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Getting Started in the Biz For minors working in the Los Angeles market
By Liz Briggs, Contributor to this blog site.
So you’ve got the cutest, most talented kid ever, eh? Well welcome to Hollywood. The Department of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) authorizes around 50,000 work permits for children in the entertainment industry every six months. That’s a lot of cute kids. But don’t let me discourage you! If you have the time and money to invest, having a kid working in Hollywood can be an exhilarating ride.
My son got his start in the background biz, working as an extra on Desperate Housewives. He was a teeny thing, only 2½ years old. We were living in the LA area at the time, which makes it much easier, but it is doable for folks living within a drive-able distance (San Diego, Las Vegas, San Francisco), especially if you have friends or family to stay with in town.
I recommend working background for kids just starting out, because it doesn’t require the same commitment as getting an agent. Once you are signed with an agent, you will be expected to be at his beck and call, dropping everything to drive into LA and audition at a moment’s notice. Background is different. There are rarely “fittings” (paid auditions), but for the most part, your child is booked directly off her picture, and you receive a call offering a day of work. Background is also different in that you can say “no.” If your kid has a spelling test, or a birthday party, or you just plain don’t feel like it, you can just pass up the opportunity, and it will go to someone else.
My son was and is registered with Kids Background Talent. They hold an effective monopoly on background work for kids in the LA market. As with any business, they are looking to make money, and I encourage you to do due diligence before signing up. That being said, my family has been very pleased with our results, and we do recommend them to our friends.
Whether you decide to go straight for an agent, or test out the waters in the background, two things that your child will need in order to work in the biz in California are a work permit and a Coogan (minor blocked trust) account. The work permit is fairly simple to obtain, and currently free, although pending legislation may create a $50 fee for each permit. The permit must be renewed every six months, and the renewals, as well as the original, may be obtained by mail. The forms are available on the DLSE website, and must be signed by the school for school-aged children, and by a doctor for babies between 15 days and one month of age. The minimum age for a child to work in the State of California is 15 days. The Coogan account is also easy to obtain by mail, and several, though certainly not all, banks in California offer them. Two good choices are the AFTRA-SAG Federal Credit Union, and First Entertainment Credit Union. Unlike many banks, these two credit unions specialize in entertainment industry clients and are therefore more familiar with the financial needs of young performers.
A final note about kids in the biz: Though fun and rewarding, being a kid in the biz is not all glamour and glitz. It takes hard work and a significant financial investment to make it work. A single day of background work pays around $130, less commissions, taxes, etc…certainly not enough to justify the gas and possible hotel costs on its own. It is only by looking at the big picture that we as parents can understand and justify the expense required to get our kids going in this crazy business.