I spend a lot of time talking about actor tools and how they play an essential role in commercial success. There’s training, headshots, special skills, the resume, and agents (to name a few) that should be consistently razor sharp. I’m also a big advocate of extreme professionalism. Arriving on time, prepared, and in proper wardrobe seems easy enough, but actually isn’t always a given with commercial actors. But in the end, while working on consistency in all of these wildly important things, if an actor can sprinkle kindness on everything they do in the industry, they may see results that can’t be imagined.
Commercial actors should never underestimate the power and effectiveness of being kind.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve taken on the topic of kindness—it’s a big one for me. I value kindness in people and especially actors. I don’t want to take a political turn in any way, but I’m feeling the importance of showing kindness is growing daily all around the world, and in our commercial industry. And frankly, there are a lot of not-kind moments that can and do happen in commercials.
Many, if not all, actors have a story about when or how they decided to dive into acting. I’d expect that every actor can easily name their dreams and goals for their career. It might be star in a film with so-and-so celebrity, win this-or-that award, or be a lead in a blockbuster feature or series regular on a network show. Usually, and understandably so, a commercial goal doesn’t make the big list. People don’t typically decide to pursue acting as a career to book commercials, but most will agree it makes a great day job. A really great day job. When pressed, the commercial goals may have something to do with national network commercials, LOTS of national network commercials, or to be the next FLO or “Most Interesting Man in the Universe.” I love the big goals. You certainly don’t want to be caught aiming too low. But there’s a danger in having the big daddy goals without the incremental ones that will get you there.
Commercial actors should never neglect to set the small goals.
I’d love to simply list what your small goals should be. You could simply adopt them and our work here would be done. But, as we know all too well, there is no one path to commercial success and therefore, no set group of goals.
Things have changed in the industry over the years. One significant thing is the way in which information is passed on. When I started casting (mid 2006), associates wore headsets with a pesky wire connected to the phone because we were constantly taking and receiving calls. And this was AFTER Casting Networks came to town and casting directors had been emailing audition notices for a handful of years. I believe we were still calling out callbacks. For sure we were calling out avails and bookings. Lots of phone talk was happening that just isn’t as much any more. This little fact makes that emailed audition notice more and more important.
Commercial actors should never neglect to read their audition notice . . . carefully.
Why carefully? Well, there are several reasons. There are times a casting director may use the system (by sending an audition or callback notice) to convey info or ask talent to do things other than attend an actual callback/audition.
Congratulations! You’ve just been offered an acting gig. You didn’t even have to audition. You will take it, right? You would take any acting job someone offered you! Or would you? This is something you’ll want to think about ahead of time, and I’d like to think there’s no time like the present. Whether you decide to decline an audition or a booking, the key is to do it with grace and respect, ALWAYS.
Commercial actors should never flub declining an audition or job.
Let’s start with the audition.
Did you self-submit? Then use care when you turn down the audition. This isn’t the time to say that you don’t attend auditions that have a payday of less than $X, when you knew all along the rate was less than $X, because it was posted on the breakdown. That’s weird and annoying. Let’s say you self-submitted on a short film. It’s strange to say you aren’t interested in the project before asking to see the script. Why did you submit? At least put a good foot forward and ask to see the script and then respectfully decline. Otherwise, again, it’s weird and annoying. Whatever the reason you choose to decline the audition, always thank the casting person for the opportunity. And – bigger picture – stop submitting on jobs you aren’t interested in/won’t take!
The obligatory questions asked at an industry Q&A or speaking engagement tend to be, “What are your pet peeves,” “What’s the best/worst things actors do at auditions,” and “How do you prefer actors stay in touch with you?” Now, it isn’t that these questions aren’t legitimate, but I sometimes feel like actors are more concerned about my thoughts on shaking hands, wearing perfume, and the use of postcards than far more important things to a commercial casting director.
Commercial actors should never . . . confuse the unimportant with the important.
