by Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix
What you should know about auditioning for commercials, from someone who has eaten lunch during your tape.
To get this out of the way right off the bat, I confess: I am that jerk.
You know—that jerk in the expensively casual (or casually expensive) clothes, slouched into the oversized furniture in the casting studio, fiddling with my Apple-branded device. That jerk who was partially responsible for calling back 99.999% of the actors from the first audition. That jerk at your callback—FOR WHICH YOU TOOK THREE HOURS OUT OF YOUR DAY—eating M&Ms…yawning…eating takeout from Hip Eatery of the Moment…laughing at everything the director says…eating…eating…eating…
Yes, my friends—I am …The Client!
Or I was. Before I became an actor, I was incarcerated at various big city ad agencies for 10 years, first as a copywriter and finally as a creative director—responsible, as one wise old boss put it, for deciding which way the bears would dance around the cereal box.
I also could be responsible for you making bank for the next six months, so don’t dismiss me out of hand. I’m your first hurdle. Me, and that tape I’m racing through during lunch so I can get back to the four other campaigns I’m three weeks behind on.
“But wait!” you cry. (Actors love to cry—what’s up with that?) “How can I possibly stand out on a tape if you have your stupid, advertising head buried in a tuna salad from Subway?”
“Easy!” I answer, mouth full. Just follow these five simple rules and you, too, can enjoy the kind of commercial success mere mortals only dream of…
1. Don’t get cute with the slate.
This is not about you getting up and doing five at The Comedy Store. This is about you saying your name so we can match it to the coffee-stained callsheet. To put it another way, you know that obnoxious dude you auditioned with last week who made a horse’s ass of himself with some lame, Jokey McJoke in his slate? That guy you were embarrassed to be put on tape with? Don’t be that guy.
2. Don’t be a jerk to your fellow auditioners.
This includes showboating, scene-stealing, line-stepping-on and other forms of loud, selfish behavior. Remember, it is not just your acting talent that is being considered; it is your appeal in the fifteenth hour of a sixteen-hour day. Think you’re so slick? Think we can’t see it on tape?
Think again, chumley…
3. Don’t be needy.
I know—you need the job. We all need the job. Whatever. Don’t look or act like you do. If you need help with this, talk it over with your teacher or coach. Get a day job that pays enough you don’t need to rely on commercial income. But for the love of all that is holy, do NOT show us desperation. It has the loser taint we can smell a mile off, and no one wants a loser in the commercial they spent a year (yes, sometimes it takes A YEAR) getting to air.
4. Don’t improve on the copy unless you’re specifically asked to.
Remember: we are the jokesters, not you. Just because the copy is crappy by the time it’s reached your hands doesn’t mean it started out that way. Copywriters and art directors are usually pretty smart and funny people, even if we are sometimes dismissed as artsy-fartsy by suits and the client who consider themselves our mental superiors. (Does that chain of command sound familiar, actors?) So be on my side. Don’t mock the copy, even subtly. Yes, we know it (sometimes) blows. No, we don’t want to hear it from you.
And we’ll know. Oh, we’ll know.
5. Don’t look radically different from your headshot.
Not because we won’t recognize you (you’re on tape, right in front of me and my sandwich), but to avoid the endless scorn you will receive at our frustrated-screenwriter hands when we hold up a picture of you looking like Jessica Alba on a Maxim cover to the pudgy, middle-aged, Casual Mom-looking you on tape. Also, casting directors hate it. Frankly, this should be reason enough.
6. Don’t sweat it.
Now that I’m on the other side of the camera, I routinely hear actors flipping out because their agent said business attire and they’ve shown up in casual business attire. Really—I SWEAR—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are good and kick ass and have fun. We can buy you a lab coat/housecoat/fur coat; we can’t conjure up mad acting skills. If we could, we’d be actors.
But that’s another story for another day…
(Tune in next month for Part II of What You Need to Know About Commercial Auditions: The Callback!)
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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!
Colleen Wainwright is a writer–speaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.