Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Book a Commercial

Reprinted from October 13th, 2006

How to book a commercial.

So about a month or so back, I booked a Dodge commercial. This was a big, crazy commercial that involved blowing up cars and dropping cars. If I'm lucky, it'll pay me pretty well, at least well enough to keep my insurance. If I'm not lucky, then I made scale for the day.

When I was on set one of the ad agency guys was talking to me and told me that even after my first audition, they loved me so much that I was in. "We had three groups of two guys we were choosing from", he explained, "and you were in all the groups. We even thought about casting you as the other guy!"

So with that stunning assessment of my talents I thought I would pass on to you, gentle reader, the exact method to booking commercials in Los Angeles.

No clue.

Well, that's a glib answer which is only partly true. But it is how I feel after I do or do not book commercials. I audition a lot, maybe 50-100 commercials a year. I get maybe 25% call backs and have booked about 15 commercials in my 8 year career. There are some, where afterwards I'm certain that they loved me and I do book the job. But all too often I will leave an audition or callback, call my wife to tell her I 'nailed it', and then never hear from them again. Even more perplexing is when I feel like I completely blew it, only to find out that I booked the role and they loved me. So it may be more accurate to say that I know enough to get in the door and do a good enough job to keep getting auditions, but when it comes down to the last few steps, they're still a mystery.

But if I had to give you, gentle reader, rules or steps to at least having a shot at being in that callback...that I can do. So indulge me as I map this out for you (and probably me as well)...

Step. 1
If you're 18-28 and beautiful/handsome, stop reading this. Go directly to the nearest commercial agent, show them your face, get signed, go out on auditions and book work. Seriously. You will be in those commercials where talent is irrelevant, but hotness is not. Just be able to look like you want to make love to the product, and by extension the opposite sex and you will very wealthy.

Step 2. Have the right 'look'. Here's a couple of them: Soccer Mom, Dad, Young Dad, College Kid, Beer Drinking Guy, Elderly, Really Fat, Really Thin, IT Guy, Nerd, Viagra user. If you fit into those roles EXACTLY, you have a shot at booking commercials. You have to have that stereotypical look that is recognizable in about 2 seconds or it's no good, because the other 28 seconds in the spot are reserved for the product. If you fall somewhere in between these types, as most people do, then you must cultivate one of the looks intensely until you are spot on, or prepare for a long, arduous struggle. Think I'm lying? Tag along with me to an audition where they're looking for a "Nerdy IT Guy". Watch me sit next 50 other guys who look like the brain trust of Microsoft, Dell and Apple combined. Looking as nerdy as I can, a lot of times I feel too 'normal'.

Step 3. Be good with improv. Forget acting. Acting requires rehearsal and choices made through that process. With commercials, you get the script moments before you go it. It's usually tacked on a board somewhere, if at all. The style of each one is completely different so in one reality you're shocked when your bananas talk to you, in another, it's perfectly reasonable. You go into the audition studio where the casting associate (The casting director will watch all this later on tape) will explain for the 90th time that day that as you are talking to the banana, the casting associate will be making a gurgling sound, which is of course the 70 foot sponge outside the door looking for the radio. He will tell you to not react to any of this as the director wants "Real" reactions. Got all that? Good, let's do it...

Commercial acting is improvisation, pure and simple. There's no way you can prepare for any audition except to be prepared for anything. If you are really serious about commercial acting, save your money on commercial workshops and take an improv class. Of the actors I audition against in callbacks, I think abut 80% are excellent improvisers.

Step 4. Have the right 'look'. Wait, I already did this one. no, actually, this is different. When you finally make it to the callback, you can have the best audition out of everyone and still lose the part because you're 'balding' but not 'bald. because you have blond hair instead of black, because you're 6'5" instead of 5'6". Because you are left handed instead of right.

At this junction, the director, ad agency and clients are all trying to assemble a puzzle, and you're just a piece. Your 'wife and kids' should look like they belong with you. They need to make sure you're manly enough, or nerdy enough to make the product look good. Oh, and interracial couples? Hah! In short, you will lose or gain many a role at this stage based on nothing you can control. This step is one of the most maddening, as you are about 4 hairs to few from a part.

Step 5. Know somebody. A commercial director in San Diego calls me once every couple of years and asks, "Mike, I'm shooting a commercial, wanna be in it?" At which point I check caller id to make sure it's not one of my jackass friends before I say yes.

Lots of directors have favorites and will use those people over and over again. I'm not real good at schmoozing on set, the last time I tried it, everyone was more entranced over the midget who was dressed as an elf. But if you have a contact, use it. There's no shame when you walk to the bank to cash the check.

Step 6. Recognize that this is just a commercial, and not life. in other words, just do the audition or callback and forget about it. I used to keep in depth journals about the entire process - product, casting director, how I felt, what I wore, ect. It turned out to be a great way to get really agitated about auditions before, during and after them. Nowadays, I simply do my best, walk out and try not to think about it.

Actually, if I was to pinpoint when I book, it's when I'm distracted. When I'm late, or late for another audition or if my wife and son are in the other room it pulls the plug out and allows me to just be natural. Also, directors and clients love to see someone who is confident to the point where they don't even seem to need the part. I was 1 1/2 hours late for a callback one day. All I wanted to do was go into the Casting Office and apologize personally to the casting director. When I got there the waiting room was empty. Finally the CD came out and I started to say I'm sorry. Before I could, she said, "Oh good, you're the last one here. Just go right in." Confused, I walked into the casting room in front of 10 clients, ad agency people and director and proceeded to book the job (you can see it here), when all I wanted to do was apologize. It helped that the guy also looked a little confused, but you get the point.

So, there it is, another diatribe that I'm sure none of you wanted. The truth is, recently these blogs are really more for me than you. I've been acting for 20 years now and it's time to start connecting a few of the dots. I'm happy to share these because A. It's good karma and B. except for one guy, no one who subscribes to this is in my type.

So next time you see a Dodge commercial with a guy being blown up in the car, think of me. Better yet, look at me, as that is me.

unless they recast.

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