… lack an understanding of the “avails” process.
I was recently chatting with a very successful commercial actor friend of mine. She was “on avail” for a commercial, as she is more often than not, but this job was drawing extra attention. It was for a campaign with multiple spots and she knew that the potential to make great money was there. So, she was quizzing me. She, a woman who has made it her business to understand the business of commercials and has been on avail literally hundreds of times didn’t completely understand what happens behind the scenes of an avail. And if she doesn’t know… it’s likely you don’t either. This is where I come in…
Commercial actors should never be ignorant to the process behind the “avail”.
Every situation is different, but here’s the general deal…
Who gets put on avail?
After a callback the director and agency hot shots (I say that with the most respect possible) gather around and discuss talent. They pull digital photos, headshots, review any necessary videos from the callback session… and decide on a first choice cast with backups for each role. Occasionally, there are second or third backups. Each one of the talent are put “on avail” by the casting director. Avail calls typically go out the evening of the callback or relatively early the following business day. The calls go to the agent, and the agent contacts the talent to review the conflict, wardrobe and shoot dates. Essentially a commercial avail means you haven’t booked the job, yet… but you are on a very short list.
What happens during the time between avail calls and booking?
There is a presentation given to the “client” (Mr. or Ms. “Insert brand name here”, and team) of the desired cast. The presentation usually includes an edited video of the best takes from the callback (and/or the first call, if necessary), digital photo, along with the headshot and even possibly the resume of the talent. The evening of the callback, the casting staff creates an edited selects link of the first choice talent and another one with the backup talent for the presentation.
It is my understanding that the first choice talent are usually presented first, and the backup choices are only revealed when the client requests another option. The goal of the director and the ad agency team is to have their first choices or backups that they are very comfortable with, approved with ease. Sometimes the prod/agency team are just as happy with their backup choices, other times not so much. I reiterate, there are a multitude of exceptions to this process. Every job is different. For example, I remember an instance where the actor’s headshot was the only thing presented to the client for approval. No video, no digital photos. For whatever reason, the headshot was the only tool used for talent approval for a national network commercial. Headshots are important for so many reasons, just add this to the list. You do have ridiculously brilliant headshots, don’t you?
For the record… backup choices book the job all the time. If you happen to know that you are a backup avail, take it seriously and don’t lose heart. Backups book ALL the time.
It is my experience that more often than not, the booking process will not begin until the entire cast is approved. If it seems to be taking a long time to hear whether you booked the job or not, the problem may have nothing to do with you, but another component of the cast. When the job is large, bookings may come bit by bit, or per spot.
When are you released from an avail?
Avails are typically released after the entire cast has been booked and confirmed. In some instances, this could be a couple of days into a multi-day shoot. Yes, it is possible your role has not been booked even when the wardrobe day has passed and shooting has begun. It’s not ideal, but it happens. At times, Casting Directors neglect to release avails (shame on us) and other times, avails are released and the agent misses the message. Be as patient as possible, keep breathing and communicate with your agent.