This is Our Story

We're the Sprayberrys and we moved to Los Angeles about four years ago to have our go at Hollywood. When we met the folks at Children In Film, they thought it would be a great idea if we documented our story. After all, our failures and successes (hopefully more the latter than the former) can be your lesson book.

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.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hollywood - Big Universe, Small World

I'm always reminded of how important it is to remain kind and polite in everyday life. Showing up on set prepared is essential. There's no question about that. But being what I'd call "user friendly" is just as essential. A family that is easy to work with, gets remembered. That counts. A director or crew member that is kind and treats each person as a member of the greater team gets remembered. You might ask, "But does it get the job done?" In my opinion and my experience, yes. Is it because you can catch more flies with honey? Perhaps. From a business standpoint, I believe that a positive attitude and kind words simply go along way in influencing people.

We were fortunate and very excited that in November Ellery booked a co-star role for an episode on network television. One of the first people we met on set was, guess who, the director - a very kind, easy-going gentleman. His first words were, "So how did you like working with my dear friend?" He was referring to another director we'd worked with on a different show. He was kind and inviting.

The short of it all is that the episode shoot went great and the cast and crew were excellent to work with and all ended well.

In connecting the obvious dots here, we see that we work in a very small and highly communicative universe - the Hollywood Universe. It may seem vast at first, but I can't count the number of times "It's a Small World After All" gets sung around the lots, studios and even dinner parties. Fact is, in Hollywood, there may only be three degrees to Kevin Bacon, and if that's the case we should all make sure that our names are coming up in a positive context the next time someone says, "Oh yeah, I know him."

My thoughts: be kind, perform well, stay cool and good things will happen naturally.


Monday, January 21, 2008

An Interview with Dylan Sprayberry

* with closing comments from Carl Sprayberry.

"On working, playing and being a kid"

Aspiring Actor Dylan Sprayberry, 9, of Studio City, California shares his candid thoughts and responses to his life as a kid in the biz.

Q: So Dylan, are you excited to be an actor and what are some things you like about it?
D: Yes, very excited. I like going on set and going in the auditioning room and getting callbacks.

Q: For you, what's the hardest part?
D: Well, sometimes it's hard to understand exactly what the director is looking for. They may say words you don't know or understand.

Q: What's the best part?
D: The best part is going to the Studios for shooting, getting up early to go on set and the craft services and going to animated voice-over auditions.

Q: How tough is it to be taught on set?
D: Sometimes a [studio] teacher may give me something new that I don't understand. They may give me fifth grade stuff and I'm only a third grader.

Q: Tell us about your school and how you feel about it.
D: I'm home schooled; I like home schooling because I get to be with my parents all day and for auditions it's easy; I don't have to be picked up in the middle of class. *

Q: Do you and your friends talk about you being an actor? What do they think?
D: They think I will be a great actor. Usually my friends and I watch movies and draw; we don't talk much about my acting.

Q: Do you like going on auditions?
D: I like auditioning, but I like callbacks better because my dad gives me ten dollars and I'm proud of myself. *

Q: Do you get nervous or excited?
D: When I mess up a line on camera I get nervous a little because it looks bad on camera. It is fun because I get to be many different people and I like that a lot.

Q: You sound like you're pretty hard on yourself
D: A little sometimes when I mess up and get mad at myself because I know I can do better than that. *

Q: Has there ever been a time when you didn't want to act anymore?
D: Once because my dad was a little hard on me, but I still want to be an actor because I love meeting new actors and directors and going to new places. *

Q: What made you change your mind and not quit acting?
D: Because I knew I could do acting. I think my dad was pushing me because he believed in me. I didn't want to quit the second thing I love most - acting. Drawing is my first [love].

Q: Do you feel like you want to act forever?
D: Yes because it feels great to go into a room and be on camera; I like seeing myself as a different character, like a giant scarecrow - something scary!

Q: One last question Dylan - and thank you for being straight with us. What are the most important things to you?
D: drawing, acting... and I want to play drums, maybe the saxophone... and play baseball. I would like to travel to Japan; Japan has all the future technology, and they have hover boards that glide a foot about the ground - that's very cool!!!

