrete versus indiscreet parental behavior, on the set and otherwise. I believe that discrete parenting is reflected in children who may lean more toward a workable & genuine style on set. On the other hand, indiscreet & "rougher" parenting seems to find the kids leaning on the side of acting out more.
I am making this concept simple for a reason: While we all know there is much more to parenting than meets the eye, when we see how our children act, we must accept that our children’s behavior is a result of their environment. We obviously realize that everyone has a bad day or moment, that’s a given, but I am referring to consistent behavior traits.
If the parent is over-the-top, overly verbal, over dramatic, etc the child learns to behave in a similar manner. Where as a calm and collected parent tends to yield similar (not always perfect, but similar) behavior in offspring.
We reminded ourselves of how important it is that we remain discrete and focused on the film set objectives, additionally how we can successfully guide our little actors discretely rather than drawing attention to ourselves and issues that need to be addressed within the family, not within the company of the work environment.
The bottom line is that when children are on set and they know their boundaries and are prepared, the production process goes forward smoothly. Time is money and in this business; No one in production wants to work with a challenging individual, child or adult, and we have a choice.
At home and on set we can have a positive impact. And guess what. We, the parents, also have an opportunity to be appreciated as a solid member of the production team, not as an outsider - A simple reward for a job well done.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Stage Mom or Child Actor Parent
The title "Stage Mom" or "Stage Parent" is very defining and on the surface makes sense (ie a mom or parent whose kids work on stage), however, I have reason to believe
that in many cases this title is not always a positive one and sometime carries an underlined meaning. This sad, often accurate and sometimes inaccurate label, has its roots planted in the parents of the past who have earned the title - and all the connotations that come with it.
In an attempt to decipher
the realities we all face in this industry, I've been studying my surroundings - specifically why we have "earned" this bad-rap name, here we go…..
I believe that we as parents are not always clear on our role and on how to control our children on set, thus the fear factor of working (yes working) with our own children sets in. You see, it is necessary to work with kids, but it is work, when a child is hired. But then they also have to be a real kid (both on screen and off) and are also expected to act like an adult on set. This is where the discrepancy lies. For the parent, this is arguably where things get a bit confusing.
In a recent film shoot we talked with a very seasoned cameraman who shared his candid views on working with children. Lets just say he confirmed the frustrating challenge of getting the kids to listen and focus. No different than any other person whose job comes with responsibilities, he wants to get his work done with the greatest of ease. Now, we must also understand that film making is a creative process, thus making it very different from a traditional job, very unique indeed, yet, its work and people expect cooperation in any work environment.
I do believe we, the Stage Parent, have a hurdle to get over in many set situations. I also believe we must make steps to changing the connotation behind "Stage Parent". One way to start is by changing the title. We are "Child Actor Parents" not "Stage Moms/Dads" or "Stage Parents." In my mind, this is an equalizing title and redefines how I prefer our family to be perceived/respected.
The trick now is to earn the new, positive title by way of teaching ourselves and children how to act on set and most importantly, as a parent, take the time to research general set expectations. Then measure how you are doing.
Because we are sometimes tagged/targeted as "Stage Mom," we must take the responsibility to work out of this title and become recognized as much of an equal to the set as the adults. If we stick to focusing on our Child Actor opportunities and aspire to work to become a seasoned actor, we focus on us, which we can control.
This improving process takes time and, make no mistake, in this small universe we work in, talks and word gets around. We have a choice: to be talked about with respect or lack thereof; we decide the outcome, which obviously impacts one's future working opportunities.
Come to set/work prepared, focus, listen, work safe, be respectful and learn the process.
We must always remember it is work when we're on set - not a holiday. What makes it fun is when we all respect the work process, thus exceeding the expectations of the directors, producers, cast and crew. This, I can assure, will lead to other work opportunities and place ones family as respected equals - part of the team!
