Protecting Your Child Actor on Set

Photo Source: Nick Bertozzi

I received the following email from an agent for child models.

“In 1960, Disney released the movie ‘Pollyanna,’ where the opening sequence is a 12-year-old boy skinny-dipping. In the film, they show him nude from the back. However, when they were shooting the film, the cameraman filmed the young boy’s penis. In postproduction, they edited that out. Today, you can go on the Internet and watch the original, unedited footage showing the 12-year-old actor’s private parts. Whenever they make a movie they film a lot more footage than they use. They have multiple takes. In this case, they filmed hours of footage of the naked boy. In the original footage, you see close-up shots of his penis. When they made the movie in 1960, they never imagined in the future anyone would see the unedited footage.”

Luckily, things have changed in the last 50 years. I spoke with Carol Lynn Sher, director of commercials, print for young talent at the CESD agency. Sher noted, “In California, the current child pornography laws apply and nude photos are not allowed to be taken or exhibited. It is not legal to photograph or share photos of nude minors. Nor is it legal for children to be exposed as nude or exposed to nudity on sets, even if no photos are taken. The parent is to be within sight and hearing distance of the minor, and the set teacher is the moral protector on set. Anyone even encouraging the violation of the child labor law is subject to fines of $10,000 and above and legal punishments.”

Anne Henry of the BizParentz Foundation further explains, “I think the distinction you are looking for isn’t just nudity, but the definition of ‘porn’ and ‘lewd’ and ‘lascivious acts.’ The reason is that nudity by itself is not illegal—it is sometimes considered art. Think of photos of naked babies. Not lewd, right? But add a particular position to that nudity and it may become lewd.

“Laws for this vary by state. In California, not only is it illegal for you to perform a lewd act on a child, but it is illegal to depict a minor in a sex act, whether or not one actually occurred,” she says.

“There are lots of ways to handle this today. Using an adult body double is one way. Sometimes there are flesh-colored bodysuits available, but I would venture to say that most parents would not allow this either, since it still subjects the child to a little too much. Mannequins can be manufactured to look exactly like the child.

“In California, we have that added layer of 24/7 studio teachers. They are entrusted with the moral welfare and safety of the minor in addition to school. They would prevent a nude scene from happening. Parents are also required to be there 24/7. They could be charged with child endangerment if they allowed a lewd nude scene to happen,” Henry continues.

“In the big picture, we are pretty safe here in California, but in other states, not so much.” Parents and child representatives have to be ever-vigilant.

Like this advice? Check out more of Marci Liroff's articles!

Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Vampire Academy,and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.

Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned an online course available at Udemy entitled "How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp."

Visit Liroff online at marciliroff.com, follow her on Twitter @marciliroff and Facebook, and watch her advice videos on YouTube. You can also read her blog.

Marci Liroff
Known for her work in film and television, producer and casting director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world. Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light.
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