10 Questions To Ask Yourself When Directing Child Actors

Working with child actors is probably something you’ve been taught to avoid in film if you studied courses like we did. Although it presents a lot of challenges, the results can be incredible. Who can forget Lindsay Lohan’s performance in The Parent Trap? Or Macauley Culkin in the Home Alone series? Watching films such as The Florida Project, Room and Kramer vs. Kramer, it’s easy to see how working with child actors is sometimes unavoidable, however, when done correctly, their performance could be the key to your film’s success.

Budding film enthusiasts, Kathryn Butt and Dušan Mrđen, are here to discuss the top 10 things to consider before your shoot with child actors. Dušan has limited experience working with child actors (as a producer), so he knows first-hand – it ain’t easy. That’s why you need to properly plan and organize every detail in pre-production. So, if you’re determined to give it a shot, here’s some handy things to bear in mind to ensure you’re ready:


1 – When are you filming?

K: It’s a lot easier to organise your shoots around the school calendar, so weekends are great for a short-shoot. If you require a longer shoot schedule, maybe consider putting off your shoot until the end of term or during school holidays. If your film requires a night-time shoot, it’s important to bear in mind the legal obligations around working late. You’ll need to prepare your actor for a late night as their energy levels directly affect their on-screen performance. Make sure to allow them time to be well-rested before your shoot. You also need to take into account the time of year you’re shooting in – which brings us to….


2 – Where are you filming?

K: This also ties in with ‘When’, as you need to take into account weather conditions. If you’re shooting on a beach in the peak of summer, or in a car park at midnight, you need to ensure you’re prepared for extra breaks. Ensure their health isn’t compromised by providing sun-screen or bringing extra blankets etc. Also, how far away is the shoot from where they live? If it’s a long drive for a few hours of work then your actors could end-up overtired. Consider accommodation and travel when choosing your location. Also practicality, if you’re shooting in a swimming pool etc. bear in mind the safety of your location and prepare your actor beforehand.

child actors

Moonlight by Barry Jenkins

3 – Have you done your legal research?

K: First things first, check the legal requirements for children working in Entertainment & Film and ensure you adhere to them at all stages of production. It is paramount that you check your local regulations as well, as licenses may be required by your council in order to film. It’s important you check the restrictions on hours as well, and ensure you know the breaks they require whilst in your employment.

4 – Do you have all your paperwork?

K: …And there’s probably going to be a lot of it. If you stand any chance at sending your film to festivals, you’ll need proof that you obtained the correct paperwork. This includes parental consent & release forms, along with any legal documentation. Sometimes licenses can take a few weeks to be obtained, so ensure that you allow time and plan well ahead.

D: There will most certainly be a lot of it. Even when you think you have everything collected – the likelihood is that you don’t. Check everything twice and categorise every piece of documentation to save yourself time later. Research online, talk to your local council, ask your tutors and mentors, and especially other filmmakers for advice.

child actors

Home Alone by Chris Columbus

5 – How long will your shoot take?

K: You need to know how long your actor is allowed to work so that you can make the best use of your time on set. If you can only shoot for a few hours, you don’t want to spend those hours setting-up equipment or experiencing technical issues. The more prepared you are, the better your shoot will be. If you are likely to run over time, plan the shoot over a couple of days. Kids can have short attention spans so allow yourself more time to work with them and get the best footage.

6 – Who will be responsible for them?

K: Have you discussed with the parents whether they will be on-set at all times? It is strongly advised to encourage the presence of parents or guardians on set. Not only for the actor but for your own peace of mind. In some circumstances this may not be possible, in which case you will need to find an appropriate chaperone to accompany the actor to/from & on-set.

D: The parents might not want to be exactly on set (in some cases they might actually be in the way) but you need to make sure they have access to their child at all times whilst keeping an eye on the situation and anything else that might arise.

7 – Have you done a risk assessment?

K: I know, I know, they’re incredibly dull to do & you know the drill, but they’re arguably more important than ever when working with child actors. Things that you may not necessarily consider a hazard for adults might become dangerous with active, excitable young minds on set.

