You might be familiar with the idea of “being impeccable with your word”. It comes from Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. Or perhaps Robert De Niro’s character in Meet the Parents and the “circle of trust” talk with his future son-in-law played by Ben Stiller may be more familiar to you. Surely one, if not both rings a bell and strikes a chord. Trust, and your impeccable word plays a huge part in your reputation as a commercial actor. You gotta keep your word. Period.
I’ll admit, I’m a little excited and a little scared. I’m attempting to tackle a topic that doesn’t have a clear answer: How an actor finds commercial representation. I’ve had many actors ask and my answer is always something close to shrugging my shoulders. But that’s a cop out. There are MANY ways an actor can obtain a commercial agent and I know of plenty of them. The painful part of the process is no one can say which one or which ONES will work for you. There are variables that are in your control and out of your control at any given time. In the end, you just need to try things and work at it. But making informed decisions is a good thing, and that’s where I (hopefully) come in with some help.
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.
Do you find yourself shrugging your shoulders as you head off to your commercial audition? Do you hope to find out what’s going on once you get there, with little to go on beforehand? Sometimes precious little information is given to the actor before their arrival at the audition—sometimes being the key word. Often times, I believe actors are uninformed because they have neglected to read the given information carefully, if at all. Other times, there are important clues that may not be so obvious, but are extremely helpful when preparing for a commercial audition. When you get five minutes in the room, you don’t want to spend that time finding out what you should already know.
Commercial actors should never ignore the clues given before an audition.
You’ve heard it, likely felt it, and probably had some panic about it: commercial budgets are shrinking, in general, and that can feel like very bad news. And honestly, on plenty of counts it is, or can be. But knowing more regarding lower budgets can benefit you. There is a silver lining and you should know how to find it.
Commercial actors should never be ill-informed regarding the rise of the lower budget commercial.
Let it first be said that lower budget commercials can definitely be SAG. Non-union does not necessarily equal low budget and union does not always equal big bucks. And when I mention the budget, I mean the budget of the entire commercial, not actor pay exclusively. The production of lower budget commercials, in general, are gaining in popularity. So when do I start spreading the good news? Let’s get to it now.
I find it funny to say that I’ve considered writing about the subject of actor gifts to industry professionals and have decided against it several times. Why? Because it’s controversial, I guess. There are two camps: believers in gift giving to industry pros, and those who are firmly against. The “against gift folks” believe we, industry pros, need you and your talent. When you are booked on a job, your being fantastic on set is your gift to us. We should, perhaps, send a thank you gift to you. t’s one way to look at it, and I respect the viewpoint, but not always the way in which it’s delivered (see kindness blog last month). If you are a no gift giving advocate, you are off the CASN reading hook for the month; I don’t want to attempt to change your mind. If you are interested or a believer in giving gifts, and want to do it well, this column is for you . . .
Commercial actors should never give industry gifts in a less than effective way.
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!