BizParentz is very fortunate to have had a working relationship with Disney Studios. We also have personal experience: between us, our children have worked for most of the Disney corporations, including themeparks, animation, feature films, ABC and Disney Channel television. Disney has been good to us, but it pains us to see other families pursue their Disney dreams in fruitless ways. Since we’ve been-there-done-that, please let us help you!
We know that lots of kids and teens want to be on their favorite shows that air on the Disney Channel, Freeform, DisneyXD or Disney+. And it is true that there are jobs to be had within Disney’s massive entertainment empire. The problem is, the Disney name is also the biggest tool for scammers, bar none. You’ll hear carefully worded commercials on the radio (“Does YOUR child want to be on the Disney Channel? Auditions are being held this weekend near you!”) , and you see show logos and actor photos prominently placed on websites selling classes or acting camps. Almost none of these are related to Disney in any way, and participating will likely be a waste of your time and money. This article in the Boston Globe, What Does it Take to Become a Disney Star? is a good illustration of this.
You can try to validate the advertisements with a quick Google search of “Disney Auditions”. Sadly, you will find that hardly any of the results were actually Disney sites, or real Disney auditions. They are just the bait to suck you into an acting school, scouting event, or online “service” or website.
So how do you find the real deal? Where are the real Disney auditions? We’ll get to that, we promise! But first, we would like to share a few realities of the Disney casting world so that you can focus your time and energy on the most effective strategies.
- Disney is a huge corporation that encompasses many independent companies such as ABC, Disney Channel, Freeform, Disney+, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel Studios, Pixar, LucasFilm and other feature film production companies, Hyperion Publishing, Hollywood Records, themeparks and websites. You can find out more about Disney’s wide reach here: http://corporate.disney.go.com/corporate/overview.html In 2019, Disney also purchased 20th Century Fox and their various sub-companies. In December of 2020, Disney announced a major restructuring of the company and layoffs that go with the consolidation. That said, casting talent is a job done individually within each company. In other words, if you auditioned for Diary of a Female President (Disney+), don’t assume that anyone in Disney Features (casting for live action Little Mermaid, for instance) has any idea who you are.
- Disney Channel television movies cast principal roles in Los Angeles, usually from within the Disney ranks. They often film in Utah (so the jobs available in Utah are primarily extra work). The TV series are mostly shot in Los Angeles. Many actors are surprised to learn that Disney Channel series are not even shot on the Disney lot, but instead work in very anonymous studio facilities scattered around town. The Disney property is reserved for higher budget ABC primetime series are feature films.
- Disney Casting Directors are not generally employed by the company. They do have Vice Presidents of Casting who supervise (example: Judy Taylor) and who are on the Disney payroll, but they are at an executive level. Day to day casting is done by contractors. A casting director is hired to do a particular show and they don’t generally have input in to any other Disney project. Most Disney tv/film contracted CDs are located in Los Angeles, theatre in NY. Occasionally, Disney will hire contractors to do auditions in smaller markets–about once a year for Disney Channel, and regularly for big feature films.
- Marvel Studios projects, some of which end up in theaters while some are designed for Disney+, generally shoot in Atlanta or London, but are cast out of Los Angeles other than background roles.
Bunk’d, KC Undercover, Liv and Maddie, Andi Mack and Suite Life on Deck are out of production, meaning there are no jobs on those shows and won’t be again. Just because you see a show on TV, doesn’t mean there are jobs available.
Avoid the Pitfalls
- Actors on a show, acting coaches who once worked with a Disney star, agents or managers who represent Disney talent, and past Disney casting directors have no special power to get you an audition. It just doesn’t work that way. Remember that Disney is a gargantuan company– pretty much everyone in Hollywood has worked for them at some time or other. Don’t pay money to people just because they “name drop” a Disney credit.
- The Disney public relations machine is world class. They will tell you biographical stories about their stars that they fit with their “”Disney Channel Stars are Just Like You” mission. That doesn’t mean it is the WHOLE story about that actor. Learn to separate PR spin from the real business of entertainment casting before you attempt to emulate a current Disney star’s career path.
