Could your child be in Harry Potter?
PUBLISHED: 11:11 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
Forget paper rounds and Saturday jobs, for some children living in the Home Counties pocket money comes from working as an extra in the movies. Debra Aspinall finds out how
Millions of children around the world fantasise about being a pupil at the incredible imaginary school in the Harry Potter novels, Hogwarts.
Thanks to one local casting agency, hundreds of children in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire have been students there, complete with Hogwarts school uniform and personal wands.
Ann Koska and Sally King run one of the most successful child casting agencies in the UK. From their offices in Pinewood Studios they place children in movies, TV dramas, theatre and commercials. Sometimes as many as 200 on a single production.
The children are background artists or extras. Integral to many productions, but often unnoticeable to anyone except friends and family. Nearly every movie uses extras and while it's not as glamorous as many people may think, it still beats being a paperboy or Saturday worker. Long stints on movies like Harry Potter can be quite lucrative for a youngster.
'Children living in this area have the advantage of being close to so many busy studios,' explains Ann.
'The Harry Potter films are made at Leavesden which is near Watford, and there are also Shepperton and Teddington studios pretty close by, as well as Ealing and Elstree. There's also work on location, often in London. I enjoy it when we do work at Greenwich as it usually means it is a period piece with costumes.'
Ann and Sally have both been in the casting business for many years, but joined forces to set up their agency in 2003. Sally had previously worked as a chaperone for child actors and extras and Ann found her vocation as an agent 25 years ago after a successful showbiz career as a synchronised swimmer and later manager of a casino.
They are so well known to the movie production companies that when a film calls for children to be used as extras, their phone number is already on speed dial.
'It's usually the assistant director on movies that arranges all the extras and we have built up great working relationships,' explains Ann. 'They know that when they use our agency we take care of all the licensing and that our children will turn up on time, be well behaved and chaperoned at all times by professionals.'
Extra work doesn't suit all children. It can get boring waiting around for something to happen and sometimes they can't even see themselves in the finished film as their scene is cut or they are hidden behind something or someone else. And those chosen to be doubles for the main characters may not be seen on film at all - at least not that anyone would know. Restless, easily-bored children can find the work tedious and tiresome.
But the attraction of playing a part in the movies - no matter how small - is still so alluring that there is never a shortage of volunteers to join the agency.
'There are quite strict controls in place for child actors and extras. They have to have a letter or certificate from a doctor saying they are fit and well enough to work, they are only allowed to do a certain number of hours on the set and schooling has to be provided by the production company if they are used for a longer run during term time,' explains Sally.
'Also the children are continually growing so we have to keep track of all their measurements and have to update photos on our files. Any parent putting their child into work as a background artist is signing themselves up for some work as well, just keeping all the paperwork up to date and running the children to location pick ups - usually very early in the morning.
'But there is a great deal of enjoyment too. We have just finished working on The Prince of Persia which was just magical. We had lots of children on that. It's a numbers game for us, the more children we can supply the better for us. We had 80 children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and 250 in one day on the Stormbreaker film. We also had 200 children licensed for The Golden Compass.'
Other productions their children have worked on include The Queen, The Dark Knight, 28 Weeks Later, Sweeney Todd, Midsomer Murders, Hot Fuzz, Casino Royale, Nanny McPhee, the new Richard Curtis film The Boat That Rocked (due out in May) and of course all the Harry Potter films.
'When you take new children along for the first time and they see the Great Hall at Hogwarts the expressions on their faces are priceless,' says Sally. 'I think many of the children would do the work for free, just for the thrill. One child burst into tears of joy when she was measured for her Hogwarts uniform and handed her wand.'
The agency has 150 children in the latest Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, due for release in July this year and casting will soon begin for the seventh and final movie; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
2009 promises to be a very busy year for the agency. The weak pound has been the silver lining in the financial cloud for Pinewood, with many film production companies now looking at the UK as a viable option as a location. Ann adds, 'There are several very big films coming to the UK and we hope to be involved with some of them.'
Any local children interested in signing with the agency can call 01753 785031 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register an interest.