D: On one of the films I was producing whilst working with a child actor, I was adamant that the child’s health was at the forefront of production. The DOP that was on-set kept using a smoke machine to make the shot cinematically enticing. After a few minutes, I noticed the child was coughing – so I had to ask them to compromise and lay off the smoke. And the kid was too shy to admit it that it was because of the smoke!

child actors

Room by Lenny Abrahamson

8 – What about casting?

D: I would strongly encourage you to find a good casting director, preferably someone who has worked with at least one child actor before. When doing auditions with children, it’s important to be flexible and understanding as the children often get scared and have stage fright. The most important thing to pay attention to is the fact that they have to be receptive and aware of their surroundings. Messing up their lines during an audition is less important at that stage as long as they’re comfortable.

9 – Have you communicated with the child?

D: It’s also important that you spend a reasonable amount of time talking with the child and their parents, so the child can respond to you. When you get to the actual production, you might find it difficult to find time and you need them to feel comfortable on-set. Things tend to get a bit hectic, but it’s important the child is not afraid of you and can take direction.

10 – Do you have everything you need?

K: Make sure you have enough refreshments for them and enough things to keep them occupied between sets. There’s nothing worse than a bored child on-set – keep them entertained! Organise mini tours so there’s new things to look at throughout the day. Keep some toys/books/games on set to fill their off-screen time and keep their energy up. Ask parents for any essential requirements to minimise delays during the day.

D: …Oh, I highly recommdend Gummy Bears (you’re welcome). Most importantly, make sure they have fun! If they’re enjoying themselves, it’s likely that everyone else will too!

child actors

Find out more about 

Read Dušan’s article on motivating your film crew here.

The post 10 Questions To Ask Yourself When Directing Child Actors appeared first on Raindance.


“Go within yourself…”

Words of wisdom from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

As we draw close to the end of this seemingly endless year, one of the small pleasures I discovered has been the book “A Year With Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke”.

It has accompanied me each day this year in my journey through writing projects, teaching, blogging, mentoring, and my life in Chicago as an assistant professor at the DePaul University School of Cinematic Arts.

Since the end of a year is a time of self-reflection, here is a recent entry written by Rilke to a young person wondering if they should become a writer or not. It dates from February 17, 1903 and is included in the collection “Letters to a Young Poet”.

“My only advice for you is this. Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs, and there at its source you’ll find the answer to the question of whether you must write. Accept this answer, just as you hear it, without hesitation. It may be revealed that you are called to be an artist. Then take this lot upon you, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without asking for any external reward. For the creative artists must be a world for himself, and find everything within himself — and in nature, to which he is devoted.”

When I read this, I found myself swept up in reverie, ‘teleported’ in time to October 1978. I can see myself sitting in a shabby motel room in Aspen, Colorado at the far end of Main Street as you enter the mountain town. I had left Yale University with a Masters degree, one thousand dollars I’d saved up working as a janitor at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown New Haven, then set out west with no destination in mind.

You see, my last year at Yale, every time I drove up the hill to school and entered the main administration building, I had felt a deep pang in my gut, quite literally a physical sensation accompanied by a persistent thought: I shouldn’t be here.

Sterling Quadrangle at Yale University Divinity School

I was seven years into my collegiate and graduate school education with a clear intention of getting a doctorate, then becoming an academic in the field of primitive Christianity, that period of time in the first century A.D. because I was driven by the question: How did we get from the figure we know as Jesus to what emerged as the foundation of the Church?

As fascinating a subject as that was, I found myself more and more consumed by a desire… no, need to explore my creative self, specifically my music, both as a songwriter and performer.

So I decided to take a year off. Head off to points unknown and see where my musical abilities, such as they were, would take me. I knew at my core, if I didn’t choose to pursue those dreams, I might very well become a successful academic, but I would have always been haunted by the question: What if I had followed my musical and creative muse?

Through a series of coincidences, what Jung would call synchronicity, I was steered to Aspen because it had a vibrant live music scene. After all, it was home to John Denver, Jimmy Buffet, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band among others.

