Find out the common ways filmmakers endanger kids on set, why you should restrict your project to over 18s only, and what to consider if you don’t.
Health and safety is an essential and often overlooked aspect of student films and especially hobbyist filmmakers. But when you have kids on set, the safety stakes get higher.
Several parents privately shared with us their experience of bad practice on set. Despite the presence of clear laws and guidelines, it remains difficult for anyone to speak out openly about the negative practices rife in zero budget projects. Even volunteers worry about saying anything because they’ll be the ones to suffer the most consequences.
That’s one of the major advantages for actors to be supported by a good talent agent. They look out for the talent’s welfare, check the right paperwork is in place, and start investigating if the producer has no idea what the right paperwork is. But if you’re a filmmaker without a budget, you’ve probably selected unpaid, unrepresented and possibly inexperienced actors who deal with you directly.
So, if you’re planning your next short film, please take note of the items on this page and use them as a starting point to make your production safer.
1: No Insurance
Do you know what insurance policy you have in place and what it covers you for?
Fim students are usually covered by their institution’s policy. But do make checks about special exclusions, in case you need to make important changes to your production.
Hobbyist filmmakers have equipment, crew and cast to protect, even if everyone’s come along as a volunteer.
2: No Child Performance Licences
A child actor is a performer on any stage or screen project intended for public viewing of any sort, who is not legally able to leave school yet.
In the UK child actors are bound by licensing regulations until the last Friday of June following their 16th birthday.
There are very few exceptions that allow a child performer to appear on stage or set without a child performance licence.
Being paid and missing school are NOT the conditions that require a licence, but many filmmakers think that’s as far as the law goes.
The exceptions are so rare that you should ring the licensing officer at each child’s local council to check the exception conditions are met for your production and that specific child.
If you don’t want the hassle of this paperwork, make all your roles for over 18s only and keep kids off set.
3: Not Appointing An Appropriate Chaperone
A chaperone is on set only to supervise (and sometimes educate) specified children. Usually this is in accordance with the child performance license.
Legally, a chaperone may only be a parent, legal guardian or be a DBS cleared chaperone registered with the local authority.
You cannot accept grandma, auntie, a cousin’s goddaughter or the next door neighbour. They are LEGALLY PROHIBITED from acting as chaperones unless they have ALSO registered as a chaperone at their local council.
Similarly, parents cannot drop their teenagers at the door in expectation a chaperone somewhere inside the building will look after them.
The child actor is formally handed over to the chaperone who enters the time on the paperwork. At the end of the day, the chaperone returns the child to the parents at an agreed point on the premises, and marks the time of departure. Throughout the intervening hours, the child is in sight of a chaperone at all times.
All of the chaperone’s attention is on the licensed child or children.
A chaperone does not operate a camera, make amendments to scripts, assist wardrobe, provide lunch or film their own role. This applies to both licensed chaperones and parent chaperones.
4: Not Obtaining Content Release
Ideally, a parent or legal guardian signs the Content Release form or Talent Release form before the child actor arrives on set. But if not, make sure you obtain it on the first filming day.
You cannot publicly screen a short film without consent from every actor and extra, whatever their age. That includes film festivals, YouTube and local short film screening events.
In addition, photos of children can’t be placed on social media without written consent from the parent.
That rule applies to you, your cast and crew, and other children on set.
Many dance schools and youth theatres won’t allow parents to take photos or videos of shows anymore because of the myriad of problems this causes in a social media age. They also probit photographs in changing rooms.
5: Ignoring Breaks And Maximum Hours
You are legally obliged to provide regular meal breaks to any child working under licence. This is serious and not to be ignored.
You have set times that you can start filming, a strict limit to the time a child or teenager can film before a break is due, specific minimum break periods, and a legally required time to leave the set.
The age of the child determines the child performance licence terms and conditions.
Make sure you know them, and have incorporated them into your planning.
The child or teenage actor must be discharged when they have worked the maximum time allowed without a break, or when the latest permitted hour is reached, whichever comes first.
That can be frustrating when you think just one or two more takes will get the perfect shot. Especially if the cast and crew aren’t scheduled for another session on this scene.
But this is the law. Consequently, child welfare tops a filmmaker’s schedule.
6: Allergies and First Aid
As part of the child performance licence process, the parents complete a Medical Declaration. It lists all known health issues and allergies.
In the UK Prescribed adrenaline auto-injectors, commonly referred to by the major product name Epipen, are carried by about 250,000 adults and children. Their allergies can be life threatening with only the smallest amount of exposure.
