What It Costs to Create a Child Star

Hollywood dreams might not bring in enough money to pay for college. (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, pictured in 1993, are an exception.)
Author:
Publish date:

All parents want to see their children succeed.

But some have a burning desire to break their son or daughter into the crazy world of show business.

While parents and children alike enter the acting world because it is what they love to do, they are many times driven by the idea that hitting it big can also come with a huge financial payout.

But is that really the case? Could a child's acting career pay for college tuition or, better yet, his or her parent's retirement?

Some families, like the Olsens, get lucky. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who became two of the world's wealthiest children, started their careers when they were just 6 months old on the series

Full House

. From there, the girls continued acting and also established their company, Dualstar Entertainment, which has landed them on

Forbes'

"Celebrity 100" list since 2002. But for most child stars, success isn't quite as simple and takes a large financial and time investment before any profit rolls in.

Most babies and toddlers can go to their first auditions without professional training and with just a few simple snapshots in hand. However, as the children start to grow and begin booking jobs, parents should think about some money on head shots and classes.

"It is better to first go on auditions and see what happens. You can use snapshots when first starting out and then once you start booking jobs you can get professional pictures taken," said Alison Swift, the agent for the Children and Teen Division of Gilla Roos Ltd., a model and talent agency in New York City. "Pictures are a good investment in this business, because it is very looks-based."

But those pictures can turn out to be quite the investment. Swift says the pictures can often run parents up to $500. For that, they generally receive a disc of about 100 photos. A talent agency would then look through them and choose which ones should be printed.

Acting class is generally about the same. James Jontz, who runs the Film and Television Workshop in Wilton, Conn., with his wife, Joanne Jontz, says an average acting class costs about $50 per class, whether it be improv, commercial or film instruction. He suggests attending a series of about 10 classes for the best results.

The classes teach children presentation skills, presence, how to speak up, how to look the camera in the eye, how to speak without "ums" and how to think on their feet. And the experts agree that investing in classes may be the best thing a parent can do for a child who wants to act.

"Training! Training! Training!" said Marki Costello, owner of Creative Management Entertainment Group in Los Angeles and granddaughter of Hollywood legend Lou Costello. "Training is what you should spend your money on. You have to invest in your child's career just as you would with college."

Once a child displays a desire to get into acting or modeling, parents should get in touch with an agent and manager. They have connections with producers, casting agents and others in show business who will prove extremely beneficial to anyone looking to make it big.

Agents and managers generally earn between 10% and 20% commission from their clients. But the experts agree that parents just getting into the business should be aware of scams. Costello said that agents and managers should make money only if the child makes money. "Anyone that wants to take money from the start is not credible. That is 100% illegal."

But what does that really mean?

According to Swift, there is a definite market for child actors, and they can make a range of income depending on the jobs they take. "Everyone wants to do TV," she said. "If they book a national network spot like Huggies or MasterCard, they will receive a residual payment each time the commercial airs. This can be up to $1,000." The children also receive a one-time payment for shooting the ad, which is generally just over $500. The agents and managers then take their cut of all money paid to the child, or parents.

Swift said print ads are a little different. If a child shoots a magazine cover, he or she receives a one-time payment. If a child shoots an ad campaign and the shots get used, he or she receives the one-time payment plus a bonus, which can be upwards of $2,500. In both print and television, the deals are made by time usage, and once that period has ended, agents can renegotiate with the advertisers for a higher bonus or residual payment.

But parents shouldn't quite their day jobs yet. While there is success to be had, the acting world is also highly competitive, and not all kids have what it takes.

Costello, who is also a judge on VH1's

I Know My Kid's a Star

, said she looks for children who are "fearless and willing to do anything. It is great when they are in touch with their emotional core." She added: "I also look for parents who aren't a pain in the ass."

Jontz, who also wrote

FabJob Get Your Child into TV Commercials

, echoes Costello's sentiments. He said parents who believe that their son or daughter is destined for stardom should consider a few key things before sending them on auditions. He said to look for a little precociousness, whether they talk to adults on a one-to-one level, and how well they follow directions. "It helps to watch how they act in other environments, like karate or ballet class," said Jontz.

But the most important thing is that the children, as well as the parents, have a desire to be in acting. Costello said, "Parents should want to do it because their kid eats, sleeps and breathes acting, singing or dancing."

Because, when it comes to financial gain, Jontz said that acting may actually be more like a hobby that pays for itself. "Most kids will not make a substantial amount of money. Only about 1% or 2% will actually make enough to cover the cost of college."

Laura Moran is a staff reporter for

MainStreet.com