How To Work With Child Actors On Set

How To Work With Child Actors On Set

by Julia Courtenay


Child actors deliver some of the most riveting and moving performances on screen, as we’ve seen from Harry Potter to Matilda. Currently, the young cast of Stranger Things has charmed millions of viewers with their performances on the hit show.


But movie sets are difficult, complex work environments even for adults. Because children are particularly vulnerable to being taken advantage of, there are rules to protect children in TV and Film in BC. Producers must be aware of these rules when hiring child actors in BC.


The following covers most of the basic considerations but should not be taken as legal advice.

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stranger things behind the scenes child actors on set


What’s A Child?


What a silly question. Everyone knows what a child is…right?


Actually, defining “child” in film and TV isn’t as simple as you think. This is because there are two governing bodies: Employment Standards (the provincial employment regulations) and the Union of BC Performers (UBCP), which is specifically for union shows in BC. (See the links to Employment Standards regulations and the UBCP Collective Agreement at the foot of this article.)


Employment Standards defines a minor as less than 15 years old.


UPBC defines a minor as less than 17 years old.


This means that on a union shoot, everything that legally applies to a 14-year-old actor also applies to actors up to, and including, 16 years old. Actors above those ages are considered an adult for work purposes.


UBCP has more detailed and stringent requirements than Employment Standards.


Make sure you’re following the latest versions of the rules and agreement. They can be updated from time to time and it’s the producer’s responsibility to know and apply them.


Even non-union shoots are wise to follow UBCP standards where appropriate. Then they’ll know they’ve done their due diligence to ensure the well being of the child actors. Union rules provide good tried and tested guidelines when non-union shows have no other standards.


stranger things child actors on set


Some Things to Consider


You’ll need to take the time to read through the official guidelines and rules as linked at the end of this article, but in the meantime, make sure to consider these basics.


  • You need a parent’s written consent for a child to work on your production (sample forms are on the Employment Standards website)


  • You cannot use a child under 15 days old in film or TV.
    • Why? Because their immune system is deemed not strong enough at that point. It’s why newborn babies on screen usually don’t look newborn!


bradley cooper fake baby american sniper

The infamous fake baby from American Sniper (2014)


  • Most situations require one parent/guardian per child (with a few exceptions). That parent /guardian must be within sight and sound of the child at all times.
    • The only exception is when a BC Certified teacher is tutoring the child. This means a parent can’t drop their child off and go shopping. Nor can they allow their child to be alone with anyone other than the tutor at any time.


  • There are very specific legal requirements concerning hours of work, time on camera, overtime, and rest periods for minors. These are specified in the links below.


  • If the child is missing 3 or more consecutive school days, there are legal requirements for 3 hours of tutoring per day (within working hours) by a BC certified teacher


harry potter snape child actors studying


  • Get familiar with UBCP’s requirements for children performing in scenes involving difficult and/or dangerous content.
    • Difficult content includes scenes with nudity, sex, or abuse. Examples of dangerous content include stunts, special effects, or animals
    • Again, these are also good guidelines for non-union shows to protect the child.


  • Union shoots with six or more children on set may need a Minor’s Coordinator on site.


madeline children tiger


Tips on Working with Child Actors


So you’ve memorized the rules and you’ve covered every legal requirement. But working with child actors involves more than legalities.


Here are some practical, actionable tips on working with children on set:


  • At audition, don’t worry so much about word-perfect delivery. Be more concerned with whether a child can take direction and seems to enjoy the process


  • Ensure the parent is attentive and engaged but not overbearing and interfering. An overbearing parent can be extremely challenging.


  • Stay away from snacks containing sugar and caffeine.
    • These usually make a child uncontrollably hyper—and then we all know the infamous “sugar crash” that comes after. Instead, ask their parents what kind of healthy snacks/meals work best for them


working with child actors children on set eleven stranger things eggo


  • Make sure the parent is bringing adequate games, toys, tablet, books etc. to keep their child entertained. A bored child can be as challenging as a hyper one!


  • Plan an adequate quiet rest area, cots, changing facilities, diapers, tutoring space etc. as needed


  • For younger roles, identical twins (or triplets) are a great option. This way, little ones can have off-days and it puts less stress on a young child (and the production!) to deliver everything. It’s how the infamous Olsen twins came to be!


mary-kate ashley olsen twins child actors


  • Prime your crew to use appropriate language and behavior around the children – it’s easy to forget!


  • Remember: a child won’t be as highly trained as adult actors and might need more patience to get to the required level of performance.


  • Set up time for your actors to develop some chemistry with each other in a fun environment so the children are more comfortable on set.


behind the scenes stranger things eleven mike child actor on set


  • Some directors recommend, when a child isn’t good at remembering lines or understanding performance, to have them mimic the lines back. Make it more like a game.


  • Schedule “gentle” days. Children won’ t have the stamina or patience of an adult.


  • Keep an even tone. Extravagant praise etc. can give the child very mixed messages. Clarity and sincerity work best.


  • If the child is misbehaving, ask the parent to take them off set to talk to them quietly and privately—out of the view of the crew—to let them to get re-focused.


  • Work closely with the parent. They know how to get what you need from their child and can help their child be better prepared for a scene.


full house child actors on set


There’s definitely a lot to think about when working with child actors. But all these regulations and processes really come down to one golden rule:


No matter how talented and precocious your child actors are, never forget they’re still first and foremost children. Never prioritize your film above a child’s safety and well being.


daniel radcliffe harry potter child actor on set



Employment Standards: Employment of Young People in Entertainment

UBCP Master Agreement (see section A27) — Note: this is due for update in 2018.



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