Looking over these notes, I find that I am vague about ages. I am not going to correct that oversight. Kids very a lot in their development. If you want to explore more about what to expect at what age, I suggest that you read up on child psychology. These observations are from experience in casting and on the set.

Think carefully about what will make a kid do what you want or any action that will fill the requirement of the shot. Very young kids are not directable in adult terms. Think about what they do understand and what you should do or say to get the response that you want. If a young kid follows mom or dad's suggestions and doesn't look at mom or dad all the time, try it. Kids comfortable with the world will often follow a stranger's suggestions. Your AD may be the one to relay your instructions, so they don't look at you if you operate. Parents may know how best to get a kid to do something, but not always.

Being on the set is not at home or the usual environment for a kid and he might not do things that he often does in his regular environment. Some younger kids only need a parent close by to feel comfortable and don't look their way very often. Do tell mom or dad to not interfere unless asked by you. Their "helping" just when something is about to happen can destroy a great bit. If the parent does goof, be kind, they are only trying to help you. Their being uncomfortable will be sensed by their kid.

If a kid is comfortable with a parent not on the set, that is best. Kids with just a little acting experience are often the worse because they often look for approval after every bit, often ruining the shot. With this type of kid you had better be prepared to trick them into doing what you want them to do, but not by acting. A silent camera and understanding crew will help. Often kids and adults too do their best stuff when they are not "on camera". Be prepared to shoot the rehearsal or "let's just try it first before we shoot."

Often one kid showing another will get them going naturally without their thinking about trying to please you or mom. Like adults, the best stuff comes from inside. Sometimes I have camera roll and slowly back out of the shot while the people are just being "themselves" not knowing that the camera is rolling.

Let's say we want an accident to happen. Don't tell the kid what's going to happen or what you want. Most kids have been trained to NOT have accidents. You have to engineer it to happen. Give the kid too much to carry and be prepared to capture it where ever it happens. Make barriers to keep them in front of camera and within the set. Position the kid so he will likely face camera enough without being told. If you need any testing, make it seem like it has nothing to do with the desired accident. Don't rehearse.

If a kid, or even adult actor, is asked to let something fall at a certain point, it will look just like he's letting it fall and not really dropping it. To spill milk, make it awkward enough for it to happen, but not be ridiculous. Grease it or soften the carton or use a bigger size. Sometimes you can rig something, but the kid will usually know what you're doing. Kids try very hard to do things right, but will respond realistically when something unexpected happens. The trick is to plan and engineer that unexpected thing. An accident will look rehearsed if it is. Be careful that the accident doesn't happen that looks too perfect of an angle to camera. The camera should be looking into the happening from some distance, not right on top of it and shown what's happening to the audience.

I have used professional baby wranglers for baby shoots. They can be a lot of help if they will listen to what you want and not try to direct the shoot. Communication is important. Often they have experience with the product before and see you as a new kid on the block and can tend to take over. Sit down and iron this out before you get to the set.

Every kid is different and may need a different approach, but there are a few rules with lots of exceptions.

1. Don't expect most kids to understand adult actor talk.

2. If you are behind camera, looks to you are probably not what you want. Use an operator who never talks to the kids. Very young kids are not aware of camera. If you do operate, relay your instructions through your AD or someone else who talks to the kid.

3. Consider an intercom to keep distractions down. Keep radios off or use head sets. The smallest are best. You will look less threatening.

4. Keep everyone possible out of sight and hearing.

5. Put camera as far away as possible. Use a silent camera.

6. Find out from mom the kids best hours, nap time and what the kid usually does under what conditions. Stage moms will exaggerate what their kid can do. Make it sound like the kid has a simple bit so mom doesn't have to exaggerate too much. Let her volunteer information rather than affirm that the kid can do something. If mom seems conservative about the kids abilities, you can probably believe her.

7. Almost all kids play together better than alone. Of course, most will be better with a siblings or their own friends.

You might put one of their friends just off camera or as an extra.

8. Don't blow the best takes in rehearsals. Be prepared to shoot as soon as the kid gets on the set. They get bored incredible soon.

9. Kids are so over-stimulated in our society that there are few new things that are interesting to them. Have lots of unusual things to perk their interest. Don't assume that your one prize prop will be interesting. Don't show it before the camera rolls.

10. Be prepared with lots of film. Have the set lit, propped and the operator always ready to shoot and let him know what could be usable for the shot if something different happens. Some operators turn off the camera if the expected thing is not happening. Some times something that he thinks is great is not what you need. Watch the video assist. Warn the video assist operator to keep it rolling. Tape is cheap. He should keep good notes to help you easily look back at some shot.

11. Like adults, add business in pieces, especially if the business is complicated. Don't give the kid too much to do. Let the older kids help make things happen or arrange the set so that things will happen. For example tell an older experienced kid to tell the younger kid to do something when the older kid says to or does something during a shot. Here is where a rehearsal of the blocking can be useful before the hero prop is introduced. There are a few really experienced kids out there who are natural hams or have worked a T.V. show for a while. They are great, but for commercials they often have conflicts with competing brands and are saved for only the big paying commercials. Most other kids have to be tricked into having a good time, being themselves and not "ACTING".

12. Younger kids on a shoot day don't always follow their regular schedules. They are hyped up about being on TEE VEE. Often they have a long travel to the set. Be flexible about schedule. If a kid is ready for a nap, let him, if he will, and be prepared to do something else. Plan your schedule to be flexible as to what will work where or when. If you are lit for something have a back up bit and kid for that setup. BE FLEXIBLE.

13. Some kids recover from stage fright or shyness quickly. Be patient. They seem to sense tension. Tell mom to take it easy. Let very young kids get use to the set. Don't entertain them with something more interesting than your prize prop. Have a place for mom to be just out of camera and the lights. Some kids will be comfortable if mom then leaves and they will stop looking for approval in her direction.

