I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I very clearly remember having it. I was talking with an actor who has been at it for quite some time. He isn’t famous but has been hired plenty of (MANY) times over the years—you know, where lots of actors find themselves, somewhere in that grey, middle area of the success arena. He told me, “When I go to a theatrical audition, I know I can book it. When I go to a commercial audition, I never think I will.”
Commercial actors should never give up on commercials without realizing it.
For the past 3+ months, I’ve been enjoying my first time back among the ranks of the fully-employed in 25 years. And I’m not kidding when I say “enjoy”—far from finding the 9-to-5 (or in my case, 8-to-4) burdensome, I’ve found it quite freeing, and in ways I wasn’t really expecting.
Since many, if not most, actors need some kind of day job to survive, I thought it might be worth enumerating what I’m learning from my new gig, how it’s shaping the rest of my life (including my creative outlook—and output!), and other reasons why that thing you may be regarding as a set of shackles could be the very thing that frees you.
Our May seminar speaker was the fantastic Michael Sanford. Michael and his wonderful team have worked with many top commercial, television, and film directors, as well as production companies and advertising agencies. Several of these clients have been nominated or have won the Oscar, Emmy, DGA, and various other awards while collaborating with Sanford Casting. In 2006, Michael broadened the company’s vision to include casting projects in the Spanish Language market. In 2010, he launched a feature-length and short film division whose recent credits include A Pebble of Love, A Reason, California Solo, The Artist, I Melt with You, Mosquita y Mari, The Sleepy Man, and Dustland. He shared the 2012 CSA Artios Award with his mentor and fellow casting director Heidi Levitt for their collaboration on The Artist. Additionally, Michael received the 2013 Seymour Heller Award for Commercial Casting Director of the year, which is given by the Talent Managers Association. He is also currently serving on the Diversity Committee with the Casting Society of America.
Here are just a few tips that came out of the seminar.
Nobody gets away with never being disappointed, especially actors. You have to deal with disappointing others and, even more harrowing, disappointing yourself. Fighting this fact rather than getting comfortable with it will only bring more torment to an already difficult situation. Hearing a lot of no’s before you get to a yes is the likely path of an actor. In fact, if you talk to anyone who is at the top of their game, most of them will tell you it wasn’t an easy ride getting there. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, in fact, you are in very good company.
If you want to win an award, write your own role!
Don’t wait for something to happen for you, make something happen for you.
Actors, how many of you are waiting around for that perfect role or, for that matter, that one audition that will give you the role of a lifetime?
WHAT IF instead of waiting for something to happen to you, you make something happen for you? Write your own role, win an award, and create your own destiny.
My mom has always said, “You become who you hang around.” Such true words! Think about the influence our friends or acquaintances have on us; hey lift us up to their level . . . or drag our asses down. Misery loves company, but not our company! We’ve got goals to accomplish and real friends by our side to help us obtain them.
There’s been a lot of insightful sayings in my family, so let’s pretend you’re at my Sunday dinner. Another serving of veggies for you? Okay, kidding, couldn’t help myself. Grandpa would look dead in your eyes, “You choose your friends, you choose your future! Now what’s it going to be?” My cousins and I would laugh as kids, but man, this makes so much sense. Surrounding yourself with friends who have a positive outlook, set goals, work out of their comfort zone, and always strive for greatness will have a huge impact on all those areas of your life too!
Know who you are, encompass the character you want to play, and target the shows that have your type of character.
All the hard work you put into being a good commercial actor can help you transition into a career in television.
Here are six elements from your commercial career that can help you make the transition to television acting.
1. A Commercial Spot Running
If you have a good commercial spot running, you have a body of work that may be recognized. Theatrical casting directors watch commercials and frequently search for someone they have seen in a commercial who they feel will be good for a TV role they are casting. I can tell you first hand as a casting director, I have had many television casting director friends ask me who is in such-and-such commercial.
A CEO Woman, a Hot Girl, and a Maintenance Man walk into a bar. No, that’s not quite right, and this is not a joke. But the setup does sound like one, doesn’t it? Seven strangers get stuck in an elevator together. No, that’s really, truly the premise of Elevator and it’s currently on stage at Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. Does it sound familiar to you? It’s possible you saw it at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2010 or at the Macha Theatre after that. But it has been awhile since you’ve had the opportunity and I say there’s no reason not to check it out.
If you’re an actor, chances are you’re working too much. In the beginning, you’re working three jobs, by default: the job of training yourself as an actor; the job of working as an actor (which includes auditioning, performing, and attendant/appropriate business activities you have, such as marketing and networking); and, unless you’re independently wealthy, the job that puts food on the table while you work the other eight or so jobs you have of “being” an actor.
With all of that working, you somehow need to free up time to play, relax, and stay fresh. (Or not, but trust me, it’s going to be hard to keep that acting fresh if you’re a scattered, nervous wreck.) You likely don’t have much wiggle room in that day job, so it’s up to you to learn to manage your time and energy on fronts performance-related. That’s going to mean saying “no” as well as saying “yes”: simple in principle, but never easy when there are carrots being dangled or guilt trips being booked for you.
For many years I went to improv shows to be entertained, laugh, and discover the work of clever, quick-thinking actors. I have always said, improv is important—it loosens you up, gets you ready to think fast on your feet, and strips away the self-censorship that blocks creativity.
There is More to Improv Than Being Funny
Improv is important to the art of acting itself. Improv enables you to open up the door to your creative power and is a conduit to better dramatic acting.