Thursday, May 22, 2008
So what if you're not getting auditions? The bottom line is this:
- If you don't have representation
- Having representation - specifically a good, reputable agent - is key to going on are going to try to submit you to casting directors whenever possible and whenever you fit the role. And when it comes to submitting on your own (casting websites, etc), you're still better off if you can submit a resume that says you are reped.
- If you don't have an agent, consider finding a manager who will be able to help you find an agent. In my opinion there are two really great things about having a manager - they help you find representation and they keep excellent contacts to help you get auditions.
- Research managers that work with agents who interest you.
- If you already have representation
- Now if you already have representation - be it a manager or an agent - you probably need to evaluate the relationship you hold with them. How often do you communicate? How well do you communicate? How often are they submitting you? Can you get a record of these submissions. If you're concerned that they aren't getting you auditions (or meetings with agents in the case of a manager) schedule a meeting and sit down to talk about why this may be occurring. Do you need better headshots? Does your child need to take acting classes or gain more experience?
- If you are committed your agent/manager will be committed to you. This means when you do get auditions you must make the audition and show commitment 100% of the time. If you don't, your agent may not keep up their end of the commitment level. It's a two way street; make no mistake about it. Agents will only consider you as serious as your commitment shows you to be.
If you're not getting auditions, attempt to address the root of the problem. We've known families who have agents that send the kids out all the time, but we've also known aspiring kids that never seem to have an audition. I really think it is about the representation you have and the relationship you hold with that rep.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
- Attend parties and events. When the, "What do you do?" question arises (but not before if you can help it) mention that you are (or in addition to your regular work) helping your child pursue acting and it is, in itself, a full time role. Then mention that you're still searching for an agent. This is putting the feelers out.
- Enroll your kids in classes - specifically ones taught by professionals who work or have worked in the industry. If there are "parent days" for the class - go.
- Get involved in the theater and performing arts programs at school and in the community. It's a great way to give back to the community and perhaps find other parents whose kids are acting as well.
- Utilize ChildrenInFilm.com. They put out casting notices a lot, but if you're looking for representation, focus on the managers and agents who are seeking new talent. Post on the forum, and read the KidStart section.
- Ask questions. It can't hurt to ask, right?
- Follow up, but don't be a pest. We always do our absolute best to remain respectful of peoples' time, opinions and privacy.
Monday, May 19, 2008
We immediately learned to resource industry friends with potential contract and to follow-up on each of them. While one lead may not yield an agent or manager, it could lead you to another path that does get results; this is a process within a process.
Without a doubt, coming here with an agent and manager will get you out of the gate much quicker. Arriving here without representation is tricky, and when you arrive you must remember that finding representation should be your number one goal, before you even worry about auditioning and booking roles.
In our many conversations with parents, we have found that a great headshot, a resume and a professional reel are all key.
There is, however, no easier way in than an industry referral. When you combine that with a great headshot, a proper resume and an awesome reel, you're more likely to seal the deal.
You may be saying, "well if I don't have representation and my focus isn't on roles, but rather finding representation, then how would my child have a great resume and reel?"
It's that old, "What comes first, the experience or the job,' question. I'd say, the job (ie getting an agent) comes after the experience, but in this case you need to open your mind and expand your horizons for what experience actually is. If your child is in a play, it is experience. If your child is taking classes, it's experience. If your child volunteered to dance at an event or won a beauty pageant, it's experience.
For the "foot in the door," networking is key. Go to events, meet parents in the industry, sign up for classes - anything to meet people. Be genuine, smile, and make sure your kids are polite!
We have successfully connected friends with agents and managers and are very respectful to both parties in that we qualify each recommendation with great thought and communicate with accuracy and reason.
There are many excellent managers and agencies; the trick is to find a comfortable fit for your family, and that "fit" will work both ways. This is why the agent/manager interviews are also important. Let your child speak when appropriate specifically when questions are asked that he knows how to answer.