- Disney plot lines are fiction. Shows like Hannah Montana, Shake It Up, Sonny with a Chance, Liv and Maddie and High School Musical project the idea that a talented teen can be “discovered”. These are STORIES that Disney puts on TV because it makes for good entertainment, not because it is the way they actually do business. It is not their corporate philosophy. It is just good business to let the public (not industry insiders like you) believe. Disney magic; fairy dust. Nothing more.
- You should NEVER pay for a Disney audition or for anything related to a Disney audition. Ever. Really. Real Disney auditions are always free. The only exception might be travel for a callback in LA or NY, arranged by your agent…and even then, Disney occasionally pays expenses for kids who are really in the casting mix, several auditions into the process.
What the Mouse House Looks For
- Contrary to popular belief, Disney actors are not plucked from obscurity in Texas, or “discovered”. Almost exclusively, Disney hires seasoned actors with strong professional resumes. They are a corporation with a lot of money at risk for every project. They put their wagers on actors who are known quantities and who can guarantee professionalism.The casting process is very long and often involves dozens of Disney executives before an actor is cast in a film or TV show. Selena Gomez, for example, had small roles on the Barney Show (non-union, filmed in her home state of Texas), Walker Texas Ranger, and SpyKids 3D before auditioning for a Disney project. Even after entering the Disney “fold”, she endured at least 3 failed series attempts before landing Wizards of Waverly Place in 2006. By that time, she had been working professionally for at least 5 years!
Demi Lovato also started in Texas, also with a role on Barney. She worked on a non-union, locally filmed Disney interstitial project before making the move to LA several years down the road.
David Henrie (Wizards of Waverly Place), got his first jobs through a SAG agency in Arizona at about age 9. He had a very long resume, including 3 TV series for other networks, before joining Disney. Wizards came along almost 10 years after his first job!
Zendaya (Shake It Up, KC Undercover) was the child of a stage manager and started as a model and back up dancer, then had significant Shakespeare training before going to Disney. We are not saying this to be discouraging. We are simply encouraging you to look at this as a long journey, rather than a one time “event”. Disney kids usually earn their stripes by working on smaller roles over a period of years.
- It is true that Disney Channel (as opposed to theater, or even feature films) tends to gravitate toward kids who are originally outside of the major markets of NY and LA. History would show us that you have a decent shot at starting your career if you are talented, experienced, and from Texas, Florida or the south in general.
- Disney Channel teens are not normally triple threats (which means skilled at three things: acting, singing and dancing). They are originally hired for one of those skills (usually acting) and then trained (or manufactured) for other venues such as the recording industry. It is better to be very, very good at one thing, than to be just OK at all 3 things. For most Disney Theatricals (Broadway and Themepark) auditions, you will need to make singing skills a priority, followed by acting and dance since all Disney Broadway shows are musicals.
- Be aware that the acting style you see on Disney Channel is not really respected as “good acting” in Hollywood. It is “over the top” comedy and is what the producers on those particular shows want in order to appeal to children. However, it would not be acceptable for a serious Disney feature film audition, or work in other areas of the company. That is one reason you rarely see child actors on Disney or Nickelodeon make the jump into a successful adult career. They haven’t honed their alternative acting styles and aren’t able to make the transition, and other studios don’t recognize their Disney experience as valuable. As an actor, your child will need to develop various styles of acting and the ability to turn them and off at will. That takes serious acting study!
Be Careful What you Wish For
- The pay at Disney is notoriously low for both actors and casting directors. That’s one reason you may see contractors who once worked for Disney (or worse, the receptionist for a CD that once worked for Disney) traveling around the country trying to make a buck off talent on the weekend. They are NOT working for Disney when they do this and the company absolutely frowns on this practice! Paying a lot of money just to see a contracted casting director is probably not going to result in a job.
For actors, Disney Channel series deals are almost all custom contracts for children’s shows called the Uptown Agreement. Those deals allows for an actor with less than 5 lines (most roles that are available, since the series regulars are already cast) to earn less than $365 with no residuals. And that’s before taxes, union dues, Coogan with holding, etc. If you are considering paying for a service, is that a good payoff for your investment? Even the top paid series regulars on Disney Channel are not paid as well as you might think. Court documents tell us that Disney Channel stars are paid about half of what child actors on network primetime shows make.
