Child Background Acting Information - "Being an Extra"

I personally feel that if a person does not have experience, doing extra work is a fantastic way to get used to being on a film or TV set. It gives you an idea of how things work and allows you to become comfortable on a set without risking "burning bridges" if you get nervous and a little stage fright. I myself did extra work in the beginning of my career and it helped me tremendously. I had terrible stage fright, but I became very comfortable after doing background work for a while. So the answer is yes, doing extra work will help you. It doesn't pay a whole lot, but the experience you get is valuable.

Acting is like any other job, the more training and experience a person has, the better chance of getting the job. But at the same time, we all have to start somewhere!

The following three companies cast the vast majority of child extras in the entertainment industry:

Kids Background
207 S. Flower St
Burbank, CA 91502.
(661) 964-0131

Studio Kids Management
Send Inquiries To Mailing Address
15068 Rosecrans Avenue #198, La Mirada, CA 90638
Office (562) 902-9838 / Fax (562) 902-0498

Screen Children's Casting
4000 W Riverside Dr
Burbank, California, 91505
(818) 846-4300

To get your child started doing extra work, you will need the following:

Work Permit
Coogan account
Social Security Card
Cell Phone (with text messaging) so you can receive your call time and location.

Background Acting Guidelines

* Buy a Thomas Brothers Map Book. The casting people will give you these map coordinates when giving you your call time and location.

* Bring a small folding chair, something to read, sunscreen, a couple of light snacks, a notepad, and two pens.

* Follow the wardrobe instructions and requirements, as you will be checked by the wardrobe department when you arrive on the set. Bring an extra jacket (even if it’s summertime). It's always cold on a sound stage, where you might be working. Ladies, take a pair of flats to wear when not on the set (your feet will thank you).

* ALWAYS show up at least 1/2 hour early. NEVER be late. Allow plenty of time for traffic, etc.

* When arriving at the location, immediately check in with the AD (assistant director), or whoever you were told to check in with. Fill in your name and address on the payment voucher. Make sure to fill in the hours worked and have the AD sign it at the end of the day.

* Never bring cameras or pets unless asked to do so. Also do not bring friends.

* NEVER take photos on the set with your cell phone. If caught, you will be fired and will most likely never work for that casting director again.

* NEVER ask for autographs or bother the actors. This is a professional work environment and not an appearance.

* Network with other background actors. If you obtain one good tip or referral, it could lead to a lot more background acting jobs. More work gives you more opportunities to get the necessary vouchers (three) to qualify to join SAG (Screen Actors Guild). Being a member of SAG gives you benefits you would not have as a non-union extra, e.g. double your pay and medical, dental and vision benefits.

* Always remain alert and ready to go to the set when asked. Do not leave the set unless you are given specific permission from the AD. Do not listen to headphones, as you will not be able to hear the AD when calling you to the set.

* ALWAYS be prepared to stay and work long hours (unless you are a minor, there are child labor laws which prevent minors from working too many hours).

* Pay attention when you are on the set being given your "marks" and "blocking". "Marks" are the spots where you position yourself on the set during filming. "Blocking" is the exact movements you will be making so as to remain in or out of the view of the camera.

* And ALWAYS remain quiet when in a sound stage, especially when filming. "Quiet On The Set" means "QUIET ON THE SET"! The microphones can pick up even the slightest whisper. Also, when the crew is setting up for shots, they need to be focused and hear each other. It can be loud enough for themselves, let alone the chatter of extras on top of it. So do not make noise or talk loudly in between filming.

* NEVER talk badly about anyone on the set, including the actors REGARDLESS of how you may feel about someone. Use tact when speaking about others. It is extremely poor character when speaking badly or disrespectful of or to others. If you hear someone else talking badly, ignore it. If someone speaks badly to or about you, just turn your cheek and do not return the bad character behavior, as the AD may end up only hearing YOU speak badly. Take this advice to heart if you wish to go far in the entertainment industry.

* When being fed lunch or dinner, ALWAYS let the cast and crew members get their food first. This is not because extras are less important, as many people who work on a film set may treat you. This is because the cast and crew need to get back to work as soon as possible, where the extras usually have by far the most "down time".

* And most importantly, HAVE FUN! There are huge egos on a film set. I mean gigantic monster stuck-up HUGE egos, and I'm not talking about just the actors! Take those people with a grain of salt... look at them as kind of like a cartoon character, then you can just smile at them. After all, isn't it pretty ridiculous to have a giant ego anyways? There are many people who will brag and brag about what they have done and what they are doing. There are long periods of standing and waiting. But hey, you are working on a movie or television set! How fun is that!! And you are learning about what happens on a set, becoming more and more comfortable in front of a camera. So enjoy the experience, as it can be VERY exciting.

* If you take my above advice to heart and give background acting your best shot, you'll enjoy it, make money at it and continue to work. And what's more fun than being with people, in the middle of the action and, later, seeing yourself on the silver screen?

Top 3 Acting Camps For Kids and Teens

The frenzy that many children face to get into the right acting school is acute for those who aspire to a career in the performing arts, and attending acting camps can be a steppingstone to Broadway or even Hollywood. The competition among these children, and among the camps vying for their tuition money, is more heated than ever.

