I often get asked what I look for in a child that makes me want to represent them. While that is a hard question to answer, and most youth agents will say they “just had a feeling,” there is a deeper explanation of what makes such a lasting impression that we can’t forget them long after the meeting is over.
1. The child has a ton of personality. From the moment I meet them, their gregarious nature shines through. They make eye contact, shake my hand, and have no fear. They often bounce into my office and want to tell stories, and have long, distinct answers to my many interview questions. They smile. They react. And they are not shy at all. The successful ones have such a happy demeanor and are smart, often having unique interests or hobbies. I meet so many children who don’t want to come down to my office at all and hide behind their mother, not wanting to be alone with a stranger.
2. Their look is interesting/unique. The commercial business has moved away from the “P&G” look of the 90’s or even early 2000’s – blonde hair, blue eyes, kid-next-door. Now, casting directors want what they call “real” children: teeth missing (even braces can be acceptable nowadays), long hair on boys, interesting faces, and the like. Kids that show their individuality with dress are terrific, but beware of them looking too “Toddler and Tiara” and model-esque. Acting agents – different from modeling agents – don’t want to see a five-year-old with makeup or tutus. The child should be who they are.
3. Focus. Especially with the little ones, it is the agent’s responsibility to determine if a child would be able to focus in a casting office or on a set for eight hours. If they come in to a first meeting and are bouncing off the walls or not able to sit in the chair or answer questions without fidgeting, I will probably pass on them. It’s important for me to find talent that can pay attention to what is going on in front of them. This is an aspect that a lot of parents overlook when they make an assessment on whether their child is cut out for this business. It is one of, if not the most, important factor in children under the age of 10 getting signed by an agent.
4. They have an excellent cold read in the room. I have a binder of commercial copy that I give to the kids at the end of their meeting. I choose it based on what age I think they’d play in an actual casting, and I give them three minutes before they perform it for me. They never have to memorize it, but this gives me a good idea of their instincts and how they handle material being thrown at them. A lot of commercial auditions now include improv, so sometimes I will ask them to tell me a joke on the spot or perform a scene that I make up for them. Most of the time, children I meet do an okay cold read that is nothing special. But then every so often, a child comes in and makes me laugh, or does something interesting that I had never heard before. Those are the kids that I remember. And they are the ones I want to represent.
Pamela Goldman is an agent in the commercial department at Don Buchwald and Associates, Inc. a prestigious, full-service bicoastal talent agency. Pamela has worked in the east coast office since 2003, starting as an intern during her senior year of college. She represents young actors, ages 4-20, for on-camera, voiceover, print, industrial, and animation work.