Like so many experiences in life, we grow and learn by trial and error. The path of finding the best match for you can be long, educational and often lonely, but it is doable. We never gave up or lowered our expectations. If you want this, we encourage you to do the same.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Dylan recently had the exciting opportunity to work with very special makeup artist ( Tyson) on Thursday. Tyson has worked on films like Pirates of the Caribbean and many others. This is the transformation from Dylan to Goat Boy. Dylan loves being in character!
The scene is with another little boy, Timmy McCartney.
Timmy's character is playing in his room when out of nowhere this GOAT-BOY scares the ---- out of him, then proceeds to get in the kid's face! Check out the transformation:
Monday, April 7, 2008
When we first got here, I thought we would advance much faster than we did, but we didn't. That did not, however, mean we weren't moving in the right direction. But we had to learn that fact.
This business, like any business, is a learning experience. What we learned is that "making it in showbiz" is a process. It's a series of steps or stages which we move through together. We must realize that it's not always an overnight success situation. Sure, it can be, but that is not the norm. So for those of you who may feel like things are moving slowly or are needing help managing rejection, I will share with you some of the things we learned during this process of becoming a showbiz family and managing this thing called rejection.
Realizing that you simply lost a role. You weren't personally rejected.
The basic rule is that you need about 2 to 3 years, minimum, to click with the theatrical portion of the business. For us, the most important part of this time period was to learn to balance the "mourning" of the loss of a role we had felt really good about with staying positive for the next set of sides coming our way. It took us a while to learn to manage our losses (rejection). It requires understanding that it just wasn't meant for us. We didn't like it, but that's the way it is. But once you can get in the habit of saying, "That role wasn't for me," the loss isn't so hard.
In July of 2006 Dylan went out for an Owen Wilson film, Drillbit Taylor. We had just signed with our agent and managers, Dylan did great in the audition, casting asked him to meet the producers the following day and so we were thinking, "we got it!"
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It was an eight-week wait that we hung onto with great expectations! That experience was the beginning of learning to deal with rejection and how to not drag your child into your adult-desperation mindset.
Here's a new way of looking at it: We were not rejected. We just weren't the right choice in the eyes of the decision making team.
It puts a new perspective on things, doesn't it? It does not mean, in any way, that Dylan wasn't good. It was just a choice they made for that role, and looking at it that way makes it a lot easier to walk away from.
Learning the way your child reacts -
Some kids take things differently than others. I have seen all ranges. Some kids cry; some kids could care less. Some try to understand why they didn't get the booking while others walk away from it and switch to a child-at-play state of mind. I believe how a child handles role losses is determined by two things:
- How they are raised - which determines how they handle life in general
- How the parent handles Hollywood rejection
Her coach and I intentionally did not discuss her audition. She had done well and it was now out of our hands. As we say in Texas, "Don't beat a dead horse." We had to believe that things happen for a reason and we took the day to work through and process all of our thoughts on the matter. Then we moved on and we didn't discuss it with Ellery. Leaving her with the "I did great," thought was the best thing to do to help her deal with what could have felt like a big rejection.
Five days later, Dylan and Ellery booked a feature as on-screen sister and brother!
Learning that rejection can make you stronger -
It takes practice to manage rejection and you will get better each day. One thing we do that helps is that Dana and I keep our post-audition thoughts away from the kids. The kids focus on the audition work - that's where the talking happens and the work gets done. We are serious about being successful and we are even more serious about keeping the children genuine, fun-loving and balanced. It seems that when you focus on this balance, rejection gets minimized. In closing, I believe the world is full of rejection. It's around each corner of life, and Hollywood just happens to be the teacher for our kids. Hollywood is teaching them how to be strong which makes good leaders and is a skill they will carry with them no matter what their future holds.
Monday, March 24, 2008
For those in Showbiz, I believe that we must first learn that rejection is not rejection as one would normally think of it. Casting doesn't (thank goodness) walk out and say, "Hey, guess what? We didn't like your work. You stink. See ya later. Better luck next time."
In fact, casting wants you to do well; they are your friends and when the right person comes along and fits the part, it makes their job so much easier.
