Kid Talent Scouts

My wife and I moved to LA a couple of months ago. Last night we were having dinner at the mall with the kids and a man and a woman approached us and said “We’re children’s talent scouts. We’ve been watching your son and think he might have potential. If you’re interested in a screen test, please show up at this studio at this time.” And they handed us a flier and a ticket/pass thing.

They very low-key about the whole thing and seemed professional enough – no creepiness or hard-sell hustler vibe. I watched them after they left us and they approached one or two other families before leaving – in a food court full of kids – so they weren’t just spamming the joint. The studio is only a few miles from our house and in a decent neighborhood.
I have a few questions:

  1. Will this sort of thing happen all the time now that we live in LA?

  2. Has anybody else been approached like scouts like this? What sort of experience did you have?

  3. What are the odds that this is a scam? Are there any warning signs to look out for that this is some sort of hustle?
    Our son thinks it sounds fun and we’re willing to give it a shot, but I don’t want to waste a couple of weekend hours only to discover at the end they’re trying to rip us off.

Yes this happens. There are legit scouts out there, possibly quite a few in L.A., but there are bogus ones as well who either want to sell you a portfolio or refer you to someone who will make a portfolio and then kickback some money to the “scout”/“agent”. The other crroekd kind is just a sleazy agent who spots a genuine talent and takes a much too large percentage ala “VH1 Behind The Music -any episode”.

I’m sure there are other scams out there but being aware will be a good shield. No agent needs money from you. All agents make money from a percentage given to you/your child for work done. If a portfolio is required or suggested it should be done at the agent’s expense, possibly to be reimbursed by you taken from any fees your child recieves for work done. Portfolios for children or anyone are expensive (my last portfolio done in 1992 was over $600.00), and you need copies doen which can cost “not much - $50.00” (a lot of day worker talent uses just headshot/resume combos, it depends on what kind of work you are going for. Commercial modeling or acting jobs). Remember that a percentage of your child’s income must by law be set aside until your child reaches maturity.

Finally consider two things before potentially wasting your own time on this: Is your child that beautiful (not just to you, but to the world), or talented? Seriously, this is how scam artists make money because of course you think your kid is the most gorgeous thing since jesus but unless everyone else agrees your kid won’t likely earn as a model or actor.

The second thing is do you want to be a stage parent or does your kid want to do this for a few years? Modeling isn’t so bad for a kid, it’s how I paid for Boy Scouts and summer camp and it’s not a huge time commitment. But acting, even commercial work can be terribly time consuming for both parent and child. The demands of even one 45 second commercial can be two days in front of the camera, three to five interviews including one terrifying “cattle call” and memorization of lines which have to be delivered in an impromptu fashion while all sorts of insane crap is happening on your periphery. It can seriously screw your kid up unless he/she is really ready for that kind of thing. Hell, the adults who work with kids often don’t like kids at all and I always knew if the smil or hug was forced, it just felt “ooky”.

Finnaly: Having said all the horrible stuff, it can lead to some really neat experiences. I got to do some neat stuff as a kid culminating in a production of “The Count of Monte Cristo” a part which I was initially too young to play, but I managed to memorize lines (not just mine, I memorized everyone’s lines.). I have also been able to get occasional work as an adult in commercials, and film (just walk-on stuff, nothing worthy of a S.A.G. card), but it’s neat and you sometimes get to meet celebs and make a few bucks.

Strange thing however, I was approached in a grocery store by someone who wanted to represent my daughter and had immidiate work for her in a catalog (I took his card, and I know the agency’s reputation. It’s a good N.W. firm) but this was a few years back and I never called him. I doubt I ever will encourage her for this kind of thing. She coud do it if she wanted, I’m certain of that she has a very outgoing personality (much more than my own at her age) and she reads much more than I did, but I’m afraid of how good she could be and that it would inevitably either turn me into a “Jon Benet” stage daddy or her into a “Barrymore” kid. Maybe if she weren’t so perfect for it I would.

Thanks very much. This was a huge help. We’re not pushy show-biz parents and we both have full-time careers with not a lot of free time. On the other hand, we wouldn’t mind the experience if our son was having fun with it … .

No sweat, one thing I failed to mention is that while a “talent scout” or agent may be a useful resource it is not nessisary for a child unless he or she has reached a level of success where someone is calling you for services. My mom did most of my scouting and got me most of my work. In my small community once I had become a “known quantity” I was a sort of regular worker for companies or catalogs. In L.A. there is certainly a larger talent pool for casting agents to draw from, but I still think most of the work can be done by a parent up until the point where your child becomes a household name among the casting agents. However if an agent has a catalog that he or she wants your child specifically for then it can be useful to sign on with that agent.

I would also advise you have any contract be at your discretion and have a mutual agreement clause so that either of you can be shut of one another at any time.