By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
At the age of 12, Tate Birchmore is already living a dream life. The La Mesa native is fast becoming recognized as a rising talent, having earned the 2020 Young Entertainer’s Award for Best Leading Actor in a Feature Film for his role in the Vudu channel’s original “Adventure Force 5.” He was also awarded Best Young Actor at the Horror Haus Film festival and has already appeared in hundreds of other television shows, feature films and shorts in his seven years in the business. But for Tate, critical success isn’t the most rewarding part of being an entertainer.
“It’s the adventure of it,” he said. “And all the amazing people I meet and all the awesome things I do. I think that’s really what the industry was made for – to have a creative freedom and have fun with it.”
That adventure in entertaining began when Tate was 2, said his mother Katherine Birchmore.
“He would watch Marry Poppins and he would watch really intensely and as they did movements on the screen, he would do the same movements, he would do dances and things,” she said.
When he was 5, Tate auditioned for a local dance team but did not make the cut. Katherine asked her son what he loved about dance and he said it was performing for an audience.
“So I told I’ll find you an audience and I actually took him street performing and he just loved that,” she said.
While taking Tate to Seaport Village so he could busk for tips with his unique interpretive dances to an eclectic mix of heavy metal, show tunes and classical, Katherine also started involving him in Christian Youth Theater and making the long trek to Los Angeles for auditions with Actor’s Access — a premier casting call company.
Tate’s first role was in for a film project by a student at Biola University.
“He spent nine days on set and it was the happiest I had seen the kid in my whole life,” Katherine said.
After that, there was a lot of driving back and forth between Hollywood and La Mesa, mostly for auditions that would last only 5 minutes. Katherine made sure of Tate’s dedication to acting by doing the trips with no video games or movies during the sometimes seven hours of driving, which Tate happily suffered through.
“Sometimes when we came back down, we went to Disneyland and I thought that was fun,” Tate said, adding that the long drives were also helpful for his auditions. “It was a chance for me to get the practice in and really show what I can do.”
Demand for Tate’s talents grew. He has participated in over 300 film projects, appearing in them as everything from an extra to leading roles, including notable roles in films such as Universal’s “Peppermint,” and the aforementioned “Adventure Force 5,” along with television roles on “Single Parents,” “A.P. Bio,” “American Princess,” “Adam Ruins Everything,” “Casual,” “Conan,” “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life” and “Criminal Minds.”
That kind of workload eventually required the Birchmores — Katherine, Tate and Tate’s younger brother Maximus — to purchase a small motorhome that they would camp in on the streets of Los Angeles during shoots or auditions.
“When we were in worse neighborhoods, I was kind of scared,” Tate said, and recalled a time when the family was parked near the Hollywood Bowl and was woken from sleep because they thought a drug deal was going down right outside.
“I made a sound or something, and they were like, ‘There’s a baby in there,’” Tate said. “So we were getting ready for them to knock and open the door and my mom was going to shine a flashlight in their eyes and me in the bunkbed above the driver’s seat, I was going to hit ‘em over the head. Yeah, we were scared. But they just kinda ran.”
Three years ago, the Birchmore family schedule had them in Los Angeles four to five days a week, so they packed it up and moved into an apartment in Burbank. By that time the whole family had immersed itself in the film business. Maximus joined his older brother and started acting, with a recurring role in “Kidding” which starred Jim Carey; a leading role on a religious-themed series called “Answered Prayers;” a music video for Michael Bublé’s “I Believe in You” and more. Katherine, who took over talent management duties for her two children, expanded that role to manage other child actors and started her own agency TANDM Talent Management.
The busy lifestyle of child acting hasn’t been without some sacrifices. Even before the move to Burbank, Tate had to leave Fuerte Elementary and start homeschooling. Tate said the hardest part of leaving La Mesa was leaving his grandfather behind because he only had a few friends at Fuerte and they’ve not stayed in touch. Friendships, Tate said, are difficult to maintain.
“Usually when we make a friend, it’s somebody like a director’s kids,” he said, and added that he’s also made friends with some of the other actors he meets at auditions, but that it sometimes takes meeting them 10 or 20 times before even sparking up conversation. “You see them around and after a while you become friends.”
Even with a busy schedule that leaves little time for the kinds of friendships most 12 year olds have, Katherine doesn’t worry about her son becoming another child actor horror story.
“He’s like the most grounded person in the world. He’s just loves people and that’s what he’s in it for, I realized,” she said. “And he’s very precocious, being around all the adults and just sort of playing pretend. So his motives are I think a lot different than a lot of peoples.”
Another thing keeping Tate grounded are the college classes he is currently taking at L.A. Valley College to earn an AA degree in directing.
“Directing inspires me and motivates me at the same time,” Tate said. “I want to become a director because you have a creative freedom and you can tell your story. Directing has always been interesting to me. I think it’s just fun.”
Tate said he’s someday like to go to a film school like UCLA and continue to pursue the creative side of directing — a goal that he sees as keeping him from losing his head in the entertainment industry.
“I think it’s more about being creative and not measuring yourself by what people think,” he said.
Learning filmmaking has been a blessing for the Birchmores during the COVID pandemic. With the industry basically on hold, the family is back in the area, staying with Katherine’s father in Rancho San Diego where they have set up makeshift film studios to make short films for Tate’s college assignments and other projects for fun.
“We built a truss system over the pool so we can fly with pullies and things in front of a big green screen in front of trampolines and things,” Katherine said. “We’re the ultimate do-it-yourselfers I guess, so that includes becoming a manager, screenwriters, producers, directors.”
In addition to spending time with family and working on home movie projects, Tate is also attending the occasional film festival held at drive-in theaters, promoting “Patch,” a short film he stars in opposite Adam Zastrow.
Most of all, the family is looking forward to getting back to the pre-COVID lifestyle they enjoyed together.
“We think back on like, ‘Wow, look at all the adventures that we’ve had in all of this’ – so many unique places and trips and things,” Katherine said.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.