Comments from Carl Sprayberry:

In regards to home schooling Dylan and Ellery:
  • We were unsure of what to do in regards to schooling the children and were concerned on how to balance the pursuit of acting and education. The first thing I did was found an expert on child education. Once we completed an assessment process, we empowered this professional to create a summer curriculum for Dylan and Ellery. This gave me the opportunity to see how we as a family would work in this school arena. With much adjusting and commitment we did a good job of home schooling Dylan & Ellery from May through September. During this process I asked our pro this question: if you could send your children to any choice of home school programs which would it be? Without hesitation she recommended K12. My final decision to home school was simply based on the following: We could control their education, who they played with, their rest, their health, the balancing of their school and education and of course the balancing act of taking two children to auditions and working on set. To date Dylan and Ellery are doing very well with the home schooling process, their teacher has given them good feedback at all of our meeting. It is a challenging process, however, we are very pleased at this stage. The bottom line is this: the program works if you make it work. When you have areas of opportunity you reach out for support just as you would do in any school system.
In regards to Dylan's "$10 reward"
  • The $10.00 reward is just that, a reward. In preparing for a theatrical audition, a child works very hard to remember lines and understand the character. The reward is an incentive-based concept which is how our business society works. It's like a bonus: you work hard, you get rewarded. I believe that to incent is to build good work habit and self encouragement to always aspire to do your very best and approach your work with an attitude of knowing that it is just that. This helps the children prepare and then let it all go when it is over, as opposed to holding on to the result of their work. If you know you did a good job then you can walk away; the entire process works together if you allow it to. By law 15% of all minor's earnings goes into a legally protected Coogan account. In the end, a small reward is a positive reminder that above-average expectations are rewarded; this is a family belief and works for us.

In regards to stressing out and getting "bummed out"
  • We believe it is a dangerous thing when your children take on this type of stress, so we do our best to prevent it. Again, when you go in prepared and do your best work it doesn't matter once you leave. Now, in our home we've decided together that this is a commitment and we're teaching our children that when you commit to something you prepare and work hard. It's all in the preparation process - we tell them, "you do that well, nothing else really matters to us." As their father, I will express my disappointment with school, acting and so on when we fail to commit to the things we chose to commit to. I can remember a very important session that Ellery was not at the top of her game; she had been on set working and had played a little hard with her friends that week.
    Ellery excused herself from the work session and took me to the restroom and expressed that her lines were running together and she was trying to do her best but felt like she was not going to do well. I hugged her and encouraged her to just relax and do her best and not to worry about it. This was the toughest job I have had so far - when your child has integrity on this level you want to fall apart for this precious child, but I couldn't. My job was to remain strong and lift her spirits by way of faith, trust in her ability. encouragement and by reminding her of her belief in herself and my belief in her. She came out and did just fine.

In regards to being hard on Dylan:
  • I will preface with my personal philosophy: if a child has a talent, we as parents have the responsibility to acknowledge his talent and, within our powers and ability, do our very best to see this talent grow and blossom. This type of philosophy is a learning and growing process more for the parents than the children... well, this is my experience. Just like any thing in raising a child (school, morality, etc) my role is to keep the children on a path and that can be a challenge at times. In these times my reminding him on any level can be interpreted as being hard; I can be quick to react to proper (or improper) preparation, and that is where I get tough. Luckily these tough times are not often at all and we strive to live a path of love, encouragement, support, discipline, and reality.

Friday, January 18, 2008

'Practice' Makes For Perfect Opportunities

As we hung up the phone with our manager it occurred to us that the audition we just received was to be held at a casting office we had been to before.

Ellery had been up for a part on Gray’s Anatomy, but unfortunately for us casting went with a different ethnicity – they had informed us upfront that it was between the two children. That's just one of those situations that I think every actor faces. As a parent I guess you just have to let your child know that she did her best and the decision had nothing to do with her performance or talents. In entertainment, sometimes it just comes down to the desire for "a different look," and if a child can learn that early on , they can take such situations with stride and even be happy for the chosen fellow actor.

But for Ellery, here was the great news: the audition we were now being called for was for the new ABC spin-off series of Gray’s Anatomy, Private Practice. We knew casting had thought well of Ellery; she was the only girl at the Gray’s Anatomy callback!

So here she was back with the same casting team and auditioning for Private Practice. She gets a callback! Thank you! Then she went on to book the episode! It’s called “In Which Addison Finds The Magic;" we are thrilled! As an extra bonus, one of Ellery’s friends was cast as her big sister; how fun is that?

Ellery shot for six days at Raleigh Studios. She had a fantastic time. The director, writer, producer, cast and ABC were all wonderful to work with.

So what’s the moral here? Well, we realized that Casting remembers your performance and rewards you when the right part for you comes up - for us it came sooner than later. It’s just another “small world, what goes around comes around, you never know who’s watching, and don’t burn bridges” kind of experience.

Our ambition is to always do our best, be prepared, practice the character and know that casting is always watching. Plus something that is easy to forget: they want you to do well and they will not forget a well done audition.