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An Interview with Casting Director Nicole Nowak

This week we are very excited to share with you an interview with Casting Director Nicole Nowak from Project Submission Partners. Nicole gives great advice for young actors, models, and their parents and shares her insights into the casting process.

KidsCasting: What was it that attracted you to the entertainment industry? Were you involved in acting yourself or did you realize that you have an eye for talent?

Nicole Nowak: I’ve always been intrigued by the behind-the-scenes of film and television. I modeled in college and quickly found myself on the other side of the camera.

KC: Actors are always searching for the ‘success formula’ for auditions. In your opinion, what makes a good audition?

NN: Confidence, personality, eye contact, and prior preparation.

KC: What is the most significant difference or challenge working with child actors and models in comparison with adults?

NN: The biggest difference is their attention span, how quickly they can be distracted, but mainly their understanding of the process.

KC: Do casting directors recommend kids get professional coaching before a big audition or do they prefer a less polished talent?

NN: It strictly depends on the role. However, training is always a must; even seasoned actors continue to train. My best advice is to audit acting classes when possible and get involved in community theater.

KC: On audition day, do you know what you’re looking for or do you let it find you?

NN: As a Casting Director, going into the audition, you must know exactly what you are looking for. However, many times a person auditioning for a certain role can be found suitable for a different role.

KC: What is your biggest pet peeve in the audition room?

NN: Lack of preparation, controlling parents, and those not following directions.

KC: KidsCasting.com offers subscribers to upload headshots as well as demo reels. What makes a good profile, in your opinion? How many pictures or videos is optimal to create a good impression about the talent?

NN: Professional photography — headshots as well as photos in full length — is always best. For teenage models, polaroid style is preferred. A 20-30 second video slate is always nice to have: state your name, age, city/state, mention agency if applicable, and speak about hobbies.

KC: How does KidsCasting.com help you in the casting process?

NN: I’ve discovered many talented individuals through your database.

KC: Can you tell us about a project where you were able to cast a KidsCasting.com actor?

NN: Multiple Runway Shows: Nashville and Atlanta.

KC: What feature do you like best about KidsCasting.com?

NN: 1. Customer Service/Concierge Service

2. Pacific Coast time zone

3. Ease of software use

4. The amazing banners that promote our castings.

KC: You must see many families come in for auditions with their children. Do you have advice for KidsCasting.com parents on how to make the auditioning a positive experience?

NN: Yes, make sure your child is well prepared, be on time, talk about the importance of personality and eye-to-eye contact. Be comfortable with the script and first and foremost stay out of the way and follow directions. Allow your child to be independent.

Meryl Streep’s Top 8 Rules for Success

She’s an American actress, cited in the media as the “best actress of her generation”. She is known for her versatility in her roles, transformation into the characters she plays, and her accent adaptation. She’s one of only six actors to have won three or more competitive Academy Awards for acting. She’s Meryl Streep and here are her Top 8 Rules for Success:

All you need is a plain wall. If you don’t have one at your home, you can hang up an ironed sheet as a background. There should be no patterns, no bold prints in the background.
The same goes for your child’s outfit—they should wear solid colors, and there should be no stripes, logos, or texts.

Don’t tape your child’s audition with your bathroom, kitchen, living room or garden in the background. This is very distracting and looks amateurish. Even if it is a kitchen scene—don’t shoot it in the kitchen!

Work hard – immerse yourself in your work. actress admits that part of her success has to do with luck, but she has also put a lot of hard work into it.

Express yourself – acting is an art, a craft and a job. Demonstrate your personality and enjoy the process.

Live a zen life – learn to enjoy life in between auditions and filming. Appreciate the surroundings and things you have. When the world stands still, let it.

Find your drive and passion – discover what motivates and interests you and keep hold of it while you are building your success.

Be empathetic – the power of empathy is amazing. Empathy will allow you to understand feelings and sorrows of your character when on stage. Empathy is an engine that powers the best in us.