- The work load at Disney is notoriously high. Disney contracts typically included total exclusivity and massive amounts of publicity appearances. They own you. This is truly a case of “be careful what you wish for”. Ask Demi Lovato or Miley Cyrus.
Where are the Real Disney Auditions????
Feature Film and TV: Casting for principal roles is usually done out of the major markets in Los Angeles and New York, and they are handled through the normal professional channels. We suggest:
- Make sure you have a headshot and resume on Breakdown Services. Disney, like all major studios, lists at least some of their available roles on Breakdown Services. Agents get these notices every day. Make sure you are listed on the actor’s portal for that, www.actorsaccess.com, no matter where you are in the country. For more about Online Casting click here.
- Taping. Occasionally, Disney will release their roles and include an option to tape an audition from home. This means you can audition for major Disney projects from home! See Taping Auditions here.
- Get an agent or manager. Actors have very limited access to Breakdown Services. Most of the job notices are visible only to talent agents and managers. This is the MOST EFFECTIVE WAY BY FAR, to get a real Disney audition. Most Disney auditions are ONLY available through agents and managers.
- Check to see which casting directors are actually working CURRENTLY on Disney shows and movies. You can check this by subscribing to a service called Casting About (also owned by Breakdown Services). It’s about $10 a month (less than $50 if you pay yearly) and it allows you to see what is in production right now, and which contracted casting director is doing the casting.
- Then you can get a mailing address or social media profile and send them a postcard or online contact. ! If your marketing is well-timed, it just might be the week they have a role right for you, and you’ll be asked to audition!
- Local Background Casting: For Disney projects that film on location (such as the Disney Channel television movies that frequently film in Utah), most of the background players are hired locally. It won’t make you rich and it can’t be used on a real acting resume, but it is fun and a good experience! We suggest you check your state’s film commission for background casting companies, and get a local talent agent. In smaller markets, they often handle both principal and background work.
- Disney Television and Disney Channel General Auditions: ABC/Disney Television does yearly diversity showcases but they are not generally open to children. In the reorganization that could change though, so it would be wise to watch their official casting Twitter here. Disney Channel does general auditions about once a year in a few markets around the country (not LA or NY). Open call auditions are also announced here at Disney Open Calls.
- Big note: if you hear advertisements for “Disney Channel auditions”, always verify that they are legitimate. These are not necessarily “open calls” in the true sense, since typically, agents will be allowed to schedule auditions separately, with auditions open to the public SOMETIMES being held later. Again, your best shot is to have a local agent, and trust them to get an audition for you.
- Themepark Performers: For a real-life story of a child actor turned Disney princess, and her audition process, check out this YouTube video by actress Renna Nightingale. Disney park audition information is here.
- Broadway: Disney Theatrical Group is the producer for Disney Broadway shows and for the various touring shows. The casting company usually used is Binder Casting in New York. The best source is recorded information on their casting hotline at 212-827-5450. Disney Theatrical also list auditions on their website.
- Voiceover: Disney Animation is the division that handles feature film and television voiceovers. They also have a separate division for Character Voices (those voices belonging to iconic characters like say, Mickey, or voices for dolls and such). Child actors do work in this area, but it is very rare that Disney hires a child with no experience. This is a great article from a Disney Animation Casting Director about the Disney Animation process. We also suggest reading our own article, Voiceovers for Kids.
Our Final Thoughts
We are dismayed by the number of individuals who make their living by inappropriately exploiting the Disney name. From those who share or sell regurgitated, second-hand project information to those who offer “exposure” at a very high cost, always remember that you can effectively, inexpensively access the information you need to give your child real opportunities.
Disney spokesperson Patti McTeague wrote:
” Disney Channel is not affiliated with any acting school or acting workshop, and has not authorized talent searches or casting through THE Event. Disney overall has no role in THE Event and does not evaluate talent at any event.”
Click HERE to read the whole report at NBC News, Louisville KY
Be an educated consumer, and don’t start your child’s career by associating with those who not only can’t help you, but who may greatly harm your child’s future.