Discover more from Our Reality Show
Stage Dad: Two Moms & The 'Biz'
Friends develop nonprofit foundation to help other parents of child actors
Anne Henry and Paula Dorn met in 2003 when their sons auditioned for a show at Disneyland. Both boys got the job, and the moms found themselves spending time together during rehearsals. They became fast friends and started talking about ways to help other parents in the business.
At the time, the Screen Actors Guild (now known as SAG-AFTRA) was sponsoring an update to the Coogan Law, the regulation that requires parents, guardians, and employers to set aside 15 percent of a child performer’s pay into a trust until the youth reaches age 18. Henry, now an administrator at a private elementary school, and Dorn, a corporate accountant, set up an email list to tell parents how the changes would affect them.
“That was the beginning of BizParentz,” Henry says matter of factly, noting that Dorn’s accounting experience helped them “translate” the financial picture for families. “Soon parents were asking us all sorts of things. We became that friend you can ask because they will tell you the truth.”
In 2004, Dorn and Henry co-founded the BizParentz Foundation, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides resources, advocacy, and research for families, the public, and industry professionals about the safety, education, and rights of young performers. The organization’s website — http://BizParentz.org — is an invaluable resource. And most important, the organization’s services are free.
Recently, Henry and Dorn agreed to a joint interview about the organization and the work it does. The discussion, focusing on topics both broad and specific, was so rich that I’m splitting it into two installments.
Part 1 of the interview looks at topics I’ve covered in previous Stage Dad essays: Advice for parents with children who work in the entertainment industry; common questions they receive at BizParentz; and the need for professional representation. Part 2, which comes out next weekend, focuses on child safety, technology and social media, and scams.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
We’ve all heard the “child actor becomes adult train wreck” stories. As parents it was a huge concern for me and my wife. What advice do you give to parents about working with children who are employed professionally?
Paula: This industry is not a ladder where you experience continuous momentum upward. Success is all over the place. Humility is important. You can’t let your child be all-consumed with pursuing success and fame. It must be at a healthy level with constant communication. To that end, we see a lot of success where strong family units remain intact. Parents rule and children behave. Variations from this are the fastest ways to head for trouble.
Anne: It’s important to have an exit plan, and to Paula's point about communication, that plan needs to be discussed before your child works consistently, before fame hits them in the face, and they feel pressured. Think about how much your family can afford financially, if you will quit when your child doesn't enjoy it anymore, if you will allow them to keep going until high school, or if you will quit when they haven't booked a job for a year or more. Every family is different, but a child should know when they can change their path and leave the industry. That's important.
What are three common questions you receive from parents? How do you answer them?
Paula: We get a wide variety of questions. It keeps it interesting for us. But if I had to pick, I would say the top three are:
How do we get an agent?
Should we come to L.A. for pilot season?
Where the heck is the money withheld for the Coogan law?
Regarding an agent, I ask them, “Where are you located? Are you in a major market?” After a quick “where-you-are-planted” discussion, we provide some resources applicable to where the child is in his/her/their career. There’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer to this one.
Pilot season can be a very expensive gamble. It always has been fraught with misunderstanding and confusion, plus lots of lore. Sadly, it’s even worse now. So many factors have changed things due to Covid, technology, and business practices. We once had a pretty standard schedule. Now new projects are casting at all times of the year. Online casting meetings have become very routine.
The good news is it is super possible to have a great pilot season from home, but it’s really hard to give general advice on this. Utilize as many variables that are available by staying home. If your child gets very far in the process they likely will travel, but for the initial auditions doing a good job from home can be as effective.
Looking at Coogan, employers are required to withhold 15% of gross wages and deposit them into the child’s individual account. That sounds good, but there no standardized structure exists. As a result, earnings withheld often do not make it to the child’s account. Parents must develop some system that makes sense to them to track and verify receipt of those withheld wages.
Only one website (http://unclaimedcoogan.org) is dedicated to listing money received from producers who say they could not locate the child or their account. It’s not a surprise that this doesn’t work so well. We will forever believe that “unpaid coogan” is more accurate. Parents shouldn't have to "claim" their child's wages, but the system is so broken that they do.
What advice do you give to parents about professional representation, either in the form of a manager or an agency, for their child?
Anne: Professional representation should come very early, as soon as your child exhibits pro-level talent and as soon as your child expresses the desire to be a professional. Getting a good rep early is important because licensed talent agents and professional-level managers can protect you and your child from many, many things. They will help you avoid the "kitty litter" of the industry while focusing on higher end work.
The trick is to make your child attractive to professional-level reps. Usually that means having a unique or marketable look, taking respected classes in a chosen area, and having the beginning of a resume. This often includes a few student films and a unique skill, such as surfing or fencing or speaking other languages. The skill doesn't matter as long as it’s unique. It also requires great headshots, and finally, they need to have been on set at least once.
If you have all these things, there is very likely a rep out there for you. Start in your hometown and try to conquer the local area first. Do that before you make the sacrifices necessary to jump into a big city market like Los Angeles, New York, or Atlanta.
Obviously, given your expertise, you could make nice living doing this. Why is it important to you that BizParentz remains a free resource?
Paula: We would love to make revenue off our time, knowledge, and energy. We simply couldn’t reconcile how we could be an entity that emphatically says “don’t pay” people while charging. This is our labor of love.
Anne: We really hope we can continue to keep Bizparentz a free space because we believe education should be free. It is one reason we made Bizparentz a non-profit organization, so people could donate if they choose to, but everyone could share in the wisdom of the larger group whether they donate or not. As Paula said, it’s our labor of love, and we feel privileged to have been a part of the success of so many kids.
To read more Stage Dad entries, click on this button. As always, comments and thoughts are welcome.