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Tracy WeisertSynopsis by Tracy Weisert

Killian McHugh, commercial casting director and coach spoke to a full house of our Casting Networks members on June 22.  Killian always draws an enthusiastic and smart crowd.

Here is Killian’s bio-

Killian McHugh, commercial casting director, creator of Killian’s Workshop and, began working in commercial casting in 2000.  He has worked in most of the top commercial offices in Los Angeles, and worked with most of the top commercial directors as either an on-camera principle actor or through the casting process.  In 2005, he found his home with Alyson Horn at AHC Inc.  He quickly became her “No.1” session director.  In 2006 He founded Killian‘s workshop with the sole purpose of revealing the knowledge he had learned from casting thereby empowering his fellow actors during their audition process.  Having seen literally thousands of auditions, Killian realized there was a great disconnect between what casting was actually looking for and what the actor THOUGHT casting was looking for! 

 The results have been a virtual phenomenon.  Since its founding, Killian’s Workshop has helped hundreds of actors book commercials resulting in millions of dollars in residuals for the working actor.  In 2010 he was promoted from session director to casting director within the AHC Inc. organization and also that same year, Killian’s Workshop was voted “Best Commercial Workshop” by the Backstage West readers’ poll and Killian himself was voted “Best Workshop Teacher” in that same poll.  In 2012 he appeared in MTV’s Made as the “go to guy” if you want to book commercials in Los Angeles.  That same year he created, moving his classes online.  

 One of his greatest strengths within AHC Inc. is that he is able to see new and undiscovered talent through the workshop and audition them for major campaigns.  Many actors from the workshop have been brought in for auditions at AHC Inc and we are proud to say a great number of them have booked the job and are now on our “1st call” list for auditions!!

 Here is a brief overview of some of the things Killian covered-

One of my favorite things any guest speaker has said in my eight years of hosting our seminar is, when speaking of agents and our acting careers, Killian said, “Constantly people are like, ‘My agent is going to drop me if I don’t book’ Remember, we are all in this together.  They [agents] work with you and for you.  Honestly, don’t freak out about if your agent is going to drop you.  It’s your career. They should answer the phone when you call but work with them. Don’t call them every day for silly things.  Be on time.  Don’t ask for timeframes.  Be professional.

I always say this in class that it is a job interview. If you went to Taco Bell Corporate or you went to ‘Wherever Corporate’ and were there for a job interview, you would wear what they told you to wear, you would study what they told you to study, you would know the mission statement, you would read the hiring packet, you would learn the bar menu and you would do all those things.  This [an acting career] is supposed to be the thing you want most in the world!  Why are not doing that, for this thing?  People are late all the time, they wear what they want or they don’t know their lines or all these things.  If it was corporate, you’d have all those things down. I really make people analyze that in my class.  Why are your dreams less than a bar job?  Why are you putting more care into a bar job than you are in your dream?”

Killian stressed the importance of actors taking improvisation classes for both those interested in booking commercial and theatrical acting jobs.  When an actor asked about taking classes at Los Angeles’ various improv schools, Killian said, “Well, we don’t call them and ask them what level you’re at but honestly, don’t put it (a school) on your resume, just to get into the room.  If you don’t have the skills, you don’t have the skills and we’ll know.  On that point, people call me all the time and say, ‘I was in this thing and she didn’t hit the cue’ or ‘He screwed up’… No one screws up your audition but you, okay?  You don’t know what is going on with the person in your scene.  They could have just been in a fender bender on the way over here.  They could have just found out that they had cancer.  It’s their first day in LA and they have no idea why they are in the room.  There are so many things.  You have no idea what’s going on with this person with the person next to you, so you have to do your thing and what you’re there for.  We can see who is not hitting their cues and we don’t book you as a group.  We book you individually.  Even when you’re in a group setting, we’re not booking the group.  We can see who is delivering and who is not.  That is a really common question.”

After several actors were up on stage in a mock audition, Killian stated, “I want to make this a lesson here because everybody did the same thing.  Okay…commercial life is not real life.  I said I was the camera, so you have to ‘cheat out’ towards the camera because the camera equals your money.  The ‘clients’ didn’t see who these people were the whole time because you turned away from them.  Plus the board (with the commercial copy) was over here, so in two out of the three things we saw this.  (in profile.)  The board is there to be used as a crutch when you need it but it’s not to be read from.  You can’t read the board in a Shakespeare play and then perform it.  You can’t just memorize a Shakespeare play either and perform it…you can but no one will come to the second show.  You have to understand what Shakespeare is saying and only then, can you deliver the line.  It’s the same concept here.  For me, there is no difference in preparing for Shakespeare and preparing for a commercial audition in my mind.  The goals of the scene are different but the preparatory diligence is the same.

