Recently we had the opportunity to work with Shane DeRolf, noted children's book author and video content producer for his Animalooza series. Part of his program involves teaching children a new word every day. "Big Word of the Day," is daily delivered to Animalooza subscribers digitally. Children have the opportunity to expand their vocabulary by watching and listening to an explanation of a word.
Shane realized that to make the presentation as accessible as possible to kids between 8 and 13 years of age, "Big Word of Day" should have a young speaker, in this case Eva, a six year old girl from Denver. We record her in our studio. Eva does a great job of explaining each new vocabulary word, but watching Shane direct Eva, it got me thinking about that old Hollywood adage "never make a film with kids," and what it really takes to work with kids and produce acceptable footage.
First and foremost, casting the right kid for your project is of utmost importance. Finding the right voice, right attitude and right acting skill is crucial. A few years ago, we helped Shane cast the lead in his Big Green Rabbit series. We recorded auditions that were held at various locations around Denver. We then edited them together so Shane's production staff could decide which aspiring actor might fit the role. Shane finally settled on Arrianna, and the rest is history. The project was successful because Arrianna embodied the sprit and talents to present the Big Green Rabbit message and Shane knew exactly how to direct the production to a successful conclusion.
Once you have the role cast, you next turn to the production phase. Key words here are: patience and preparedness.
Children have a limited attention span, some kids are better than others at staying on track, but you still have a very short period of time to shoot or record the material you need using child actors compared to teenagers or adults. You must know EXACTLY what is required before shooting starts. Storyboarding and good script preparation are a must. Children work best within a structured environment so they must know what is required of them. Constantly changing the script only confuses them and leads to frustration.
Which leads me to my second point: lots of patience and calmness on the set.
Child actors are usually quite sensitive, so you must be calm, keep your tone of voice moderate and explain everything, not in great detail, but enough so the child will know what is expected of him or her. Once you get a rapport going with the child, it's amazing how much can accomplished. You have to think of yourself more as teacher and friend than a video producer. Kids will immediately sense when they can trust you as a friend and realize you are not a stranger with a camera or microphone.
We haven't yet had to deal with a child swimming with a smart animal in the open ocean, like the most recent remake of the movie "Flipper," but you never know. Maybe a group of young mountain climbers scaling Longs Peak in a snow storm that have to be rescued by a helicopter that then ditches in the Dillon reservoir and is saved by a large fish (Loch Ness monster type) might be a good script to pursue? ...mmm...
Have any stories about your kids and a camera? Tell us about it in the comments section!