In the few weeks I had been in Aspen, I had performed at the Monday Hoot Night at Jake’s Abbey, a long-standing open mic night started by the Smothers Brothers in the 60s where such artists such as Steve Martin had cut their creative teeth. My appearances had thrust me into the center of the local musician scene — Bobby Mason, Chris Cox, Dan Forde, and others — so I had in effect made the ‘first cut’ creatively. In other words, I had talent. But was I meant to pursue music in a serious way?

That is the question I find myself confronted with as I sit in the Tyrolean Lodge in Aspen. I’m down to about $ 300 of my savings. If I want to apply to doctoral programs for the next academic year, I need to be pulling those together this month. In effect, this is fish or cut bait time.

Where I stayed for a month in Aspen, Colorado in the fall of 1978

What do I do? I ‘go within myself’. I take a yellow legal pad, write up top, “Should I continue to pursue music?”, then create two columns: Pro. Con.

I sit. Think. Feel. I jot down impressions and reflections. I take walks. In the bright mountain sunshine. At night in the crisp darkness with a million stars aglow in the Colorado sky.

After a few days, I have pretty much filled the top sheet of that legal pad. The Con column outnumbers the Pro list. By logic, I should give up. I graduated cum laude from Yale, I have professors all lined up ready to write me strong letters of recommendation, I know I would be an excellent teacher and a solid academic.

That is the safe choice, the rational choice. And yet…

My gut won’t let me give up. Give it more time. I decide to stay in Aspen at least a little while longer.

The next Hoot Night, I sit waiting my turn to sing my songs. Then on stage, I see this incredible guitar player. I mean stunning work. It’s like he’s playing both rhythm and lead at the same time, his fingers a blur of action. And his original songs are great. His name: Pat Flynn.

My turn. I play three of my own original songs. The applause is meager… it’s after midnight, most of the crowd having left. But as I get off stage, who is there to greet me but Pat.

“Hey,” he says, “Good stuff. We should get together and jam.”

We do. Eventually we join forces and become Myers & O’Flynn, playing hundreds of gigs in town opening for Richie Havens, John Prine, Taj Mahal, Poco, and many other acts.

I won’t bore you with the details of my circuitous journey, but eventually it led me to a nightclub in Southern California and saying these words: “I can do that.” Thus, a career as a screenwriter, TV producer, blogger, teacher, and all the rest.

So when Rilke writes, “Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs,” I resonate with that. Big time. It all comes back to someone I studied as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia… Joseph Campbell, someone who has influenced me for most of my adult life.

We have one life. One chance at embracing the possibility of becoming who we are meant to be. For us to have any opportunity to do that, we need to KNOW something of our Inner Self. We need to go within ourselves and probe the depths of what we find there.

Go into OUR story… and find OUR animals.

As Rilke points out about the creative life, we must experience both “its burden and its greatness”. But as challenging as being a writer is, as long as it’s an expression of our most authentic nature, that is the path upon which lies our best chance of embracing Life.

So amidst the noise and general busy-ness of New Year’s festivities, take some time to yourself. Maybe pick up a legal pad. A pen. Write down some reflections and observations, both intellectual and emotional. Take stock of who you are and who you could become.

If you’d care to share some of your thoughts, feel free to write a RESPONSE here. Or just do the work in private.

Whatever you do, for those of you who are choosing to pursue your creative ambitions, I applaud you. It takes courage, persistence, and willful intent.

But if this is your calling, you have to heed the call…

To become who you are.


“Go within yourself…” was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Are you a ‘multicultural millennial’? Tag yourself in Facebook’s insane political ad document


There are 14 political ideologies in Facebook’s world.

Like the Kardashians and cannabis reform? You could be one of 20.1 million “Multicultural Millennials” on Facebook. Are you a suburban mom who supported Mitt Romney? You may be within “Small Town America.” 

Facebook created 14 categories across the political ideology spectrum and segmented its U.S. users among them, according to a document obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with advertisers during the 2016 election. Facebook doesn’t require its massive user base to disclose their political beliefs, but it knows them regardless — or at least makes assumptions.  Read more…

More about Facebook, Advertising, Donald Trump, 2016 Election, and Donald Trump Election 2016

Watch: How to Teach Yourself the Basics of Filmmaking in 30 Days

Here’s a fully mapped out crash course in filmmaking that you can do by yourself in 30 days.

