I’m often asked about trends in commercial casting. What’s hot and what’s not? My answer as of late tends to include “real people”… non-models, relatable people vs. Barbie people. Hooray! Quirky and dorky people are cool as of late. Actors who can bring the funny are also very hip, but you can arrive at those answers yourself if you spend some time watching commercials. The one big thing that may not be so obvious from an outside view is IMPROV. Improv ability has become widely requested in commercials over the last few years.
Commercial actors should never be without improv training.
If you are a commercial actor with no improv training, you are taking yourself out of consideration for waaaaaay too many commercials. Sure, there are the commercials asking for aspirational actors with a good look and a nice, warm smile. And someone is always looking for a model. But for the most part, when a comedic commercial is being made (and there are a lot of them, aren’t there!?!)…the powers-that-be are requesting improv actors.
Sooooo, you can be sure casting directors are looking for improv experience on your commercial resume. So, yes, check the “improv” box when filling out your profile. Short form, long form, etc., etc. Yes, you should check all appropriate boxes. But that’s not enough. We need more information. Some actors will put improv on their resume if they took a class in college 10 years ago. Some will add it after taking one all day Saturday class. A college class from the dark ages or a one-day class isn’t what anyone has in mind when casting improv actors for a commercial. If you have the improv box checked on your resume… and say nothing more, it’s my assumption that your experience level is next to nil.
How can one be more specific… maybe even brag a little on their resume?
Start with listing the school you’re studying at. UCB, Second City, IO? Name the school. If you have taken improv at a no name/lesser-known improv place, that’s cool, but you should consider taking at one of the top schools. For obvious reasons. Soon. List the levels you have completed. You can mention the name of your instructor if you wish. And find a way to convey that you are currently enrolled and taking class, if you are. Don’t lie. When you are a regular performer… SAY it! It’s ok to brag a little (or a lot) on this one. Casting Directors need to know your improv experience, specifically.
Finally, when you have been given an appointment time where improv actors have been requested (or demanded as the case may be), it’s likely the powers-that-be will want you to show your skills in the audition. No one wants you to rewrite the commercial… or write the commercial for that matter. There are union rules protecting you from that. But making the copy “your own” is likely the goal. You can assume the copy isn’t Shakespeare. There is no need to be word for word. There’s room for you to play… with the copy and in the pauses. Have fun. If you feel nervous or unsure about this, ask! The Casting Director/Session Director will point you in the right direction with the copy and certainly let you know where there is room for interpretation/play.
If you are the actor that has plenty of improv under your belt, make sure your resume exudes it. Definitely convey your experience with your agent so that they can specifically pitch you. If improv is completely foreign or it’s never been your cup of tea as a performance medium, consider taking a couple of classes solely for the purpose of increasing your commercial viability and audition skills. I firmly believe it will be worth it and you may just have a little fun while you are at it. You don’t want to miss the improv boat.