Nope, not talking about the Three Musketeers . . . .
Nope – not talking about SciFi films, or any of the scary categories of films that seem to be THE films to make.
Mustn’t Make Monsters . Those are the Three M’s.
So what I AM talking about is the danger of not being aware of the literally hundred of ‘little things’ that occur on a set and within that can turn a Beautiful Bright Spirit (aka a baby or child actor) into the Dreaded Monster Of Ego, Arrogance and Selfishness . . .(sounds like something that would be in the swamp with the Rodents Of Unusual Size – R.O.U.S. – in Princess Bride!!)
AND – they would be no less frightening . . .
AND . . . by the way . . . . not only POAK’s (Parents Of Actor Kids) need be warned . . . this happens to Civilian Kids, too!
SO – back to the non-pictorial part of today’s post:
One day, first thing in the morning on location for another commercial shoot, I overheard a four-year old toddler ask his mommy “where’s my WinaBAGEL?!!” After chuckling in delight a few moments over the adorable mangling of the trade name for one of the more upscale dressing room/trailers an actor can have – the Winnabago -I suddenly sobered. Was this just a tot malaprop, or was this kid already so spoiled that he would complain about a regular Honeywagon (a much smaller, often much less comfy type of dressing room)? Was he a Sweet Bright Spirit who was already in the throes of becoming a monster?
When you really examine the situation, it’s actually the kids who aren’t monsters who are the oddities. (and thank Heaven – there are many, many MANY who are NOT monsters. I know – I get to work with them!)
But think of it:a baby or a toddler gets a feature film (well, actually a set of twins plus other multitudinous additional babies get a feature film – I’ll explain later). The first thing that happens that the babies are actually aware of is:
they find themselves in (hopefully) a big beautiful spacious room (their new trailer/dressing room HOME for the next 3 to 6 months) that is filled with a huge basket of toys equaling anywhere from 500 to a thousand dollars, with a WELCOME TO (Insert name of Movie) note, which they probably try to eat. (Or succeed in eating, actually, if mom and the baby wrangler are not on their toes!)
And then, if they’re lucky enough to have a baby wrangler on the shoot (I don’t mean just me – I mean the position of a baby wrangler – goodness, I’m not THAT vain!!) he or she has a veritable bottomless pit of toys (their “wrangling kit”) with which to entertain, train and cajole them. And THEN, if the wrangler IS me – - - they’re probably being given new toys to keep about every three days – because I just can’t resist giving ‘my kids’ presents.
Repeat the procedure with any age child actor getting a series or a film, because it is the same.
SO – they possibly become trained to believe that they will have new toys virtually fall out of the skies at oft-repeated intervals. That is a major potential danger in the Monster department – though not as big a danger in the infant to three-year old age range as that of the older kids. The tiny ones seem to accept (and as quickly get over and discard) toys without making the kind of connections in their little heads as their older counterparts.
I can honestly say that I am amazingly lucky enough to have worked with babies who greeted me upon arrival on-set with huge smiles and hugs that could heal any kind of heartbreak, worries, or exhaustion that my real life may have been supplying. Kara and Shelby Hoffman of LEMONY SNICKET and Trevor and Preston Shores of BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2, The Coss triplets Chloe, Ashley and Hannah of A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS, and Lucas and Evan Kruntchev of DEXTER, and Ryley and Bayley Cregut of RAISING HOPE are a few of the amazing babies who will be in my heart FOREVER. They would fly across whatever space divided us and dive into my arms with huge hugs and squeezes almost every day. They were aiming straight for my arms and my heart. Never once did they look at my hands first to see if I had new toys for them. Is there a luckier girl on the planet than me?
Just take a look at these babies, and watch them in the films and on tv. You’ll be jealous that I got to hold them, feed them, cuddle with them, train them, play with them. Share part of their LIVES with them. A gift I never take lightly – from them and their parents.
Oops, digressing AGAIN. Sorry.
Back to the potential for monsters.
The bottom line is this: these babies, toddlers, youngsters and teens are surrounded by adults, and GO TO WORK. They are fussed over as children, but constantly in the company of adults. They hear adult conversation, witness all kinds of adult behavior (although admittedly the last thing some actors are is ADULT – no matter their age!) And the crew???!!!! Biggest bunch of wonderful kids you can imagine but it can make for further BAD examples for the kids!!! They begin to feel as if they, too, are adults. Because of this, many grow up with no respect for their elders, as my Grandma would have said. They have one teacher, possibly for years, if they’re on a long-running series, or if they request the same studio teacher from one film to the next. They call that teacher by his or her first name. Yet another breakdown in the necessary division between adult and child.
They ask for something on-set – they’re likely given it. Expensive presents, special treatment, favors. They go out into the world where thousands of fans – children AND adult - want to meet them, touch them, talk to them, take pictures with them. That is their regular, normal day-to-day life. How could this not impact a child?
I’m happy to say that there is a way. I know, because I’ve seen it. It’s called Good Parenting. As simple, as complex and as miraculous as that. What is the magic that the Good Parenting Ones perform? You know – you probably do the same. But for the record, what the hell, let me tell you what I have observed:
They don’t treat their kids as if they’re actors. They treat them as members of the family. As regular kids. Sound like a no-brainer, I know. But it’s hard to do. And absolutely necessary.
They make them do regular chores.
They make them do their homework first
They make sure to get the kids to bed early enough to make up for the fact that they have to awaken at sparrow’s fart (my Australian agent, Colee Viedelle’s favorite description of anything before 9 am) to be at work at 6 am.
They know that the kids must get plenty of sleep in order to survive their very tough production schedules. And healthy meals – not just the yummy junk food on the craft service table at work.
They make sure to help the child understand that he or she is VERY LUCKY – and that there are other children out there who are just as talented, but maybe not just as lucky. Kids who would be thrilled to do what they are doing.
The really great parents make sure that their kids do volunteer stuff – serving Thanksgiving dinner downtown to homeless families, working with CHILDHELP. Seeing how truly fortunate even the average middle class family is, let alone a privileged child of ShowBiz. Seeing how the “real world” really is.
The really smart parents make sure their young showbiz kids have NO CLUE as to how much money they are making, and give them only the going weekly rate for kids’ allowance these days. This is a really important one!
And most important of all THEY MAKE SURE THE CHILD KNOWS HOW MUCH THEY LOVE THEM, AND HOW PROUD THEY ARE OF THEM – having NOTHING to do with the being an actor part – but all to do with being Sally or Tommy or Mikey. Their child. That’s the real magic.
Time and time again, I ask the parents of my private coaching clients as well as those of my on-set charges to make sure that, when describing their kids, they say things like “my wonderful kid who is so considerate, or so polite, or so smart and who also acts. Not, “my kid the actor.” Because if a child is identified by being an actor, and he’s not working – not acting – he can feel he is therefore nothing. But if he’s a kid who’s great at sports, or who is such a help to mom, or whatever else defines that spirit . . . then he or she is ALWAYS all those wonderful things. Oh, yeah, and cool – he also acts.
Ya know what I mean?
Dawn Jeffory-Nelson’s Will Work for O’s©
September 2 2013