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Monday, March 20, 2017

Acting in National Commercials

Introduction to commercial auditions

Commercials can be a way of making money while pursuing your acting career. There are regional commercials and national commercials. The national commercial acting industry is very competitive. National commercials can make thousands,  even tens of thousands of dollars for an actor or actress.

Even though there is competition, this does not rule out the possibility of you booking jobs. Commercial casting directors just want the actor who is right for the job. While some actors tend to look down on commercials, shooting a commercial can be a positive experience where you can network as well as make money. There are numerous film directors who started out directing commercials.

David Fincher
Gore Verbinski
Alex Proyas
Antoine Fuqua
Michael Bay
Ridley Scott
Adrian Lyne     
Guillermo Del Toro

There is a misconception that commercial acting means phony acting, big overacting. While that has been more true of regional commercials, a shift took place years ago in nationals that utilized more subtlety.

The use of subtlety in television advertising is based around the actor being him or her self. As opposed to trying to be something that you’re not.

One place you have control in the audition process is using your training as an actor by making choices: 1) who you are talking to? Substitution. Choose someone you know, someone you like, someone close to you, then the camera captures you talking like you, being relaxed and open. Trustworthy.

Another place you have control is how you feel about the product. Product sounds like a generic, impersonal term. But your car, your clothes, your phone, your shampoo, your computer, your ice cream, etc. are products. Why did you buy them? Would you recommend them to a friend? Because that simple act is what much of advertising is attempting to utilize. The advertising agency wants you to talk to your friend about why you chose their product, what you like about it. This is where you can choose a second acting technique: substituting what you are really talking about.

The product is for Tylenol, have you ever taken an over the counter pain killer? Has it helped? You can truthfully tell your friend about that. The product is food, a can of soup. Did you have ever have a can of soup when you were a kid? What was your favorite? You can talk to your friend or your sister or your mom about that. In other words, the same techniques that you learn in acting can be used in commercials. Make a strong choice regarding what you are talking about, make a strong choice about who you are talking to. Use the text as it is written.

How does it work?

You need an agent, preferably a commercial agent. The TV industry is a youth driven market. You can put yourself out there and see if you can get an agent. If people say “no,” just move forward. “No” means “not yet. When you get an agent and you start booking jobs, the other agents who said “no” will be more interested.

Ok. Say you get a commercial agent. I suggest you then find the best commercial acting coach in that town and study with them. There is technique and you can learn it.

When you attend commercial auditions, you will walk into the waiting room, and it might be crowded. Everyone’s talking. Don’t worry about that. Find the sign in sheet and sign in. Give them the information they request. You will see the “copy” (the audition scenario) and you may be able to get your own copy of it or it may be posted up in the waiting room. The casting director or their assistant will come out periodically and take in an actor or two or three. They may also explain more regarding what the commercial is about.

Resist the urge to try to be a generic version of what they’re asking you to be. Instead, be you, bring your own essence to the material.

Prep work/ Questions you can ask yourself

What is the story here?
What are the previous circumstances that lead to the first line being spoken?
What do you want?
How do you feel about this?
-Make it personal-

If there is humor in the ad, avoid going too big. Believeable is always better. If the character is written bigger, just keep it grounded in some way. A three dimensional human who thinks and acts in that specific way. Avoid all out caricature. 

Some commercials have no text. You act out the story. Maybe you are getting a box of cereal and pouring it in the bowl, adding milk and then eating it.  It’s good, it’s crunchy, it starts your day off right. Everybody wants their day to start off right.

It’s human stories. Commercials are telling stories to appeal to what humans are and what humans want.

There are improv commercial auditions. They throw out an idea they have and they want to see actors run with it.

“Your kid sister took your eye liner and drew all over the refrigerator. You’ve got to clean it up before your parents get home while trying to be the best big sister you can be. When you start cleaning up you notice that your eyeliner is still wearable and you start putting it on both you and your sister, you make her look like cleopatra. You realize that windex plus really does clean everything!”

 When the advertising agency shows up at the audition, it is the first time they will see their material come to life. They and the director may tweek and change it until it works well. They don’t know exactly what actor they need. They just need someone who can make it work, who’s real. This is what can sell a product. If you’re friend told you they just ate at a great restaurant and you should go eat there, would you consider going? If your car needs new tires and your friend says they just got  tires that are great in the rain would you consider getting the same kind of tires as your friend? We influence each other and this is what national advertising taps into.

When you book a national commercial you will get a fee, but the money really shows up in residuals. Thousands of dollars. This can really help while you pay rent and take class, in pursuit of the acting career you are after. Many actors did commercials in the beginning of their careers. Leonardo Di Caprio.  Paul Rudd. 
Keanu Reeves.

The final note I have for acting in commercials is called the button.  When the lines finish in the scene, stay in the life of the scene until they "cut."  Avoid dropping out of the scene when the text is over. Stay in. What is the character thinking or feeling?

They might even invite you to “play” with it, which means at the end, your button can actually be a word or two that you make up, continuing the life of the scene.

I started doing commercials when I was younger. Here are some of the commercials I have been in:

10 Budweiser commercials during Super Bowl
Charles Schwab
Levi’s 50 Blues
Dr. Pepper
Trident gum
Quaker Oats
Kool Aid
Tide Detergent

I think all young actors should give commercials a try. Be the authentic you and you will learn and grow. 

 Here is an actor talking about booking his first 2 commercials 
and then he shows them. 

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