My perspective is interesting. I was an actor for over a decade and now work behind the camera at a Top Creative Video Agency in Toronto.
I went from being in commercials to helping cast them. Talk about full circle!
Since I’ve been on both sides of the camera, I thought it would be valuable to speak about the commercial casting process.
Are you struggling to book commercials?
Below are 7 things you as an actor can do to help yourself get cast in your next commercial!
But hey, don’t just take it from me! Hear it from your fellow actors who are actively booking commercials (video below).
1. Know Your Brand
Where do you fit in? What sets you apart from the sea of actors?
This might be one of the most difficult tasks for any actor to figure out. It is hard to look at yourself objectively and decide how you fit into this vast industry.
Hint: The sooner you come to terms that acting is a business, the better off you’ll be.
You might be wondering, what does it mean to brand yourself as an actor?
Well, think of it this way. What’s a product you can’t stop thinking about? Is there a song stuck in your head? Every company, artist, influencer – you name it – has their own brand.
Why are you pursuing a career in acting?
Is it to win an Oscar and be famous? Or do you want to elicit change and see new stories being represented? There’s really no wrong answer, but you and your acting need a Mission Statement.
Remember, with any form of art, the learning never stops. Acting is a life long journey that changes constantly.
Your branding today may not be your branding tomorrow.
2. Understand How to Sum Yourself Up
It’s like asking a salesperson to pitch you their product in one sentence.
Research actors who have a similar look to you. They would be actors in your age range and close physical appearance.
Taking the time to complete this step may clarify the types of characters you might be auditioning for.
Consider consulting a trusted acting coach or colleague when defining your brand. They may see something in you that you don’t see in yourself.
Remember, this is just a starting point…
This is the homework that no one talks about. There are many layers to unfold when beginning a career in commercial work.
Your brand is not the determining factor for what you would only be auditioning for. Keep an open mind!
Be realistic with your age range!
A big no – no would be to edit your headshots to look younger than you are. BE YOU because authenticity matters when it comes to commercial work (and acting in general).
Below are examples of age ranges which will of course differ from person to person. You may see these listed on an audition breakdown:
3. Research The Types of Roles You’ll Likely Audition For
Does your headshot reflect your brand?
When a Casting Director reviews the hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions, they skim through SMALL headshot thumbnails.
Knowing the types of characters you could potentially represent is a HUGE advantage!
Use your branding when choosing a wardrobe for headshots, or when selecting footage to use on your demo reel. Set yourself up for success and present these future employers with a complete and concise branding package.
If you change your look down the road, make sure to keep your headshot and marketing materials in line with your new branding.
Use the internet to research what is filming in your area!
Take the time to research the different types of commercials out there:
The list goes on!
Look up production companies in Toronto and see what they are creating.
Understanding the type of commercial you are audition for will help to inform your choices as an actor!
4. Your Materials Matter
Have a headshot that clearly shows your face. Shoulders up is generally a good rule to follow.
Headshots should represent the authentic you. Don’t get dark and moody headshots if that’s not the type of person you are.
You can definitely have a range of looks, but keep in mind your brand. If you are unsure, speak to your coach or agent for advice.
If you don’t get specific with your headshots and branding, Casting won’t know where to place you.
This may be a reason why no agent will take you on, or the reason you’re going to so many random auditions.
You might book the odd job here and there, but you won’t see your career flourish.
Arm your agent with a tool they can use to pitch you for roles that also align with your branding.
And as you start to book, make sure to update your resume, social channels and marketing materials as well!
5. Invest In Your Business
There has been a tremendous growth in self tape requests from Casting!
A self tape is when you record an audition yourself to send to a production or to your agent. It’s proven more convenient since COVID-19 put a strain on in person auditions.
There are general guidelines when filming your audition. Below are some tips to help you make a great self tape:
Option 1: Self Taping At Home
Use a camera or smartphone to record your audition with horizontal framing.
Ensure your camera is stationary (atripod works best).
Stand in front of a neutral background, like a blank wall. You can also use a backdrop (I suggest grey or blue).
Make sure the audio is clear and avoid noisy environments. I suggest investing in audio equipment to make your voice stand out. The last thing you want is for your voice to be lower than your reader’s voice. Which leads me to the next point…
Always have a readerand do not record your own voice. Having a reader Skype in is also an option if you live alone.
Avoid recording in low-light or overexposed environments. Your features and expressions need to be seen so try to make sure the lighting is as balanced as possible.
There are companies that focus solely on providing actors with the best self tape possible. The owners are usually actors/coaches themselves. They know how to be an excellent reader, and provide great feedback!
Having a strong self tape will not only make you stand out, it’ll demonstrate your commitment to your craft. More and more actors are being booked directly from their self tapes!
Did you research the product? The production company? The brand? Other similar commercials?
Know your audience and the type of product or emotion you are selling. Show up in the correct wardrobe, be on time and be on brand.
Believe it or not, actors are one of the least important aspects of the overall commercial.