Guilty. I am guilty. I’m guilty of searching the Internet or talking to any number of people until I find the study or person who says what I’m looking to hear. A glass of red wine each day will help you live longer. Who am I kidding, let’s go with THREE glasses of red wine. Butter is good for you. Coffee is good for you. Cardio isn’t the key to losing weight; certainly not jogging. Laughter is more effective in curing cancer than chemo. One of my favorite pastimes is to find someone or something that will corroborate whatever serves me to believe is true. I’m convinced you can find a study that will report your desired results, no matter how outlandish it may be. I’m beginning to believe I have this in common with many commercial actors.
Commercial actors should never . . . stop believin.’
There is a lot of information about commercials out there. There is no shortage of commercial actors, and even teachers, sharing information (and misinformation) and opinions stated as fact. It’s nutty and therefore completely understandable that it can be difficult to get to the truth. My short and sweet suggestions when processing information is to consider the source (whether it’s a person or publication), make sure you are talking specifically about commercial vs. theatrical, and, if possible, determine if the info is current in a rapidly changing industry.
It’s next to impossible to get feedback on a commercial audition. It’s not a frequent request made of a commercial casting director and, to my knowledge, it’s not normally given. This may sound like a line, but commercial casting directors are just too busy. The pace of commercial casting is insane, and only getting faster and more furious. So the future of getting feedback on your commercial audition isn’t bright, folks. This leaves you little to no information to go on as to the reason you didn’t get the callback. Some people advocate letting the audition go after you finish and never looking back. I would never recommend that, there’s simply too much to be learned. But I can say . . .
Commercial actors should never wonder why they didn’t get the callback.
In general, honesty is a good policy, a great policy in fact. There are instances when I beg actors to be 100% honest. The first example that comes to mind is anything to do with an actor’s special skills. Actors should never lie to their agent or in a casting session about their ability to perform a skill. There’s a big difference between being a competition level swimmer and someone who swam across the pool a few times. When asked in a casting session, or (hopefully) by your agent prior to being submitted on a job requiring a skill, you want to be very clear and extremely honest. But there are other times when it’s fine, for business reasons, to be less than painfully forthright. When asked by an industry professional how things are going acting-wise, you may want to hold back on divulging that you haven’t had an audition in 4 months, or have never booked a job. Instead, a generic, “Fine,” could be a good choice, or even a, “Working hard! Figuring it out!” could be in order.
Knowing when to be honest and when not to be quite-so-honest is important. But . . .
Commercial actors should never stop being honest with themselves.
Mailing a hardcopy headshot and resume to commercial casting directors is a thing of the past, certainly in Los Angeles. I think we can all give a collective shout of approval for that! It’s a huge financial savings to actors and a step in the right direction for the environment. Like everything else, the way of the Internet is the way of the commercial casting industry. You submit yourself and/or your agent submits you on commercial and print jobs online daily. It only makes sense that you create and maintain your industry relationships in the same manner. Have an update or a booking to report? I’m a strong advocate of communicating this information online. Sure, you can post your exciting news or new headshots on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You should definitely update your personal website and your online actor profiles. But you may want to personally share this information with some casting directors. Email is the obvious way to do this, but not any ‘ol willy-nilly email will do. Actors are getting creative; sometimes in the best way, and other times, not so much.
Commercial actors should never send unprofessional emails to a casting director.
There is such a thing as being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, and it’s not something to aspire to. There’s also something to be said for not having all your eggs in one basket. I’m just a fountain of idioms and figures of speech, aren’t I? Allow me to inch toward the point. I have a front seat to observing and listening to actors on a regular basis. Being a commercial actor is an exciting thing. Unfortunately, being a commercial actor can also be a long, hard, frustrating haul at times. A career in commercials will be both, count on it. But there are some actors who go with the flow better than others, even when they suffer the same inevitable set backs. They keep on the sunny side and don’t let bitterness take over. I’m intrigued by these actors, so I’ve studied them. Do they possess superhero powers to deflect the effects of rejection? I don’t think so . . .
Commercial actors should never have just one ball in the air.