Whether you’re a stubborn autodidact or just don’t want to deal with years of crushing student loan debt, there’s nothing wrong with learning the art of filmmaking all on your own. There are tons of great books, blogs, and videos out there that can teach you so much about the basics of making a film, but if the plethora of resources is making you dizzy and wonder where to start, filmmaker Darious Britt has mapped out a 30-day crash course that will teach you everything you need to know about getting started in filmmaking, from choosing the right camera settings to correctly lighting a scene. Check out the video below:

As usual, Britt’s video is fantastic and offers so much great insight, but here’s what I really love about it: it challenges you to pick up your camera and learn the damn basics.

Read More

No Film School

Filmmaker’s Health Check: Rate Yourself

Filmmaker's Health Check

We get health checks. Why don’t we do a filmmaker’s health check.

Let me explain:

Friends of mine seem to be coming down with a varity of physical ailments. I get text messages and phone calls about the results of the latest blood test, scans and visits to specialists. It’s almost to the point where I’m afraid to check my email.

Sometimes they’re ill – and I mean really ill. Sometimes they have succumbed to a mystery ailment with no known cure. Other times they seem to suffer from hypochondria. And other times they are just plain sick.

Either way, these illnesses, imagined or real, remind me of filmmakers and their career. Imagine how I get calls and mails from many filmmaker friends of mine worried that their latest creation has (or has not) been selected for a film festival. Sometimes their films play festivals to great acclaim winning awards, and yet the film hasn’t been able to close that elusive distribution deal. Can’t you hear their investors barking at their heels while the filmmaker flirts with nervous breakdown?

So keeping up my Hippocratic Oath for Filmmakers, I have decided to put together a simple Filmmaker’s Health Check. Take this simple test and see how your film and/or your filmmaking career are standing out.

Filmmaker’s Health Check

As a full blown medical, so too the filmmaker’s health check contains several key tests.

1. Social Media

When Orin Pelli sold Paranormal Activity to Paramount in 2009 they really bought, not the film, but the successful social media strategy that Orin Pelli had created. Accordingly you must have a social media strategy. And this will help you with festival submissions, with your crowdfunding projects, and with potential distribution deals.

If your combined social media stategy has:

Total Your Score
 <1000  1
 1001 -5000  2
 5001 – 10,000  3
 10,001 – 100,000  4
 100,000 +  5

2. Have you cleared your music rights?

Uncleared music rights is probably the number one reason films do not sell at festivals. When the Russo Brothers played their debut feature Pieces at Raindance in 1997 they hadn’t cleared the music rights which meant their film didn’t sell despite strong interest from distributors. The Russo Brothers have often said that this oversight put an unnecessary eight year wait at the beginning of their career.

How do you rate your music rights? Your Score
 Haven’t cleared  0
 Think you’ve cleared music rights  0
 Cleared music rights and can prove it  5
 I have synchronisation licences for all music  10

3. How’s your genre?

Many screenwriters and filmmakers tell me they are making a drama. The problems with the word ‘drama’ are many. It’s too general.

For example, if you were looking for a new place to live would you tell an estate agent you were looking for a home? All apartments, houses and castles are homes. All stories are dramas. When we look for a new home we focus on numbers of bedrooms, location and budget. In movies we define drama by genre. Typical genres are horror, sci-fi, comedy, myth, detective, crime, thriller and love. What is more, the film industry doesn’t buy single genre films. Hammer House of Horror made single genre horror films here in the UK in the 60’s. Now they seem quite twee. My first intern was Edgar Wright. His first film, Shawn of the Dead, was a combination of love and horror.

Making sure you have the right genre blend is an important element both for tyour film and for your career.

How are you doing? Can you place the genre of your story in a few words.

Can you name your genre? Your Score
Yes  10
I’m working on it  5
I can clearly state my film’s genre  7.5
No  0
I have a mixed genre film  10

4. Have you prepared marketing materials?

No matter what stage you are at with your movie you will need marketing materials. So even at script stage it is useful to create a onesheet – a letter-sized poster for your film. It will help with the writing process and it will also become a useful tool for raising money.