So if you have images of the Simon Cowell type interrupting in the middle of your child's audition with a disgruntled, "That was the most horrible thing..." (complete with British accent) try not to worry - that is, after all, just for TV... no pun intended.
It really comes down to how you deal with rejection - how you and your children internally deal with not getting the work and, most importantly, how you move on and stay positive and shift your focus to the next opportunity rather than harping on the past. In order to book work, you have to do good work [auditions] and in order to do good work, you have to be in the right (and positive) mindset.
So how do you get this positive mindset and how do you help your kids get it as well? It's tough, but you have to manage the rejection in your head. It's the hardest thing to learn. We call it the "Emotional Roller Coaster." One minute you get offered an audition and you're up - you're riding in the coaster car, heart pounding, up the hill. Clink,clink,clink,clink (get the image?). Then you're at the top of the hill, looking up, looking down. Will you get the part? When you do, you keep climbing like one of those little "fake-you-out" hills that some coasters have. If you don't get the part, you may find your emotions zooming quickly down the hill - your heart in your throat. Then you level out and head up the hill again.
The key is to try to level out those steep hills. We have learned and continue to learn that it is about staying positive even when we're heading down the hill. Maintaining great conviction and belief that we have what it takes to succeed in Hollywood helps us manage the times of rejection. We simply do this through confirmation and feedback from our talent team.
Booking jobs doesn't hurt either. When we don't book, we remind ourselves of when we did. If you're new to this and haven't booked or don't have a talent agent or manager yet, perhaps you can shift the focus from the concept of actually booking jobs to the concept of simply making the attempt. If your child knows that the goal is to do his best and have fun and work hard rather than specifically booking the job or signing the agent, rejection is easier to handle. While you may not always get the job, your child is likely to be able to say he/she did his/her best.
For us, if we did not have confirmation early on we would not have hung tough, as I always say. Without confirmations we would have had to recognize that this wasn't to be and that it was time to pack it up. Decide what is going to help you confirm and at what moment you will shift what those confirmations are (from "doing your best and having fun" to "signing agents and booking jobs").
Rejection is very different for each child and family and success with overcoming it moves in stages. Well, this is our experience. I know Children In Film has a Child/ Family psychologist on their Board of Advisors if you're looking for a more professional view on rejection.
My next blog will go into detail about these "Stages" or the learning process that happens on your path towards showbiz success.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Why participate in Student films?
It's a real filming experience and a chance to get the child actor in front of the camera, learning how the set works, meeting future industry professionals and most importantly earning potential film credits for sites like IMDB - a treasure we all seek!!
In the beginning our management had advised us to focus only on AFI related films, thus assuring a quality and credited experience. Through our management Dylan did work in a supporting capacity for an AFI film; it was a very well organized and professional shoot. Unfortunately one of his credited scenes was cut, but that happens. In fact, that is an entire lesson in itself - the cutting room floor!
Now that we are a bit more industry savvy, my suggestions to my friends are this:
Now that we are a bit more industry savvy, my suggestions to my friends are this:
USC, UCLA and AFI will yield the best chances of a quality experience. Additionally, I suggest they only submit for SAG credited student films.
Do your homework. Make sure the film is credited. Your manager or agent will verify this for you. If you don't yet have representation, start by asking the film's production crew.
On the front of your
representation, let them know you are interested in student films. Then work as a team to submit for the best projects.
After the audition, Dylan shared with me his thoughts:
"Well Dad, I ran through the scenes and asked if I could run through the scenes a couple of times until I liked it and they said sure. I did great Dad!"
The next day our manager called to let us know that he had booked the leading role and we were very excited and proud! We were set to start filming on 02/15. In another blog, I write about how we dealt with a scheduling conflict that came up. To read more, click here.
The student film experience -
Dylan shot for five long days, and he was not 100% as we had all picked up a light cold, annoying runny nose and tiredness. Dylan rose each morning excited and ready to get to the set. We would run the lines the night before and on the way to the set. On set he would run lines, block, rehearse and shoot. When you're the lead, it's non-stop, making this a gift of a learning experience.
