1. Watch Commercials As Homework
Studying the typical roles in commercials is going to help you know how they usually cast those roles, thereby telling you what your type is. If you think of yourself as “hip twenty-something,” but you keep seeing people that generally look like you being cast as “young mom,” maybe it’s time to throw that look into your headshots. Above all, it’s important to be honest with yourself when watching these commercials. Holding onto the notion that you would be cast as “Handsome Office Hero,” when the world sees you as “Funny Office Sidekick” isn’t doing your career any favors. Embrace your real type.
2. Create Content
The easiest way to get the world to take notice of your talent obviously isn’t to wait for the right role to submit to. This era is uniquely suited to creating your own opportunities, so make your own stuff! And keep making your own stuff! Never stop making your own stuff, man!
3. Notice the Snap Judgements You Make When People Watching
This is kind of a continuation of #1, but when you people watch, what kind of opinion do you immediately form about the person you’re looking at? Try doing it all day; figure out how you would type the people you come across if you were a casting director. Then turn it back around on yourself. Did you generally type the people who dress like you as a certain thing? That gives you a good indication of how casting directors are thinking of you.
4. Headshots: Eyes, Multiple Expressions, Crisp Colors
A good headshot photographer is probably going to handle the quality of a photo, but it’s up to you to choose colors that will set a tone (probably bright and poppy for commercial, muted and earthy for theatrical). It’s even more up to you to put forth something in your eyes and make sure you don’t keep making the same expression the whole time. Oh, boy, am I ever guilty of that last one.
5. Not All Improv Classes Are Created Equal
There’ll be a longer breakout post about the absolute necessity of having an improv/comedy background when it comes to commercials, but it’s important to note that Justin spoke about the fact that not all improv classes are going to prepare you for the same kind of improv style. Commercials are looking for you to stay close to the tone, adding a few funny but grounded specifics that give a fuller impression of your personality while staying based in the character. What they are NOT looking for is for you to turn into an SNL character who is suddenly a big ol’ wackadoodle out of nowhere. That energy is better suited to a sketch than a commercial audition or an improv scene.
Plus, the comedy theatres around town in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago are really built to train people who want a career in comedy and comedic acting, not a career in straight acting (though they might want that too). That’s an important distinction because it is going to change how someone approaches an improv class. People who want a career in comedy are going to stuff years and years of UCB/Groundlings/Second City/iO/etc. training into their brains, making the way they think totally different from someone who’s stuffing years and years of Stella Adler/Meisner/Method/etc. training into their brains. What I mean is that if you want to be on SNL or be the next Key & Peele, do the comedy theatre classes. If you want to be on CW’s Reign or be the next Vincent Kartheiser, just take classes that focus on how to improvise in auditions (like the ones ASG Casting offers here: http://www.cameraleft.com/calendar/). It will serve you better in the room and waste less of your money in the long run.
That being said, if your reps are reeeeeally pushing you to take classes at a comedy theatre like UCB or Groundlings because it’s the big, splashy name everyone’s talking about, then I say take the first level and be done. That way you can honestly list the training on your resume and you haven’t spent $1,600 learning a skill you don’t want to continue in. Personally, I’ve taken something like 25 8-week improv and sketch classes over the last dozen or so years at three different theatres, plus weekly independent practices with improv teams, and spent I don’t even know how much money on it. That’s because I am a crazy person who wants to do improv for the rest of her life, knowing she will never, ever be paid for it. These are the kinds of maniacs you are taking comedy theatre classes with. And then there are the people who want a career in standup comedy, who are completely different beasts.
The point is: know what kind of career you want and zero in on it.
Lindsay Katai is a writer/performer/debtor who has worked at Casting Networks since 2010.