The Momager: Advise to New Parents in the Entertainment Industry
All parents are their children’s managers in some aspect. Technically, the definition of a Momager is, “the mother of a famous person who is also their manager.”
See: Kris Jenner
But, this new terminology can also be attributed to mothers in any industry whether it be athletics, modeling, acting… even “stay at home” moms are momagers.
Although we have been in the talent industry for less than a year, I’d like to share what I’ve learned for any new parents interested in joining this lifestyle.
First of all, my son has a real “manager” (not just mom), several agents in the Miami area; and one exclusive who specializes in the Orlando/Tampa market with access to Atlanta and LA. While signing with an agent and/or manager is very exciting, this does not guarantee any work.
I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned since starting this journey to help the newbies on their path.
- “Casting calls are not a popularity contest.” I sit at castings and listen to these mothers in shock and awe. I’ve been interrogated with a barrage of questions from other mothers: What was his last job? How many castings does your agent send him on a week? How much did he make on his last booking? “What… HE got a call back for that?” So-on and so-on, the list is endless. When we signed the contract with our manager, another mother whom I didn’t know, called me and gave me the low-down. She quite bluntly said “Ohhhh they’re gonna hate you in Miami, be prepared.” I didn’t know this woman, but I took her advise and decided to just smile, and mind my own business… I recall walking into a casting with my son, when the door opened you could audibly hear teeth-sucking and guttural-grunting because a fresh new face was in town. The kids go into the casting room and have a blast together, they become friends. But… the moms are left alone in a room to brag about their children’s accomplishments, as if it’s hierarchy of talent. Ultimately, we don’t know what the casting director wants. Experience, “who you know,” and who your agent is, “may” have absolutely nothing to do with who they pick. Stay humble, always.
- “Beauty” has nothing to do with who gets a gig.” This is so important to remember. They could be looking for a kid with features that match the two “pretend” parents they have chosen for an ad. They usually don’t want perfect angelic-looking children, they’re looking for REAL faces to represent REAL life. So often though, I hear parents acting as if this is a beauty contest… it’s not. These reality-shows about crazy parents are 100% spot-on, from what I’ve witnessed thus far. Please do not put those insecurities onto your child. It’s a game of hit or miss, plain and simple.
- “People are not simply “discovered,” it doesn’t work that way.” I’ve come to realize a whole new respect for the acting world. They didn’t just walk into a soda-shop and get discovered. Nopez. People have NO IDEA the amount of work that goes into this lifestyle before so-called “fame.” The hours driving back and forth? The hours sitting at a casting in a small room, with not even a snack-machine. The cranky children and tantrums? The competitive moms… the producers having schedules that in no way bend to your needs. This job is A LOT of hard work and dedication from an entire family unit…. no one sees the behind-the-scenes work before the actual “booking.” And, each booking is an ending, with no guarantee there will ever be another job, hence the phrase “out of work actor.” The elusive “fame,” is far away from this equation, just HAVE FUN!
- “Your kid IS special… but so are the other 200 kids auditioning, who are also signed to an agency.” When your kid signs with an agent, you feel on top of the world. But, that’s only the entrance-way to a very large underground ant-hill. Getting your foot in the door is amazing, but what happens afterwards sometimes feels like cattle-herding. They slap a number-sticker on your kid, measure them, take a quick pic and send you on your way. Sometimes, we drive 5 hours each-way, (10 hours in total) just for a 10 minute in-and-out looksee. Sometimes… that scenario happens two or three times a week. And, MOST times, you never get a callback at all; you’re just stuck in some kind of limbo. No one cares about how far you traveled, or how much you spent to get there. At a Miami casting recently, we were in-line for two hours in the blazing hot sun… no shade whatsoever. The casting director did not care that I have some-sort-of autoimmune which causes a dangerous heat-intolerance. Nope. She literally called “NEXT,” as I dropped all my sons photos, had double vision, and everything went completely black. No-shits-given whatsoever; I was not even offered a bottle of water as my son was begging people to help his mom. This business is mostly fun, but “can be” cold and demanding… be prepared. Your kid is special, but not THAT special in their mind.
- “Sure I’d love to have lunch on Wednesday, but we’re waiting for a call-back…” It’s a very anxiety ridden place to be. Typically we don’t care about NOT getting the gig, but being able to live our lives with some semblance of a schedule would be nice. I think the main thing for ME, as a mom… is the inability to make set-plans, like, ever. “Can we go to lunch next Wednesday?” Well, the only answer I can give from now on, is a very firm… “Maybe.” This is the sacrifice we make, though, and we love the excitement of it all.
- “He LOVES his job!” Yup.. I ask my son if he would rather be a “normal” kid?” His answer is always “No!” It’s true when they say “child actors don’t have a normal childhood,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are missing out… it’s just a different childhood from their peers. I can see where my son misses-out on some things kids do, but… he also says he prefers working instead. Know why? Because it’s FUN! He comes off a job with a glimmer in his eye, a huge smile, and ready for more. Child actors enjoy the best of both worlds. He gets time for “sleep-overs,” when we are in town… but he also gets to learn a skill while earning a paycheck. I always give HIM the choice of working, or attending a birthday party… and he ALWAYS “chooses” work.
- Castings are so last minute. At any given time I can get a text asking us to be in Miami in 5 hours… and we live 4 1/2 hours away. But, when Tommy Hilfiger is on the line, you go! This is a huge part of the business that I was blissfully unaware of. Call it naive, but when we signed-up, our Miami manager asked me if 5 hours was too far to drive. I said, “NOPE.” But what I didn’t realize was how often this would happen, and how random the castings are. You can’t schedule a casting two weeks from now with time to buy an outfit, or get a haircut. NO WAY. These things pop up daily. DAILY.