According to the American Camp Association, the number of accredited performing arts camps grew to 804 in June 2007 from 527 in December 2001, a jump of 40 percent. Peg Smith, the organization’s chief executive, said the increase could be attributed in part to the elimination of school arts programs and the popularity of films like “High School Musical” and reality shows like “American Idol.”

Theater camp is pushing its way into mainstream pop culture. MTV recently filmed a documentary at the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a camp in Hancock, N.Y. Last month, Disney’s made-for-TV movie “Camp Rock” opened to 8.9 million viewers; a sequel is under way. Not be left out, 19 Entertainment and Fremantle Media, the companies behind “American Idol,” founded Idol Camp, where series castoffs like Bucky Covington hold master classes.

To compete in this marketplace, camps are expected to offer top-notch facilities and professional staff. French Woods recently installed a second recording studio. Last summer, campers at Stagedoor Manor participated in a youth-friendly adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” with Stephen Sondheim e-mailing changes to the score.

Stagedoor Manor is tops in Acting Camps for Kids

Considered the gold standard of theater camps. Stagedoor, founded in 1975, caps its enrollment at 288 children a session, and spots fill up nine months ahead; campers — from precocious West Virginians to Ron Howard’s daughters — are admitted first come first served (with returning campers getting a first shot). The program is for young performers ages 10-18. Stagedoor Manor located in Loch Sheldrake, New York.

Variety article about Disney and Stagedoor Manor

Playbill article about Stagedoor Manor

Movie Maker article

Notable Alumni:

Mandy Moore
Robert Downey
Natalie Portman
Jon Cryer
Zach Braff
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Amy Ryan
Bijou Phillips
Mary Stuart Masterson
Jennifer Rudin (Director of Casting and Talent Development for Disney Theatrical Productions)

Stagedoor Manor Website

French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts

French Woods, founded in 1970, enrolls at least twice as many children as Stagedoor; over 12 weeks some 2,400 will attend the camp. French Woods is located on a private lake in the western Catskill mountains of New York State near the Delaware river and the Pennsylvania Border.

Campers are able to focus on one particular area of interest, or they may choose to select a variety of activities. We are at the same time, a theater camp, an art camp, a dance camp, a circus camp, a horseback riding camp, a sports camp, a magic camp, and a camp that offers all the traditional camp activities, with world class programs that each child can choose a-la-cart.

Notable Alumni:

Zooey Deschanel
Jon Favreau
Adam Levine
Nat Wolff (The Naked Brothers Band)

French Woods Website

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Interlochen Center for the Arts is a privately owned, 1,200 acre arts education institution in Interlochen, Michigan, roughly 15 miles southwest of Traverse City. Interlochen draws young people from around the world to participate in intensive study of music, theater, dance, art, creative writing, and motion picture arts.

In addition to participating in artistic endeavors, campers also are able to take part in traditional summer camp activities such as swimming, canoeing, sailing, camping, crafts, ping pong, billiards, cook-outs, mixers, trips to Lake Michigan, and playing sports such as soccer and softball in organized leagues, as well as tennis and basketball. Campers live in rustic cabins with up to 16 campers and one or two counselors. Campers begin their day at 6:30 in the morning to listen to announcements for that day, and end their day with slumber tunes. Slumber tunes rotate, and each night a different cabin is responsible to put something together for their cabin mates to fall asleep to.

Notable Alumni:

Felicity Huffman
Tom Hulce
Norah Jones
Kim Kashkashian
Jackson Rathbone

Interlochen Center for the Arts Website

While the average overnight camp costs $400 to $700 a week, according to the American Camp Association, Stagedoor Manor and French Woods charge closer to $5,000 for a three-week session. “Parents want to get quality for their money,” said Jennifer Rudin, the director of casting and talent development for Disney Theatrical Productions (and a Stagedoor alumna herself).

Nothing brings out the self-imposed competitiveness of these campers like a visit from an industry professional. Ms. Rudin of Disney has scouted at Interlochen and refers to Stagedoor as “one-stop shopping.”

Safety Information For Child Actors

The most important concern a parent should have is the well being and safety of their child. Here are some tips that parents should keep in mind in regards to the safety of their child in the entertainment industry:

1. Stop using your child’s social security number on their resume.

It use to be commonplace to use a social security number on a resume so producers, directors and casting directors could refer to you as a number when you go in for an audition. This is no longer the case. When your child signs in for an audition, there will be a spot for their SAG number. If they are not in the Screen Actors Guild, leave the box empty or ask the receptionist if they can use another number.

2. Change your phone number.

Once your phone number is listed, it will remain in online directories and even print directories for a long time. Simply changing it to be unlisted will not stop people from finding it out and calling you at home. Obtain a new number and keep it unlisted.

3. Check your child’s fan mail carefully.

Once your child has appeared on a TV show or in a movie, they will start to get fan letters. While this may seem neat at first, you must be careful when allowing your child to read the letters that come in. Look over the envelopes carefully and notice strange addresses. Letters from prisons oftentimes are marked “Inmate Mail” or have a strange address that looks like a PO box.

