Let’s be real about commercials. They can be epic, funny, touching, odd, stupid, and downright terrible. They are celebrated during the Superbowl game… then judged. Commercials are skipped, they are endured, made fun of, and enjoyed. As a spectator, watching commercials is crazy enough, is it any wonder the commercial audition might be crazy, too?
There have been a lot of changes to the commercial audition process (not to mention contracts, prevalence of union vs. non-union, budget, rules, etc.) over the years. The most obvious being the change from in-person auditions to self-tapes. However, that’s NOT the topic today. Are those cheers I hear? Let’s move from that dead horse, at least momentarily, to addressing the actual content of what you are asked to do in a commercial audition, and how I’ve heard actors feel about it.
Commercial actors should never disparage the “silly asks” of their auditions.
Sometimes what you are asked to do in a commercial audition might feel dumb or even a little insulting, certainly after spending a whole heck of a lot of time and money on your BFA/MFA or at Conservatory X. A long time ago, it was decided (by who? I certainly want to know!) that the commercial audition would usually consist of creating the final commercial product on a small scale. In a commercial where there is a spokesperson with a decent chunk of copy delivering straight to camera, this translates well. You may feel some gratification in preparing for and performing the audition. Hooray! But there are a heck of a lot of commercial auditions that aren’t as straightforward. A commercial scenario may ask you to simulate rolling out of bed and down the street wrapped in bedding, clothes, and rugs for an insurance commercial…or be a barber cutting someone’s hair reacting to seeing said woman rolling down the street. How about the times when the spot calls for a big family scene around a holiday dinner table enjoying themselves? Remember, at least at the moment, you are usually performing the enjoyment of this celebration feast solo! We’ve been known to ask you to sleep (!) in an audition!
In simple terms, plenty of commercial auditions arguably consist of asking actors to do silly or stupid things. And of course, all while asking them to make it look really good, doing several different takes, and showing us some variation in each one. Some actors hate commercial auditions. Honestly, it’s not difficult to understand.
If you find yourself in the “I hate commercial auditions” shoes, save yourself! Focus on your theatrical career with all the blessings from the commercial world. Because, unfortunately, you can’t request your agent to only submit you on “worthy” commercial material, because they don’t know ahead of time if it is! The CD may not even know the action when putting the breakdown out. The wacky world of commercials is consistently wacky. If it hurts your soul to do the silly stuff, just don’t do it. Because, the minute you tell yourself that what you are doing is dumb or insulting, that job becomes exponentially harder to book. In general, annoyed actors don’t book.
Is there any way around the commercial audition? Yes, actually, in a few instances. When the commercial auditions are driving you crazy but you are open to the same less-than-desirable asks in a paid shoot, there ARE rare instances when the production company hires the cast, or certain roles, from headshot/reel/résumé. Make sure yours are in tip-top shape to book commercials, if that’s the goal. There is also the rare “offer only” usually reserved for celebrities and commercial bookers who are basically commercially famous. It may take years of commercial bookings to get to the offer-only space, but it exists.
So, back to the working-class world of commercials, where the majority of us live. When putting out self-tape requests, I’ve been politely asked if I would send the director and producers the actor’s headshots/reel/résumé in place of the self-tape, because that actor felt they were beyond (in this case) recording reaction shots. Honestly, the actor I’m thinking of had booked many, many commercials over the years. This could seem like a reasonable request! I’ve heard rumors that some actors don’t even ask, they just send their reel in place of the self-tape audition and hope for the best. In both scenarios, even if I wanted to accommodate the request or non-request, I can’t, because it’s not what is requested of me, as a casting director. I’ve been tasked to gather actors on tape performing a certain action or copy, and providing something else in its place is going to land me in the unemployment line. We’ve collectively agreed to the commercial audition process and for now, it is what it is, silly asks and all. When you request a different accommodation, it simply presents itself as a problem for the casting director to solve. I don’t recommend it. You might also want to avoid complaining about the inane thing you’ve been asked to do for your audition on social media. It’s not a great look and inevitably someone of importance will see it during your callback.
What would I suggest you do, instead? Let’s finish with some positive alternatives!
Celebrate the win of the audition appointment! You were (likely) chosen out of thousands of actors.
Embrace and delight in the silly commercial audition asks (as long as it’s reasonable and in line with what we would have you do in-person) Your enjoyment will shine through.
Remember, the more fun you’re having, the more fun we are having. That’s a good thing, commercially.
4. Geek out
Geek out about how to pull it off in the best possible way.
5. Be thankful
Be thankful you don’t have to drive across town in rush hour to perform the goofy commercial scenario!
Commit to mastering the art of performing the common silly commercial tasks, and get after booking those jobs…a majority of actors don’t do them well.
Delight in commercial auditions, no matter how silly!