Therefore, check the medical declarations carefully and make arrangements to keep the child’s environment clear of that trigger.
In addition, ask for allergy information from all participants on set, whatever their age, to keep everyone safe.
Have you considered what happens if someone falls ill, has an allergic reaction, or is hurt in an accident? Your first aider must be appropriately trained and certified, formally allocated on the project as the first aider, and made known to all the crew.
Waiting until something happens is too late.
7: Inappropriate Changing Rooms
Let’s get this clear. There must be one room solely for the boys and their chaperone. Another room must be provided for girls and their chaperone.
Boys and girls must not share a changing room.
No one but the child actors and chaperone can be in the changing room, except for supervised visits from wardrobe and makeup. Get dads, siblings, aunties and runners out of the room for the entire time any child is there.
And don’t ever put adults in the same room with kid actors, including 17 year old friends and siblings.
Dividing a room with a pretty screen or duvet thrown over a washing line won’t impress the licensing officer when they do a spot inspection.
8: Allowing Children To Be Left Alone
Child actors should be brought in by the chaperoning parent, or handed over at the door to the licensed chaperone.
All siblings must be left elsewhere, and not brought in to wander around looking at what’s happening or even sitting quietly in the changing room. It’s not safe for them and not safe for the cast and crew.
Here’s a repetition of the chaperone’s job: they stay with the child(ren) at all times. Toilet breaks are supervised, time on set is supervised.
The chaperone can’t disappear to sort out the wardrobe problems downstairs or buy some food from the shop next door.
Similarly, a 15 year old can’t be given free reign to wander around different rooms speaking to the cast and crew. Everyone is trying to work to tight deadlines, there are cables and equipment everywhere, and grooming can be hard to spot.
A parent might think independence is a great thing, but the chaperone is there to prevent any risk occurring to the child in that workplace.
Professional TV and film productions require all adults to produce a valid DBS certificate if children will be on set. And they ensure the chaperones are with the kids all day. So why would you allow a child to wander round your unchecked volunteers?
9: Inappropriate Script And Action
Asking children to swear or talk about sensitive subjects is a complicated minefield. A well trained chaperone will probably stop it happening because the law requires their intervention if the script content isn’t appropriate.
Think carefully about ways round your creative vision without the risk of emotional harm to the child. It’s usually a very simple task.
Similarly, think very carefully before you ask children and teenagers to do anything which could physically harm them.
Spilling water from a boiling hot kettle, mistiming the skateboard jump and falling from a tree can land you with a demand for compensation. Plus, your insurance company may refuse to pay out because you didn’t do the risk assessment.
If you’re not a professional production team, stay away from all these risks.
10: Sharing Private Details About Children
Sharing photos and news about your film shoot is a great way to boost your network. Furthermore, actors love being recommended to other filmmakers you know.
However, these are children. Even the 16-year-old who looks like they are 19. They deserve protection from you.
So all make your correspondence and social media links with the parent rather than the child. When tagging photos, tag the parent and not the child.
If predators click through to the profile seeking contact with a child, they’ll be disappointed.
Ask the parent if you can use the child’s full name on social media or just refer to them publicly by their first name.
Some parents put a wide range of information and pictures of their child on open public casting websites, while others keep everything very private. It sets the tone of public conversation about the young actor.
If another filmmaker asks for a recommendation, don’t give out personal information. Their first name, age, quick description and summary of the reasons you were impressed are enough.
Do not provide dates of birth, home address, current school and training venues, phone numbers or email addresses.
Always ask the parent for permission to share their contact details, but even better send the filmmaker’s contact details to the parent.
Isn’t All This An Overreaction?
We now know that predators are drawn to working and socialising in environments where they can contact and befriend parents and children. They can be young, old, married, committed to social good, religious, friendly, charming, generous, convincing – in fact, they’re usually just like any other person except for their interest in children. And they aren’t going to declare that to you when volunteering for your short film.
Meanwhile your set or the action demanded by the script can lead to the child or teenager having an accident. They aren’t old enough to assess risks properly and need you to do that job properly. Having the right chaperone means there’s someone on set dedicated to keeping each child safe, but you still have a responsibility to plan and organise things professionally. Even on a zero budget short film.
If you want kids on set, then you are assuming legal responsibility for keeping them safe, whether you understood that or not.
So for the majority of zero budget projects, the safest action is to restrict your set to over 18s only.