Tips for directing children

Written by Patrick Jong Taylor

Directing kids may be one of the most difficult challenges for any filmmaker. We interviewed Alex Marquez of IRIS Educational Media to gain his insights on how to work with children.

It’s Monday, 9AM. You walk past a line of lockers and enter a noisy classroom. Papers fly amidst high-pitched chatter and electronic beeps. Thirty rowdy 2nd graders stop what they’re doing to stare at you. What do you do?

If you’re Alex Marquez, you rehearse action for the next set-up. As Director/Producer for Iris Educational Media, a company that specializes in educator and parent training products, Alex has cultivated an unflappable demeanor. Whether it’s an unruly child actor, an overeager parent, or a persnickety researcher, he calmly meets the challenge.

We asked Alex to give us a few tips on directing children. This is what he said...

AM: Always keep it fun. If kids are having a good time, everything is a million times easier. Also, try and demand as little ‘acting’ as possible. For example, if you need a shot of a 10 year old doing homework, you better make sure it's a real assignment. If it is, and it’s something they can understand, they usually just get down to business. If you ask them to fake it, you won't get what you want. And give them plenty of snack brakes. Build extra time into the schedule - with kids you're going to move slower. No two ways about it. And be respectful of their parents’ demands, to a point.

RS: To a point?

AM: One time I had a mom who asked to be on set for her son's scene. We said sure and gave her a seat in video village. I could tell she was very into her son's performance and wanted it to be good. About halfway through, she called "cut!". That was pretty funny. We convinced her that it would be to her son's benefit if maybe she left the set. I think she got the message. When she left, the kid loosened up and did a lot better.

RS: We hear about the challenges in directing children. Other than filling the role, are there any benefits to directing children over adults?

AM: When you’re working with children, especially young children, there is one major upside. And that is that everything they do is imbued with a real genuineness. They have an ability to just be that adults can never match. To the point where with some kids you can just give them a line reading and have them repeat what you say. This is something you're supposedly never supposed to do with actors but I find that sometimes with kids it works beautifully. Sometimes I’ll just tell the camera operator to roll and tell the kid to repeat after me. I know this might sound like heresy to some people but I swear I’ve got some great takes with young kids like this.


You can check out more from Alex Marquez and Iris Educational Media by visiting the company's home page.

Tags: Production


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