14. Do be completely ready to shoot before the kid is brought on the set. Check lighting, propping and correct it. If it turns the lighting is still bad, stop and correct it before something great happens. An extra kid for lighting and blocking might be a good investment. Consider a strand-in.

15. Keep lunch a bit flexible so that you can finish a setup if the kids are doing well. Kids like the crew are usually not as good for a while after lunch.

16. For kids with lots to do, breaks can help a lot.

17. If a kid has to go, they won't do well. In their trying to do well, they may be suffering and be embarrassed to say they need a quick trip to the bathroom.

18. Some kids will do something if another kid does it first.

19. Babies and some older kids often will imitate an adult or mom and do what you want. Ask mom in casting what special tricks the kid can do.

20. If you want attention right to camera. a video monitor of what the camera sees right under the lens gives an opportunity to get a younger kid to look at the camera and often give a real smile. You can turn it off if it is a distraction. This works well for photo commercials. Most looks off screen are wrong. Placing your self or mom in line with a person on the set will make those looks to you or mom seem toward the person that you are in line with. Check with the operator if the cheated looks seem right in camera.

21. Most kids fade in the afternoon. Kids brought late to the set may be burned out with anticipation before they arrive.

22. Bribes do work, but don't start with them. Things that you can give the kid to keep or eat. Don't lie to them about "hero" one-of-a-kind props. Have things that you can give them to keep. "I'm sorry, but we have only one."

23. Kids seem to react better after I shaved off my beard of 15 years.(Or maybe my personality changed too.)

24. If a kid isn't doing what you want, starting over often works. "Let's try something different." "How about doing ......." even though you are doing almost the same thing so the kid doesn't feel that he's not doing well. Always tell a kid who understands that he is doing well no matter what. Only change the situation or your instructions to get them to do what you want.

25. Be flexible. Discuss what would be acceptable when what you planned isn't working. ask older kids how they would do something. Let them show you no matter how wrong it might be. Then you can say, "it's great" but takes too long, and do it your way.

26. If kids are talking they relax more. They can be talking about what they are doing, or if older about something not related. If a sync line is a answer, have the other kid or you ask the question. "Why do you like xxxxx ?"" How do you xxxx ?" not "action". Kids and "real people" respond to, "go ahead build a pyramid", better than "Action".

27. Continually think about how to manipulate the set and other people on the set to get the kid to do what you want or what will satisfy the shot requirements. The best stuff I have ever gotten from kids they just did and I was prepared to record it. The Pepsi puppies were the kids' own puppies and they just did their own thing. Mom gave the puppies away the next day. The kid's way was paid through college with residuals.

28. Take a chance on kids with their own pets or pets that they are used to. Often kids are scared of strange animals. More than once I have been saved by the wranglers kids who can really control a horse or animal. They may not have the perfect look, but have come through with the goods. Trained animals continually watch the trainer and usually show no interest in the kid. Baby food on the kid will get the animal to lick it off, but that's not always what you want.

29. The "perfect look" animal is less believable than a mutt.

30. A kid who is just mastering an activity is the best. You can't expect a kid who already walks well to toddle. A kid learns to walk quite well in just a few days once he does. That first step is difficult to get on camera. One year olds don't follow direction yet very well. Have back-up kids.

31. Kids trying to be older or do adult things often adds charm to a shot. Adults like to see such stuff too.

32.Music with a beat makes most kids more active. Many are learning to dance.

33.If doing a sequential story with small kids, shoot it in order to allow for story changes that may happen and improve the wonderful story dreamed up by the writers. The best stuff comes out of the kids, it's not put in and directed back out.

34. Hot or cold sets are not helpful.

35. Make sure that kids and all actors are as comfortable as possible. If they are not, it will show. Time spent making something easier to do is worth it.

36. Give them real things to do. Don't expect them to make a heavy box look heavy if it isn't. Ask the kid how much it should weigh and then add some more weight.

37. Sometimes you need to be firm with kids 2 and up. They already have some sense or obligation to do what's required." You said you wanted to do this now lets do it!" Don't try this on kids too young to understand. Some kids will not do what mom asks, but will willingly do what some other adult or kid suggests. The "terrible twos".

38. Avoid falling for the perfect look in casting. Kids scared in casting will probably be more scared on the set. Make notes about performance vs. your expectations during casting. File for future use in casting. But remember kids go through stages and have good and bad days. A third call back can be worth the money to insure that a very young kid is a good gamble.

39. Keep kids off the set until they are ready to work. Moms give them enough ideas of what they think that you want. They shouldn't know what has been going on and get ideas about what you want.

40. Don't have a video assist monitor where a kid can see it unless you want a reaction to it. If they even know there is one they may be more interested in how they look than in what they are doing. Camcorders have changed our lives.

41. Taking a break yourself to think up ways to get a kid to do something helps. Try to think like a kid. Ask what other peoples kids do at that age.

42. Don't expect a kid with a full stomach to eat with gusto.

43. Most babies sleep after feedings.

44. After a few takes the interest wears off. Do remind kids to enjoy what they are doing, but a suggestion to smile on cue will be just that. "Once again and be happy". (In a deep voice.) Or, "That was great, now have some fun doing it.".

45. We always use more than one baby or very young kid when something specific is needed. There is a bit of a problem with some kids and moms about what kid is "back up". The greed factor seems to effect a mom's attitude about their kids ability.

46. Whomever will be talking to the kids should get to know them before they get onto the set.

47. Don't use a hero toy for casting. Don't let kids use copy in casting that might be changed before the shoot. The will often practice the wrong copy.

48. Don't let kids practice an action or script at home.

49. Be prepared to chuck these rules when they don't work.

We almost made 50

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.