Directing child actors | Inquirer Entertainment

Directing child actors

/ 07:57 PM February 12, 2012

Our recent notes on the extended crying scenes that child actors have been forced to do on TV drama shows have elicited concerned readers’ follow-up queries about the “rules” that should govern the handling of young talents in TV, film or stage productions.

Some clarifications:

Why are extended crying scenes a no-no for child actors? Because minors implicitly believe and take to heart what they depict, so all that sorrow, no matter if feigned or faked, may have a negative and harmful effect on their vulnerable sensibilities.


TV series involving kids also err when they stage scenes in which the young characters are exposed to guns and other totems of violence. Kids are too young to contextually understand why violence is allowed in some circumstances, so the fear they experience is real and even exaggerated. That’s why foreign productions make it a point to involve child actors only in fight scenes that feature minimal fisticuffs and wrestling—no guns or knives at all.


Limit hours

Another rule for directing child talents is to limit their working hours, not just on account of their short attention span, but also because they need to sleep more than adults and need time for school, studies, sports and play. Alas, in local show biz, that rule is sometimes flouted with impunity, even if official overseers are assigned to make sure that it’s being observed.

So, the increasing popularity and bankability of child stars could make things even worse for them, because they will be made to work even harder and longer to fill the increased demand for shows involving them. Adults involved in such productions should look beyond the financial bottom line and realize that kids can’t be treated—or overworked—like older actors, or else their psyches will suffer.

On point of the actual handling of child talents, some direks make the big mistake of showing the kids how a scene should be acted, then making them simply imitate or “xerox” what they’re been shown or told.

Mindless puppets

Thus, the kids come off as mindless little puppets or carbon copies, and their performances are push-button, knee-jerk, artificially “happy” or “sad,” and therefore downright bad.


It’s much better to involve the child talents in the creative process, and make them realize that, although the lines they’ve memorized are important, they make up only 30 or 40 percent of the performance or characterization. The rest is genuine emotion, emotional understanding, empathy, and the creative and felt expression of the child’s all-important imagination and sense of wonder.

This takes more time, talent and effort, but it’s what makes juvenile performances truly affecting and inspiring.

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For it to happen, though, kids have to graduate from merely doing what their adult mentors tell them to do, to being creative performing artists and interpreters of the scripted material as well. But, it’s essential that kids be given this freedom and leeway, because they instinctively understand the young characters they play—much better than the adults who direct them—and can even surprise their mentors with the amazing truth and pertinence in their heartfelt portrayals!

TAGS: child actors, Children, Directing, Entertainment, TV dramas

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