‘What to Expect’ when you’re a professional movie baby wrangler
'What to Expect When You're Expecting' (Photo: Lionsgate Films)
With all the infants in the parenting comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting," I got to wondering: Who's minding all those baby actors? I discovered that there's such a thing as a baby wrangler, and that was Dawn Jeffory-Nelson's job on this shoot. So Yahoo! asked her all about the tears, the tantrums -- and what all those babies were up to while the adult stars misbehaved!
Thelma Adams: So Dawn, let's start by the numbers: How many babies did you use?
Dawn Jeffory-Nelson: We had 12 sets of twins, and we had about 45 individual babies. This included everything from our newborn infants for our stars to the babies J.Lo worked with and the babies in the Ethiopian adoption scenes. And then we had about 30 to 35 young kids between the ages of 5 to 15 or 16 because of various scenes at the aquarium, and at Elizabeth Banks' little shop. So we were a very minor-friendly production.
TA: Male or female: Which work better?
DJ: Pretty much both boys and girls because the dudes in the film alone have seven kids between them. With the teensy tiny babies, every once in a while we had a boy playing a girl.
TA: Did you ever use dolls?
DJ: We had them available to us because there were times that we knew it was possible that we might run out of time. The company was extraordinary in being respectful to the children's needs. In the finished movie, there's only one place where a doll was used. We went to a lot of expense in order to protect the babies. My little critters were just amazing, those munchkins!
TA: What was the biggest challenge with all those infants?
DJ: The younger they are, the more it's about keeping them happy and making them feel safe. My job definition is paid fool. You have to be willing to make a fool of yourself. The hardest is having a sleeping baby in the shot and trying to time it so that they are, indeed, pooped and exhausted.
TA: So how did you pull that off without having a squawking, cranky, overtired baby?
DJ: By making sure you can do it at their normal nap time. So that … when the baby is ready for a nap we can shoot then and there.
TA: What happened when the babies started crying — and that wasn't in the script?
DJ: That happened a lot. Sometimes the baby was a little warm, or just over the scene, so that they might need me to run in and use my magic mesmerizer.
TA: What's that?
DJ: It's a toy I would use. Or I would just say I need a time-out here. I'd hold the baby, juggle the baby, or whisper in their ear. Sometimes we would need a quiet baby. There was too much activity, so we would move on to another angle and then creep back in once I got a sleeper.
[Photos: 'What to Expect' L.A. premiere gallery]
TA: Any other awkward moments?
DJ: Diaper changes are often funny, too, because you're in the middle of shooting or rehearsing the scene and all of a sudden one of the stars gets a look on their face — and you gotta change the baby!
TA: Are there any real-life techniques parents can take away?
DJ: Having done this for so long now, I feel like I could write a parenting book because I have to so quickly assess brand new babies. One of my secret weapons is Cheerios. My babies will do almost anything for me for Cheerios.