Tips to direct kids?
I usually spend a lot more prep time getting to know the kid prior to the shoot. To me, I believe that being a good child director is taking care of the kid’s welfare. For example, I will always check with the parent if the kid has any naptime so that they can get efficient rest. I am very adamant about giving the kids their naptime even if we have to stop production for an hour. If you are able to prioritize their welfare, naturally they will also give you a better performance in your shoot. In return, this might even save us more production time if you can just get one good take instead of redoing many takes especially after the kid is well-rested. Many times, a director is too focus on achieving finishing their shots that they forget about the kids’ need.
The second tip is making sure they have fun on set. You will have to figure out what they like and how they are like. It always affects me a lot as a director if the kids are not having fun because I do not want one mistake to cause them to stop them from pursuing their dreams. Most importantly, they have to be comfortable on set. Sometimes, just playing their favourite music can help them ease into a stressful set with so many pair of eyes staring at them. I can tell you I learnt many new songs from working with these kids and thanks to them, I am keeping up to what is the latest music trend. I also keep my crew minimum as possible whenever I roll my camera to keep them away from being too distracted. You have to praise them even if say they do not perform to the standard you normally expect. We all love praises, don’t we? Even as adults. We have to constantly encourage them and not put them down. Never be too stingy with your “well done” or “good job!, let me give you a sticker as a reward”. I personally rely on plenty of gamification tactics to keep them motivated. Of course, it all changes on a case to case basis because every kid is different. You have to approach them with different motivation strategies.
Working closely with the parents is the next important tip. Meet and greet with the parents to ensure the parents entrust their kids to you. You will never know if you need their help and they should be your best friend or partner-in-crime on set. I normally do not get the parents into the picture unless circumstances force me to. I remember very vividly when I was directing my very first commercial job and we needed to obtain an authentic surprised facial expression from the talent. We actually used a surprise visit of a childhood friend coming to give the talent a Christmas present. We worked in tandem with the talent’s parents as we were filming Santa Claus coming to give her a present. The talent was excited as she wasn’t expecting her childhood friend to come over. When “Santa Claus” appeared, she could not contain her joy and surprise, needless to say, the set up was a success.
Yes, parents can be your last alternative to help you achieve what you want to get the emotion you want in camera. Instead of directing the kid, you might end up directing the parents sometimes too.
The last tip is speak their language. Kids are actually simpler to direct than adults because it is not that difficult to understand them. Kids are so much straightforward and simple. Recently, I just directed a Philippino PR family which included a 5 year old kid acting for the first time. It was for a fast food campaign. She had a really bad cough on set, and was not able to perform or even focus. Naturally when I directed the family, I spoke in English. Sometimes, I would speak mandarin to my crew and she reacted to it surprisingly. Her mum told me no one can practice Chinese with her at home because none can speak but she likes chinese. I changed my strategy and directed her in mandarin and she then became more responsive despite the fact she was still sick. In conclusion, it helps a lot when we understand what the kids work best and put it to our advantage on set.
As a child director, you need to draw upon your instinct whether it is choosing your cast or working with them during set. You have to always ask yourself what if that doesn’t work, what is my next alternative so that you can act quick. Remember, we do not have the luxury of time and kids get tired if you make them wait too long. You must be always on the ball. I am not a parent myself yet, and I always question why I think I can connect with kid. Perhaps I didn’t have an easy childhood and part of me always wished that I had someone to understand me more when I was a kid. I feel like I am at the best version of myself whenever I work with kids and that explains why I enjoy working with kid most.
Here is a latest Mcdonald’s Happy meal advertistment I did: