Confessions of a Child Talent Agent

by Karen Lincoln

“Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.” Well that’s easy for Madonna to say, she’s neverbeen a kid’s talent agent. Being the top kid’s agent in the Denver region for as long as I have, I’ve seen my fair share of rewards and penance. Being a mother myself and a fierce advocate for children in general, I can’t help welcoming every new kid talent who signs with our agency with the same sense of compassion as if they were a new niece or nephew in my own family. I feel very maternal towards them, and when I help them book a major gig in film, advertising, the works, to me there is no prouder moment.

Those moments make up about 25% of my day. The other 75% are the day-to-day nitty and gritty of running the business from recruiting fresh faces, to interacting with parents who need nap time and pre-tweens demanding lattes and spray tans.

I’ve often thought about installing a “glass case of emotion” or confessional chamber in the agency offices to expel the occasional frustrations…gracefully. But I don’t have such a chamber. Instead in the office there is a fashion runway, where I’ll pace up and down, glasses perfectly positioned on my nose, hair coiffed just right, and I have my confession on a dance floor so to speak. I do this from time to time, just as I am doing now thinking of what to write for this piece, and now I share them with all of you - these are my confessions:

Confession number #1: Dealing with the “Dina Lohan’s” of the business.

I confess that the “Dinas” make me crazy! These are the parents, like Lindsay Lohan’s own mother, who believe the only green is money, and see their child as a potential new personal revenue stream. And we’ve all seen on TMZ how that turned out for Lindsay, and in this case, the talented youngsters.

These are the parents with a prospective child talent, who drop by and don’t have an appointment. They all want face time with me, or my employees, and think they are entitled to it. This is an appointment based business and when a parent does this, its showing no consideration for the people that do have appointments and the employees time who may be working on time sensitive castings. It also tells me that the probability of this parent not following the business protocol with the client on a booking is high. I think to myself, this one really needs our coaching and gracefully, introduce them to my assistant who then asks
"Dina" for her information so she can CALL them and share with them how we start parents and kids in the business with our agency.

"Dinas" think they are in LA when they are not.  They think this will dominate their lives but it won’t. Dina’s take this all too seriously and really take the fun out of it.  Dina’s don’t listen when we are telling them the nuts and bolts of the business and then later she asks the same questions about the audition process when we have taken painful measures to educate her.

Of course that means that I LOVE the parent that takes the time to call and get the information on the phone, asks for clarification on the business, the coaching process, the carding process, makes and keeps their appointment on time. This shows me that I can rely on them and the bottom line in this business is accountability and preparedness for the client which reflects on the agency.

Confession #2:  Living With My Unwanted Entourage

I confess that Parents and kids who think I am “Ari Gold” and want to be part of my “Entourage”, really are part of the family.  This is all appropriate when in the office or around agency functions, on set or at work but when I am out and about in the normal course of my day as a mom, friend, partner, I don’t want to be caught off guard talking about business, especially without hair and make up!

At too many neighborhood barbeques have I had the experience of being put on the spot to talk about a potential talent signing with the agency.  Its like forget about the potato salad, I end up having to watch all the neighborhood kids on the street perform their song and dance and awkward tricks for me at the bequest of their parents. Hence, I travel with big Glasses, hair tied back in ponytail and baseball cap for incognito status.  I am also careful that talent doesn’t have my cell phone number in case my precious family time is interrupted with a question that could be directed to the office.  I do have a life filled with basketball games, school functions, weddings, travel, working out, etc.

Confession #3: Bracing For The Toddlers, Tiaras, and (all too frequent) Tantrums

I confess that I hold my breath when we sign the toddlers, tiaras, and all too frequent tantrums with the agency. We have all seen the kids who rule their parents.  The parents have basically lost all their authority for whatever reason and that little toddler has mastered the word ‘NO”!  This means it’s only a matter of time before something is executed in a manner less than professional.  Like the time our gorgeous, yet utterly pretentious 8 year old cover boy booked 4 days on a shoot with an international brand and two days into his four day scheduled shoot repeatedly asked the art director “when he was going to be done” in perfect tantrum style.  The art director couldn’t believe this kids attitude and turned and sternly pointed his finger and told him, “You will be done when I tell you you’re done!”  Needless to say, it was Sunday night and I got the call from the client saying they were not going to keep the booking with Tantrum Boy and that he was released and NOT going to be paid for the last two days of bookings!!  Aside from putting egg on the agency’s face, it was really an awkward moment with the parents because the dad was a high profile producer himself.  Not to mention the revenue that was given up from the tantrum.

