Josie Batorski: Studio Teacher

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Josie Batorski in the studio classroom with Cozi Zuehlsdorff during the filming of "Dolphin Tale"

Josie Batorski in the studio classroom with Cozi Zuehlsdorff during the filming of “Dolphin Tale”

TTN:  Josie, is there a difference between a set tutor and a studio teacher?

JOSIE:  A studio teacher is different from a set tutor.   There are many set tutors working in Canada and in the U.S. in states other than California who are not studio teachers.   A studio teacher, is a certified teacher who holds both a California Elementary and California Secondary teaching credential, and a Studio Teacher Credential issued by the State of California Labor Commissioner.  (They have completed required training and safety workshops and take a test on the California Child Labor Laws every three years.)  Because I am a studio teacher, all of my answers to your questions will pertain to children working in the entertainment industry in California, and to children who are residents of California who work in the entertainment industry in other states or countries.

Many states in the U.S. do not have any child labor laws for minors working in the entertainment industry.  They usually have child labor laws pertaining to minors working in agriculture or meatpacking. The states that do have child labor laws for minors working in the entertainment industry where there is a great deal of filming going on are California, New York, Florida, and I’m not sure, but I think Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana may, also.

TTN:  How long have you worked as a studio teacher? 

JOSIE:   Since August of 1993, for a total of 20 yrs.

TTN:  What are your responsibilities on set?

JOSIE:  My responsibilities are 1.)  Teaching the minor working on the set their school subjects for 3 hours per day.   2.)  Collecting, verifying, and signing the California Work Permits from each minor.  3.) Enforcing all of the California Child Labor laws (also SAG minors are under these same laws) by caring for and attending to the health, safety, and morals of minors under sixteen years of age.  I take cognizance of working conditions, physical surroundings, signs of minor’s mental and physical fatigue, and the demands placed upon the minor in relation to minors’ age, agility, strength, and stamina.  I enforce when a minor has a meal break and how may hours they may work. I may refuse to allow engagement of a minor on a set or location and may remove a minor from set, if in my judgment; conditions are such as to present danger to the health, safety, or morals of the minor.  Minors often work in close proximity to explosives, pyrotechnics, blank guns, animals, dangerous moving equipment, aircraft, boats, helicopters, and we have to ensure their safety.   We work closely with the stunt coordinators on set, and supervise all stunts that minors perform.

TTN:     Have you worked on any projects that we might recognize?

JOSIE:  I have worked on hundreds of movies.  Some of the more popular are:  Operation Dumbo Drop, Domestic Disturbance, Donny Darko, Frailty, The Young Black Stallion,  Racing Stripes, The Polar Express, Hairspray,  The T.V. Set, I Could Never Be Your Woman, Must Love Dogs, Crossing Over, I Am Legend, Dolphin Tale, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Three Stooges, and most recently After Earth  (June 2013 release.)

Some television series: Malcolm in the Middle, Once &  Again, Family Affair, Gray’s Anatomy, Bernie Mac, Six Feet Under, That’s So Raven, Gilmore Girls, My Name is Earl, Big Love, Alias, Brothers & Sisters, The Office, Good Luck Charlie, Dancing With the Stars, The X-Factor, and Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Awards.

I’ve worked on hundreds of commercials including:  American Express, Universal Studios, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Intel, Mattel, and Kit Kat Bar.

TTN:    Could you share a particularly interesting story with us, something that might have happened on set that was unusual or noteworthy?

I have so many, many interesting stories of unusual events on set.   Many of my most interesting stories are about the movies I’ve worked on involving children and animals.  In 1994, I was sent over to Thailand to work on the Disney movie, Operation Dumbo Drop, starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, Denis Leary, and a wonderfully talented 13 yr. old boy from Vietnam named Dinh Thien Le. Dinh had moved to Los Angeles from Vietnam and was cast in the role of a young Thai boy named Linh. He had never acted before, and this was his first role, ever!  I was excited to travel to Thailand to work with Dinh and his father to film the movie for four months in eight different, beautifully exotic locations.   The other star of the movie was Tai, the Asian elephant, who flew over to Thailand from Los Angeles with her trainer, Gary Johnson, the owner of, “Have Trunk Will Travel.”  The movie is based on a true story that occurred during the Vietnam War, when some U.S. soldiers had to deliver a sacred elephant to a tiny village in Vietnam by parachute.

