Making a film is no child’s play, especially when children are involved. There is a very famous saying in Hollywood by W.C. Fields, “Never work with animals and children.” But baseless quotes aside there have been many films where child actors have given even the grownups a run for their money. And so, in this article we are going to talk about the important Casting Tips that a filmmaker should keep in mind while choosing a child actor for a lead role.
Find a Fitting Script
There are two kinds of films in which kids are used for lead roles; (a) Kids oriented movies, and (b) Regular movies. Where regular movies have regular scripts, a screenplay for a kids-oriented movie can be a little tricky to write. Recently in India, there has been a barrage of films and shows catering to kids. Most of which, do not seem like they were written for kids. A screenplay that is aimed for children should be written with great caution and fun. Sadly, most of the Indian scriptwriters tend to be oblivious of this fact. Be it ‘My Friend Ganesha’, ‘Bhoot Uncle’, or ‘Bhootnaath’, almost all the child-oriented films made in India lack substance, depth and the sense of responsibility that a children-oriented film should carry.
Any film that has child actors is deemed as ‘Bachchon Ki Film’ (Film for kids) regardless of its subject and story. Hollywood on the other hand, has realized it a long time ago. Where movies with child actors in lead are not taken seriously in India, Hollywood has delivered some excellent films in the same category. On one hand there is a gamut of child-oriented films from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks and many other big studios; we also have seen some of the most revered mainstream films that had child actors in lead roles. With Stanley Kubrick’s controversial ‘Lolita’ (1962), Hollywood has not backed down from giving children the serious space they deserve in their movies. Movies like ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), Matilda (1996), ‘A.I.’ (2001), ‘Home Alone’ (1991) and ‘City of God’ (2002) Hollywood had been betting its money over all kinds of films that had children in the lead roles.
Watch: Bhoothnath 2014 trailer
Wait for the Chosen One
For all of you who remembered CBS’s hit television show- ‘Dennis the Menace’ that used to air on Sony Entertainment Television in its black and white glory, its child actor Jay North won the role after battling it with over 200 other kids who auditioned for the same role. Auditioning kids can be even the toughest people cry with exhaustion and helplessness. But waiting for the right actor is always worth all the hassle. For his second film Rushmore (1998), Filmmaker Wes Anderson auditioned child actors for a period of over one year, until he found Jason Schwartzman. And what Jason Schwartzman delivered in that film is now a timeless performance. Other child actors like Dakota Fanning, Haley Joel Osment, and Chloe Grace Moretz have earned the respect like any other A-lister Hollywood Superstar because of their acting skills.
Watch: Chole Grace Moretz auditions for Let Me In:
Unlike Hollywood, there are only a handful of child actors who are considered professional in India, and our filmmakers prefer to repeat them in their films. Actors like Hansika Motwani, Kinshuk Vaidya (Sanju from the TV show Shakalaka Boom Boom) and Parzan Dastur (“tussi naa jaao” from Kucch Kucch Hota Hai) got many offers not because they were immensely talented, but because they were known faces. Only handful Indian films like Gattu, I Am Kalaam, Killa and Fandry have featured child actors who landed the role purely on the basis of their acting skills. And unfortunately, these superbly talented child actors are still unknown to the public.
So the bottom line is; waiting for the right actor can turn your film into a classic.
Bank On Your Actors
A movie for children doesn’t necessarily has to be silly and/or funny. With a good script, a great child actor can pull a serious movie on his/her nimble shoulders. The Harry Potter film franchise is a living testament to this fact. We cannot imagine the Harry Potter universe without Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Tom Felton today. Cast when they were little children, these children grew up to become darlings of millions and are today known as one of the finest actors today. Similarly, Richard Linklater chose to cast Ellar Coltrane for his recent film Boyhood. Filmed over a period of 12 years, Boyhood shows the transformation and growth of Ellar Coltrane’s character Mason. In Linklater’s words, he was “in the unique one in a lifetime positions...” as he was “banking the whole movie on this kid.” But Ellar Coltrane did not let Richard down and gave a performance of a lifetime (literally).
Watch: Top 10 Movie Performances by Kids:
In Indian film industry, it’s still considered risky to bet money on a film that has children in lead roles. With only a handful of exceptions to this rule, we are still far from the days when child actors and films will receive the same respect from producers and audience as the AAA movies. Even a crappy movie with a mediocre plot and sub- standard cast is taken seriously in our industry, where a film with good story is pushed to the sidelines, only because it features little kids in the lead roles.
Allah Ke Banday is a rare film that took its child actors and storyline seriously; Watch Video
The Reality Behind Casting a Child in the Leading Role of Movie
Most of the movies made for children in our country these days are animated (and not the good quality of animation). With characters like Chota Bheem dominating the kids’ content scene it’s really difficult to expect a good change anytime soon. Most of the producers believe in making low budget films to rake in good money. “Quality is not considered important because kids cannot tell the difference between good and bad animation.” was the logic given by a producer when asked why he was cutting so much cost on the animation for his next project.
Child-oriented movies do perform decently on box office, and that is why some producers are making sequels after sequels of their terrible films. These films though do not make a mark at the box office but give their producers and distributors a substantial profit. But profit is not the only thing that should be kept in mind while making a film, especially when it’s for our children.
With no hope for healthy children entertainment in near future, we can only hope that more and more filmmakers will come forward with good scripts and look for talented actors suited for their roles. This is the only way we will be able to create a healthy and intellectual space in films for our kids. Because looking at the current state of affairs of children oriented cinema in India, we are pretty much doomed.
#casting Tips for Filmmakers