Confession #4:  I confess that I manage Rejection Depression.  

Of course this is always short term, at least until the next project submit.  However, in order to maintain my sanity and keep a clear mind and positive outlook about what I am doing, I am up at 5:00 am, every morning for my hour spin, cross fit or run so that I can keep my serotonin levels up and ready for the day.  Coffee is my constant form or hydration and a bit of chocolate here and there helps me keep my attitude up during the day. My point here is that most parents just have one child that they are disappointed when they don’t land a role.  As an agent, you might have 20-30 talents that go audition and don’t book!!  Now that’s rejection.

Confession #5: Dealing with the client that is a “Sue Sylvester” scares me!!

Believe it or not there are those clients that have no business working with   children or even adults for that matter. Unfortunately we are usually full on into a project before we have discovered that they are Sue Sylvester, the maniacal cheer coach, who terrorizes the halls of McKinley high in the popular TV series Glee!  Sue complains about everything from beginning to end, she has no common courtesy about working with you, your parents or your talent and the fact that everyone has given up their time and energy to deal with her bad attitude and make themselves available for her.  This is a painful process.  At that point you almost want to push her into a locker or throw a slushy in their face.

This derives from the fact that these Sue Sylvester’s don’t understand the process of casting and booking talent and then try to cover that fact by being mean, condescending and disrespectful, when they are working on set. This is why no matter how big the job we try to build relationships with our clients and counterparts in production. We want to know who these people are that are going to be working with our kids for a full day of shooting, and we want to make sure we’re not sending our precious talent into harms way. When we do this right, our talent, the clients, and ourselves are singing with glee!

Confession #6:  I confess that I don’t even want to work with the parent who doesn’t see the value is developing their child’s talent.

Let’s face it, the kids can have the personality plus to do this sort of thing but they really do need the skills developed in order to book and excel in this business.  I always think it’s really sad when the parents of a really talented kid don’t want to make the investment in developing their kid’s talent!!  Usually the kid’s behaviors will reflect how the parent handles the process. We would never throw our kids in the pool without giving them swim lessons so why would we throw them in front of the camera with out some camera coaching?  As an agent, I want the kid as developed as possible because they might be drop dead gorgeous but if they can’t memorize a script or handle a cold camera read they're isn’t going to book and the agency isn’t going to make their commission from a potential booking.  This is a business first and everything else second.

I feel so much better having dished my confessions here today.  I have just left them all on the fashion ramp here at the agency and feel like a weight has been lifted.  But you know, in reviewing all these confessions here with you, I have realized that these confessions are what make me the unique, classy and unabashedly successful at what I do.  So if you still what to get your fabulously talented kiddo into the business and you think you have a, “Lucky Star”, just remember that the main booking age group for kids is ages 4-12. Here’s your quick how to:

  1. Google Children’s agencies where you live.
  2. Make sure they are long established.
  3. Be sure they have Brick and Mortar
  4. Be sure they have a development program. With coaches who specialize in working with children.
  5. Submit pictures first, then follow up with a phone call to have your questions answered.
  6. Make an appointment, be on time, dress as up-scale as possible for both you and your kids.
  7. Use your manners and be sure your kids use their manners while showing their pearly whites as often as possible.

About The Author

Karen's talent agency, Marbles Kids Talent Management, Inc., just celebrated its 27th year in the biz.  The Agency enables Karen to stay involved in the entertainment industry, while allowing her the necessary flexibility to be a single mom who joyfully shares an active life as an entrepreneur and mom to her 12 year old daughter, Taylor.