The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 28, 1987 · Page 42
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The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 42

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Thursday, May 28, 1987
Page:
Page 42
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6 Green Guide Thursday 28 May 1987 The cast of 'The Bartons', from left Olivia Harkin, 1 1, Michael O'Reilly, 16, Ben Toovey, 9, and Matthew Day, 15, with their "parents", Frank HokJen and Jennifer Jarman-Walker. Hard work and little pay for most child actors OEL Coward may have been right in warning mothers against putting daughters on the stage but that doesn't stop daughters, and sons, too, from wanting to be on stage, or at least on television. When the producers of The Henderson Kids 11 put an advertisement in the paper for children to fill six parts, they received more than a thousand letters and photographs from young hopefuls. When the makers of The Bartons sent out a letter to schools to find the right child actors, the response almost blew up the ABC switchboard. The idea of seeing themselves performing on television is seductive to children, of course. And because of the regulations requiring television channels to show a quota of new Australian children's drama each year, there will be more children around who have had parts in television films. But there are a few great myths about acting, for the vast majority of children anyway. It is not glamorous and it is not well-paid, and the possibility that it will be a career path to adult acting roles is remote. Child television actors, like adults, are employed under Actors Equity awards. Rina Reiss, the union's industrial organiser for film and television, says that the rate of pay for child actors, particularly in Melbourne, is "absolutely appalling". Children up to age 16 are usually paid half the award rate for adults. A child employed as a TV "extra" is usually paid the minimum rate of $37.15 a day, which is half the adult rate. A child "actor" someone who is directed individually and has lines to deliver usually receives half the minimum award rate for adults, which is $73.42 a day. On top of this are the rights for their material to be used again in Australia and overseas, which might amount to 100 per cent of their fee. "It is not a terrific situation for kids," Rina Reiss said. While adults, if they are well-established actors, can usually negotiate higher fees, few child actors in Australia are in this position. Children who work through an agent are a little better off because some agents can get them three-quarters of the adult rate. It can also often be a long, tiring or boring day, making the same scene over and over again or waiting around to be called. Parents often have to be available as chaperones and are not always paid, she said. "The glamor often fades when they see how long it takes and how little reward there is in it." Greg Jones, the Victorian secretary of Actors Equity, believes the "stage mum" syndrome is quite strong and that a lot of children are pushed into doing television work by their parents. In television advertising, in particular, there is a big pool of children who have been making ads since they were babies and are "over the hill at 13", he said. But work for actors of any age is very scarce and he believes children should be discouraged from thinking of it as a career. "The stage mums are from outside the industry we in the industry have no delusions about glamor." Of children who do make a career as actors, perhaps 75 per cent are from families with a theatrical background, Jones said. "Probably because they have grown up in it, have seen their parents in and out of work and have no illusions about glamor and megabucks. If they stick at it it's because that's what they really want to do." As well, because the acting community in Australia is so small, it tends to be an "in-club", so that a director needing a small child might just cast around in the industry for someone of the right age. Jenifer Hooks, producer of The Bartons, a 12-part children's drama to be shown on the ABC next year, believes that the children who want to be in television are largely "self-driven". "You do occasionally strike the ambitious parent syndrome and that is not pleasant. But I think most parents are simply responding to an interest their children have expressed," she said. When auditioning for parts, she makes it very clear that it is a job, not the start of a career. "Television acting is an extremely difficult industry to get into. And even if they do become a child 'star it doesn't mean they will go on to be a successful adult actor. "They may or may not keep that talent as they grow up. We are adamantly against giving false expectations I have an aversion to the 'young talent' syndrome. I expect that most of these kids will go back to school and never act in another film. No false expectations and no disappointed teenagers. Being a teenager is hard enough without having expectations that are impossible to fulfil." C GENERATION The cast of The Bartons was found after dozens of children from schools in Melbourne suburbs were auditioned. The