How Do Child Actors Film Horror Movies?

2017 is not over yet, but this year’s biggest box-office hit is already here, and it’s been a long time coming. The big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s “IT” broke the record as the highest-grossing horror film at the US box office, with a sequel already in the works. More importantly, the entire main cast is a group of kids, all not older than 15. In fact, the youngest cast member Jackson Robert Scott, who plays the ill-fated Georgie, is only 8. And while being one of the youngest actors in “IT”, he’s the one participating in one of the scariest scenes in the movie. This made us wonder – what are the specifics of the horror movies and the kid actors playing in them?

While “IT” does feature some CGI (and what blockbuster in the last couple of years hasn’t), the main nemesis of the kids – the evil clown
Pennywise that transforms into your deepest fears in an instant, was mostly prosthetics. Taking into the account that Pennywise is the most famous and terrifying clown in fiction, it’s no surprise that the kids playing alongside him in the scenes were just that – terrified. In fact, producers of the film have confirmed that the look of the clowns was kept secret from the whole cast of kids – to make its impression stronger.

Bill Skarsgård who played Pennywise said this this about the process of filming horror scenes with kids: “Some of them were really intrigued, but some couldn’t look at me, and some were shaking. This one kid started crying. He started to cry, and the director yelled, “Action!” And when they say “action,” I am completely in character. So some of these kids got terrified and started to cry in the middle of the take.”

The Jist of “IT”

The approach that the “IT” producers and the director have taken when filming scenes with kids is a rare one, though. When it comes to the actual process of filming a horror film with child actors, experts say that the majority of scenes are shot as “reaction shots,” meaning the camera faces the child for a reaction, but the actual “scary action” is filmed separately. So the child actor doesn’t have to do a scene with a monster, or someone who can scare them. It’s rare that a child actor is filmed with the antagonist of the film, whether it’s a monster, a maniac, a killer, or all three in one. It’s even rarer that a child is shown as the one being hurt a horror film (which, as we mentioned before, is not the case with “IT”).

Another reason for child actors to mostly be used in reaction shots is child labor laws. A child can only be on set for a very limited time, so often the director will film child’s reaction before filming the rest of the movie, especially if the child doesn’t have an important role in the movie. Usually, the child isn’t present on set when the truly scary or violent scenes are being filmed, or if the child is part of a truly violent scene, CGI is often used. The irony is that kids themselves won’t see the actual horror films they were in until they are of age to do so.

What an actor in a horror film must first and foremost be able to exude to the audience are feelings of fear and dread. And while a grown actor can look to the films that are considered terrifying for reference, this option is not suitable for children. So where do kids learn how to act terrified if not from the classic horror films? Well, in that case, an acting coach can be a good option.

The case of “The Exorcist”

In a rare case, a child will not only be portrayed as being hurt in a horror film but play the horror itself. Such was the case for the 1973 film “The Exorcist”. Actress Linda Blair was only 14 years old when she played the possessed girl Regan (and was later nominated for an Oscar for her role). But many viewers found it to be problematic for such a young child to be portraying the literal devil (Blair had a variety of gruesome scenes in the film). This hadn’t been seen in horror films before, nor has it happened often since, meaning that the uproar of a more conservative public worked.

What we’ve learned today is that in most cases, a child cast in a horror movie will do very little scenes, and will probably not film in the presence of the movie’s antagonist. In rare cases like “It’ and “The Exorcist” though child actors play a much bigger role. But either way you, as a parent, can be sure that a film production is a safe, professional environment, especially when working with children. Horror is one of the most beloved genres of moviegoers around the world, and there are always numerous auditions available for various roles in upcoming scary movies. Check out our Casting Call database to see if there are opportunities that will be perfect for your child!

Stay tuned for more Halloween-related content coming your way! We’ve got something special up our sleeve 😉

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