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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Journey to Hollywood: Leaving Your Home

Goodbye Houston, hello Hollywood - looking back on leaving Texas.

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.
For us, the most important thing was to stay close as a family. You will hear many times from film veterans, "Keep your kids real; keep them grounded." It is we, the parents, that make this happen. Because family comes first, we spend our free time together and this keeps us bonded and grounded.

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

Set Behavior: Your Role, No Matter What the Role

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

Ellery's Reel

We thought you might enjoy having a look at Ellery's Reel. She has done enough work now where we were able to put it together in a video presentation. The reel is helpful, as our agent can use it to submit her for new work. Hope you enjoy it!

Let us know what you think.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Children In Film Wants Your Opinion

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

Improvisation: It Can Make The Difference

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

An Interview with Ellery Sprayberry

* 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!

Q: So did you let your friends know you were going to be on TV?
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.
Click here to read an article on Ego by Children In Film's Child/Family psychologist Argahvan Sadeghi, MFT (coming soon)
    • 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.