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How to handle children on a video set
Around the corner, shrieks of laughter can be heard and suddenly, 30 six year old boys and girls come into full view, chattering and skipping down the hall. Is this a scene from a daycare center? No, but it could be the scene on one of your future video sets one day. Once you become a video producer, you never know what projects will come across your desk. So, you may as well become acquainted with the rules on how to handle children on a video set right now.
Isn’t the cardinal rule in video and film making to avoid using animals or children in your scripts as they are too unpredictable? Well, in general that is true and something you do have control over when writing your own scripts. But what if you have the opportunity to produce or direct an outside project that includes children? Better for you to have an idea on how you will coordinate special circumstances like this now. Who knows, the knowledge may help you either get the job or decide to turn it down.
Make sure you have more than enough staff dedicated to watching the children. It will help if these production assistants like children very much, because they will be spending a lot of time exclusively entertaining, mediating fights and sometimes wiping little tears. The assistants will make sure your young actors are fed on time and may take them for short exercise walks. Your child guardian PA’s will also be responsible for making sure each tyke is ready to perform when their scene is ready for action. The scene I described with the 30 six year olds really happened while shooting a Fox pilot. During the three days the small ones were involved, we hardly knew they were there. This was due to a dynamite child actor crew assigned specifically to the kids.
Have a separate room set aside. Make sure it’s far enough away from the set. Kids are not known for being quiet. Children, family and staff will need an area for their use only. No other crew members or actors should be allowed in without the guardian production assistants’ permission. When it comes to the child actors in their charge, the lowly production assistant is boss. Also, make a decision in advance, if other friends or family members, besides parents will be allowed to hang out. This room should have plenty of activities available and should also be the place where meals and snacks are served.
Keep bathrooms and refrigerators near by. The importance of close bathrooms should be obvious. The bathroom can also serve as the make up and costume room. Make sure they use the bathroom facilities before their scene is up to shoot. Having cold drinks and healthy snack foods near your child actor area, saves time, closes lapses in supervision and keeps kids from having a reason to roam about. Healthy, fresh snacks like fruit, will keep a child’s attention span and good humor much better than a sugary high and the resulting crash.
Between scenes, pre-organize entertainment and activities. Do you have any idea what bored children are capable of? If you don’t you really don’t want to find out while you are trying to shoot a video production. Encourage parents to pack their child’s favorite things, but have some on hand just in case. Flash cards, paint by water books and videos are good choices. Keep in mind, the more quiet the activities the better. Remember, you are shooting video scenes not too far away and don’t need any extra noise.
Strictly adhere to local child labor laws. What these laws are will change depending where you are located, but most laws tend to vary a child’s working time from a couple hours a day or maybe more, depending on the age of the child. Child labor laws also usually regulate what time of the day a child can start or must end work, like not before 8:00am and not past 10:00pm. Of course, you are going to have to schedule your scene’s shooting order according to when your child actors are legally available.
Having children on set can be a joy or a nightmare. How the experience turns out depends on if you figured out beforehand, the basics of how to handle children on a video set. A little extra planning, plus careful research into your local child labor laws, will put you ahead of any problems that may crop up with children on your set. Kids tend to be great natural actors, so the benefits they can bring to your video production may easily out weigh the special organization they need.