Ok. You have got this far. You have decided to have children in your video. Some will call you crazy, referring to the old WC Fields adage of ‘Dont work with children or animals’.
These naysayers may have a point (doubtless that past experiences with both of the above will have gotten them to that decision!). Think carefully whether you want or need children in your video.
The process and stringent practices that allow shooting with children present a great many hurdles to jump through. This Camberwell Studios Production Guide provides useful advice about the steps that need to be taken when filming with children in a studio and location environment.
Children in Productions
Why do you want children in your production? This could be for many reasons. Their little faces, flushed with curiosity and wonder are one of the great natural selling tools of the business and marketing world.
Children are used for kids TV shows, adverts and corporate videos to give their products a special feel. Buyers trust the innocence of children; they can give the product or message a friendly and approachable feel. Shoots with kids usually throw up a lot of surprises, as they can be very random in their nature. This can be very good for your piece or it can throw the whole production so you need to deal with the situations that arise very carefully.
You have to imagine yourself when you were young or perhaps what your own children are like now!
Children tend to be very unsettled most of the time, they don’t like routines, they find it harder to concentrate and focus but most of all they don’t tend to do what they are told, or at least they wouldn’t see the importance of the role in a demanding environment. The nature of repeating the same words and the same actions every time all day is foreign and alien to what they are used to.
They also have to listen to adults, which any parent will know, is tough. All you can do is find the right child for the job. Try your best not to go for looks alone as the child may not have any experience. Find a good agent that can take you through the whole process from the right way to cast the child and subsequently, the right way to rehearse with the child, where and when to apply for a licence and other general licence advice. Be aware that they will be mostly looking to squeeze the maximum amount of hours out of you, and your preparation time for their 10% commission so be careful to choose representatives wisely. Or, if you choose a fresh-faced unknown they will not have representation so you may have to approach the school or guardian and tell them you want to make their child a star! (for a day at least anyway!) Read the below information which should offer guidance of how to go about working with children.
Production Techniques and Approaches
The skill is to provide a relaxed but focussed environment. You will most certainly have a limited schedule so make sure that you block out the day and actions before the shoot. Maybe during this process you can shoot a rough video a shot list that can be shown to the child as an example of what they need to do. (kids are like sponges so don’t swear at any point during the shoot or they’ll be repeating everything you don’t want and little of what you do want them to say!) This video could also be a useful tool for preparing for your licence application. It will show the type of work the child will asked to do and it will give the application board an insight as to the type of production company that you is applying (I will be delving into more details at the end of this article on the correct procedures).
Be firm but gentle, if you are the director or floor manager or whoever will be giving the child the most directions and information, It is best to find some time to speak to the child personally with their guardian present. Explain the actions and what is to be expected of the child actor. This will give the guardian some peace of mind for the rest of the shoot too!
Talk clearly and directly to the child. Explain the safety rules and how the day will go. Describe the sequence of events leading up to a take so they are aware of the voices they will be hearing. Make it fun. Get involved. Act out the scene or action briefly for the child so he is prepared mentally for the next take.
Applying for a Licence
Any child you wish to use for any studio production must be licensed. Speak to their Local Education Authority. Casting can be done through the child’s agent who will have more information about their next steps. Obtaining a licence is an absolute must and any child working without a licence can be removed from the studio and any future productions involving children may have their licence application turned down.
One of the conditions is that you must allow an inspector, who may even turn up randomly, to check your licence and premises and they will be thorough with their investigation into the environment and the safe working practices of the production.
After you have contacted the child’s LEA and gone through their procedures on filming with children to apply for a licence, you will have to wait for at least 21 days for the licence to be approved. There are some cases where it may take less time but allow for these 21 days to be sure and if you are unsuccessful in your application you maybe able to consider legal action with the local Magistrates Court.
General Licence Terms
The amount the child can work is dependent on the LEA. There are some instances where the child must have at least 2 weeks break during a longer feature film or series productions so be careful to factor these elements in.
To make your life easier it is simpler to rehearse and block out the shoots with an adult stand-in so that when the child is ready the pre-lighting and stage directions are also ready. Just think if your key scene falls on the child’s legal break periods (these include the agreed 2 week break period or school hours) then shoots can be held up for weeks costing time and money.
Rehearsals do not require a licence but the rules surrounding working hours are still the same, the rehearsals must be declared on the licence application and permission from their legal guardian must of course be obtained. A child will not be allowed to shoot or rehearse for more than 5 days a week.
Children 9 years of age and over can only work for 9 hours between 7.00am and 7.00pm. Time spent acting or performing are limited to 1 hour at a time (4 hours in total). This shoot day will consist of 2 one-hour breaks and a 15 minute rests in the gaps in between acting and the one hour breaks. If you over run then there is a 30 minute window which must be struck off the next allotted shooting time which is accordance to the licence.
Children Under 5 years old can only work for 5 hours between 9.30am and 4.30pm Again any time spent doing actions or performing are limited to 30 minutes (2 hours in total with breaks in-between and at the guardians request if needed. These times are strict and any over running must be factored into another production day
General working practices with children
The number one priority is the safety and welfare of the child. The licensing authority must be satisfied that:
- The location has stringent safety procedures.
- The education of the child is not affected.
- The child does not have any existing medical conditions that a production could worsen or affect.
- The conditions of the licence will be observed.
The licensing authority is also empowered to revoke the licence
A guardian must be present for the child. They also have strict categories:
- The licence holder is responsible for ensuring that the child is supervised at all times. This applies to the guardian of the child too. They are often referred to as Matrons and a licence holding matron can be in charge of up to 12 children.
- The licence holder is also in charge of the guardian’s actions too. If the guardian’s behaviour contravenes the guidelines of your licence then your licence could be revoked.
- The child’s parent is the only person who can act as guardian without a licence.
In summary: the road to casting, managing and shooting your child star is long and complicated but potentially very fruitful for your product or service. You cannot plan for the sheer cute, unbridled joy of children being the face of the project or scene. Follow these tips to prepare for a safe, rigorously planned and carefully managed production and your child will add that extra dynamism and quality that no adult actor could ever offer.