The Arduous Road of Parents Who are Helping Their Children to Become Stars
It is a long way from Payson to Los Angeles, but for aspiring child star Taevyn Chipman, the distance seems within reach. Seven-year-old Chipman recently participated in auditions that he and his family hope will launch his acting and modeling career. “This is just the beginning of Taevyn’s journey,” his aunt Shyla Zufelt predicts. She is one of his coaches and his most enthusiastic advocate.
Taevyn was invited by entertainment scouts to participate in a five-day workshop in Los Angeles, and his family gathered both energy and momentum to help Taevyn actualize what they view as a tangible opportunity. During the workshop’s all-day classes, Taevyn was grouped in the 4-12 age division and received coaching and feedback on two entertainment categories that he chose: acting and modeling.
“Taevyn has an amazing imagination and loves to dress-up,” his dad Beau says with pride. “He’s a natural entertainer and loves to be the center of attention.”
In the weeks before the mid-December workshop, Beau and Shyla helped Taevyn prepare. The handsome brown-eyed youth sat for professional headshots and took online webinar acting classes in which the participants were assigned commercials to memorize, and during the next class, they received feedback on their performances. Taevyn says he understands his instructor’s feedback and how to incorporate the prescribed changes. “We’re optimistic that the webinar will help Taevyn build his confidence and that he’ll have more poise when he gets to L.A.,” Shyla said before the family left for The Golden State.
Beau and Shyla were told that recruiters from entertainment giants such as Amazon TV, Netflix and Hulu would be searching for new talent at the convention. “If Taevyn loves something and wants to do it,” Beau asserts, “I want to give him opportunities. Taevyn wants to be famous. But even if that doesn’t happen, he will learn about something he enjoys doing.”
Utah Child Actors
The odds of finding fame are long but there are opportunities in Utah in the acting and modeling fields. Jeff Johnson, a Salt Lake City casting director who cast the three High School Musical movies that were shot in the Beehive State, said a good way to start a career is to act in theater, get an agency and work in local commercials.
Launching an acting career doesn’t cost much, Johnson said. Expenses for aspiring actors include headshots, and children need new photographs as they grow and their looks change, but auditions are free, he said.
Scarlett Hazen’s career has followed that path. Her interest in acting was sparked when she watched friends perform in a play and she began acting in theater at age 4 and had her first film role at 5. Her parents signed up with Talent Management Group (TMG) in Murray and the resume of the now-9-year-old Syracuse girl includes parts in movies, commercials and an online ad.
“Scarlett loves acting and being in front of the camera and she’s been very blessed and lucky to be able to participate in so many different projects,” mother Trudi Hazen said. “However, for Scarlett, at this point in her life, acting is just a hobby, something she loves to do for fun. We’re not in it for the money or the fame.”
Her daughter’s other interests include playing in the school band, cheerleading and participating in the chess club, Trudi said. Scarlett sees many possibilities ahead of her.
“I don’t exactly know what I want to do,” the girl said. “I might be a vet, I might be a doctor, I might be an actress.”
Legitimate Talent Agencies vs. Scam Artists
Talent Management Group owner Vickie Panek said Utah offers a lot for child actors. In Los Angeles, a child might be one among 1,000 vying for a part, but one in 100 for a role in Utah. Plus, “they can stay in school and live a normal life and still stay in the industry,” she said.
However, wherever they are, kids and parents with stars in their eyes should proceed with caution in what Panek calls a “buyer-beware” industry. She said some agencies might enroll a client in their acting school or take fees, then do little after that.
“I encourage people to do their homework,” said Panek, whose agency gets paid only when its actors and models are working.
Her agency does not sell workshops or photoshoots and is selective about which clients it takes, Panek said. She will decline to represent a child who is not interested in being an actor and suggests that the parents come back in a year if the situation changes.
According to Johnson, a red flag is a requirement that child actors pay for an audition. Statements that a talent scout works for Disney or that a workshop will give a child a career boost should be checked out.
“You’ve got to be really careful about that stuff,” Johnson said. “Some of those workshops are terrific and some of them are not. I always tell parents you have got to be sure there are legitimate people behind it who know what they’re doing.”
In an online posting, the Federal Trade Commission says signs that an offer to get a child into the business might not be legitimate include talk about big salaries, guarantees that they’ll get work, and a requirement that your payment be made only in cash or by money order. The commission urges consumers to check out companies before giving them money or personal information by, among other steps, checking its reputation online and asking for references.
Jean Bourne, mother of the Bagley children who are actors and part of the Working with Lemons musical group led by an adult brother, said kids should work hard if they want to be entertainers. That can include classes, and her children–who achieved fame with a cover from the movie Frozen on the Riverton family’s YouTube channel–work with an acting coach once a week, she said.
Bourne said that years ago, one daughter took classes at an acting school where she learned a little, but the experience did not lead to jobs in Hollywood. “If it’s really expensive and it promises to launch your career, it’s probably a scam,” she said.
For about a dozen years now, the Bagleys have been clients of McCarty Talent Agency, which focuses on booking auditions.
“We make money off of having great talent working,” said Michelle Dillon, the Salt Lake City agency’s acting director and head booking agent.
In Taevyn’s case, his aunt said the family carefully researched the sponsor–which invited only a handful of the hundreds who auditioned in Utah for the opportunity–before deciding to go to Los Angeles. Travel, hotel and workshop expenses cost thousands of dollars, but the potential benefits are worth it, Zufelt said.
“I really checked it out,” she said. “There are no guarantees. His agent won’t be paid until he gets a job.”
After returning home, Zufelt said the experience greatly benefitted Taevyn, who presented monologues and performed commercials in front of scouts during audition bootcamps. He also walked down the runway in a modeling workshop and danced in Aladdin, the show held on the last night of the workshop.
“It really helped him a lot,” Zufelt said. “It was a great learning experience.”
Her nephew got callbacks from five California talent agencies and the family has been communicating with them, she said. However, Utah is home.
“I’m not sure we’ll pursue the California agents,” Zufelt said. “We may choose to stay in the Utah market because Utah’s booming.” U