Learn from challenging times – Actress believes that you learn more from challenges just because they impact you more. Always learn and grow as a person.

Be your real self – remember: you are enough. Don’t copy other Hollywood actors or celebrities, just be you.

Have fun – if you can’t have fun, there is no sense in doing it.

And as an extra…. Here are 3 more tips from top-grossing Hollywood actors on acting and making it big.

”Never give up after rejection or failure!” – Andrew Garfield (known for “The Amazing Spiderman”) has been asked what is the worst thing that happened to him as an actor. The answer is most definitely – rejection. It is the only thing constant with acting career. Audition is a process of being rejected over and over and over – until you either give up or get an opportunity. So never give up!

”Don’t spend too much time of today on yesterday!” – Helena Bonham (famous for “Ocean’s 8”, “Harry Potter” franchise, and “Fight Club”).

You need to be compassionate, have an imagination, know how to get on with people and how to listen and have a huge sense of humor to make it in the entertainment industry. But even if you have all of those qualities, sometimes you will fail. And it’s OK. Don’t punish yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t spend too much time of today dwelling on yesterday’s mistakes. Learn from them and move on.

”It’s all about avoiding panic.” – Hugh Grant (known for “Notting Hill”, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”).

With film and when being on set it’s so important not to be in a panic. Things constantly change, scripts change, your part may change, but no matter what happens – stay as relaxed as you possibly can. The camera tends to love actors who are relaxed, so you’ll look great and fresh in a take once the movie is produced.

If you are a teenager reading this – save those tips and re-read them every once in a while (maybe when you are feeling demotivated or down?). Or if you are a parent of a child who is passionate about acting – discuss those tips with your child and show them how supportive you are of their career choice.

How to Self-Tape Your Child’s Acting Audition

Sometimes during audition process casting directors ask the parents to submit self-taped auditions of their children.

What is a self-taped audition?

Most of the times you will be specifically asked to do this, and the casting director will send you the sides, instructions and set the deadline. This is a common practice these days, and mastering this skill will give your child a competitive edge. If you have not filmed audition before, don’t worry because you actually need very little to get a great result.

PLACE

  •  All you need is a plain wall. If you don’t have one at your home, you can hang up an ironed sheet as a background. There should be no patterns, no bold prints in the background.
  • The same goes for your child’s outfit  — they should wear solid colors, and there should be no stripes, logos, or texts.
  • Don’t tape your child’s audition with your bathroom, kitchen, living room or garden in the background. This is very distracting and looks amateurish. Even if it is a kitchen scene—don’t shoot it in the kitchen!

CAMERA

  • DSLR camera will give you a great result, but you can record a high-quality video using the HD camera in your smartphone
  • The camera should be set at the level of your child’s eyes. To get a steady shot, you will need a tripod.
  • Horizontal framing will work best for the audition tape. Aim for a medium close-up frame (head and shoulders in the frame).

SOUND

  • Make sure there is no background noise. Do a little test take and watch it back immediately to see if everything looks and sounds good. Your child’s voice should be loud and clear, and more distinct than the reader’s.
  • If you can, invest in an external microphone or borrow one.
  • If your room is very echoey, you can put some sheets or blankets on other walls—it will break the sound waves.

LIGHTNING

  • Ring lights or studio lights are great to have, but daylight works just fine. If you don’t have a big window or if you film at night, set up a desk lamp on a stack of books. Just make sure the light is balanced, and there are no shadows.
  • Make sure your child is not backlit — the light objects should be in the front of them, not in the back.

MONOLOGUE/DIALOGUE

Your child should not look straight at the camera, unless:

  • They are asked to do the slate/introduce themselves.
  • They are auditioning for a commercial.
  • The script directly tells they should be looking at the camera.

If your child is doing a monologue, you can sit or stand next to the camera outside the shot, so that your child could look at you while they are talking.

If they are doing a dialogue, read with them or have someone help with that. The reader should sit on either side of the camera outside the shot. A common mistake in taped auditions is that the reader’s voice is louder than the actor’s voice. This is because the reader is sitting closer to the camera. The reader should be quiet and soft, they shouldn’t take the focus of the scene.

FILE SIZE AND FORMAT

  • Before you start filming, find out what file formats are supported.
  • Mp4 is the most common format; you might need to convert other formats. There is free software available where you can export the files in the required format.
  • Follow the instructions for upload and name the file accordingly
  • Watch the size of the file. You should be able to attach it to an email.

It is great if your child has memorized the lines, but it is ok if they have the script with them. The main thing is to demonstrate that your child understands where the scene is going and what is happening to their character.

The focus should be on your child’s facial expression and body language. The agent, casting director, writer, or whoever will be watching your tape, only needs to see how your child fits the role, so keep it simple. Any visual distractions will lessen the impact of your child’s performance.

Don’t get hung up on details—nobody ever lost a part because their shirt was red instead of blue, or their hair was parted on the wrong side. It’s all about the personality and how your child comes across on camera.

If you have all these details sorted, you will be able to create a convincing tape that will get your child a callback. Most importantly, have fun with the process, because it is a great practice and learning experience for your little actor!

What Is a Momager and Should You Consider Becoming One?

What do Heidi Klum, Justin Timberlake, and Kardashian sisters have in common? The answer is: they all had their parents work as their managers—at least for a while. The reality TV star Kris Jenner has been managing her kids’ careers long before Kardashian was a household name. She has coined the term “momager”—a mother who works as her child’s talent manager.

The advantage of being your child’s manager is that you know your little one better than anyone else. A hired manager will keep career interests in the first place, but to you, your child’s personal interests and overall well-being will always be the top priority. You can always monitor their emotional state and health, balance work, school and play, and help your child truly enjoy this industry. Your unconditional love will help them deal with the demands of working in the adult world.

For many moms, the reason for becoming momagers is simple—they do not want to give another person so much control over their child’s career. At the same time, moms are unsure they will be able to make the smartest business decisions. Working as a manager is indeed a very demanding role. You will have to be in charge of every aspect of your child’s career, including finances and publicity. This role requires a deep understanding of the industry, organizational skills, excellent communication and networking skills, and the ability to negotiate. Unfortunately, most parents don’t have the industry knowledge or contacts to be competent managers unless they have worked in this field before.

If you are considering managing your child’s acting career, here are 5 questions to help you put things in perspective:

Can you separate your emotions from your child’s and help them cope with rejection in a healthy way?
Rejection is inevitable in show business, and one of the biggest mistakes a momager can make is taking rejection too close to heart and then blame the child. If your child is under a lot of pressure and afraid they are not meeting your expectations, they won’t be able to do their best and will not get cast for projects. In case your child doesn’t book a job, deliver the bad news gently, without making them feel rejected.

Will you be able to care for other family members and find space for quality time? If you have a child actor, show business will inevitably become a family business. So, talk it over with your child and other family members, leave nothing out, and consider all the pros and cons of you being the child’s manager.

Balancing the household can be a real challenge, especially if there are other children or a spouse, so you will have to put your scheduling and multi-tasking skills to use. It is possible that your child will have to be on the road or even gone for months if they land a job in a big project. Ideally, the whole family travels together, but that is rarely possible so you will need to be creative and think about ways to hold the family together.

How will this affect your role as a parent?  One of the challenges of being a momager is that the line between being a mom and a boss gets blurry. If the child’s career takes off, it is easy for a parent to get caught up in the business, and the rest of the family may feel neglected. If your child feels that the family dynamics is changing because of them (parents fight more often, or a sibling gets jealous), they will feel guilty and won’t be able to perform their best.

Your child’s success should be celebrated, but they should not be at the center of attention all the time. If there are other children in the family make sure they too have a chance to do something exciting and something that makes them proud.