On the set of Operation Dumbo Drop, Dinh and I spent time everyday during those four months of filming with Tai, who is the BEST working elephant in the business.  She is well-known, has worked on many projects, and responds to 40 commands from her trainer Gary. She even paints!   She is a real pro!  She even had a photo double elephant that stood in for her sometimes!   Tai and I had this funny ritual we did.  She would raise her trunk up to my mouth and I would blow into it and this is how she recognized people, by the smell of their breath.   Tai is highly intelligent, very gentle, walked right along side us on paths, and some days Gary even allowed her to eat pineapple pizza with us.   Dinh had some very physical scenes with Tai, and had to practice over and over how to let Tai pick him up with her agile trunk and place him on her shoulders.   With enough practice, Dinh became very good at riding Tai, to the point where he was very comfortable riding on her shoulders during one scene while she ran full speed in an open field past the camera.  Together we traveled and filmed in eight gorgeous locations in Thailand, and then had to leave Thailand to finish filming the movie in Florida.   The crew flew back to the U.S. and to Florida in one day, and Tai and her trainer Gary were “Fed Exed” to Florida on an overnight FedEx carrier.  It made the national news in U.S.A. Today!  “5,000 pound Elephant FedExed Overnight to Florida!”  We finished filming the movie in Florida, said our good-byes to Tai, and flew back home to our lives in Los Angeles.   I stayed in touch with Dinh and his father for a while, back in Los Angeles, and we gradually lost touch over the years.

I noticed Tai was starring in other movies since Operation Dumbo Drop, where I’d first met her, and longed to see her again.   In the spring of 2010, while I was working in Los Angeles on a new television series, Mr. Sunshine, I took my students outside for some fresh air and some P.E. time.  We left our school trailer in the base camp area and walked around, wandering into the animal holding area, curious to see what animals were working on set that day.  There, across the grassy area, I saw Tai!  I was overjoyed to see her again!  It had been sixteen years since I’d spent those four adventurous months filming with her in Thailand!!!! My heart leapt out of my chest and I ran towards her.  She saw me, too, and ran towards me.  As we ran up right to each other in greeting, she stopped her huge, 5000 lb. body directly in front of me, and raised her trunk up to my mouth and I blew my breath into her trunk!  My heart was singing, I was SO happy to see her and I’m sure she felt my overflowing joy bursting out of my body, as I stood in front of her.  I had so much love for her!  My belief is that she remembered me, after all these years, through the smell of my breath. They say that elephants never forget.  It was great to catch up with Gary, her trainer, and since then, I noticed that Tai has starred in the movie, “Water for Elephants,” as Rosie, with Reese Witherspoon.   We’ve both had great careers!!!

Josie and Tai in Thailand on the set of "Operation Dumbo Drop"

Josie and Tai in Thailand on the set of “Operation Dumbo Drop”

TTN:  What do you consider your greatest challenge as a studio teacher?

My greatest challenge as a studio teacher is going to work on a new project, where they haven’t given me a script for the day’s work, and I walk in cold onto the set and have to work with a very disorganized and chaotic production that doesn’t know about child labor laws.  It’s hard to unexpectedly work with directors that I don’t know or haven’t worked with previously, who are unaware of how to work with children.  I’ve been on projects where the director proceeded to put the children in scenes with very foul language, overt sexual content, or dangerous stunts, and because I was the responsible studio teacher hired for that day, I have to quickly educate the very inexperienced and distracted director, and convince him to shoot the scenes in certain ways according to the child labor laws.  These types of projects are stressful for me.  I don’t like having to enforce child labor laws on projects like these when there is little respect for minors, where the director is ignorant of the child labor laws or decides he’s going to blatantly ignore them, and where I have no support from the parents.  These kinds of projects can involve writing up violations on the production company, and then, becoming very unpopular with these directors and parents!  Our job as studio teachers is to do the right thing, not the popular thing.

