This column is written by Sally Hassan, the creator of Ghetto Nerd Girl. I talk about how to get through the vital steps of making a web series as smoothly and painlessly as possible.
I am by no means an expert on the subject matter, but by taking a risk I learned a lot. I’m not exposed to kids on a daily basis nor am I a parent. The last time I worked with kids was in college handling an unruly bunch at a daycare facility in a gym. This was very different! The first and only time I worked with a child on a film set was while I was studying abroad in Australia. My classmate decided to use her niece as our talent and she did not speak English. That was rather challenging.
There might be a ton of alarms going off in your head as you read this. I was in the same predicament. Word on the street is that if you’re an indie filmmaker, the three major components you should stay away from are animals, a large cast, and children. I managed to ignore 2 of these 3 rules. The main reason being that it can kill your budget, but I believe there are ways around this if you really need it to tell your story.
Michelle Burger in Episode 2.1 Baked Babysitter
When it came to my real life story I knew it’d be essential to have at least one kid character. The writer in me said, “Do it now and ask questions later.” The producer in me said, “Are you mad?” The writer won as usual, which turned out okay in this instance. I wrote away and dealt with the producing part later.
Once casting time arrived I was pretty clueless about where to find and how to approach child actors. I ended up reaching out to various parents (I’m assuming) on Backstage regarding their actor children. The whole process felt awkward but I was very straightforward in my messages. I introduced myself, summarized my web series, and explained the character before I formally invited them to audition. I contacted a handful of potential candidates and ended up with two child actors at the casting call. That was a victory for me because of the adult content and language in my series. I knew there would be quite a few turned off parents.
After seeing our two child actors audition I realized that I learned so much in very little time. I knew who our “Amy” was going to be and I knew how to treat our first child actress on set. I will shed light on this for you too. If you’re considering casting a child in your series, please keep the following in mind.
1.) Aim for Higher Ages - Looking for a 10-year-old? Go for 12. The older they are the more patience they’ll have on set and a better understanding in general.
2.) Get to Know the Parents - Getting along with the child’s parents is just as important. They have the final say in what their child does after all! Be honest with them about everything and they’ll thank you for it.
3.) Professionalism - This goes without saying, but I felt an extra need to show I meant business to put our parent on set at ease. You want to let both actor and parent know that they made the right decision to be a part of your project.
4.) Scheduling - Just as you would with anyone else, be mindful of your child actor’s schedule. They’re probably just as busy as the adults with school, homework, and extracurricular activities. You also have to think their parent has to set aside time to take them to set.
Michelle helping out and having fun behind the scenes
Once we got all the planning and logistics out of the way I got to know our youngest cast member of Ghetto Nerd Girl, Michelle Burger. She is such a pleasure to work with and quite the young professional. She’s easy going, takes direction well, and is a practical jokester on set (which means she fits right in with us!). I also have to give props to her dad, Jim Burger who is just as cool and super helpful on set. He stuck around on certain shoot days as an extra hand and was just as excited about our series as Michelle.
I’m very happy I took the plunge and decided to work with Michelle. If you’re thinking about including a younger actor, do it! You will grow as a professional and he/she may even teach you a thing or two about the business! Don’t underestimate the younger people! Do any of you have experience working with child actors? I’d love to hear about it!