A Guide to Working with Child Actors
It’s hard to imagine what Home Alone (1990) would be like without Macauley Culkin or what the world of witchcraft and wizardry be without Daniel Radcliff and the gang.
It goes without saying that hiring the right child actor(s) for your film, TV series or commercial is crucial.
And though hiring and working with young talent can be a bit challenging, you and your production team can responsibly navigate this space once you’re equipped with the right information.
In this post, we will cover the important aspects of hiring and working with child actors so that you can move ahead confidently.
First, let’s tackle the regulatory side of things.
This can get a bit complicated because child actor laws vary country-by-country and state-by-state. So the rules you need to consider will vary depending on where you’re going to shoot.
Child actor regulations
According to the US Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):
“Minors employed as actors or performers in motion pictures or theatrical productions, or in radio or television productions are exempt from FLSA coverage. Therefore, FLSA rules regarding the total allowable number of work hours in one day and allowable times of day to work do not apply.”
Therefore, individual state laws and labor unions regulate and govern the activities of child actors.
As a production company, it is your responsibility to be aware of the regulations and requirements for your specific locations, so be sure to do your research and stay up-to-date
Tip: Look up your local Film Commission for the latest information about child entertainment laws.
Keep time records
The maximum number of hours you can keep a minor on set vary depending on where you shoot and your child actor’s age.
According to Texas child labor laws:
“Child actors under the age of 14 may not work during hours that would not be within the limits set by Texas’s child labor laws for 14- and 15-year-old children, except that the child is permitted, with parental consent, to work during otherwise prohibited hours, so long as the child does not work again for the same employer within 12 hours after completing work for the particular session and does not by being so employed work in excess of eight hours in one day or 48 hours in one week…”
Laws also dictate that a minor’s time on set be divided between work time (actual shooting, performing, wardrobe, and make-up), education (more on that later in this article), and recreation.
When it comes to SAG productions, you’ll have to report these times on the Exhibit G Form.
Another important regulation production companies must be aware of is the Coogan law. It was passed in 1939 to protect a child actor’s earnings. It is officially called California Child Actor’s Bill.
This law makes it clear that a producer must secure 15% of the child actor’s earnings in a Coogan account. This account is a shielded trust and only the actor can access it after they become off-age.
The actor’s guardians can monitor the account but cannot make any withdrawals.
You can automate these types of payments with Revolution’s entertainment payroll system.
Child actor’s work permit
More than half of the US states require that minors must have a permit to work.
Although it is the child’s guardian’s responsibility to obtain the permit, as a production agency, you must make sure your child actor has a valid one.
If your actor does not have a permit and you’re on a time crunch, then (depending on the local state laws) you actor could sign up for a Temporary Work Permit.
Age is another variable when it comes to state-wise permit requirements.
According to Texas child labor laws, employers may hire someone under the age of 14 as a child actor if the minor has received authorization from the Texas Workforce Commission.
Permit to employ minors
The previous section was about making sure your child actor has their permit to work. Next, you’ll need to get authorization to employ minors. This requirement may also vary from region to region.
In California, any business or individual that wants to hire an actor/performer who’s under 18 must have a permit to do so.
The validity of the permit depends on whether or not the hiring entity maintains a workers’ compensation insurance policy.
Once you have your permits sorted, you have to make sure the talent contracts are signed.
Talent contracts are not exclusive to child actors, of course. But the caveat is that contracts with minors can be voided and the child can walk away without facing any consequences.
This may be unnerving for producers if a minor could, on a whim, invalidate a contract. To counteract this problem, California courts have a process in place that can suspend a minor’s right to disaffirm a contract.
These matters can get complicated, so it’s best to get in touch with an experienced contract attorney before diving in.
Child actors may not always be able to enroll in a regular school; therefore, state laws are in place to make sure that work does not interfere with the minor’s education.
We mentioned earlier that a child actor’s time on set is divided into a few important parts and education is one of them.
To keep things going smoothly, California law requires that productions hire a licensed studio teacher for child actors.
Ensuring a child actor’s safety is of the utmost importance. And apart from making sure that the environment is safe and secure for children here are some things that you need to provide:
- A dressing room that the child actor does not have to share with an adult or another child of the opposite sex.
- A dedicated place for play.
- A suitable spot for rest.
Tips on working with child actors
We’ve talked about rules, regulations, and paperwork related to working with child actors. But there’s more to it than legalities. Here are a few tips on working with kids on set.
- Train your crew to speak and act appropriately especially around minors.
- Allow your child actors to spend time with each other. This will create chemistry and everyone will have a good time on set.
- The child’s parent/guardian is your ally. Work with them to make sure your actor is comfortable on set and how you can make the work environment better for them.
Now that you know about the nuances of working with child actors, let’s take a look at how you can go about casting your star.
How to find child actors
Casting websites are ideal for finding the perfect fit for your production. Here’s a list of some of the most popular sites you can check out:
That’s a wrap
Working with child actors can seem daunting but once you’re equipped with the right information and proceed with an empathetic approach, you’ll learn to love the adventure.
Be sure to keep your child actor’s safety, security, and well-being your top priority and consider all the child labor regulations carefully.
This is an informational post and must not be taken as legal advice. If you require expert counsel, feel free to contact Revolution.
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