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The Three M's

March 26, 2014

Mustn’t Make Monsters . . . .
By Dawn Jeffory-Nelson
The Baby Whisperer

What are “The Three M’s” you ask?  They concern the very real danger of not being aware of the literally hundred of ‘little things’ that occur on a set that can turn a beautiful bright spirit (aka a baby or child actor) into the dreaded monster of ego, arrogance and selfishness… Mustn’t Make Monsters! 

One day, working as a Baby Wrangler on location for a commercial shoot, I overheard a four-year old toddler ask his mommy “where’s my WinaBAGEL?!!”  After chuckling in delight a few moments over the adorable mangling of the trade name for one of the more upscale dressing room/trailers an actor can have – the Winnabago - I suddenly sobered.  Was this just a tot malaprop, or was this kid already so spoiled that he would complain about a regular Honeywagon (a much smaller, often much less comfy type of dressing room)? Was he a sweet bright spirit who was already in the throes of becoming a Monster?

When you really examine the situation, it’s actually the kids who aren’t monsters who are the oddities (and thank Heaven – there are many, who are NOT monsters.  I know – I get to work with them!).

Think of it - a baby or a toddler gets a feature film and the first thing that the babies are actually aware of is they find themselves in (hopefully) a big beautiful spacious room (their new trailer/dressing room HOME for the next 3 to 6 months) that is filled with a huge basket of toys equaling anywhere from 500 to a thousand dollars, with a WELCOME TO (Insert name of Movie) note, which they’ll probably try to eat. (Or succeed in eating, actually, if mom and the baby wrangler are not on their toes!)

And then, if they’re lucky enough to have a baby wrangler on the shoot, he or she has a veritable bottomless pit of toys (their “wrangling kit”) with which to entertain, train and cajole them.

Repeat the procedure with any age child actor getting a series or a film, because it is the same.

SO – they possibly become trained to believe that they will have new toys virtually fall out of the skies at oft-repeated intervals.  That is a major potential danger in the Monster department – though not as big a danger in the infant to three-year old age range as that of the older kids. The tiny ones seem to accept (and as quickly get over and discard) toys without making the kind of connections in their little heads as their older counterparts.

The bottom line is this:  these babies, toddlers, youngsters and teens are surrounded by adults, and GO TO WORK.  They are fussed over as children, but constantly in the company of adults. They hear adult conversations; witness all kinds of adult behavior (although admittedly the last thing some actors are is ADULT - no matter their age!)  And the crew???!!!!  Biggest bunch of wonderful kids you can imagine BUT it can make for further BAD examples for the kids!!!  They begin to feel as if they, too, are adults.  Because of this, many grow up with no respect for their elders, as my Grandma would have said.  They have one teacher, possibly for years, if they’re on a long-running series, or if they request the same studio teacher from one film to the next.  They call that teacher by his or her first name, yet another breakdown in the necessary division between adult and child.

They ask for something on-set – they’re likely given it.  Expensive presents, special treatment, favors.  They go out into the world where thousands of fans – children AND adult –  want to meet them, touch them, talk to them, take pictures with them.  That is their regular, normal day-to-day life.  How could this not impact a child?
I’m happy to say that there is a way.  I know, because I’ve seen it.  It’s called Good Parenting.  As simple, as complex, and as miraculous as that sounds.  What is the magic that the Good Parenting Ones perform? You know – you probably do the same.  But for the record, what the heck, let me tell you what I have observed:

Good Parents do NOT treat their kids as though they are actors.  They treat them as members of the family, just like regular kids.  Sound like a no-brainer, I know.  But it’s hard to do, and absolutely necessary!

  • They make them do regular chores.
  • They make them do their homework.
  • They make sure to get the kids to bed early - they know that the kids must get plenty of sleep in order to survive their very tough production schedules. 
  • They see to it that the kids eat healthy meals – not just the yummy junk food on the craft service table at work.
  • They make sure to help the child understand that he or she is VERY LUCKY – and that there are other children out there who are just as talented, but maybe not just as lucky.  Kids who would be thrilled to do what they are doing.
  • The really great parents make sure that their kids do volunteer stuff – serving Thanksgiving dinner downtown to homeless families, working with CHILDHELP. Seeing how truly fortunate even the average middle class family is, let alone a privileged child of ShowBiz.  Seeing how the “real world” really is.
  • The really smart parents make sure their young showbiz kids have NO CLUE as to how much money they are making, and give them only the going weekly rate for kids’ allowance these days. This is a really important one!

And most important of all THEY MAKE SURE THE CHILD KNOWS HOW MUCH THEY LOVE THEM, AND HOW PROUD THEY ARE OF THEM – having NOTHING to do with the being an actor part – but all to do with being Sally or Tommy or Mikey, their child.  That’s the real magic.

There it is. The very simple, incredibly difficult job of remembering that these wonderful, bright, charismatic kids are more than just dazzlingly talented actors – they are terrific KIDS who need the opportunity to BE normal kids.  If we do that, and encourage others around us to do the same, we may just be successful in avoiding the Monsters.

To read the entire article, click here

Dawn Jeffory-Nelson has many years of experience in the Entertainment Industry, having served as casting baby wrangler and on-set wrangler for numerous feature film, television and commercial shoots.  Some of the notable productions she’s wrangled include BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2, LEMONY SNICKET A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, MEET THE FOCKERS, NOTES FROM THE UNDERBELLY, and THE BAD GIRLS GUIDE, as well as dozens of commercials for Pampers, Toys R’ US, Johnson and Johnson, Quiznos, Mervyn’s, Fisher Price, Kia Sedona, Colgate and more, including several PSA’s.  Dawn is also an acting coach, working 7 years on the hit series 7TH HEAVEN, and 22 episodes of AMERICAN DREAMS. Dawn currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.