Friday, March 13, 2015

"Kid Millions"

Because I almost exclusively created family shows, it became an integral element of the process to audition child actors to portray the children on the show. 

I did not at all care for that process.

Outside of war-torn African countries and terrorist groups that press them into military service, show business may be the only arena where the engagement of children in adult activities is permitted.  More than permitted, it is actively solicited, and munificently rewarded.

I have, in my time, auditioned three year-olds.  (More on that shortly.)  In what other economic enterprise are three year-olds required to arrive regularly at the workplace on schedule? 

“I’m sorry I’m late.  I had a potty emergency.”

Do we really want to hear that? 

It would appear we are just fine with it.

Every year, during “Pilot Season” – especially when there were more family shows on the air and therefore more potential opportunities for employment – parents and their children would – in “Gold Rush” fashion – trek out to Hollywood, move into furnished apartments populated by “transient actors”, and assiduously “do the rounds”, delivering their believed-to-be talented offspring – or believing “What have we got to lose?” – to a series of auditions, hoping their kids would strike “Pilot Season” pay dirt.

Do I hear the descriptive “commodities”?

Little children as “Talent Meat.”  Or “Rejection Fodder.”  That’s a hard enough concept for adult actors to deal with.  And a lot of them drink!  How is a kid supposed to handle it?

“They didn’t want me?”

“They were looking for a different type.”

“They didn’t want my type?”

And that’s if they don’t get the job.  If they do, then it’s rigorous production schedules – I was involved with one show where a five year-old worked – legally – until midnight! – scrutinizing attention, the weirdness of being more important (and quite likely wealthier) than your parents, and, even with the most successful series, the inevitable “Cancellation”, wherein your beloved “Television Family” scatters immediately to the winds and you never see any of them again. 

Suddenly, you’re a teenager, your youthful adorableness a distant memory, your once greatly sought-after services no longer solicited.  By anybody.

See:  The litany of unfortunate child actors who were unable to accommodate that transition.     

(A Bullet-Dodging Side-Note:  Once, because I thought she might enjoy it, I cast my then pigtailed and freckled nine year-old stepdaughter Rachel as an extra in Best of the West.  After the filming, we were approached by an agent, requesting permission for her representation.  Rachel was almost immediately sent out to audition for a pilot, which it turned out she did not get.  My response to the experience being:  Whew!”)

This is the paragraph where I obligatorily report that many kid actors turn out just fine, proceeding after their “Moment in the Sun” to more reliable lines of endeavor, or evolving into adult actors who do remarkably well.  (INSERT SUITABLE EXAMPLES HERE.)  I have done my duty – like the Super Bowl participant who only spoke to the media “So I don’t get fined”, and I am now moving on.  (Why the attitude?  Because I believe even the most successful of them pay a price.)

My most excruciating memory in this regard:

I was auditioning three year-olds to play the youngest daughter in a show I’d created called Family Man.  A precondition for auditioning was that, in order to demonstrate their independence, the preschoolers were required to come into the Audition Room unaccompanied by (invariably it was) their mothers.

I heard little children screaming at the top of their lungs in the Waiting Area, as our Casting Director tried to separate parent from child.  I saw mothers literally pushing their babies away, thoughts of “opportunity” (at least momentarily) outweighing their maternal impulses.

And then, in walks this little beauty, self-possessed well beyond her years, which was just north of two and three-quarters.  I do not recall whether the girl replied this in response to a question or if it was independently volunteered, but I remember her very unequivocally asserting,

“When I get this job, I’m going to buy my Mommy a house!”

She did not get the job.

I like to feel that I did that family a favor.

But I am not certain they’d agree.

1 comment:

JED said...

At first I was a bit shocked at your story and the way kids are treated in TV and movies. Then I thought about how children are treated in other areas from sports to music to beauty contests. If parents think they have a prodigy in any area, the child's well being is reduced in importance.

We can choose to not get involved or we can decide that people with good intentions are needed to balance things. It's like leaving politics to the jerks - because no one wants to be associated with them.

You did your best in a tough situation. I hope the little girl who didn't get the job and couldn't buy her mommy a house was able to return to a less intense life with less responsibility to let her mautre at a more responable rate.