by Susan M. Halter

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Susan Halter is the author of Modeling: How One Parent Started Her Children and has been educating audiences from coast to coast on 12 radio stations. Like so many parents who don?t know how or where to begin involving their children with show business, 14 years ago Susan was a new and naive mother herself. When she first entered the unknown world of modeling, auditions, and contracts, it was her persistence, questioning, and research which gave her the knowledge she needed to eventually succeed. Her wisdom has enabled her sons to land bookings with such recognizable names as Whirlpool, Sears, and McDonalds.

My sons have appeared in commercials, videos, and print advertisements since they were babies. Many parents, fascinated by what we do, have asked me for advice about how to start their children in the business. Erroneous, misleading advice is plentiful, but honest, hands-on experience is scarce. To my knowledge, I have found it hard to find resources on this topic which explains, from a parent?s perspective, how and where to begin, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to stay sane in unexpected situations. Hence, my goal is to help parents and their children benefit from my family?s years of experience and success in the field. Here are a few words of advice:

1. Set Priorities: Before you locate and contact agencies, sort out in your mind whether you really want to involve your children in this type of business. Try to answer these questions honestly: Does your child like people? (You don?t really know until the child is at least one year old.) Are you doing it for the money? If so, think twice, because this might not be for you. It?s true that one job could end up making up for all those auditions, especially if you receive a national commercial and are booked as a principal. But such bookings might be few and far between. Do you have a flexible lifestyle? Family and friends who can help at the drop of a hat? Are you willing to let your child be a child and have a normal, active life? If your little boy or girl falls and develops a goose egg on his forehead, you might have to pass up an audition. Worse, if he has already been chosen for an upcoming commercial but has that bump on his forehead, he?ll probably lose the job. Bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes are all part of a young child?s life. Emotionally, can you accept that potential loss?

2. Agencies: Some agencies do not accept anyone under age four or two, etc., or even accept children at all. Some like to set up an interview. Others tell you the days and hours they are open to walk-ins, so you can drop off snapshots and introduce your child. However, agencies do not appreciate it if you just happen to be in the neighborhood and stop in at anytime. Shirley Hamilton, a top talent agent in Chicago, once told me, ?Obey the rules!? It?s good to follow her advice, especially in the beginning. Once the agents know you, conditions might change, but still have consideration regardless of how popular your children become.

3. Pictures & Comps: When I started out I was told by my first agency not to waste money on professional studio photographs. Your baby?s appearance will change significantly every month until he or she is a year old and every few months thereafter until about age four or five. After that, the changes are not so quick or dramatic.

4. Auditioning: Many people have asked me what it?s like at an audition. For children, as you know, waiting can be very difficult. By keeping children busy and happily entertained, parents help everyone concerned.

5. The Day of the Job: After receiving the call of my son?s first commercial role, I was told to wait for my instructions from the people who were handling wardrobe. Directions were given to the shoot, what to bring, and time to arrive. The same rules apply as for auditioning: keep children busy between takes if other actors are involved.

6. Be Polite! I have been very fortunate to receive what I have. This success depends upon a combination of approaches, the timing, and the personality of the individual in charge. You can?t go wrong by just asking. Ask for copies of your children?s work, keep track of all paperwork, and know what you are signing upon completion of the job.

7. Don?t Be A Stage Parent: I learned a while back that if my kids cooperate, great; if they don?t, that?s all right too. You cannot and should not force a child to perform. There will be another opportunity to shine. Growing up is a challenge no matter where we live or what our kids are involved in. There is no real difference between trying out for a school soccer team or auditioning for a commercial. Some teams they will make and some they will not. It?s our job as parents to support our children in all that they do, and remind them that if they ever have doubts about themselves, that it?s not winning the game or the audition that counts but that journey down the road that?s important. Praise and love at any age goes a long way.

Keeping the best interest of your family in mind is the best advice I can give anyone who is just beginning. Let?s hope that with each day we will all become better prepared to make the decisions that could possibly change our children?s lives forever. The family is the foundation of anyone?s success. Good luck!

Susan?s book is available at bookstores nationwide.


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