Our very talented director wrote the script and had been involved with almost 200 films - almost 90 of which she directed herself. She was a very professional and prepared director with a clear vision of what she was looking for, and she even shot with film - classic in her style. That's the thing about a good student film - they tend to bring back the classic qualities of film making thus providing an excellent, artistic experience for the young actor.
Each day the young, professional crew was ready to go, on time and not chatty unless it was work related. Don't get it wrong, they were very nice, just very busy. These students work on each other's films; they are busier than one would realize, and again, a very talented and committed crew.
We enjoyed craft services as nice as we have experienced on any other set.
What did we learn?
My thought is that a student film's big benefit for a child actor is set experience and credits. Dylan and I learned a great amount on the responsibility of what a lead must prepare for and how we can improve next time.
A few days after we wrapped, I emailed our director and asked for three things we did well and three things we could improve upon. We received very helpful critical feedback and will use it to improve our future set preparations.
Out of curiosity, I asked the director what made casting choose Dylan. She said it was his preparation for the character and how well he had performed the last scene, a sad scene.
We also learned that sometimes on set not all cast members gel. All I will say is to keep focused on the work and stay in character; be a professional and work through the challenges and rise to the challenge which is exactly what Dylan did. For children, if such matters arise, I suggest working them out with the director or first AD. Be discreet and never make a scene and only make it an issue if it is truly affecting your work. On the other hand, we became close to one of the cast members and hope to work together again. In our experience it is rare that cast members don't gel but it does happen - be cool, work through it - just like we all do at home with our kids.
The short film Dylan shot is something to be proud of; we are privileged to have worked with this director, cast, crew and locations. We look forward to seeing the final product and seeing the IMDB credit and believe our director will receive praise among her peers and positive festival entry recognition.
In closing, working on a student film is a serious responsibility. The time and expense the student film maker realizes is much and we must be aware that this is their career path and respect that as we respect our own careers.
Monday, March 17, 2008
So Dylan booked a UCLA student film. We were so excited as he would be playing the lead role!!
Fast forward a few days - Dylan and Ellery booked a feature film as brother and sister and it started shooting on 02/13. The UCLA film was scheduled to start on the 15th! Ut oh!
Our manager called us, "Guys we have scheduling conflicts and Dylan may not be able to shoot the student film."
"No way. We love the script and there must be a way to shoot both!"
By now we had established a relationship with the student film director and did not want to back out of the film. We, our agent, our manager, the feature film production AD, and the student film director were all working to get both films done. After days of creative scheduling and caring patience from everyone we figure it out. We were beyond pleased that everyone worked in favor of Dylan; ultimately as a team we accomplished everyone's objectives.
At one point I was ready to walk away from the student film. It was getting very complicated and the student film director was making all the sacrifices which didn't sit well with us. We wanted her film to be everything she envisioned and it was becoming unfair to her.
In May our oldest daughter will graduate from college with a major in marketing and photography; we know first hand how important student work is and have the utmost respect for their commitments.
But things worked out in the end and thankfully everyone was able to get what they needed. The bonus for our cooperation was Dylan's ability to work on two different projects.
My advice when scheduling conflicts come up is to do your best to think of everyone's needs. If needs can't be met, then choices obviously have to be made, but if you can think rationally as a team, often things can work out.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Saying goodbye to Texas was as difficult as making the journey to Hollywood was exciting.
When we arrived on February 1st, 2006 we initially were thinking that a trial month during pilot season would be a good way to get our feet wet. Within a week we decided to push that "month" all the way to June. Two years later...well, let's just say we never went back to Texas.
Our family embraces the philosophy that you're either in it full-time or you're not in it. Basically, for us, there's no half-way.
