“When I get an ad script, I really don’t know how to prepare …”
“It’s all just luck anyway …”
“There is nothing to do here, I guess I’ll work it out in the audition.”
An actor will spend years developing preparation methods for TV and Film auditions, and techniques to draw on for acting scenes. But when it comes to the elusive ad casting, they feel less in control of the outcome and more at a loss on how to walk into that studio.
Some end up ambling through a TVC scene without any studio technique, acting preparation, scene or style analysis. The work might lack detail, resulting in a vague wash with blankness behind the eyes. Scripts may seem simplistic or superficial so actors play a result, rather than working on an internal process. Or they force their expressions and reactions out, hoping that will fool the director as truthful. Many are nervous or unpractised and get lost in the studio with messy and unrealistic mime, eye-lines, props and surrounds.
Of course there are a lot of wonderful actors nailing TVC auditions – getting positive feedback with recalls, on holds, and booking the jobs. They understand how to read the ad script, pitch their performance, and apply their craft to the TVC script. They add new ideas to the spot and are inspired to play it different ways in the casting room, take direction and give the director what is required and more.
But for all the actors who aren’t hearing back from their agent with any kind of affirmation that they are doing good work, there could be a number of things going on:
- Just not the right fit or type, whether it’s a physical or personality trait, or the performance style.
- Look at the advertising style of the brand and director, and pitch naturalistic tone appropriately.
- Bird’s eye view of the script, determine character’s energy and function.
- Make adjustments to fit the role, including wardrobe, body language, behaviour, interaction and accent.
- From the words of a TVC producer: “If I can give any hint for actors – try to understand what the message of the commercial is, what the commercial is about and embody that. Know what they want.”
- Nerves and self-doubt keeping you out of the moment.
- Combat this by regular and extensive vocal and physical warm-up; be practised in studio environment; explore the script through creative rehearsal in front of a camera.
- Preparing ‘how’ to say lines or give a ‘look’.
- Break the script into beats and drive the spot forward with purpose.
- Find the transitions – a physical shift, a realisation or reaction.
- Work on the inner life – what are you thinking, what is your intention or need. How can you get what you want (acting tools).
- Forcing performance out making it too big.
- Think it, feel it but don’t show it!
- Even the simplest thought, reaction or moment, needs to come from a real place.
- The camera captures everything. Know your camera technique – keep it small in gesture, facial expression, and volume.
- Speeding through script.
- Embellish the scene with more detail than what is on the page, whether you add business, action, interaction with a prop or person … “she is in the kitchen” can involve minutes of riveting stuff – make it your own interpretation, relevant to the story.
- Don’t forget your moment before and after: where have you come from, what has just happened – this can add verisimilitude to your work, just as where you end up, that added beat or tag at the end, shows the director you have gone on a journey, and could keep going with it.
- There is a journey in the ad scene, as the very nature of this medium is that you start with a hunger and it is satisfied, a problem and it is resolved, thanks to the product being advertised.
- Not connecting to the product.
- Always drop in personalisations so whatever you are holding, touching, drinking, eating or discussing becomes meaningful to you, like it would the character.
- Actually rehearse how you handle the product so it becomes natural for you in the casting.
- Eyes darting everywhere, confusing performance.
- Plot eye-lines at home as per studio set up. Keep them close to camera, without ever looking down the barrel, to avoid too much profile so we see your face. Be clear where to look for other characters or places and objects in your setting.
- Shuffling in the room aimlessly or striding past the boundaries.
- Play out the environment as scripted. Use props effectively and mime well. It will help your performance in the audition seem real, like it will be on the day in the location.
- Make sure you block and rehearse your movements and interactions in detail at home.
- Compress movements by not moving beyond your ‘acting field’ for the lighting and camera.
- Cheat blocking in the direction of the camera so we see your eyes and not your ear.
Try to approach an audition like a workshop, rather than arriving with the fear of not achieving perfection, of not being good enough, come in with the certainty that you are great, but you are open to uncovering what you can bring to this piece. If you have been called in for an audition, the expectation is that you will make a good go of it, you could and should get it. Make sure you listen to the director in recalls and are flexible to the direction. This comes back to allowing yourself to fall back into the imaginary world for that moment, with the thoughts, expectations and wants of the character and their relationships, but having the ability to gear change.
Always make lighter and more positive choices, and find humour where you can, the darker and grittier commercials are less common. Think more conservative and aspirational: advertising is the business of selling products by promoting an ideal of happiness and success, familial harmony, health and prosperity. Actors are the faces and personalities chosen to represent society through short narratives and clips that promote and promise our aspirations.
A successful commercial career can support and fuel an actor’s journey – financially, artistically, and most importantly spiritually. Rejections can play havoc on self-esteem and breed a negative energy that seeps into the next audition. But by improving and practising your commercial audition technique … then you can have a great time in the casting, immerse yourself in the moment truthfully, offer the director interesting choices, and book the job!
Transform Your AD Audition! An Actor’s Guide to the Commercial Casting Process