It’s normal for young children to dream of appearing on TV, and the truth is, it’s entirely within their grasp if they, and their parents, pursue it hard enough.
The demand for young children, especially between 4 and 11, to appear in TV commercials is growing, according to Joburg casting agency Kids on Camera, and in Cape Town, there is a proliferation of international film production houses constantly on the lookout for fresh young faces to televise for global brand commercials.
Yet there are always two sides of the “TV fame” coin, and this becomes evident very soon after venturing down this path.
For a start, while the child’s pay is good – it varies dramatically starting at about R1 000 and reaching up to R10 000 a day, depending on how much he features in the final cut and which countries the ad is aired in – there are agency fees and tax to consider.
In my case, my teenager is to appear briefly in an advert for a cellphone service provider. It took a day of filming as she ran slowly up and down a soccer field, for which she will get R4 500 in total, less 25 percent agency fees and 25 percent tax (total 50 percent).
She took a day off school and missed a test, and I took a day off work to drive her to the other side of town and back. Prior to this I drove her to a half-day rehearsal for the audition and wardrobe fitting. So it’s arguable whether the R2 250 she will eventually get in her pocket was worth it.
The casting agencies present a convincing incentive, on the other hand. “A child can learn so much and also see how it is to work and meet new people, and take a job seriously for a day,” says Natasha Brickman, owner of Kids on Camera agency in Joburg.
“The child should have a passion for performing and enjoy entertaining others,” she says.
Janice*, the parent of a 5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl who’ve appeared in several ads, says she finds the castings mostly occur at times during the weekday that are convenient for her children, but not her.
“There are strict laws regulating the hours of children working in TV ads, so my two are never on set for more than 4/5 hours. The parents of very young children are required to attend with them, so if I worked an office job, it would be impossible,” she says.
Rejection is also part and parcel of the business, and generally it’s the children and parents who’ve persevered who eventually make it to the final call.
Like me, however, most parents, often prompted by their children, are willing to give it a try just once. The routine is, you register your child with a casting agency. The basic registration fee is about R350, which includes portfolio pictures. An optional training course is offered, for which you pay extra.
You are advised of auditions, which can last hours.
If she’s selected, there’s a wardrobe call and maybe a couple of rehearsals, which the child is also paid for.
Payment depends on the final cut and how much footage she appears in, and where it is destined to be broadcast. It can take a good two months.