As is the case with many families that leave their hometowns in an effort to follow their dreams, the move was risky - a leap of faith if you will - because we did not have representation waiting for us in Hollywood. If you're lucky enough to find representation and then move to Los Angeles, the move may be just a bit easier on you. However, I wouldn't say that it is the only way to go. Sometimes in life there comes a time when the risk to remain in your comfort zone is more painful than the risk it takes to follow your destiny. This, we believed, was our destiny and if you believe it is yours, go for it or you may always wonder "what if?"
It wasn't until late May that we finally connected with management and agent representation.
The time period from February 1st through May was not an overly affirming time for us, however, we had faith and today we are fortunate to be with a dynamic manager and agencies that truly represent us well - they are outstanding!
Initially my wife Dana was in Houston - commuting back and forth when possible and managing her own company. Dealing with this separation was the hardest part for me and the children. Many times I'd say, "Dana, this is bigger than us and we must sacrifice temporarily. We're strong; we can do this."
For 15 months Dana continued to work in Houston while the kids and I continued our journey without a present wife and mother. Fortunately she was able to fly out once a month - without her visits, we would not have made it.
Emotionally we knew what we were managing. More importantly, we were always on the same page and extremely supportive of one another. We faced many moments of truth, yet we always worked through our challenges and, for the most part, managed to make the right steps.
If you're at this stage of the game, my advice to you is as follows:
- Come here financially prepared.
- Find and surround your family with sincere and grounded friends
- If at all possible, come with representation. This does indeed make the path more fun and, of course, easier.
- Be resourceful: utilize companies like Children In Film, talk with successful child-actor parents and listen to their stories and recommendations.
- Coaches, classes, photographers, etc. are all here in LA.
- This, like many things in life, is a process of growth. Don't forget that. You'll live and learn.
- Don't be shy in taking risks and most of all, follow your instincts and listen to your children.
Like many who came to Hollywood before us and many who will come after, we walk a stressful path: money concerns, family separation, traffic, school, a new environment. The list goes on and on. But at the end of the day, we're happy with where we are and where we are going.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Working on set is a new experience each time we work; this is because each set and team is new and different, so when it comes to how things are run, there's not necessarily any rhyme or reason. As parents, this can get confusing because there's no 'script to follow' (no pun intended) for how we all should behave.
With respect to focusing on the business at hand, that is, making film, we have a few family guidelines we try to follow and they seem to be working well:
First there are the basics for the kids- the manners and common sense you'd teach at home anyway
- Show up on time - remember, no person's time is more valuable than another's
- Use manners - look people in the eye, say "please" and "thank you"
Then there are some things that make the kids stand out so that people want to work with them again
- Be theatrically prepared and run lines beforehand
- Listen - not only to the director during the scene, but also in down time with the studio teacher and other adults.
- Ask smart questions - don't just talk to be heard; think about what you want answered
And then, of course, there is safety
- Don't run or play unless it's in the scene - sets can be dangerous
- Don't wander off
- Make sure someone knows where you are at all times - your parent and/or your Studio Teacher
There are also some things we can do as parents:
- Document your hours and make notes for your manager
- Because the children are young and learning, we've found it helpful to kindly and, when appropriate, ask the leads they are working with to please give the kids direction - so far so good.
- We also ask the director to please inform us if we may be of assistants in any way.
- We watch the kids, as this is a parent's role on set, however we are not front and center where they can see us at every moment. They know we are there if they need us (and it is important to always make this the case so that they do not have that stress or worry), but not being right in front of them allows them to work independently and develop confidence. Basically put, we aren't "side-line coaches," so we attempt to blend in while being available to the kids and the set team.
- We focus on takes and listen for when the children are praised and also for when we have questions we want to ask later (to acting coaches, other professionals, etc) ultimately as a way of learning ourselves
In regards to schooling:
- We come prepared with assignments
- We establish clarity with the set teacher regarding the school assignments that the children have (they are home schooled)
- If necessary, we teach the kids ourselves later to make up for a concept that was missed/unclear on set.
Lastly, we all have fun and respect the work we're so thrilled to have been given!
