During the last year I've spent as a studio teacher, I have become somewhat adept at knocking off a quick description of what the job entails, usually in response to some curious inquiry at a dinner party. It goes something like this: "I'm a studio teacher. Basically, I work as a supervisor and tutor for young actors on film and TV sets."
Raised eyebrows and satisfied nods abound until the next question follows a few seconds later, something to the effect of "So, how do you get into that?"
That question is not so easily answered, but it was asked so frequently, especially by school teachers, that I wrote this booklet.
"How to Become a California-Certified Studio Teacher/Welfare Worker" describes the process of getting certified in the State of California to become a Studio Teacher. It does NOT cover the vast, complicated, challenging nature of the work, or the travails of securing work and pay. At least not in-depth, since you have no need to worry about those things for now. Instead, this booklet describes the job, lets you decide if it's for you, and then tells you exactly how to go about getting your certification.
Being a Studio Teacher is an exciting and lucrative way to work as an educator today, and I wish you all the best in receiving your certification.
What is Studio Teaching?
The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, mandates that "Employers shall provide a studio teacher on each call for minors from age 15 days to their sixteenth birthday, and for minors from age 16 to 18 years when required for the education of the minor." (8 CCR Section 11752.2)
Essentially, there are basic laws surrounding the employment of minors in California in the entertainment industry, all of which the Studio Teacher is expected to enforce.
The role of the Studio Teacher, however, extends beyond actual laws. The next section stipulates that "The Studio Teacher, in addition to teaching, shall also have the responsibility for caring and attending to the health, safety, and morals of minors under 16 years of age for whom they have been provided by the employer..." (8 CCR Section 11752.3)
This can include any number of duties, from asking the crew not to swear around the kids to watching what they eat at the crafts services table.
The Studio Teacher is also there to protect their employer, the production company, from liability issues arising from working with children.
What a Studio Teacher Does NOT
1. A Studio Teacher does NOT teach acting. Most minor actors do not have an on-set acting coach, but sometimes you'll find them on regular shows and movies. You will not be expected or asked, by anyone, to comment upon or coach any on-camera work.
2. A Studio Teacher does NOT create lessons or curriculums. The minors do homework and class work from their regular school for the day(s) they are missing. For the most part, especially when you are starting out, you will be covering one-day jobs for print, commercials etc., and those students will simply return to their regular school the next day after completing their homework under your supervision.
What a Studio Teacher DOES
1. WORK PERMIT. The teachers ensures that the child has a legal work permit. They ask the parents for it, check the dates to make sure it's current, sign the back, and return it to the guardian (you are not responsible for getting work permits - the kids show up with it). If they DON'T have a permit...well, that's another issue. Suffice to say there is a lot of running around to make sure the production company doesn't get in trouble.
2. SCHOOL WORK. The teacher finds a quiet area on set to work, supervising the minor's legally-mandated 3 hours of education. If the minors have not brought homework from their regular school, some teachers provide a workbook or activity they may have brought with them to set.
3. EMPLOYMENT HOURS. Most importantly, the teacher makes sure the minors aren't on the set a second later than they're allowed to. For example, a six year old can be on set for a maximum of 8_ hours. During that time, they have to receive 3 hours of education, 1 hour of rest/recreation, and a hour of meal time. Studio Teachers must monitor all requirements, and work closely with the Assistant Director (never the actual director, whom you'll rarely meet) to make sure those requirements are satisfied.
For the most part, it's that simple. But it's a big job. And an important one. Most people are aware that the history of child actors in Hollywood is a veritable epic of abuse, exploitation, and mistreatment. The Studio Teacher is there, first and foremost, as a defense against the business forces that would overwork and jeopardize child actors. Studio Teachers are advocates, sometimes the ONLY advocate, for the well-being of the child actor.
BUT they must show sensitivity to the fact that they are being paid by the production company, for whom they are ensuring compliance and therefore mitigating liability. Politically, it can be a tightrope.
Advantages of the Job
1. Pay is excellent. Studio Teachers with a good agency can make $220 a day after commission (more about this later) and before taxes. This "day" can mean as little as three hours of work time! What's more, teachers can work weekends, summers, and holidays.
2. Flexibility. Single-day jobs (which are the most common when you're starting out) mean you can pick and choose work days. If you have a good agency, you can let them know which days you prefer to work, or if you want to go away for a few weeks.
3. Low-Stress. The job is easy and low-key. Teachers usually have only a handful of kids, if not one.
4. Variety. The people and locations are interesting. Once in a while you may travel on a job. Studio teachers I've known have been to Australia, Hawaii, even Morocco!
5. Availability of work. Studio Teachers are relatively scarce. Since January 1, 2001, when the Dual Credentialing Requirement went into effect, the number of Studio Teachers in California went from 800 to about 200. Work, for the most part, is plentiful, and should remain that way for the foreseeable future.
Disadvantages of the Job
1. Feast or Famine. Work is sporadic. You may go months without a job...or pay. When times are lean, the best, most prestigious jobs are dominated by a select group of teachers within the Studio Teachers' Union (IATSE 884), whose ranks are near-impossible to break.
2. Underworked. Unless you are working on a regular show, there is no continuity with students. You don't see 90% of your kids ever again after the job is over. Some teachers feel their education and skills are wasted.
Characteristics of Successful Studio Teachers
Good Studio teachers are first and foremost easy to work with. You will be hired and rehired if you're easy-going, pleasant to be around, and adjustable to whatever circumstances and situations arise.
In California, no one will check on your academic credentials or be miffed that you can't tutor AP Algebra. But they WILL avoid rehiring you if you act entitled, rude, power-happy, or if you sit in the corner reading the paper.
Of course, you must like kids. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can avoid the snotty kids and psycho parents that you deal with in your classroom by becoming a Studio Teacher. Although most child actors are a delight to be around, and their parents remarkably grounded, there are some crazies who can make your job that much more challenging. Embrace those challenges and you'll do fine.