Commercials are a technical thing.  There is no artistic value to what we do in that audition room.  We are recording you and putting you online, it used to be on tape, then it was a disk and now it’s just a link we sent through LA Casting. The only purpose of this link is to show them what you look like. If you don’t show them, then they can’t pick you.  They watch these for ten or fifteen seconds tops. They don’t watch the two or three takes.  If they can’t see you, they skip to the next person because there are a hundred other people here on this link, you see?  That was the main thing.  I couldn’t see you.  The second thing is, every single person did only what was on that page (of copy).  Now…it is against SAG rules for you to be asked to say one syllable that is not scripted.  SAG clearly only cares about the word improvisation and not the action of it because 95% of the time in this city, you have to give them something that’s not on the page. In fact, the only commercial audition I can think of that is not like that is Jack in the Box. With Jack in the Box, it is the only one where you cannot change a word of the scene or of the script.  You have to give them something more.”

Killian continued, “You have to keep the scene going until we call ‘Cut’ and stay in there in what is called  improvising.  We have code sentences in the commercial world.  We will say things like, ‘Have fun with this today’ or “Make it your own’ or ‘Let’s see what you can do with it’ or ‘You’re not married to this or ‘This more of a template.  Let’s see what you can do…’  Those are code sentences for the word improvise because we’re not allowed to say the word improvise.  ‘Run it out at the end’ is something they will say at callbacks.  “Run it out at the end’ means keep the same vein of conversation going.  Don’t start a whole new subject.  Keep the same joke running until the director calls ‘Cut’ using your own words which means improvise.  Or we’ll say ‘Button it’ at the end.  ‘Button it’ means a funny one-liner to get out of the scene.  Funny being the key to that statement.  [laughter]  I have, in the lobby when I’m auditioning, five buttons in my back pocket in case I get three takes.  You can’t do the same thing twice but here’s the thing.  Just because you wrote it in the lobby, you can’t force it into that scene when you get in there to show them how clever you are.  I am in a scene with another person.  Acting is reacting and improvising is listening, so I want to be in the moment but I have them in my back pocket in case I need them.  The key is also, you cannot make them [the clients] think that you scripted this in the lobby.  They really don’t like that.  I don’t quite understand why.  I don’t think it’s fair but if they feel this is a moment that was pre-scripted, then they watch and they sit there on the couch and when you leave they go, ‘Hmmmm…She totally wrote that.’  I don’t know why that’s not cool.  I don’t know why they don’t like that, but they don’t.  So, when I have my five buttons in the lobby, I always make it seem like it’s spontaneous and in the moment when and if I use them.”

Commercial reels?

  • Killian replied, “This is a really difficult subject because of the way the world is now and that we can Google everything.  We want to show off our talents (as actors) because it’s very difficult to book, the odds are against us and when we book, we want to show it off.  The problem now is that clients are Googling you in the room and even if it was eight years ago Pepsi doesn’t want to pick you when you were in a Coca Cola spot even though there is no conflict now.  It’s a really difficult thing to say and I don’t know if any casting director has the answer for it—you just have to be really careful.  When people book,  (from my class) I put their commercials on my web site because nobody would possibly find that because I don’t put their names attached to it, so no client would ever see that.  You have this commercial reel and we want to show people that we’re working.  It’s not fair at all but they’re Googling you.  Now not for every single role but for spokesperson roles, they are really doing that.  That brings us to another subject, take the shots where you’re wasted on Facebook down.  [laughter] Please take that off Facebook because clients can see that.  All of that matters now.”

In auditions and callbacks-

  • “Always wear the same outfit to the callback you did to the first call.”
  • “Do, in general, the same thing (at a callback) but don’t do the ‘same funny,’”
  • “The camera is your money.”

Killian said, “What I do say in class though, no matter what they (the clients) ask, however absurd, someone in this city will be able to do it, [laughter] so you want to be that person.”

Thank you Killian for an always great and informative seminar!  Check out Killian’s commercial workshops at

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