I used to work in marketing and one of the most interesting bits about my work was the ad campaigns for my various brands. It so happened the last brand I handled before I quit the corporate world to be a full-time mum was for a kiddie's supplement and we shot a tv commercial (TVC) for it. Working on that project helped me learn a few things about what casting directors look for in a child talent. That's what we call them in the industry - talents, as opposed to models.
Big-big eyes generally help a lot. Your kid doesn't have to be stunning. Mere cuteness is enough and it has to show up on camera. There are some children that just shine on film and some that can't translate their in-da-flesh cuteness onto film. Symmetrical features, clear skin... features that signal health are what we're looking for. Unless they're casting for the child who's ill! HAHA!
No matter how cute your kid is, he won't be picked if he's not got the right temperament. If he's fussy, whiny, introverted and doesn't like being around strangers, chances are he's not going to enjoy it. We casted a bunch of 6- to 8-yo for our TVC and we were looking for resilient, friendly children who could stand a full day of shooting (with naps and food breaks in between of course), didn't mind being around a bunch of strange adults and who didn't mind being powdered and made up and being made to change into strange outfits that weren't their own. Not to mention being asked to do the same thing over and over again over a few days. You don't just capture the winning scene in one shot.
We were looking for a kid to play Spiderman and had narrowed it down to 2 choices. The first kid was super-cute but a little shy. The 2nd kid was not so cute but boy, did he ever make us laugh during his audition. Guess who we picked? Yep, Kid Number Two. Why? Because he brought the role to life.
4. Language skills
TVCs in Malaysia are frequently shot in English, Chinese and Malay. As it's not easy to find a child who's cute, got the right temperament and can speak all those languages, voice-overs are commonly used. Sometimes the client requires the acting child to lip-sync to the additional languages so that the voice-over matches the lip movements. This is where it becomes tricky as it's hard to ask a child so young to remember a script in a language she doesn't speak. So it helps if a child talent can speak a few languages.
5. Acting skills
This is not much of a problem as most children love to role-play. I've seen inexperienced kids get coaxed into Oscar-winning performances by the director and once they realise they're enjoying it, they can't stop!
So let's say your kid's got it all. He's the next Pacino-Brad Pitt combination. How do you get your foot into this then? You could send pictures (a close-up head shot + full length shot) and a brief profile to agencies and try your luck. Or you could get jobs from word of mouth. That's how we found our lead talent... her mum's friend knew we were casting and told her. They tried on a whim and got the job. Or someone spots your baby's photo in a baby magazine.
A lot of times, it's the parents who push their kids into it. Some parents do it for the fun of it but some are obsessively competitive. I've met both. Be warned, Mummy and Daddy: it's a long day for you as well. At the end of the shoot, the children were merely tired. They'd had fun all day and made new friends. But the parents were exhausted as they'd had to run around their children, wait anxiously to see if the scene was OK, yell at the director if they thought he was pushing their children too hard... lots and lots of stress!
I'm not sure how much child talents earn but I'm sure it's more than enough to buy a large pack of diapers! As for us... well, if Connor's up to it, I don't mind. The parents I spoke to thought their kids enjoyed it and noted it gave their kids' self-esteem a boost.
In the meantime, you can go here and make-believe your child's on the cover of Parenting magazine! I did. Hehe.