Roger Corman was a guest at the festival in 1997. He’s a morning guy. Each morning over coffee he would rip out keywords from newspaper headlines and mash them up. When he saw what would make a good title he would hand-write it out and I would fax it to his office in LA. Late afternoon he’d return and his LA team would send their ideas for the poster with nothing more than the title and a logline. If he liked it, he would rip the paper off the fax, and later that evening would tout it to local distributors. He’d tell me the next morning, if he had enough interest, he would hire a screenwriter to write a script the poster suggested upon his return to LA. Reverse engineering the story.

While you’re at it, have you secured the social media handles for the title of your film?

How are you doing? Your Score
I have social media handles in my film’s title  5
I have a poster 5
I have a one-sheet 5
I have a business plan 10
I have a lookbook 5
I have a mood reel 5
I’ve made a trailer 5
I’ve had feedback from a professional 10

5. How’s your paperwork?

When your script or film is finished you will need to show all the paperwork you have created demonstrating that you have all the rights to the script, the cast and crew. You’ll also need to supply a variety of technical material to the distributor: everything from screening format, to subtitle scripts, M&E tracks and sound cues. You might also need a Harding Test if it is to be screened on television.

Want to get an idea of the paperwork you need?

How are you doing? Your Score
I have no idea what you are talking about?  0
Contracts? What contracts?  0
I have secured legal advice  5
I’ve created a contract with each person I have worked on from script stage  10
I’ve created a drive where third parties can access my contracts  10
I have all the delivery paperwork secured and ready to go  10
I have proper investment contracts with all of my financiers  10

6. Have you a film festival strategy?

Your first port of call with a finished film is a film festival. Here audiences gather to appreciate your film. At festivals you also win awards, get reviewed and interviewed and if you are really fortunate you will start to get real solid interest from potential distributors.

Even at script stage you can start researching the world’s top film festivals, as well as festivals that specialise in shorts or documentaries.

How are you doing? Your Score
I’ve made a hit list of festivals  5
I’ve attended film festivals and introduced myself to programmers  10
I’ve entered film festivals  10
I’ve been reviewed and interviewed  10
I’ve won awards  10


7. How’s your sales strategy?

Making your film is really the first step in the journey. Don’t you want to sell the film and repay your investors?

The type of film you have made will guide you as to the type of sales and distribution strategy you design for your film. Are you going to sign with a sales agent? Or are you going to use your film festival journey as a means to meet distributors yourself? Are you aware of the different types of distribution deals (or not)?

How are you doing? Your Score
Sales strategy? But I’m a filmmaker?  0
I have approached a sales agent  5
I have a database of international distributors interested in my genre  10
I’ve researched self-distribution  5
I have a self-distribtion strategy  10


Your Filmmaker’s Health Check Results

Believe it or not I have a PhD which means I can legally call myself Dr. Grove – although I can’t write prescriptions for drugs (sadly).

If your score is less than ten

Don’t give up the day job

If your score is 11 – 20

You’re definitely learning, but you need to fill in the gaps

If your score is 21 – 50

You have a pretty good chance of making it. Don’t rest on your laurels

If your score is 50+

Congratulations – you obviously know what you are doing!

Fade out: How are your pitching skills?

Professional screenwriters and filmmakers really know how to pitch their stories. Consider a good pitching skill as the equivalent of being able to do a power plank in the gym for five minutes.

How about this?
Come to Michael Wiese’s Pitch Clinic at Raindance and get your pitch knocked into shape.
Pitch Clinic details here.

The post Filmmaker’s Health Check: Rate Yourself appeared first on Raindance.


5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Recording Sound

Before recording sound on your project, it’s important that you cover all of your bases.

Sound is one of the most important elements of a film, one that if done poorly will make your work nearly unwatchable. And though getting your hands on a really good setup can help make your audio sound great, knowing what to listen for when recording will help you avoid making mistakes once you start rolling. In this video from Aputure, sound professional Stephen Harrod lists 5 questions you should ask yourself while recording audio on location.

Here are the questions Harrod says you should always ask yourself before recording sound:

Read More

No Film School