It’s a difficult thing, because parents can become seduced by the Hollywood film business, and all that it entails.  Their children LOVE being on set, and it’s so much FUN having all of that attention being paid to them by so many crew members.  Not to mention that they are being paid to do it!  Being around big stars who are working with your child can be very exciting and validating for the parents.  I’ve seen some parents become mesmerized, lose their common sense, and put their children in some very irrational situations. Of course, there are also many wonderfully real and grounded parents of extraordinarily talented children, too, who have a balanced perspective on the entertainment business.

TTN:  What type of special training or certification do you need to be a studio teacher?

JOSIE:  Studio teachers are required to have both an elementary and a high school California teaching credential, because we teach children in 1st through 12th grade.  We have to be very familiar with the many California Child Labor Laws, which we take a test on every 3 yrs. for re-certification of our studio teaching credential, and which we enforce daily on our shows in all sorts of various situations, in limiting time schedules, and on different locations.  We also take required safety workshops regularly that are taken by all the departments who work in our Union; International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (I.A.T.S.E.)

Depending on the filming schedule, we can sometimes work very long days, sometimes up to 14 hr. days, when they stagger the call times for the children.  This requires a lot of physical and mental stamina and focus.  We often work outside in extreme heat or cold weather.    I’ve worked in the extreme heat of the desert in Namibia, Africa, and in the freezing cold snow of Vancouver, Canada.  Sometimes it requires hiking into remote locations to film.  Recently I worked in heavy rain showers in very hot tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, where snakes were abundant.   I had to bring the school with me, and set up in the tropical rainforest every day.  This job requires GREAT FLEXIBILITY, because the schedule is in constant flux and everything is changing all of the time.  You have to be willing to go with the flow.   I’ve taught Algebra to my student sitting in the grass next to an elephant (his costar) outdoors on a location in a beautiful rice paddy in Thailand.  I’ve worked on sets in Third World countries.  I’ve worked on movies filming children working with trained elephants, camels, cheetahs, panthers, hissing cockroaches, crows, owls, falcons, pelicans, roosters, monkeys, dolphins, dogs, cats, snakes, tarantulas, giraffes, Arabian horses, and zebras.  It requires great patience when working with children and animals.

You have to be a diplomatic and be an adept communicator with creative people in positions of authority and power (directors & producers) in order to negotiate how scenes can be adjusted and shot to accommodate the children in them.   You have to work closely with the stunt coordinators on set, be fearless, and sometimes test out the equipment used in the child’s stunts yourself, before you allow the minors to perform it.  You have to be able to work with adult and child actors, and not be overshadowed by them. You have to be strong in integrity, and not be swayed by the power that these actors and directors wield.  You have to understand and respect creative people and their process.

TTN:  What is your greatest joy in your job?

JOSIE: First, every day is a fresh, new adventure!  It is ALWAYS interesting!

I have numerous joys in my job!

1.) I love to travel,  especially on locations on movies filmed in foreign countries, and have had the great good fortune of being involved in projects filmed in many beautiful, exotic locations in many states of the U.S., Canada, Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico,  Hungary, and Ireland.  Locations for filming are usually chosen for their special, rare beauty, and I’ve seen some incredibly beautiful locations.

2.) I love children, and I love teaching, so that is always a great joy in my job.   If we are filming on locations in Africa, for example, I love creating the curriculum for my students around the history, literature, art, music, and culture of the country we are filming in.  The teacher always learns more than the student, and I learn a great deal about these places from creating the curriculum and going on field trips to all of the museums with my students.

3.) I LOVE days at work where they bring in infants!  It’s so much fun working with the babies!!!

4.) I love the process of making movies and T.V. shows, collaborating with such fascinating, creative people, who work in this business namely as costume designers, set designers, make-up artists, animal trainers, special effects creators, art directors, actors, directors, and I’ve made many friends from all over the world while working in this business.   I’ve met wonderful parents and students that I have stayed in close contact with.  (YOU and your talented daughter Lauran being two I enjoyed working with in the past, and respect immensely.)

