The Do’s and Don’ts of Fan Interaction for Young Actors
Everybody loves fans, right? We all want to think someone loves our child and appreciates their performance. And fan mail is FUN whether it is in the form of email, a Facebook like or an IG follower. Really fun! But, as most experienced young actors know, fan mail can have a dark side. Here’s why from Webster’s Dictionary:
Fanatic (fa-nat’-ik) n. a person inspired with excessive and bigoted enthusiasm, esp. a religious zealot; devotee; over-enthusiastic; immoderately zealous
Fanaticism n. violent enthusiasm
Wow. That doesn’t sound quite so fun, huh? “Excessive”, “bigoted”, “OVER-enthusiastic”, “violent”? Sometimes we forget that fans, are, by definition, over the top. And they are strangers. Parents tell their children not to talk to strangers, but our kids have to do that every day! For that reason, it is crucial for showbiz families to be realistic about fans and to MANAGE their contact with them.
Why Engage Fans?
Engaging with fans makes your child’s fans happy and is good learning experience (addressing envelopes, thankfulness, appreciating other cultures, etc) for your child. It also helps to promote your child’s projects and their career as a whole. Proper management of fan interaction means you can make adults and children around the world happy, at minimal cost to yourself.
How Things Have Changed
Like so much else in our business, the fan factor has changed drastically in the last few years. If you think back to our childhood, if we wanted to send someone a fan letter, we would buy a Tiger Beat Magazine or a book to get contact information. Studios, agents and publicists submitted addresses to those publications and controlled where the fan mail went. If you were really a fan, you had to work pretty hard at it. In those days, fan mail had a true impact on studios and other employers recognizing that someone had a “fan base”.
Today, fan mail addresses (snail mail and social media) are shared over the internet, along with every piece of personal info they can get from hundreds of sources around the world. Message boards abound for collectors and fans to compare addresses. People don’t have work so hard to get the information, and they can contact hundreds of people in a couple of hours via email. Actors can also purchase fan followings for a small fee. The process is easier, but the quality is diluted.
Our industry has changed too. Agent’s job descriptions have changed. In the past, agents handled all of the child’s business, their fan mail, publicity and their personal lives. Autograph seekers would send requests to agents. Today, agents are busy seeking jobs for the thousands of clients they have, and many kids have multiple agents. Kids don’t stay at one agency for life anymore—maybe a year or two (which means address lists are often wrong). Fan mail and social media is not in the agent job description, and they couldn’t really handle it with the volume of clients anyway. Today, most working kid actors have managers who handle the personal functions and the child must pay them extra for these services. Many have publicists as well.
These changes mean that stalking is easier than ever before. You probably have heard of young actors being stalked in the past such as Jodie Foster, Rebecca Schaeffer, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. Sadly, this has become common:
- 15 Celebrity Stalkers Who Went Too Far
- The Dark and Unthinkable Side of Fame: Child Star Stalkers
- 50 Celebrities Who Have Been Stalked
But it isn’t just big celebrities at risk. Everyday actor kids are targets as well. At Bizparentz, almost all reocognizabled child actors have experienced a stalker. #Truth. The internet has allowed kids with even minor roles to be in the public eye, and they are most vulnerable to predators because they don’t have the infrastructure (gated homes, security teams, studio publicists) to keep stalkers at a distance.
Also, with the advent of online casting sites, there are thousands of newbie models and actors who post their pictures on the internet. Many are seeking fame, and *think* they are celebrities, when they are actually just bait for predators. They are inadvertently seeking out a false “fan base” when they don’t have the security structure to handle it.
Identifying Good Fans vs. Bad Fans: 1, 2, 3, 4.
According to Psychology Today, most stalkers are men, and only about 25% of stalkers do their work online.
Obviously every fan is not a stalker! But, as parents, we do need to be mindful of the worst case scenario. It is our job to keep our kids safe. For most of the work our kids do, they will draw legitimate fans from those people who happen to be fans of the show already. While it is impossible to really judge the intent of every like or follow, it is important to sort out the good fans vs. the bad fans for anything beyond a simple autograph. We need to do this, in order to develop personal guidelines for how close our family will let fans get to us.
- Let’s start with the best fans…your family and friends. Who loves ya, baby? They do! And they are the only ones who do, because they know the real child and who they are inside. They appreciate their performances, but they would appreciate you whether you were an actor or not.