4. Take your own digital cards to your photographer.

When it is time to get your child’s photographs done for their portfolio or comp card, ask if you can bring your own digital card for their camera. If the photographer still shoots on film, make sure that their session fee includes giving the negatives to you. By protecting the raw images of your child, you will help prevent their likeness from showing up on online auction sites tomorrow or in years to come.

5. Audit an acting class.

Instead of shelling out the full fee for an acting class you have heard about, ask the instructor if your child can audit their class. Most will say yes. You should be skeptical about those who will not allow your child, and a parent, to sit in on a class or two.

6. Don’t look for agents in the mall.

If you get a flyer asking you to bring your child to the mall to meet with a talent manager, run the other way. Many of these companies make their money by charging outrageous fees for photographers and showcases. They thrive on signing hundreds of kids, hoping one of them happens to make it big.

7. Do your homework.

Never stop learning about the entertainment business. Read books on child actors, auditioning, acting technique, and biographies of former and current child stars. Attend workshops and seminars in your area.

8. Provide a support structure for your child.

During the course of your child’s career, they will turned down many times for different reasons. It is important to have both internal and external support mechanisms for your child to turn to when they need to talk or vent their frustrations.

9. Avoid leaving comments on fan web sites.

While at first it may seem neat when you see the first web site dedicated to your child, but avoid contacting the maker of the site or leaving feedback in a guestbook or forum. Your computer information can be tracked fairly easily, allowing them to get even more personal information.

10. Register your child’s name as a web site domain name.

As soon as your child books that new commercial, TV show or movie, register your child’s name as a “dot com” immediately so somebody cannot steal it out from under you. Registration services are under $10/year at most places, so it will be a cheap investment in your child’s safety.

Most of these items involve common sense, but you will be surprised how easily they are forgotten when your child has a chance at stardom. Keep your wits about you and remember your number one priority is the welfare of your child, not booking the part.

How To Get An Agent For Your Child

There are two types of talent agents, theatrical (television and film) and commercial (for television commercials). Being with the same agency for both is called being "signed across the board," but many actors prefer to have separate agents for different types of work, because some agencies can be better commercially, but not as good theatrically, or vice versa. Agents get information about auditions for roles, either directly from casting directors and producers calling them asking for client submissions, or from a service called "the breakdowns," a daily list of roles being cast, sent only to talent agents. Agents work for you, but they only get 10% - 15% of what your child makes, so that means you need to do 90% of the work - especially when your child is getting started. That means your child should always be professional, be skilled in acting, you should network and let casting directors, producers and directors know about their work & upcoming performances by sending out postcards & invitations, know your child's "type", and make sure you and your agent have an understanding about what kinds of parts they will be submitted for.

The Strategy:

Do not randomly stop by agents offices unannounced, they do not accept personal drop-offs. Avoid calling the office for now. Simply send in an 8" X 10" color photo & resume, along with a brief cover letter. Show the agents that you understand how valuable their time is by keeping the cover letter short & sweet.

Far too many parents end up writing a long cover letter, and the agents end up just trowing it in the "circular file" aka trash can.

This is a sample of a good cover letter:


Your Name
4321 Superstar Street
Beverly Hills CA 90210

Attn: Mr. Agent

Enclosed you will find my photo and resume of my (son or daughter) for your consideration. I am currently seeking theatrical (and/or commercial) representation for (child's name). I will be calling your offices in the next week or so to make sure you have received this package in one piece.


Star Parent


Now the agent even has a few moments to actually look at the photo and resume!

Then after about a week, give them a quick call and just say your name, tell them that you sent in a photo and resume of your child, and that you are calling back as you had promised in your letter. They will usually write your name down, and say that they will give you a call if interested, or we are reviewing it, etc. Again, just keep it short and show them that you value their time. They will be pleasantly surprised.

Say something like.....

"No problem, I don't want to take up your time. I just promised I would make sure the package got there in one piece (then pause)"...

They'll either be impressed (and relieved) at the brief conversation, or will be so caught off guard that they'll try to explain further. If they haven't said goodbye, then just repeat a variation of your previous words (always offering them a chance to end the conversation and reinforcing that you know their time is valuable). Agents get tired off so many actors calling and somewhat begging, "can I come in for an interview", or "I am very talented and would be a great addition to your roster". If you follow these steps, keep your letter and conversation brief, the agent will most likely appreciate it.

Call the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been made against the agency.

Tips & Warnings

* Agents making their living by earning a percentage of each job they book for an actor. Do not pay any up-front fees to an agent.

* If you're not happy with the number of auditions or bookings your child is getting, set up an appointment with your agent and discuss what you can do to generate more jobs.

Go to the website link below. It is the Screen Actors Guild Agent list for both SAG franchised and non-franchised agencies in all states:

Click Here for the Screen Actors Guild Talent Agency Database.

You can also check the website below to see which type of agency it is (Adults,Youth,Commercial,Etc.)

Click Here for the Association of Talent Agencies database.