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Focusing on child actors in The Walking Dead and other similar series / horror movies, where they take part in or see brutal activities (for example zombies).

I was wondering how child actors, such as Chandler Riggs in Season 1 of The Walking Dead, are allowed to be cast for and work in a series that they are legally too young to even watch. For example, Riggs was only 11 years old in Season 1 and was allowed to see other actors dressed as zombies, in addition to portrayals of zombies being shot or stabbed in the head, and subsequent guts / brains pouring out.

I understand that working on a set is no way near as ‘scary’ as the final edited piece portrays, but still to some degree these child actors are subject to seeing horrifying sights (of zombies, blood, guts, etc.) through the works of makeup artists and the likes. I mean the child (Riggs) was even given a replica gun! In addition to hearing and being allowed to swear (though I appreciate this doesn’t touch the scope of haunting sights).

Are the studios (AMC, for example) required to provide therapy to child actors who are subject to sights like this? For example in cases where sights of other actors in zombie makeup may trigger nightmares to such young actors (they may conciously be aware the ‘zombies’ aren’t real, but these child actors can’t control their dreams!).

I’m just curious about this, and can’t seem to find any directly similar questions out there.

Thanks in advance for any input from those that might have any knowledge about how studios are allowed to hire young actors for series like this!

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    Related Movies & TV question: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/604/… – Möoz Feb 27 at 3:27
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    I'm quite certain there are no laws (in the US, at least) about who can watch The Walking Dead. Rather, the network publishes standardized guidelines about who should watch it. – jwodder Feb 27 at 3:28
  • @jwodder in theory, a prosecutor could try to base a prosecution for child endangerment on exposure to a certain film or TV show, but the show's ratings (not having a basis in law) wouldn't be dispositive - rather there would need to be a specific showing of how the particular program caused certain specified harms, probably validated by child psychologists testifying as expert witnesses. It could be done, but it would be a lot more than "Suzie is 12, that show is 14+ !!11!11one". – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 27 at 3:32
  • @jwodder Thanks for your reply! Interesting point, and apologies for the confusion. In the UK it is rated 18, so I just assumed the same applied in the US. However my point is still valid, but can be expressed differently: how are child actors allowed to work in a series that they’re too young to even watch according to the shows advisory age rating, set by the very company that hire such actors! – James Peliby Feb 27 at 3:36
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    There are TV and movie ratings in the US, but they are voluntarily chosen and there are no laws related to content ratings in the US. Meaning that a TV show might be rated for 18+ in the US, but there’s nothing illegal about an eight year old watching it. – Todd Wilcox Feb 27 at 5:05
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For the same reason that most actors who film action movies, horror movies, crime movies, and war movies don't need treatment for PTSD. Just like how you'll almost never hear about people working as crew on porn or erotica films get sexually stimulated during filming, but instead making comments about how mind-numbingly mundane it can be. For every minute you see people interacting on screen, they'll have likely spent hours interacting outside their role.

In specific, for a horror series like Walking Dead, Chandler Riggs was 10 when he started. By age 10, most North American kids have seen things like Halloween makeup and costumes and understand the idea of dressing up and pretending to be something else. They're exposed to the actors and extras acting entirely normally on set, in costume and makeup and effects, while not filming and can fully understand it's people wearing in a costume, not a real zombie. It's kind of hard to be afraid of someone looking like a rotting corpse when you can see them during a break chatting with others, snacking, or texting on the phone (and of course they don't really smell like a corpse either). That's not a zombie, that's Sandra, the nice lady who showed you pictures of her kids and told lame jokes and then pretended to be eating someone, that needed multiple takes because the "victim" kept giggling and they had to reset.

And when Sandra gets her head blown open by a shotgun? Well, that wasn't really Sandra, that was a dummy. Or CG added in post. Or a blood pack where, when shooting was done Sandra popped up and was fine. Or you never actually saw it because you weren't on set when it was filmed and editing just made it look like you were.