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
We've been talking about ego and "ego management" here on the Sprayberry Blog. Children In Film wants to know how you manage your child's ego. How do you help to encourage positive self-esteem and how do you help your child deal with rejection?
To submit your answers, click here
Thanks everyone, Children In Film will love your feedback!
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
When we talk with experienced film experts - writers, actors, directors, etc - we often hear about how critical improv is and how it brings out the creative abilities in an actor that can make the difference.
It occurred to me just last week as I watched Dylan and Ellery audition for a feature where they would be playing fraternal twins just how important the ability to improvise really is.
First off, I must give major credit to our very talented and insightful manager for her creative thinking in submitting the kids for this role. Because she is very aware of their abilities and personalities, she made the audition opportunity possible. We are so grateful to her!
So we received the sides (pages of a script containing only the lines and cues of a specific role to be learned by a performer) which appeared to be a fairly easy preparation for Dylan and Ellery. When we got to the audition, we signed in as usual and the kids were taken into the audition room. As a parent, you always seem to study the faces and reactions of the children as they come out of the audition room. Because parents generally are not invited into the auditions, the first reaction is usually the indicator of how things went.
When they came out, they were laughing and jumping up and down. I could feel the energy in the room.
Both of the gentlemen in casting came out smiling and having a fun time with Dylan and Ellery; I'm thinking, "What is going on here? They are having a blast!!"
I became excited and didn't even really know what was so exciting!!!
The gentlemen waved goodbye to us and I was thinking, "Wow, they must have knocked this out of the the ballpark!!"
Dylan and Ellery couldn't wait to tell me how great they did; they immediately showed me their scenes and I was thinking, "If they did this for those guys, a call back is for sure on its way - no doubt about it."
We get to the car and they once again perform the scenes for their mother - she and I were both laughing and enjoying watching the enormous amounts of energy exuding from the kids.
Then it occurred to me: These lines were different!!!
I confirmed this fact with Dylan and Ellery. "Guys," I asked, "these are different lines. You're not saying the same things you said before when you first got out."
"Yeah Dad," they returned as if the explanation was obvious. "We had to improv and it was soooo fun!"
It was at that moment that I knew the improv classes, training and many hours of coaching and teaching had truly paid off. Improvisation, though spontaneous, is still a skill and a technique. It takes work and dedication and training even for the best of improv performers. The kids' training on the subject had come to great use!
Improv is something we continue to work on as part of our resume of acting skills. It will always remind Dylan and Ellery that the ability to react successfully to a curve ball thrown their way is only possible when you are thinking creatively and confidently.
The great thing about improv training is that it teaches spontaneity, creativity and confidence - skills that the children will use in their acting careers, but also in everyday life. A person that can think on their own, outside of the box and on their feet will experience great success in many areas of their life. I highly recommend improv training as 'brain-train' for any child, especially those looking to act.
When asked to improv, Dylan and Ellery didn't hesitate. They ran with it!
Three days later we received a call back and two days after that we received the call alerting us that Dylan and Ellery had booked the job!
The real bonus for us is that Dylan and Ellery will appear in a feature together as brother and sister - what a very special experience for our family!
Improv - it can, and did, make a difference!
Monday, February 11, 2008
* with closing comments by Carl Sprayberry on "Ego Management"
"On how it feels to be on TV"
After a successful interview with Dylan Sprayberry, we decided to interview his sister Ellery - the sometimes girly, sometimes tomboy, sleepover queen and aspiring thespian.
Q: Ellery, how was it watching yourself on TV for the first time? Were you excited?
E: Yea, it was exciting! I was excited because it was the first thing I ever did. It made me happy and proud that I did something.
Q: Did it make you nervous to see yourself on a network TV program?
E: No not at all; I knew I was gonna do great!
E: I told them before [it aired] so they would see the first thing I ever did.
Q: So what did they think?
E: They thought I did really good and that I was cute on TV.
Q: Did anyone call you after it aired?
