Acting | Company/Organization Profiles

Lights, Cameras, Kids! Casting Agencies for Children

1 Nov , 1999  

Written by Tiffany Patrick | Posted by:

Children in the 'biz' have head shots, portfolios, agents, and managers. Here's a look into two local casting agencies for children

Kids and animals, W.C. Fields warned us a half a century ago, will upstage you every time. How prophetic his words turned out to be. Mr. Fields could not have imagined the impact of television, the global reach of Hollywood, the proliferation of the Internet, or the power of the almighty advertising dollar, but he was right about the power of children in entertainment. Advertisers, producers, agents, recognize the power of a child’s face to sell us anything. Children in the business today have head shots, portfolios, agents, and managers. They know the meaning of competition and a hard day’s work, and meet up with each other at auditions as often as they play video games and take naps.

Time to Audition–Do you know where your kids are?

Images of children are everywhere in today’s pop culture. For every Macaulay Culkin or young Anakin Skywalker in the limelight, there are thousands of children pounding the pavement, selling adults everything from tires to soup, negotiating the rough-and-tumble world of entertainment with a wink and a smile. How they come to participate in the adult world of entertainment and sales, however, is anything but accidental. While some are discovered, most kids go in search of the life and work of a model or actor. Enter the agent. Behind most every kid in the business is a dedicated parent/chauffeur, and an equally dedicated agent.

Several agencies throughout New England specialize in representing kids. Those agents who rise to the top manage to keep the work fun for the kids they represent. Part parent, part broker, they walk a fine line.

Cameo Kids in Waltham, MA, has been representing models and actors of all ages since 1969, casting kids for print ads, commercials, industrial videos, and films for such clients as Disney, CVS, US Airways, Dunkin’ Donuts, L.L. Bean, Ford, Hasbro, Talbots, and Netscape. If the all-American look is what they want, Cameo Kids’ owner Lynda St. James, an industry insider with modeling, acting, and teaching experience, knows who to call.

Cameo Kids are doing it all, be it commercials, PSAs, industrials, print ads, or film, thanks to St. James’ dedication and charismatic philosophy towards kids working. "We want kids to have fun. We don’t want it to be like a job. That’s my job," she says. St. James doesn’t let her kids take it too seriously. "Kids get a lot out of it."

St. James speaks of a camaraderie among kids that one would expect from adults, particularly in situations where the kids look alike and often compete for the same role. "The kids return from an audition and say, ‘Hey, I saw so-and-so.’ I tell them it’s because they look alike and they’re up for the same part." The kids seem to get it, she says.

St. James and her peers mentor their kids, helping them cope with not getting picked, or injecting a dose of reality to quell unrealistic expectations. Of those kids who really want success, she says, "You can look right at them and see it in their eyes and in their face." Those kids or parents who can’t handle it, drop out. What’s left are talented kids who see an opportunity and who, with the full support of Cameo Kids behind them, follow a dream.

Those who have "it" can make a living. What is "it"? "A clear sense of self and self-confidence," St. James replies. "These kids aren’t shy," she warns. "They’re not afraid of getting in front of an audience. These kids exude personality and charm. Whether African-American, Hispanic, or Asian, they exude an All-American quality."

For parents with a talented child, choosing an agency should not be taken lightly. Parents should interview an agency as they would interview a teacher or child care professional, and choose only an agency they feel incorporates the child’s family into the process. St. James advises parents to audition the agency as the agency would audition their child. "We audition [the parents]," she says.

Parents and kids often come to Cameo Kids with expectations of hitting it big. Yet St. James is quick to dissuade expectations of fame and fortune. Cameo Kids provides opportunity to young talent. They aren’t in the business of launching every kid with a head shot into super-stardom; they are in the business of developing young talent into talented adults. Often, as clients get older, they go on to study their craft in school or privately. Others phase themselves out of the limelight. Either way, the combination of realistic expectations and St. James’ apparent integrity make Cameo Kids very fortunate kids.

He likes it!  Hey, Mikey!

North of Boston, the Portland Model and Talent Agency, now in its 18th year of business, represents models and actors both young and old. PM&T is one of New England’s oldest and largest agencies, with scouts in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles specializing, in part, in representing child models. Clients include a who’s who of corporate America, including Hewlett

Packard, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lands’ End, Ben & Jerry’s, VISA, and heavyweight Hollywood productions like "The Preacher’s Wife," "Thinner," "The Man Without a Face," "The Cider House Rules," and "Message in a Bottle."

"We really enjoy representing children actors," says agent Jan Vazzano. PM&T, like Cameo Kids, represents who have that quality agents call "it." Vazzano defines "it" as intense focus. "These kids know what their objectives are, and know how to prepare themselves."

How this agency harnesses the ambitions and dreams of their young clients is central to its success. It’s all about finding the right balance between a child’s world and the American dream, and most of all about realistic expectations. "People ought not to run out and build a portfolio," advises Vazzano. "It is expensive." Instead, she suggests they send a photograph first. Vazzano also suggests parents look before they leap.

Finding the right agency may not be easy. "Spend time interviewing an agency. Find out about their process. Talk to parents of kids. Find out how long the agency has been in business. Spend time," says Vazzano.

Both PM&T and Cameo Kids promote all that is positive about talented, ambitious kids working their way into the hearts of pop culture. W.C. Fields recognized kid power long before Michelin Tire or the makers of Huggies diapers. While kids didn’t invent the advertising machine they milk, they do have friends in high places helping them wend their way through the melange. The important truth is that these agencies continue to encourage kids to be kids.