- People act differently towards your child. Typically, his closest friends don’t really care what is happening in my sons life. They treat him the same as they always have, and to be honest he rarely even talks about it. But, acquaintances can be vicious. He is 13. Is it lack of understanding? Jealousy? I have no idea. This lifestyle has really made us see who our true friends always are. Set boundaries. “Notice the people who are happy for your happiness, and sad for your sadness. They are your true friends.” Never. Forget. That. Saying!
- You will hear all kinds of rumors about you and your kid. This is a tough one to swallow. Simply because you are moving forward with your life; you are following your child’s dreams, people will gossip. I have heard everything from “she’s pushing him to be famous,” to “who does she think she is?” I say this… I’m extremely proud of my sons accomplishments and if I’m talking to you about it, it’s not bragging, it’s pride. Are we supposed to keep our lives a secret? If I had a hectic week driving 40 hours and I’m tired, there is not some hidden bragging-agenda going on… I’M TELLING YOU ABOUT OUR LIVES. I am just as happy to hear about your kids baseball game or cheer-leading competition. Why is our life considered “bragging?” It’s come to the point that I rarely tell anyone about our lives. It’s sad, but I try to keep our experiences myself.
- “People will try to ruin your happiness.” Recently, someone went to extremes to try to humiliate my son. They took time out of their lives to write a fake letter from Volcom, asking to sponsor my son. On first sight, it was very exciting. But, quickly we realized the grammar was obviously written by someone with poor writing skills. They used letterhead with the Volcom logo, and even gave a somewhat-legit phone number/ address to a California store (although, not their headquarters). What this says to me, is that there are bullies, haters, and mean-spirited people out there who wish to see my son fail. Who ever created this fake letter, fully intended to embarrass my son if he posted it on Instagram. The sole purpose was to humiliate him… take that in. There are SICK people in this world. In this business, you must stay strong, positive and not stoop to their level by engaging. Live YOUR best life.
- “Instagram is life, but its’s also very scary.” In order to network in this business, you need an Instagram page. My son started this entire journey simply because “Sunny D” producers saw him on Instagram, and our lives were forever changed (Thanks Greg). But… with a social media following comes a lot of other complexities, some of which are pretty terrifying. I’ve written an article about pedophiles who stalk my son. It is real, it is relentless, and it is scary. There is a fine-line we need to walk. You can read it —> HERE.
- “The actors lifestyle is expensive.” I’m not talking about fake schools from the mall who promise to “teach you” the industry. Or modeling “classes,” which cost thousands of dollars. No. Any good agency would never take your money, they pay YOU. But… with that said, head-shots cost anywhere from $50 to great-ones at $680. And, you are supposed to update them every six months (especially for kids). Acting coaches/casting classes could cost anywhere from $100- $1,000+ a month. I’m finding out quickly that my son has a huge disadvantage, because I’m spending money for gas and hotels to get to the castings. I don’t have extra-cash for his acting coach, which he really needs. It’s not easy putting-out all this money with paychecks being sporadic. Be prepared for some MAJOR expenses.
- “Scheduling is INSANE.” Sometimes, I’m thankful for my past managerial experience. Keeping track of my sons schedule is a FULL-TIME JOB. This is no joke; you should see my calendar. Everything is so last-minute. Each casting has “other” scheduling obligations such as call-backs, fittings, then ultimately a booking. You are required to set aside each of those dates for the directors/ producers. It’s MIND-BOGGLING trying to schedule all these appointments. During “high-season,” I can’t even imagine having a 9-5 job. It’s impossible.
- “Jobs do not equal fame.” Sure this lifestyle can be exciting and fun, but lets be honest, there are literally thousands of kids in the industry. The chances of becoming “famous,” are slim. I tell my son to simply take each job as just that… a job. It’s college money, it’s saving for his first car, it’s vacation money… that’s all. A successful career in acting (or modeling) takes time, and A LOT of rejection. No one knows what the future brings, and no one knows where this path will lead. Right now, he thinks it’s fun to see himself in commercial/ads. Nothing more, nothing less.
- “STAY HUMBLE!” A little secret about me is that although I was not “directly” involved in the entertainment industry, I was closely surrounded by it for nearly 20 years. I’ve learned that the people who brag most, are involved the least. As my child’s manager, I’ve learned that it’s super important to remain humble, stay away from “stage-moms,” and teach your child to be polite and respectful. On a recent commercial, my son was praised for folding his clothes, and always saying please and thank you. He treated the make-up lady with the exact same respect as the producer, and it was noticed. Kindness and respect go a long way. The last thing you want is bad a reputation. Stay kind.
- “Make time for friends and family, but don’t talk about the industry much.” As my son wrapped up his last commercial shoot, he said “well this is the saddest thing ever.” Spending a few days with the cast and production crew creates friendships and memories that only YOU will understand. When a job ends, you drive home to your neighborhood, but, your friends and family didn’t share that experience. It’s so important to make time for the people in your life who truly love you; the people you trust. For us, we keep business at the door, it keeps you grounded, and helps others not feel like “you’ve changed.” I keep business talk to those within the industry for the most part. My son says that he has this “secret life,” which he enjoys only for himself. Reach out to the people and places that ground you.
Officially, my title amongst friends has become “MOMAGER,” and I love it. I love my job. But… it. is. a. lot. of. hard. work.
Don’t listen to the haters. Be kind, be authentic and put your child’s best interest first. Most importantly, HAVE FUN. When it’s no longer fun for your kids, then you run the risk of becoming that stage-mom everyone already “thinks” you are. Ha!