A viewer, on the other hand, doesn't have that context. They don't know Sandra is a nice lady who tells lame jokes and has two kids, they see a rotting corpse taking a chunk out of a screaming victim (who they didn't see laugh the first six times) and gets Boom Headshotted by the hero firing a shotgun. All they see is the horror.

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    It should also be mentioned that how the makeup looks on set to the actors is not always the same as it looks on screen to the viewers – Joe W Feb 27 at 16:37
  • Thank you for the great answer! However the concept I’m struggling to understand directly is the relation between the shows advisory age rating (in this case, I’ve discovered age 14+ in the US for The Walking Dead) and the network (who set this advisory age rating) hiring an actor younger than this age. It’s almost a form of contradiction, though I suppose this specific concept is harder for me to grasp/swallow with legally enforced age ratings on movies in the UK (where I’m from) as opposed to non-enforceable ‘advisory’ ratings in the US. – James Peliby Feb 27 at 17:11
  • Your answer does clarify one point though; I can see how therapy isn’t needed for the “horrifying” sights as the (older) child chats with the actors who portray the “zombies”. But in instances where the child is say 4 years old in a similar series/movie, there could still be instances where they’re too young to fully understand that it’s fake and as such could get scared for a second in a jump-scare scene? – James Peliby Feb 27 at 17:15
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    @JamesPeliby, if you actually look at horror movies or shows and see what happens when, you'll note it would be very rare to have a situation where an actor that young is quite clearly in set with the obvious horror element. Take your jump scare scenario. The typical situation is you'll see is the child actor(s) from a wide shot, then there's a cut to whatever the horrifying element is in that scene, then there's a cut to a closeup of the child/children screaming, then a cut to whatever. But those elements weren't shot at the same time at all. – Keith Morrison Feb 27 at 17:55
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What happens on set while filming looks completely different from the show or movie itself. The makeup that you are worried about triggering nightmares is really not so gruesome up close in person. The camera and lighting and processing and everything has a very dramatic effect.

Also, many children watch horror movies from young ages. I know lots of people who saw their first horror movie before they were ten. I know I saw Alien at 11 or 12, and A Nightmare On Elm Street even younger. I did not have nightmares from watching horror movies. I did have many sleepless nights after watching The Day After at age ten because it was about nuclear war, which seemed very real compared with dream monsters and aliens.

As mentioned in the comments, the ratings in the US are just suggestions. The studio doesn’t actually think people younger than the rated age shouldn’t watch it, they are voluntarily rating it to keep the public comfortable with it being aired at all. It’s a complicated political and economic dance. Note that it is illegal in the US for children under 18 to be filmed in scenes involving nudity or sexual content (I think there are exceptions for nudity of an obviously non-sexual nature).

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I was wondering how child actors, such as Chandler Riggs in Season 1 of The Walking Dead, are allowed to be cast for and work in a series that they are legally too young to even watch.

There is no law saying that children cannot watch movies, tv shows, or anything else with a certain rating.

From the Wikipedia article on TV show ratings, emphasis mine.:

The ratings were designed to be used with the V-chip, which was mandated to be built into all television sets manufactured since 2000 (and the vast majority of cable/satellite set-top boxes), but the guidelines themselves have no legal force...

From the Wikipedia article on movie ratings, emphasis mine:

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) film rating system is used in the United States and its territories to rate a film's suitability for certain audiences based on its content. The MPAA rating system is a voluntary scheme that is not enforced by law; films can be exhibited without a rating, although certain theaters refuse to exhibit non-rated or NC-17 rated films.

The same thing is true of video games. From the Wikipedia article on video game ratings, again emphasis mine:

The ESRB ratings system is enforced via the voluntary leverage of the North American video game and retail industries; most stores require customers to present photo identification when purchasing games carrying the ESRB's highest age ratings, and do not stock games which have not been rated. Additionally, major console manufacturers will not license games for their systems unless they carry ESRB ratings, while console manufacturers and most stores will refuse games that the ESRB has rated as being appropriate for adults only. The ESRB ratings system is not enforced under federal laws in any of the countries where it is actively used, although it is enforced under provincial laws in some regions of Canada.

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