There’s that old saying: ‘Never work with children’. In some ways it’s completely true. Working with children and animals adds an extra set of rules, pressures and restraints. It adds extra stress, extra responsibility and extra worry but can also be rewarding in many ways.
I used to work in a school and made lots of films with the children so understand the problems working with kids. We’ve also had child actors in a number of our films such as ‘Yesterday‘, ‘The Field‘ and more recently ‘Wonderful’. We also run filmmaking workshops with primary school children around Hull so I’ve worked with lots of kids and hopefully my experience may help others working on a film project with them!
Of course, all children are different, but more often than not all kids will respond to the following:
FILL ‘EM WITH TREATS
Kids love sweets and chocolate and junk food. Mum and dad may not approve but, if you want to keep a kid happy, fill them full of sugar and junk! It makes them like you, knowing that you want to give them stuff to eat, and is also great as a bribing tool. “Let’s do one more take then you can have some sweets!” Just beware of the sugar rush and the inevitable comedown!
When we filmed ‘The Field’, we shot a scene in an actual sweet shop. This was the best location possible as I basically bribed the kids – I told them I’d buy them all a bunch of sweets at the end of the shoot, if they knuckled down and got the job done!
GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO DO
Working on a film set can be long and somewhat boring if you’re an actor. Lots of waiting around with nothing to do until it’s time for a take. Kids get bored easily and will soon get distracted, wander off or start messing around. The easiest thing to do to relieve them of boredom is take some books/comics for them to read and games for them to play. Ipads and kindles, even games on phones, will keep kids distracted for hours. Again can be used as bribing tools as well! We also take along an extra camera so they can film stuff for themselves. Sometimes the footage they shoot is great for the extra features!
When making ‘The Field’ we had a still photographer with us who took the kids away whilst we were setting up and did some great, fun photoshoots with them!
LONG HOURS = TEARS
Keeping a shoot as short as possible is a must. We all get tired after a long days shoot, but adults (at least most adults) have the ability to plough through their tiredness and move on. Kids can find it hard and, especially with younger children, long hours can get to them. We’ve experienced tears and tantrums towards the end of the day so do try and keep your shoots as short as possible.
KIDS LIKE TO TALK
Lots. When we were making ‘The Field’ it was virtually impossibly to get a moments silence. It makes it extremely stressful for the crew to get on with their job and keep focussed on their task in hand when someone is jibber-jabbering constantly in your ear. The trick is not to lose patience with them. It might be a good idea to have someone on set that’s sole role is to keep the kids entertained. Someone they can talk to and not disturb.
KEEP IT FUN
Kids like to have fun. They like to enjoy themselves. Don’t we all? Making a film is essentially work – and hard work at that. Keeping it fun is vitally important, especially when children are involved. If the kids think of it as working, with bossy adults telling them what to do, they’ll stop wanting to get involved making it harder for everyone. If its fun, everyone’s enjoying themselves and having a good time, then the children will give you a good performance and keep being excited to come back and film the rest of the scenes.
There are many brilliant child actors out there and, if you’re willing to put in the extra effort it takes to work with them, can be a great asset to your film. Children are the main stars of our film ‘The Field’ and it is their innocence, unique take on the world and sense of adventure that make the film work really well!
If you’re working with kids then good luck, keep calm and work with them to make something great! I look forward to seeing what you make!