Industry Voices

An Interview with Bonnie Wallace, Author of the Hollywood Parents Guide - PART ONE

Since we began in 1982, On Location Education (OLE) has been dedicated to helping young actors balance the demands of their careers and education. You could say balance in all things is something of a guiding principle for us, and it is with this in mind that we approached authors of several recent books targeted at young performers and their families who want to make a career out of show business. 

Just as there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, there’s no single path to a success as a child actor and no singular voice of authority on the subject. Each child/family comes with a unique set of circumstances, so instead of offering a one-size-fits-all piece on how to make it in showbiz, we’re pleased to present a series of interviews with Hollywood parents and industry insiders in which they discuss what works (and what doesn’t) for their children, clients, and families. When it comes to your child actor, there’s no such thing as arriving on-set with too much information; we’re happy to share these helpful insights in the hope of making your child’s journey to stardom a safe and successful one.

To start our series, you’ll see the first half of our conversation with Bonnie Wallace (BW). Bonnie is the mother of Dove Cameron, a regular on Disney Channel who is best known for playing two leading ladies as twins Liv and Maddie. But when Bonnie and Dove arrived in LA from Washington State, what they didn’t know about the business “would fill a large book,” a book that eventually became Bonnie’s The Hollywood Parents Guide.

OLE: What motivated you to write your book? 

BW: I decided to write The Hollywood Parents Guide because there is just so little help available for parents who are attempting to launch their kid into a career in film and television, and I wanted to make a genuine difference. Dove’s agent, Pamela Fisher at Abrams Artists, nudged me into it. She knew I was a writer, and given our experience and Dove’s success, that I could speak with both honesty and authority to other families who were looking for guidance. Most of the books written in this genre are aimed at adults. But there are many issues that affect child actors that adult actors don’t have to deal with! School, Coogan accounts, whether or not to become a “legal eighteen” at sixteen or seventeen, work permits, parents as managers. And yet in many ways, it is also easier for an actor to get started while they are a kid. It’s an incredible gift to a child if their parents are able to help them get started while they are still young, when it’s easier to get a union card and someone else is paying the rent. 

OLE: How is your book different from others on the market that deal with the subject of children in show business? 

BW: Most of the other books aimed at parents or families of child actors are written by agents or managers—they have a specific, industry-based viewpoint. And that can be extremely valuable. But they miss a lot of the “whole person” issues that parents face. And they tend to avoid the more personal, but equally important stuff like how to help your child deal with rejection, or keep a sense of perspective. A number of them also seem to “sell” the experience, which I think can do families a disservice. This can be the adventure of a lifetime, but it is not for the faint of heart, and there are no guarantees.

OLE: Do you welcome the many different points of view of child performers and their perspectives on the world of entertainment, or do you feel that other authors do not "get" the basic tenets of the industry?

BW: Of course! Every person in this industry has their own experience and that experience is legit. Different experiences are going to lead to different points of view. That said, not everyone is realistic. I read a very bitter review last night on the Yelp page of an acting school that I know is a good school, and the writer was clearly coming from a place of disappointment in their career, placing the blame for their bitterness on the industry as a whole and that school in particular. The school offers training, workshops, and showcases, and the writer was upset that it cost money for the opportunity to be seen at a showcase by agents and casting directors. Well—it costs money to pay for a facility, and for staff, and for teachers. No organization is going to be able to attract good agents/ managers/ casting directors to come see talent perform if they can’t maintain a reputation for presenting quality talent—which is where the training comes in. The training helps ensure that the reps are not wasting their time on talent that isn’t ready. That’s not unfair—it’s realistic.There are basic tenets in this industry—and they include some very simple ones that apply to life in general—keep a positive attitude; don’t gossip; rejection isn’t personal; nothing in life is guaranteed; do your best. If you ignore these simple truths, you’re not likely to get very far—either in the industry, or anywhere else!

OLE: How should parents define "success" for their children? Is it booking the job? Is it getting a "call back"? Is it the intermingling with adult celebrities? 

BW: I honestly think that success is in the eye of the beholder. It feels healthy and smart to me to look for small wins and celebrate them. Simply getting in the room to audition can be a success if you are just starting out! Callbacks are definitely a sign of success. Ultimately, I think success needs to include being happy and feeling fulfilled, which is—luckily—in our own hands. In that sense, success is not actually something that comes from outside in the form of awards or fame or fortune, or what we tend to associate culturally as the signs of success. I’ve always told my kids that if they can make a living doing what they love, that looks like success to me. Intermingling with adult celebrities can be an incredible experience for a young actor—it can lead to powerful mentoring and role modeling if you are fortunate. Dove has learned so much working with people like Kristin Chenoweth, Patty Duke, and Kenny Ortega. It can also remove some of the mystique of celebrity to meet your heroes and discover that they are human too. It can make achieving your own dreams feel more possible.

OLE: What's one thing about the entertainment industry that you'd change as it concerns the kids, if you could? 

BW: Wow! This is a tough one. There are so many things I’d like to change. I’d like there to be more uniformly good set teachers available for young actors. There are some incredibly great, dedicated teachers, and some who are just essentially babysitters, and really should be doing something else. This can be a particular issue on non-union sets where great set teachers are not always a top priority. I’d also like to wave a wand and make sure that every kid in the industry was there because they passionately love the work—and not because they are hoping for fame or to please their parents. 

Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Bonnie, in which she defines stage parents and discusses the importance of support systems and professional organizations to the child actor’s successful career. In the meantime, learn more about her book on Amazon or visit her website, The Hollywood Parents Guide.