one thing all the children on the cast have in common is that they are all very bright and have high levels of energy, Jenifer Hooks said. Auditioning children can sometimes be "a very sad process". "Basically we look for children who present well and are articulate and intelligent. We saw a lot of kids who were very inarticulate. I think Australian children are inarticulate compared to other countries. The kids on Sesame Street are not middle-class, but welfare kids, and yet a lot of them at three are more articulate than our 10-year-olds." Choosing the children is mostly intuition. "Of course we work-shopped with them with games and improvisations around the script, and we screen-tested them screen-testing is the standard thing to do and sometimes you do pick up things on the screen you didn't see before but really we knew beforehand that they were right." Child actors work under the control of both the Education Department and the Department of Community Services. They may be employed on a daily, half-daily or a weekly rate and can work for a maximum of eight hours a day. They must have regular breaks and may not work between 11pm and 6am. If they work for any length of time during school terms, a teacher must be provided to give them school lessons on the set. On most productions there is a voice coach to help them with diction and breathing techniques. There also is a chaperone who can step in and ask that filming be stopped if it seems to be dangerous or exploitative, or if the child seems to be getting too tired. Peter Dodds, a director with ABC television who has a lot of experience working with children, said it was important for directors working with children to be prepared to be flexible. "Particularly with very young children, you have to accept the spirit rather than the letter of the script. Kids mature at different ages, mentally, emotionally and physically, but there is a vague maturity line about 10 or 1 1 where you can talk to them about the intention of the script. "It is tempting for directors to use kids who are well-established, not only because they are known to the public but because they tend to be little professionals. But children of five or six from agencies who have been doing TV work almost since they could sit up in the cot can think they have it all sewn up and tend to give very predictable performances. I think it's better to take a bit of a risk and go outside the agencies." Peter Dodds said he did not look for pretty children when casting for a role "mercifully, the world is made up of good and bad-looking people" but a lot of child actors were good-looking because good-looking children tended to be more self-confident and expert at presenting themselves well. Alan Hardy, the producer of The Henderson Kids II, said that apart from Paul Smith, none of the children in the series had had much acting experience. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in enthusiasm and energy, he said. "Children act in the truest sense of the word by play-acting, portraying, if not themselves, a variation of themselves. We had to look pretty hard to find them but we have been fortunate enough to find a group of kids with the ability to portray their own emotions effectively. A lot of kids have no idea of how to put themselves across but then a lot of adults don't either," he said. Some child actors do go on to a successful career, of course. Kylie Minogue went from a child in The Henderson Kids to winning a Logie Award recently for her part in Neighbors. Paul Smith, whose first role was a a juvenile delinquent in Fighting Back when he was 12, at 18 has a string of credits to his name. Nadine Garner, who plays Tarn Henderson in Henderson Kids I and II, at 16 has had guest roles in The Flying Doctors, Neighbors, My Brother Tom and A Country Practice. Bradley Kilpatrick, now 13, started acting when he was 10, as "Brains" Buchanan in The Henderson Kids. He went on to win a Penguin award for his part in Breaking Up and has been in Saturdee and Neighbors. Bradley, whose father is the actor Bruce Kilpatrick, said he knew when he was very young that he wanted to act, and had been nagging his father for years to get him a part in something. "Dad told me he couldn't get me a part and if I wanted to get into acting I had to do it myself," Bradley said. He wrote to his father's agent who, after some tests, put him on her books. Now, he has just finished six months of filming with Henderson Kids II. He loves acting and wants to continue, but says that there is much more work and less glamor to it than he had expected. "A lot of kids at school tell me they want to get into acting but, when I tell them what it's really like, they stop wanting to." IN THE report on the Australian Teachers Of Media (ATOM) Awards of two weeks ago I omitted to mention the winner of the newest award, the Curriculum Resource Award, won by Penny Robins and Tony Wright of Video Projects for Contract With Debt. The omission was unfortunate, not only because Contract With Debt is a particularly good film dealing with money matters for teenagers, but because the award was sponsored by this newspaper. 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