Do you have industry connections and experience? There are many challenges to being a momager. Networking is crucial, and then there are unions, adjusting the school schedule, and work permits. If your child is nonunion, you may be able to get more work for them than a hired manager. If, however, you’re willing to take your child’s acting to the next level and have them work regularly as well as pay the union dues, consider going with an established manager with a good reputation. To learn more about unions, read this

Are you able to negotiate contracts? Being a manager requires business savvy and attention to detail. It is highly recommended that you don’t sign anything straight away and that you document everything regarding the roles and payments. Ask yourself if you are willing to fully commit to the responsibilities and the nitty-gritty of this job, and if you have doubts, hand it over to an experienced, honest, and diligent talent manager.

We think the golden mean is to be a momager in the beginning stages of your child’s career and, as your child advances in their career, involve an experienced manager who knows the industry inside out and will deal with agents, studios, contracts, etc.

At the end of the day, the most important thing for a child actor is to have fun with it. The moment it starts to feel like a job for a child, casting directors can tell. It is essential to provide support and ensure that your child still has “normal” childhood experiences if they start working at an early age. Always look out for the interests of your child as a whole person, not just a performer. Follow this simple rule: when your child says that it’s not fun anymore, you need to pull back from the career pursuit and take a break. Remember that acting jobs can come and go, but your role as a parent lasts forever.

From Youth Theater to the Red Carpet

Here is what can often be heard from casting directors—the little actor looks great “on paper” and seems to be the perfect fit for the role. But then they come in for an audition, get stage fright, and cannot deliver the lines. The reason is simple—it takes a lot of time and practice to gain confidence to perform in front of a live audience.

Every red carpet celebrity was once a little kid, just like your little star. So how did they get started and ended up so successful? We dug into some celebrity bios to see how their careers took off and, without surprise, a great many of them have started with acting at their local theaters at an early age.

“My first audition was for Annie when I was like five years old and auditioning for community theater,” Pitch Perfect star Anna Kendrick has said in one of her interviews. Kendrick’s first acting role was in a Broadway musical High Society in 1998 when she was just 12 years old. Anna was nominated for the Tony Award, making her one of the youngest nominees in the award’s history.

Hollywood sweetheart Emma Stone took home the award for Best Actress at the 2017 Oscars. She started performing at a small youth theater in her hometown in Arizona. Emma suffered from panic attacks as a child and underwent therapy, but she has repeatedly stated that it was her participation in the local Valley Youth Theatre plays that helped her curb panic attacks. Before heading to California at the age of 14, Emma Stone had performed in 18 different shows, including Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella.

Twilight star Robert Pattinson says he owes his success to the Barnes Theatre Club. A talent agent spotted him during a show at the theater and introduced Pattinson to director Mike Newell who cast him as Cedric Diggory for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Without a doubt, youth theater is a wonderful, nurturing place where acting-lovers can come together, have fun, work hard, and put together a great production that brings joy to themselves and the audience. There are tons of benefits of performing at a community theater, and here are just some of them:

  • The theater can become a great confidence-booster. One of our KidsCasting talents told us about her first steps into acting: “I was too shy to get up in front of my class and give a presentation, so my mom sent me to a little acting school to help me get past my shyness.” Learning a script and putting yourself out there in front of a bunch of strangers can be challenging, but it will give your child a sense of accomplishment.
  • Theater teaches children social skills and empathy. When your child creates a character, they have to put themselves into another person’s shoes and in doing so, your child will become much more understanding of others.
  • Theater builds work ethics. It teaches everyone about working and improving as a team and bettering themselves as individuals.

It’s commonly understood that every child needs a place where they can explore the creative aspects of their mind. Community theater or musical theater, music band or a dance class—whatever is accessible in your area, it is worth giving it a try. There is nothing to lose if your child is expressing interest in performing arts.

Regardless of how expensive your child’s headshots were or how famous your child’s talent manager is — nothing can compensate for the lack of practice. So don’t overlook the community theater and try to use every opportunity for your child to perform and improve on stage, however big or small it may be.