- Most fans are fabulous people who just have an interest in something. You can spot them…they like all the people who are in your child’s show. Or they collect autographs of many people as a hobby. Or they are a similar age (ie. teen girls liking teen boys). When they approach your child, they mention their work and express their opinion about it in a positive way. They are fans because they like your child’s performances. They don’t creep you out, they just express a genuine appreciation. So far, so good, right? It is really important that parents learn to separate the above crowd (good fans) from the ones below (bad fans). This involves some honest self-evaluation. Hopefully all kids have fans in the 1st. category. If your child hasn’t yet done anything of note you are probably not going to have fans in the 2nd category yet. This leaves the not-so-good-categories below:
- The people with an agenda. They want something else. They want “insider info” and to control the dissemination of your child’s info (bad). They want to build a website. They are interested in your child only because they fit their preferred physical profile (Ex. Caucasian 8-12 yr old boys). Some are in it for the money—they want your child to provide something they can sell. Some are star struck—they want to be close to child actors because they think it will somehow rub off on them. In all these cases, they don’t appreciate performances or talent, they just like what the child can offer them financially or emotionally. This is where caution should enter the picture.
- The last and scariest category is the creeps with dangerous potential. At Bizparentz, we have seen many instances of fans that crossed the line. Real life stalkers, pedophiles, website designers who hurt kids’ careers, IG harassment, copycat social media accounts, prison fan mail, and more. None of that is good for your child, or good for their career.
What Good Fans Want
Real fans want to be appreciated and treated with respect. They might ask for a selfie or an autograph, but they wouldn’t think you owe it to them, and they don’t retaliate if they don’t get it. They want you to be safe, and successful. Real fans do not threaten children with harm of any sort—career wise or any other way.
What Autograph Collectors Want –A PRIMER
Most fans just want a signed 8 x 10 for their collection. Collectors usually specialize in a particular area such as child stars, soap stars, animation, sports figures, sci-fi/horror, astronauts, etc. Sometimes collectors buy, sell and trade their autographs…it is a thriving industry.
A great resource for learning about this hobby/business is the online magazine Autograph Collector. Where do collectors get autographs?
- Snail mail — with a self-addressed stamped manila envelope (sent directly to the celebrity, or to the studio or concert venue, etc.)
- In person events such as red carpets, premieres, charity fundraisers, after- show exits
- Charity auctions
- Ebay sellers or other sellers (ex. www.celebritymerch.com, www.lcgsignatures.com, www.hollywoodstuffs.com, www.starbriteautographs.com)
- Fan Conventions and Shows. Established celebrities of certain types can sell their autographs (usually for $10-$20 a piece) at shows where cosplay is encouraged. Some examples:
There is an Autograph “language” too…check out these terms:
- Autopen (AP)— mechanical device that “signs” objects. The President of the United States usually uses an Autopen. The entire signature is exactly the same.
- Pre-prints– a photographic copy of an original signed photo. Actors do this fairly often, but they are not preferred by collectors.
- Secretarials – When someone else signs the photo (like a secretary, or a mom), also not preferred.
- COA – Certificate of Authenticity . Oh yes, there are people who validate sigs!
- IRC – International Reply Coupon. These are used for postage when requesting autographs from foreign countries.
- SASE – Self-addressed stamped envelope
- VV – via venue. A request that is sent to a celebrity at an event, like a concert of filming location.
- ICS – Index Card Signed
- CSP – Color Signed Photo
A Note to “Good” Fans and Autograph Collectors
We love you, we appreciate you! Please help us by following some simple guidelines:
Correspond with kid actors in a safe way …through an intermediary like a manager, or a post office box.
If you approach a child actor in person (on a red carpet for example), please be mindful that they are a child. Look around for their adult handler for permission, speak appropriately to them, and don’t physically grab them.
Try to avoid sending requests to agents. For most kid actors, their manager, publicist or post office box are better options for getting a fast response.
Please understand that predators ARE a part of our industry, although we all know that they are a tiny percentage. As parents, our priority is to keep our kids safe, and that outranks your need for an autograph. True fans would not wish heartache or danger on any young actor.
DOs of Fan Interaction for Families of Young Performers
Do know your place in the industry. If your child is just starting out, you don’t need to invite fan interaction. Why? Because it can only be the bad kind (categories C and D above). It isn’t worth it. Understand the type fan interaction you are likely to get at different stages of your child’s career.
Do make conscious choices. Responding to fans is a choice. You don’t have to do it. It is not part of being an actor—it is part of being a celebrity. You don’t have to be a celebrity. Choose.
Do make a plan. Learn to recognize the real fans (who have seen your child’s performance and appreciate their talent) and separate them from the creeps who want something else (a brush with fame, money, use of your child’s image, etc). Really be honest with yourself when coming into contact with a “fan”. If your child hasn’t done anything public (like a movie or tv show) chances are your “fans” are really creeps. Look at the list of 1, 2, 3, and 4 fans above and decide how to handle each one.
