Have you ever stopped to consider just how many commercials are running on television and the internet at any given moment? When you really think about it, it is almost overwhelming to consider–we might need someone like Neil DeGrasse Tyson to explain that the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world still don’t add up to the number of commercials in existence at any given moment.
So why aren’t you appearing in one right now? Don’t feel bad; the truth is, despite the overabundance of commercials in the known universe, it’s still a tough gig to book. For one thing, as with any audition it’s impossible to divine exactly what is going through the casting director’s head. Not to mention the fact that because you’re potentially being hired to sell a product, the company suits are also likely to have some level of input into the casting decision, and they will each have their own particular and possibly peculiar ideas about what they are looking for.
The thing is, it’s worse than a waste of time to try to read people’s minds. On the other hand, there are some concrete steps you can take to maximize your chances of booking your next commercial audition! Here are a few:
1. Bring the noise, bring the funk
That is, bring all of your best, most positive energy into the room with you. As we all know, energy gets you roles. Even if you are auditioning for a grumpy character, you need to bring your energy into the room between takes, as no one wants to work with someone who is ACTUALLY a grumpy person. This is of course easier said than done, especially after a long time sitting in the anteroom waiting your turn to audition. Look at getting your energy up as a challenge: one idea is to shake out your limbs a bit while you introduce yourself to the casting team, or touch your toes as you make small talk while they get ready for you to read. Try to get up from time to time and at least walk around the waiting room or hallway. Better yet, if you can do so without disturbing anyone, find a place to RUN around, or jump in place, or do a few push-ups–anything to get your energy going when you know your turn is coming up. Lots of pop musicians who incorporate complex dance routines into their shows literally do multiple sets of calisthenics before taking the stage in order to bring the proper level of energy. No matter what you think of musicians like Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift, one thing you can’t deny is they are selling a product–a wildly successful product. We as commercial actors could do worse than emulating them.
2. Talk to me, baby
Talk to the camera as though it were someone you know. This is where your actor’s imagination must come in strong: who are you talking to, exactly? Pick someone specific, a friend, a partner, a relative. What are they wearing? Where are they, in the kitchen, outside in a park, at work, at school? What time of day is it? What time of year? How is the light? And once you’ve made some choices along those lines, think about what you want to tell this specific person about the product or service. How will you convince them they need to try it? This may sound like overkill, and no doubt it will not always be possible to answer each and every one of these questions for every single read. But answering even some of them will make a difference, no matter how brief the read is. There are a million different choices you can make in a 15-second read that will make you appear warmer, more genuine and more engaged with the camera.
3. Just beat it
When reading for a commercial role, you usually only have a few seconds to really make yourself known, and to show who you are. That puts a ton of pressure on you. As a result, lots of commercial auditioners rush through their reads. Counterintuitively, the truth is that, because the time one is on camera for a commercial audition is so brief, it is vital you use every second thoughtfully, carefully, and in the best way possible to accentuate who and what you are. What you need to keep in mind is something we all learned doing stage shows and other narrative, long-form work: the notion of beats. In a play, a single scene may have several distinct beats in which the character changes to a different tactic or plays a new action. And just because the time frame for a commercial is shorter doesn’t mean the same thing isn’t true: there are beats in a commercial–especially in a comedic commercial. As an actor you can really help yourself by making clear changes in beats in your audition. For instance for the pre-beat just before you read, you should try changing your facial expression as a prelude to what you are about to say. Take a moment to get into the character and have them–not you–prepare to talk. Even if this beat is just one second, it can make a big impact when the casting director goes back and looks at your tape. And what is the dialogue? Even in a very short read there are likely to be multiple sentences. What does each sentence want from you, the actor? And what does your character want when he or she utters these particular words? If you have time to go over your sides before a commercial read, you can really break the material down into many more separate moments than you might think. And don’t forget a post-read beat too, even if it’s nothing more than a smile! Just because the words are finished doesn’t mean the action is.
4. Just face it
Speaking of smiling, your face tells a million stories even when you think it’s sitting still. And while enthusiasm and high energy are of course prerequisites for the vast majority of commercials, there are also numerous other expressions that can come into play. How many commercials have you seen where the actor had to play puzzlement, consternation, discomfort, doubt, fear or a million other thoughts and emotions? Now go practice all of those and more in front of the mirror. Often you will be surprised at the difference between what you think you are putting out in the world versus what you are actually showing on your face. Another thing to keep in mind while you are practicing in front of a mirror is that tension in an audition room often keeps us much more still and stiff than we would otherwise have intended. Make sure you go for it big!
5. Be silly
This can’t be stressed enough: at the heart of them, commercials are ridiculous, absurd, slightly mad endeavors. And as actors, they ask us to do ridiculous things. The sooner you can get rid of any baggage making you feel like you need to protect your dignity at a commercial audition, the better you will do. Have fun, play, bring your sense of child-like wonder and joy, and have a goal of making someone laugh every time you’re in an audition room–even if it’s only you!