5 Creative Activities to Get Kids Excited About School

The lazy summer days are almost over and back to school is in full swing. In most families, the feelings are mixed – on the one hand, it’s a new beginning with a lot of hopes, goals, and resolutions. On the other hand, this means getting back into the routine — homework, packing lunchboxes, taking kids to drama classes, baseball practices, and all that good stuff.

The truth is, some kids just aren’t too thrilled to go back to school, so we have prepared some engaging activities to lift up everyone’s mood.

 

The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to interview your little ones. Kids into performing arts will love this activity — it’s a lot of fun, a precious memory, and a good practice for auditions!

5-8 questions should be sufficient to keep their interest during the video interview. Here are some ideas for the questions:

  • What is your favorite color/book/movie?
  • What are you most excited about today?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

It will be fun to look back at these videos an remember what your kids were interested in and see how much they’ve grown. You can also do this interview in a written format — it will make a lovely keepsake and show how your child’s handwriting changes each year.

Kids who are into acting or modeling love being in front of the camera, so they’ll be excited about a photo shoot! You can get really creative with one:

  • Print out “First day of” signs — for example, for the first day of kindergarten or the first day of the third grade. You can also have your child hold a chalkboard with the school year.
  • Use simple props, like a stack of books or an apple for the back to school theme.
  • Another great idea is to take a photo in the same spot every year, like the porch or by a tree so that you can watch the tree grow with your child!
  • If you’re in the mood to start a new tradition, get a large shirt with your kid’s graduation year (e.g., Class of 2030) and take a photo of them wearing it every year!
  • Fashion show photos  – getting new outfits was the favorite part of going back to school for many of us. Let your kids show off their new clothes with a family back to school fashion show. You can even set up a little runway in the living room and let your kids take turns on the catwalk.
  • An alternative to a photo shoot – if your child loves to draw, you can ask them to draw a portrait of themselves.

School supplies — you’ll have to buy them anyway, so why not turn it into a fun activity? We love the idea of a scavenger or treasure hunt. For younger kids, you can use clue cards with pictures, and for older children, you can use printable cards with clues written on them:

If you’re in a hungry mood, go here first and find some food.

Now you’re on to your second clue — these go on before your shoes.

To do well in school, you need your rest / Now go to where you sleep your best!

For example, if you have 3 children, you can place 3 sets of crayons in the hiding place, and so on. This game is sure to add a dash of excitement to going back to school!

Before the school year arrives with all its hustle and bustle, and everyone is pulled their separate ways, it’s important to set aside an afternoon or evening for the whole family. And who doesn’t love a movie night? To make it more special, you can organize it in your backyard. You’ll need a projector, screen, speakers, seats, and snacks.

 

We have picked some great back to school family movies that the whole family will enjoy:

Akeelah and the Bee (2006) | PG

Inspiring drama about a young spelling champion.

Queen of Katwe (2016) | PG

A true story of a young Ugandan girl who is a chess champ.

Mad Hot Ballroom  (2005) | PG

Enchanting dance documentary with many great role models.

Freaky Friday (2003) | PG Mother-daughter switch makes comedic chaos.

Dead Poets Society (1989) | PG-13

Robin Williams plays an English teacher who encourages his students to go against the grain.

There is so much emphasis — and for a good reason — on reading, yet so little on writing. Don’t let your joy about kids’ writing skills end once they learn to write their name. We loved the idea of setting up a parent-child journal where you can draw and write notes or letters to each other. With preschoolers, you can ask them to tell you about their day in a drawing to which you can then add a caption.

Journaling can become a part of the bedtime routine — ask your child to list all the good things that happened during the day so you can enter them in a journal. As your child’s writing starts to improve, encourage them to help fill that journal as well. These journals will become precious souvenirs of your kids’ childhood.

Protip: don’t use this journal to fix their grammar! It will suck out the joy of this activity and create a distance.

Back to school can get stressful, but it’s also a special and emotional time for parents, especially those whose kids are getting on that yellow bus for the first time. Think back to your first days of school — which memories do you treasure still to this day? Now you have a wonderful opportunity to create new traditions and new memories for your little ones as well.