Georgia native Chandler Riggs was cast in "The Walking Dead" at age 10, but he'd been acting for three years by then. Chandler plays Carl Grimes, son of Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. GENE PAGE / AMC
Photo: AMC
Photo: AMC

Your kid wants to act? Atlanta sources for parents of future stars

Since the state began offering tax credits to productions that choose to shoot locally, the film industry in Georgia has exploded. "The Hunger Games," "The Walking Dead" and "Divergent" have recently cast Atlanta in their backdrop, and more movies, such as "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," are still on the horizon.

With more studios, film companies and crews bedding down in Georgia, Atlanta actors can find plenty of opportunities to test their skills. And for interested children and teenagers, acting can be an exciting way to find their place among the tales and dramas flooding the city.

But parents of aspiring pint-size entertainers should take several steps before turning their child's new hobby into a career, said Sarah Carpenter, owner of Atlanta Models & Talent Inc. Before contacting an agent or buying pricey head shots, parents should first make sure their child is serious about performing.

"The first advice I give to parents is don't rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on pictures," Carpenter said. "Put your kids in a class. If after four weeks they've lost interest, you've only lost a couple of hundred bucks," Carpenter said.

Barbara Garvey, owner of East Coast Talent Agency, said parents should also make sure their children are well-rounded by teaching them to ride a bike, enrolling them in sports or helping them to learn a craft.

"Young, young kids, we don't really want them to have tons of acting classes, because we don't want them to be trained monkeys," Garvey said. "We want them to have horse riding classes -- learn to surf, learn to skate, do all the things that help them learn new skills. Not being afraid of dogs, knowing how to swim, not being afraid of water, those are things that will be very handy."

Garvey said it's also important to find teachers and methods that will bring out a child's creativity and encourage her to think quick on her feet. Parents should look for kid-focused lessons, such as the courses offered by the Alliance Theater on Peachtree Street NE, the improvisation camps offered through Village Theatre on Decatur Street SE and the classes taught at Whole World Improv Theatre.

"The classes they should be taking are like improv classes so they can think on their feet," Garvey said. "With kids, you really just need to help them open up and play on their strengths. You're not going to use any terminology that you use with the adults."

Making sure a kid can read well at an early age can also make a huge difference in a young actor's development, Garvey said. "The younger they can read and understand a script, they're much more directable," Garvey said. "That's why they said Dakota Fanning had so much success, because she could read so early."

Prices for classes vary depending on the type of lessons being offered and the length of the courses, but often average to about $30 per class in the Atlanta area. Some classes, such as the ones offered through the Atlanta Children's Theatre Company, are held at local schools to make enrollment even easier for parents.

Many acting courses will allow adults and children to audit a course for free before buying. Scheduling an audit of the course can help a parent see if the teacher's style and personality works well with their child, Carpenter said. Parents should also keep a look out for church skits, school plays and other local outlets that could give their child an opportunity to get experience outside the classroom.

"Once they've got a couple of classes under their belt and they're eager to do this, that's when you start," Carpenter said.

Parents should research Atlanta agents and find out what their rules are for submitting to become a client. Though both East Coast Talent Agency and Atlanta Models and Talent prefer electronic submissions, some agencies request all materials be submitted in hard copy. Agencies also differ on whether they prefer candid digital pics or professional head shots.

Regardless of each agency's individual submission requirements, potential customers should beware any agency that requests a fee for consultations and meetings.

"A legitimate agent will never charge you anything up front," Carpenter said. "They will only take a percentage of what they book you on. You should not be paying your agent for head shots or for classes. We refer our people out to other people for that."

Even if a child is rejected by an agency, parents should encourage the child to stay with acting if its something that they're passionate about. Because demand in the industry changes frequently, agencies could reject an applicant for a variety of reasons.

"If you don't hear from the agent in a couple of months, resubmit," Carpenter said. "Sometimes we'll say, 'This one has potential, let's see if they resubmit later and have more in their resume.'"

Once a child has been accepted by an agency, the agent will help the parent know what classes the child could benefit from, where to get the best head shots and how to find upcoming auditions that might fit their child.

Though calls for extras, such as the ones held for "Captain America: Civil War," can acclimate a child to large-scale production environments and add interest to their resume, Garvey said that parents should not expect their child to "be discovered" at those kinds of events. Parts in independent films, plays and small projects are much more valuable for an aspiring actor.

"A lot of people think that being an extra is a great way to break into the business," Garvey said. "They're background material and they're very important to a film or TV show, but they're not actors."

Parents can also sometimes find their children parts in independent films by contacting film departments at local universities. Garvey said that students at the Savannah College of Art & Design sometimes need kids to play parts in their film projects. Those gigs sometimes turn into something more as the student director develops.

"Some of these people will go on to be real writers and real producers and real film directors," Garvey said. "We've even had some cases where the student is like, 'Hey, I really like that kid,' and so they write their second film for the kid."Regardless of whether parents choose to seek out an agent, they should make sure to emphasize that having fun and performing over landing roles, Garvey said.

"The majority of actors are not stars. They're bit players, they're background actors. If you want your child to be a star, you're setting them up to be a reality star," Garvey said. "Each audition is not life or death. And the kids that book don't treat each audition as if its life or death. It's all part of the whole."

Garvey said her agency's successful child actors, such as Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl Grimes in "The Walking Dead," leads a normal life off set and is expected to put responsibilities like school first.

"He goes to regular school, he has chores," Garvey said "He didn't start out wanting to be a star. He just wanted to perform."

More than anything, agencies look for children who are encouraged and allowed to be themselves.

"We don't want you to buy special clothes or do special things," Garvey said. "We just really want to see who your kids are, and see them act and what they look like and see their personalities. There's nothing wrong with having a big personality."

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