One of my most joyful experiences is collaborating with crew on a special project, (usually a comedy), with a highly intelligently written script, where you’ve worked with each other in the different departments long enough that there is a family atmosphere of mutual respect, and you’re playing on a team, committed to accomplishing this wonderful project.  It is a feeling of being in “the FLOW,” and it’s very absorbing and deeply fulfilling.  It’s an experience of playing, not “work.”  I have very delicious memories of projects with amazing crew members, children, and parents.  Later, when I see the finished movie, I remember everything that was going on during the filming of the scenes.  So, there is a richness to the experience of filmmaking that transcends the finished product, that you take with you when it’s completed and you go back and see at it on-screen.   I own every movie I’ve worked on!

TTN:   It certainly sounds like you love your work! What age ranges do you work with?

JOSIE:  I supervise adorable 15-day-old infants to seniors in high school.  After they are 18 yrs. old, they are working as adults and we are no longer there protecting them.

TTN:  So you work with infants; what are your responsibilities then?

JOSIE:  Infants from 15 days to 6 weeks old can work in front of a camera for a total of 20 minutes under no exposure to light greater than 100 foot-candle intensity for more than 30 seconds at a time.  They cannot work around atmospheric smoke, or around fake cigarette smoke.

At this age, the production is required also to hire a nurse who works with the studio teacher, and there is one nurse and one studio teacher for 3 or fewer babies.  Infants can only be on set for a total of 2 hrs. and only between 9:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m.  We also require the parents of infants under one month to bring a certificate from their pediatrician that states that the infant was carried to full term, was of normal birth rate, is at least 15 days old, is physically able to withstand the potential stress of filmmaking.  This is because we had many parents in the past bringing in premature babies to set, especially for jobs on movies where it was a “birth scene,” which involve applying simulated (fake) birth liquid, blood, etc. to the newborn.

The company has many responsibilities when working with infants on set: providing sterilized baby blankets for each infant, sterilized bassinets, diapers, and supplies in the infants’ trailers, etc.

Because the time is so short for filming in front of the camera, very often, for this age group, they will hire twins and triplets, who will take turns filming.

Babies who are 6 months to 2 yrs. old can work in front of the camera for 2 hrs. and can be on set for 4 ½ hrs. This group no longer requires a baby nurse, and  one studio teacher can supervise up to ten babies in this age group.

Minors age 2 yrs. thru 5 yrs. of age can be on set for a total of 6 ½ hrs. and 3 hrs. filming in front of the camera.  The other 3 hrs. have to be rest & relaxation time and have a 30 min. meal period.

Age 6 thru 8 yrs. of age can work for a total of 8 ½ hrs.  (3 hrs. of school time, one hr. rest & relaxation, the rest filming time, and 30 min. meal period).

Age 9 thru 15 yrs. of age can work for a total of 9 ½ hrs. (3 hrs. of school time, 5 hrs. in front of the camera, 1 hr. of rest & relaxation, 30 min. meal period).

Age 16-17 yrs. of age can work for of 10 ½ yrs. (3 hrs. of school, 1 hr. of rest & relaxation, 6 hrs. in front of the camera, and 30 mins. meal period).

TTN:    What advice would you give to parents who have children in the acting world or are considering the acting world?

My advice to parents who have children employed in the entertainment industry is to firstly, EDUCATE YOURSELF, and decide if your child desires to work as a principle actor, or as a background extra. If you want to work in commercials, then get a commercial agent.  If you want to work as a background extra, sign up with an Extras Agency.  Keep your feet on the ground, and make sure it is something your child wants to do, because they will be the ones doing it.  They may initially like the set and think it is fun, and then change their minds after they experience what it’s like filming the same scenes over and over, and doing school on the set.  Some of them are surprised when they experience how much is involved in it.  There is a definite work schedule on set, and it can be intense.  It’s not playtime.  It is working and there is a lot of rushing around sometimes, and other times there is time sitting and waiting. Some will love it and it will do amazing things for their confidence, and others will become bored and disinterested.