Do Screen and Sort. Parents should ALWAYS handle their child’s professional social media. No exceptions! Mark each account as “handled by mom” and that may discourage some bad fans from approaching your child this way. Always screen comments before it reaches your child, just in case there are any statements that you don’t feel comfortable with your child reading. Many children enjoy fan interaction, but you might not want them to spend hours reading about how great people think they are, lest their head swells! Sort fan snail mail: fans who just want an autograph or photo, suspicious stuff (from other countries where your projects have not shown for instance), and downright creeps (prison fan mail, etc.). Retain a file of the suspicious things (screen shots work great!), just in case you need to show a pattern of communications from someone later (to get a restraining order for example)
Do monitor WHICH photos you choose to give out to fans, or put on the web. No shirtless, barefoot, etc. See our section on Child Safety on this site for more details. You are in complete control of which photos are out there of your child. Use that control.
Do personalize autographs with the first name of whoever you are sending the photo to. This makes the photo very difficult to sell for profit, and true fans like this better anyway. Sign it with whatever message your child like best such as “thanks for watching”, “best wishes”, “follow your dreams” or whatever. Just avoid saying things that are too endearing like “love”.
If you have the resume to justify legit fan mail, create an address where fans can ask for autographs and pictures. This should NEVER be your home (safety), or your agent (it is not their job, and you might change agents). We highly suggest getting a P.O. Box in a large town near you for this purpose. Whatever you decide, make sure you communicate with your representatives about where you prefer fan mail be sent.
If you have the resume to justify legit fan mail, do list your correct fan mail address:
- Your personal website if you have one
- Your “about” sections of social media
Do treat real fans with respect and appreciation. Do plan for success. Your child could be very famous some day. When they are, have you protected their privacy well enough? If you really find yourself buried in fan mail (lucky you!), do consider hiring a relative or a service to handle it for you. An example of such as service is Studio Fan Mail: www.studiofanmail.com
Do give generously to charities when you can. Consider the charity factor when working on high profile projects. Grabbing a piece of wardrobe, a signed script, or movie poster (with permission, of course) might benefit a charity down the road.
Let this become a fun, learning activity for your child! Enjoy it!
DON’Ts of Fan Interaction for Families of Young Performers
- Don’t buy followers for social media. It is painfully obvious to everyone, and the fake followers draw other bad people to you. We have other articles about social media on this site, but for now, see this Hootsuite article about why you shouldn’t buy IG followers (it is ineffective) and this famous New York Times article about celebrities who bought fake followers called The Follower Factory.
- Don’t create personal relationships with strangers. Fans are strangers. You can be nice and appreciative without letting them get so close that it could be dangerous.
- Don’t allow fans into your personal life. Keep them at arm’s length. That means don’t share too many personal details about your life. Do not share personal email addresses, cell phone numbers, etc. Keep in mind, your child may want their privacy back some day. Will that be possible if you have relationships with fans?
- Don’t allow fans into your professional life prematurely. Sharing auditions, bookings, or career plans often backfires when you assume that a fan understands industry conduct. Ex. Sharing with fans that you are about to book a big film can alert competitors and producers that you also aren’t aware of proper industry conduct (confidentiality).
- Don’t sign blank cards for autographs. Some entrepreneurs have taken to offering 3 x 5 white cards for a child to sign. DON’T. They are likely planning to reproduce your child’s signature and make money from it.
- Don’t include a return address on photo mailings that might give your location. Use your post office box in another city.
- Don’t answer fan mail from prison. This is very common (some young actors estimate that up to a quarter of their fan mail is from prison) and it is almost always from men. They will tell you stories about how they are giving the photo to their daughter, or how they are selling it to buy kids’ Christmas presents. DO NOT ANSWER. They are more likely either using it to add to their pedophilia collection, selling it within the prison system, or are planning to stalk your child when they are released. You can spot prison fan mail because there is usually a number next to their name on the return address. Sometimes there is a stamp on the envelope, or within the postmark.
- Don’t answer fan mail that comes directly to your home address. It is also worth investigating how your home address was obtained so you can fix your breach in security for the future.
- Don’t be influenced by people who say you NEED fans for your career, and that you need to “build a fan base”. There is no relationship between hiring actors in Hollywood (the casting process) and the number of fans you have. Anybody can have thousands of followers…no casting director is impressed. Producers hire children for their talent, their look, their resume. Not the sheer number of their fans. This is one area where the adult acting world is different than the kid acting world. Fans may be a factor for adult actors–sometimes. But consider WHY: they can bring in the box office cash, and Hollywood is a business. Few children are really a box office draw or a household name. So the fan factor isn’t really an issue in getting hired.
- Don’t bow to internet terrorism. There are those who hassle young actors on social media, create fan mail bashing websites, etc. They feel that you “owe” them. Those are not real fans. They don’t appreciate your child. Real fans don’t act like that. So don’t give them a second thought.