The Competitive Edge: Ad-Libbing in Commercial Auditions


I’m not sure if actors really know of the “treading on thin ice” conditions casting used to have to work under to stay within the union’s improvising rules, in order to avoid fines every time we needed comedic actors to show a degree of creativity.


The Union contracts had always forbid casting to ask actors to improvise in auditions. Improvisation was considered a creative contribution to the spot, which it was thought should come with additional compensation. Unfortunately, this limited the actor from giving a full comedic performance and casting from finding truly unique individuals.  To comply with this rule, casting directors and actors were forced to eliminate a certain degree of creativity by avoiding asking actors to improvise around scripted commercials. Casting would have to use certain language (wink, wink) that became a well known invitation to improvise, without actually using the word “improv.” On occasion, casting directors were reported to the union, which resulted in clients and casting being fined for entering the forbidden area of creativity set by the union.

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Trust and Understanding Between Agents and Casting Directors: Avails and Bookings

Has the trust and understanding between agents and casting directors eroded?


The quick answer is NO.

Casting Directors and Agents

Everyday, your auditions, avails, and bookings are based on the communication between Commercial Casting Directors and Commercial Agents. We don’t talk to each other much any more, due to e-mails, and we don’t see each other face to face either.

From the astute recognition that tensions, contention, and misunderstanding between agents and casting directors were building up and the relationship was breaking down, recently the Commercial Casting Director Association (CCDA), which I am a member of, and the Association of Talent Agencies (ATA) had a meeting with a huge turnout to meet face-to-face and discuss issues that are misunderstood between the two groups.

The meeting was informative and friendly. It started out with plenty of time to meet and greet each other and then continued on to a facilitated discussion more

The One Important Direction to Listen For


In a commercial audition, the Casting Director or the Session Director gives you directions before you start. The directions will usually be made up of:

  1. The general feel of the spot
  2. The feel of who you are in the spot/attitude
  3. Your relationship to other characters in the spot
  4. A particular facial expression transition they are looking for
  5. Where your eye line should be

It goes without saying that with all of these guidelines, you still have to, and should, make it your own. No one gives you line readings.

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The Competitive Edge: Understanding the Audition Process

There Is More To Being A Successful Actor Than Knowing Technique. As talent, of course, you are focused on your audition technique; how you get the call back and the booking. This blog is not about that. However, knowing and understanding the process will enable you to be a wiser actor which will help you be a more confident actor. Confidence can only add up to feeling more relaxed, resulting in a better audition.

There is a life to a commercial project before you receive your audition time. Understanding this path exists beforehand will be very helpful to you feeling an important part of the casting process.

It starts with the ad agency being hired by the product company (e.g. Pepsi, Apple, Tide) to produce their spots. This is not on a one-to-one basis. There is a very large agreement with the agency to produce a certain amount of spots per year. The agency is responsible for media strategy as well as their buying power. Products usually stay with the ad agency for more

The Competitive Edge: A Good Disposition

Do you have the important trait that will make you stand out?

In my book Breaking Into Commercials I list seven elements that give you the competitive edge.

  • Know The Technique
  • Maintain a Positive Attitude
  • Always Expect The Unexpected
  • Expect to be Put at a Disadvantage
  • Be Flexible
  • Convey a Feeling of Intelligence
  • Give The Feeling That You Have an Unending Well of Creativity.
  • As an actor auditioning, these are common occurrences you come up against every day that you have to come to terms with.

How you deal with these everyday audition occurrences can be frustrating hard work. However, once you understand and control these elements and figure out how to eliminate the frustration, the happier you’ll be and the better you will audition. Not surprising, you will gravitate towards positive situations and opportunities.

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Positive Energy That Can Make You Successful As An Actor

cheerleaderHappy Holidays. As the end of the year is usually time for reflecting on goals you have reached and creating new goals, I am giving you a holiday gift reminder of positive energy and positive thoughts. Here are a number of thoughts to keep in mind to send yourself into the reception area with a force of positive energy and comfort.

Remember when you leave your house to audition, you are surrounded by a team of people who are rooting for you. Feel the force of that team.

The Casting Director you are auditioning for is rooting for you. They want and need you to be good. They believe in you and only want the best for you and want you to bring them the best you can.

Your Agent is rooting for you. They are repping and submitting you. Their reputation depends on you and they want you to do a great job. Your agent is keeping up good relationships with casting for communications to be open for you to receive more

The New Wild West In Acting Careers

voice overIf you are under the impression that the voiceover field is closed, you are wrong. The iron-clad gates have opened up. The voiceover field is the new Wild West of an acting career and talent are expanding their career to include voiceovers.

When I cast voiceovers, I audition talent I know from on-camera and whom I see in theatre. Many, many talent have expanded their career into voiceovers. In fact, the doors are open. It’s easier than ever. Does that mean it’s easy altogether? No.

I was fortunate to start my career on Madison Avenue as a casting director. First, I would cast the on-camera and then I would finish off the job by casting the voiceover. From the start of my career it was very natural for me to cast both. As my career evolved into my own independent casting company, I continued casting on-camera and voiceovers.

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Walking The Tightrope Between Being Booked Or Released


Are Avails Driving You Crazy?

We all know avails are a good thing. But are they driving you crazy?

Being put on avail is certainly a recognized indication that you’ve done a good job–and they bring you one step closer to booking the job. (I must take this moment to mention that not all great auditions will get you an avail.) Of course, you are then held on avail until the last minute, and if you are not booked, the only other option is you are released. The day or two (or more) that you are waiting to be booked or released is a combination of feelings ranging from excitement, trepidation, and anxiousness while you are wondering what’s going on behind the scenes that is determining your fate.

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Is Your Resting Face Causing You to Lose a Job?

grumpy cat

Many actors think that the only thing important is to “turn on” when the camera rolls or when the scene starts.  However, there is nothing farther from the truth than this.

I was at my callback for an on-camera commercial casting recently and the first step of selecting “yes’s” was made.  The next step is to go through all the possible yes’s and hone them down to the first choice and two backups.  To do this the creatives go through the size card photos that they use as reminders and they shuffle them around for organizational purposes.  They consider each person and talk about their performance and their essence that will fulfill the character

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The Competitive Edge


Improv Dates Back To The 15th Century

“Name Change Pending,” “God’s Been Drinking,” “Three Hole Punch”

Folks, I have not gone off my rocker.  These are the names of some 21st century improv groups and there are more…”, “The Steak and Blow Job Show”, “Oui Be Negros”, “Lincoln’s Bedroom”, “Mission IMPROVable” and “Blow Job Show.”

Starting in the 15th century, the first street performers ‘did’ improv with passerby.  Improv was actually illegal in British theatre up until the late 1960’s. If they dared, actors faced prosecution for deviating from the script!

Thankfully, improv survived and thrives today. From short‐form (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) to long‐form (“Harold” and “Armando” approaches), improv has its own language.

…and it is still one of the most impressive techniques to have listed on your resume for commercials, sitcoms and any auditioning or acting that calls for you to be loose and more