There are so many moving parts to consider (as well as clients to please). You will be hired by proving you can do your job and do it well!
Trust me, no one has time to worry about you on set. They want a reliable actor (that’s why you see the same actor appearing in multiple commercials).
7. Be Ready To Play
A big part of acting is being able to adapt. There is a strong possibility that you will have to say the same line 50 different times.
Commercials either sell a product or produce an emotional response from their audience in 30 seconds or less.
To summarize, it’s not about you. It is about the client who will ultimately make the final decision on what makes it into the commercial.
Sets can be technically demanding and they can stretch well into overtime. But you still have to show up and be able to take direction. Although commercials are shorter than television or film spots, they are some of the hardest jobs to get right.
There is no guarantee in this business. You can do all the above perfectly and still not book.
But know this:
Getting an audition is a win
Having a callback is a win
Being called in again and again by the same Casting Director is a win
Booking a commercial is a win
There are so many factors when it comes to the decision making, a lot of which is out of your control.
But if you strive to continue learning about this industry and implement the ideas listed above, then you will start seeing doors open more and more.
If you want to read the full transcript of the video, find it below:
00:00:06:05 – 00:00:36:27
I think the most important thing that an actor can do when they’re auditioning for a commercial is to ask themselves what the purpose of the audition is. Or the purpose of the commercial. Because, you know, we need to recognize that usually in commercials there’s a product to sell or a service to sell. And at the end of the day, that product or service is more important than anything that the actor can do in terms of trying to make themselves stand out.
00:00:37:01 – 00:01:02:22
The main thing about commercial- and I learned this really being on the other side being an agency world for as long as I was – is about versatility and being able to take direction. The purpose of the commercial is to sell a product or service. There’s a lot of like expectations, but also like wants and needs of what they want coming out of the actual spot.
00:01:02:23 – 00:01:17:04
So not just the director, but then the creative agency and then the clients. So as the actor, what you want to be is flexible and versatile and able to deliver kind of whatever it is that they throw at you.
00:01:17:10 – 00:01:32:20
It’s a business, full stop. Yeah art and everything is great, but this is a business. Presenting yourself or acting in a way that is conducive to the ideology of what’s been presented or being asked of you for the commercial.
00:01:32:23 – 00:01:42:03
I always start any kind of commercial audition with asking the question, what is it that they really need to see in order to cast this role?
00:01:42:04 – 00:02:10:10
I think also this is where improv training becomes incredibly useful because through improv is when you learn to free yourself a little bit as well too…be more authentic with yourself in terms of how you approach a specific scene or a line or whatever it is that you need to do, but then have the room to play you in commercial.
00:02:10:10 – 00:02:23:24
As much as there is definitely a script, that script has gone through multiple rounds of revisions and through legal probably, and the clients have checked all the boxes on certain things. As the actor, you have to be able to play with that as well too.
00:02:23:25 – 00:02:50:19
You’re selling something. See, with acting, you are “acting”, but you’re also portraying a character. The same thing applies to commercials as well, but portraying a character that fits within the confines of the brand that you’re hired for. I don’t drink coffee, but I make a little good. It’s fast paced. You’re competing with other commercials, right? So as an actor is also very important to kind of be aware of that.
00:02:50:19 – 00:02:55:17
So the difference is that you need to drop in like that (snaps).
00:02:55:24 – 00:03:35:05
There is a client. So there is a corporation that has hired an ad agency to write a commercial. And then that ad agency will source the production company, which will then shoot the commercial. And so when you’re on set, what you’re actually experiencing is multiple layers of a client relationship. And so a lot of times in callbacks, the reason why the director’s asking you to do something differently or to make a change may have nothing to do with how the commercial will be shot and everything to do with knowing that you’ll be able to respond on the day.
00:03:35:20 – 00:03:55:07
I’ve been on sets where you get the actor – and then this has happened to me as well – I have to say the same line 50 different ways because they’re looking for a specific nuance that even they may not know what exactly it is that they’re looking for. But you kind of need to be able to then do it 50 ways.
00:03:55:07 – 00:04:00:19
But each one is slightly different, so that in the edit they can decide which one they actually want.
00:04:00:25 – 00:04:20:04
A commercial is really about micro-moments. You yourself may only be on screen for half a second. And so as much as we want to tell the story in terms of beginning, middle and end, I think that it’s important to recognize with commercials that it’s just the moment that they’re looking for.
00:04:20:11 – 00:04:41:14
So if I book it, it’s great. But if I don’t book it, it’s also great because I’m getting more opportunities. Or another chance will come out that may even be better than the one that was presented. Because that is what casting agencies want. Consistency. If I keep bringing this person in, I trust them to not make me the casting director or agent look bad.
00:04:41:27 – 00:04:46:00
I get a lot of auditions because I’m consistent.
00:04:46:08 – 00:04:55:12
If you’re reading for the part, chances are you’re already right for it. And you’re already representing the brand in some way, like they want to see you. So it’s really about bringing yourself to it as much as you can.