California has the most protective rules in place of any state for minors in the entertainment industry, but we still have a long way to go. One of the foundational safeguards for the protection of minors working on a union set is the strict number of hours that kids are allowed to either work, or to be on set.
When you see how the hours that kids are allowed to work break down, several things become apparent:
- The extremely short work hours allowed for babies and very young children are a big opportunity for identical twins. This is why you see so many young twins in the industry. As the twins get older, work hours are no longer such an issue, and some may drop out of the industry if they don’t enjoy the work.
- The age/work restrictions in general favor kids who are small for their age. If your kid looks seven but is really nine, they can work an extra hour on set. That may seem like a small deal, but when casting comes down to two different but equally qualified young actors, it can make all the difference. The older kid who looks younger will frequently win out.
- Kids who pass the CHSPE test (California High School Proficiency Exam) at the age of 16 or 17 and therefore can work legally as adults (“Legal 18” status) have a huge advantage over kids that age who have not. They also have a considerable advantage over young actors who are actually age 18-22, because they can frequently play ages 14-17 more believably, all while working adult hours.
The name of the game in production is to get as much footage shot for the lowest cost each day, and having young actors who can work just a few more hours helps that to happen. It also, unfortunately, means that kids who are very tall, or who look unusually mature for their age, are at a disadvantage until they turn 18 (or pass the CHSPE) and the playing field finally levels again. The good news: once you are actually 18 or a Legal 18, you are simply auditioning with the same set of constraints as everyone.
Maximum allowed work hours vary for minors, according to their age. Here is the basic breakdown for union workplaces in the state of California:
From the SAG-AFTRA website:
School age minors:
On a school day, school age minors may work as follows:
- Age 6-8: four hours (maximum eight and a half hours on set)
- Age 9-15: five hours (maximum of nine and a half hours on set)
- Age 16-17 six hours (maximum of ten and a half hours on set)
- On days when school is not in session, school age minors may work an additional 2 hours a day.
- On all days, a minor must have at least one hour of rest and recreation, and one half hour meal break.
- By prior arrangement with the studio teacher, up to two hours may be banked (stored) to offset additional work hours on other days; there must be one hour of school on each day the minor’s regular school is in session.
Pre-School age minors:
Minors who are 6 months through 5 years do not attend school on set, even though they may attend preschool or kindergarten on a regular basis. Work hours are as follows:
- Ages 6 month to 2 years: two hours (maximum four hours on set)
- Age 2 through 5 years: three hours (maximum four and one half hours on set)
- Minors six months through five years must have at least one hour of rest and recreation.
- Minors two to five years may also have a half hour meal break.
- In California, an infant age 15 days to 6 months of age may only be on set between the hours of 9:30am to 11:30 am, or 1:30 to 3:30pm.
- Infants age 15 days to 6 months may work only a total of 20 minutes, with a maximum of two hours on set.
- No infant born prematurely may work until he or she would be at least 15 days old if born at full term.
There is a lot of important information regarding work restrictions and educational requirements for minors on the SAG-AFRA website, and I encourage you to check it out.
If your kid has passed the CHSPE (the California High School Proficiency Exam) then they will be regarded as an adult in light of these rules. They will not be under the protection of the limited work hours for minors, or required to attend school on set. This has obvious benefits for production and sometimes for the career options for a 16 or 17 year old, but it does remove some very real protections.
Remember, laws regarding minors in the workplace vary broadly from state to state. SAG rules only apply to union jobs, which means you must be extra vigilant if your kid is working a non-union job. If your child is on a union job but in a state with less protective rules for minors, the SAG rules will prevail.
Nothing will protect your child better than having an informed, thoughtful parent who trusts their instincts and is not afraid to step up when necessary. Educate yourself, be aware of what is happening around your child, and make sure your child feels comfortable communicating with you, so that if they feel funny about anything, you can step in.
My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!
Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.
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