E: A lot of people called and text messaged to tell me I did great. They said they were so surprised to see me on TV. My grandmother and grandfather were so excited. That made me feel so good.
Q: So how did it feel to know you were on TV?
E: Like, I felt happy that I shot it and that it didn't get canceled or anything.
Q: Do you feel famous?
E: Yes because people have asked me for my autograph.
Q: Are you hard on yourself when you see your work? Do you say "I could have done better" or "That was a good take?"
E: Yes I am because sometimes I do mess up and I could have done better. When I have a good take, it's over and you can go to craft service and hang out with your friends on set.
Q: Does your family celebrate when you are on TV?
E: Yea, of course! We have a lot of friends come over and watch me on TV. We eat, talk and color while we watch the show.
Q: How do you think your brother feels when you are on TV? How do you feel when he is on set or has a TV show coming up?
E: He feels good. [I think he thinks] "you did great Ellery and you should do more film." He does really good and he's really great. He always tries his best and I think that's very nice.
Q: We hear you and your brother just booked a feature film where you'll be playing fraternal twins! How did you react when you got the news and how do you feel about working on set with your real brother as your on-screen brother?
E: I spazzed out; a lot of jumping and screaming and big hugs to my brother! It will be really cool. I'm not sure how it will go because we have never worked together before. I think it's gonna be great!
Comments from Carl Sprayberry
In regards to "Ego Management"
- Ego Management - The parental act of regulating a child's self-image; helping to create a balance where positive self-esteem is encouraged and negative conceit and inflated feelings of pride or superiority to others are discouraged.
- Ellery is fortunate to have co-stared on four Network episodes last year. With these opportunities we have been asked how Ellery has responded to seeing herself on National Television and her changes in personality. As a family, we are proud and very grateful for the work we get. Dylan and Ellery enjoy being on set and it is fun for them, so we do make a big deal when their work airs just as we do when our friends' working child actors get work. What we try not to do, however, is talk about it non-stop. While we may reference a scene during a family discussion or hold a small party to celebrate, we don't continuously bring it up. The other thing we like to do is talk about how great the cast and crew were, so that the discussion isn't always all about the kids. Giving credit where credit is due allows the kids to be proud of their own accomplishment while also recognizing the efforts and talents of others.
- Managing their egos is more of a question as to how Dana and I manage our own egos - it's 100 percent reflective. Our ego-energy, or the attitudes we convey to others, set an example to our children. We make an effort to balance family, fun, school, health and film [work].
- At this point, Ellery does not show any signs of a negative ego for her existing work. This, I believe, is because we don't feed her ego the negative food. Unfortunately it is possible that too many actors are being rewarded simply because they were on TV or come from a famous family. Rewards of this kind lead to feelings of superiority just because the person is in the public eye when others are not. Think about it; it's kind of like Pavlov's dog. If a child begins to think that every time they're on TV they will receive exorbitant gifts, they may become conditioned to believe that the simple act of being in the public eye makes them greater. While "ego managing" we make every effort to avoid this negative conditioning. The kids receive praise for hard work and good work and are rewarded specifically for that with comments like, "Your performance was excellent" or "Your practice and hard work paid off," so that they know specifically what they are being praised for. The attempt is to build a positive self-image, not negative conceit.
- As parents we are aware that it is necessary to keep potential arrogance in tact. Our kids are entitled to be confident, proud, and to stand up for what they believe in, but only that. This parental mindset we subscribe to requires a conscious effort on our part. We watch and review their communication styles regularly.
- My famous "Dad Line" to the kids is this: My job is to love and protect you. This includes protecting them from their own egos and misconceptions of how the game of life is played.
- Lastly, we look out for the "quicksand" that often exists within the arena of child-success be it in sports, Hollywood, or academia. That is, the trap of the limelight which parents are and children are susceptible. If the parents begin to sink into ideas of superiority, entitlement, etc, then it becomes very difficult for the child to emerge from the undertow alone.