Look online and familiarize yourself with the child labor laws that are in place to protect your child in this industry, which vary from state to state.  The laws for minors working on films in Florida are different from the laws in Canada, which are different from the laws in California.  California is the entertainment capital of the world, and has the most laws protecting children, because of all of the things that have happened on films sets over the years, hence the creation of these laws.  Many people who have children working in the entertainment business have relocated from other states to Los Angeles because they didn’t like the way they were treated in those states and wanted them protected by the California laws.   Please be your child’s advocate.  You are their protector and safety, and have been since they were born.  If you are working in a state that does not have child labor laws for children working in the entertainment industry, be aware that there are no laws to protect your children from working long days in dangerous situations. Please be proactive and take care of your children.   Be aware of what is happening on set, and you can ALWAYS ask questions and if you don’t feel it’s safe, take your child out of the scene.  It is your right.   Crew members call in anonymously to report movies they are working on in other states outside of California where there are no studio teachers supervising the children on set while working, and they are concerned about the safety and welfare of the children working there.  If your child is a member of the Screen Actors Guild Union (SAG), they have greater protection, and are protected under the California Labor Law, because they are in a union.  Many non-union projects in other states employ minors and their priority is to finish their film on time, on budget, and they will work the minors long hours to do so.  It is up to you to decide if you want to involve your child in a project like that.

Please do not bring sick children to set.  We have had to send people home who have driven from very long distances to work on a set, with a sick child.  The medic will examine the child and send them home because it is a health risk for the 150 other crew members working on set that day.   Bring your children snacks and water, and be available for them on their breaks. Supervise your child.   Be respectful to the production company, the crew, the studio teacher (who is there for your benefit), the director, the producers, the stage where you are filming, and the property on location.  Make friends with the studio teacher, and don’t feel shy or intimidated to ask questions.  If you have questions or concerns, talk with the studio teacher, who then communicates with the assistant director who is in charge of the daily filming schedule, There is a chain of command on set, and we communicate this way.

While working on set, please follow the directions of the assistant directors, the director, and the studio teachers.  It is your job to be the advocate of your child, to bring all of the required paperwork, work permits and Coogan Bank Account information with you when you come to work.   Let your child’s regular teacher at their school know ahead of time that you will need to get all of their schoolwork from them for the days your children are missing school due to filming, and bring that schoolwork to set for them.  They shouldn’t miss or get behind in any schoolwork, because they are working on a set.  They should have all of their schoolwork with them to complete that day, and that is your responsibility as their parent.  It is my responsibility as their studio teacher to work on the schoolwork with them and help them complete it.

If your child has special needs and learning disabilities, please communicate this to your agent, the production company hiring your child, and to the studio teacher, so we can meet his/her needs.  We have had deaf children, children with MS in wheelchairs, and children with autism working on set.  Let us know ahead of time, so we can be prepared to do the best job with your child.

Studio teachers thrive when they are valued for what they do, (to be the advocate for your children) which is sometimes very hard to do.

We need to be on the same page as the parents and have their support.  We have to work with stunt coordinators and directors who may have a scene requiring a young child to perform a stunt over and over without a break, or riding a horse when the child is not strong enough or experienced enough to ride, or working in water without a life jacket when the child is freezing cold.   It is my job as the studio teacher and your job as the parent to monitor what the minors are doing.  It is your job to be within sight and sound of your child and know what your child is going to be doing in a scene that day.  Everyone on set appreciates and values when you are involved and work WITH us.  We can work together to solve problems and concerns cooperatively.

For more information about studio teachers, visit: www.studioteachers.com

(Photos courtesy of Josie Batorski)


Comments

Josie Batorski: Studio Teacher — 12 Comments

  1. What a great opportunity to make a difference-you really are in the perfect career to highlight both your special talents and your passionate heart. So proud!

    • Thank you for your comment. I agree that Josie’s interview will be helpful to many and I appreciate you passing it along:)

    • Thanks for commenting. So glad you liked the article about Josie. She is quite an inspiring woman!

  2. Thank you for the great, in-depth interview! I love knowing about Josie’s world. She was strong, courageous, and a bright light as a college student, and has always been a great role-model and leader.

  3. Hello Josie, You still teach as well. I’m so happy and impressive to read this interview.
    I was also your student long time ago. I’m an artist now. Thank you and God bless you.

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