by Casting Director, Terry Berland
Acting In Commercials
Yes, it takes acting to execute commercial copy. Commercials are a funny little animal. The clients want you to play “real” with words and situations you probably don’t consider as real at all. They must believe the person “is” the character in the scene.
Over the years of watching auditions I have identified a good performance as having the same elements as a short scene. When I teach commercial technique, the main place I get the actor to is “who are you?”. Who is the person standing up there and experiencing or re-experiencing what they are talking about? If you were going up for a role in a TV series or a film and you have seven lines (which is about the same number of lines of a typical commercial), you would never just say or read the lines. You know you have to be a specific person. Because it’s a short scene, you have to do some digging beyond what’s given to you to make specific choices for this character. It’s the same for a commercial; you have to figure out what information you can come up with to “be” a specific person with specific attitudes. The trick is to stay “real” and don’t choose to become a character.
A commercial performance can have texture with a feeling of connection. First, you have to understand that ad agencies sell. “They” are selling but you are not. They are actually using you as a vehicle for their sell and you have to use what they give you to reveal who you are and how you feel.
Here are the questions you have to answer and some sensories you have to load yourself with to make this happen. As you will see, the same elements go into being real and making the character come alive as in any theatrical script.
To enable the steps to work, you have to come from a place of empowerment. You need to feel empowered to stand on your mark and express who you are and how you feel. Only then will you truly sound committed and sure of yourself. If I see that someone is selling or just saying the words, I can guide them into finding their empowerment by tapping into whatever it is in life that makes them feel on top of their game.
#1. Who am I as the person in the scenario? To give your answer as much texture as you can, take it a step further. What did this person do earlier in the day and what is this person going to do after we encounter him telling us whatever he has to say?
#2. Where am I? It’s not good enough to just make a statement as to where you are. You have to do lots of sensory work. Identify things like what is the temperature, time of day, lighting, what does the furniture look like, floor, etc.
#3. What and who are my relationships. The trick here is to look into the script and find relationships that are not so obvious. Sensory work again.
#4. Of course you have to choose an attitude. You have to know how to analyze the script to know what attitude works. How is the ad agency selling? Notice I said how is “the ad agency” selling? I did not say how are “you” selling. Yes, the ad agency has a sell, but they are just using you as a vehicle for their sell. You need to use what they give you as a vehicle to let out who you are and how you feel.
Preparing this way, is the only way your unique-self can and will be revealed. It’s just like the small character role in a film. The actor in that small role has to be specific, authentic and connected. That role can be the pivotal scene in a story. In commercial copy you have to drive the copy otherwise you will be sucked in by the sell. Be the person with your particular attitude saying these words. It becomes more about you and who you are… the copy is secondary and you can trust the words will come out of your mouth. Once you tap into your empowerment you can use it for every piece of copy.
You want to eliminate any doubts about your performance. You want to be guided to open up through your acting classes. When actors I work with open up, I actually see their looks change. Once that negative energy is released you can soar forward in unexpected ways.
I promise you it works. I see it all the time.
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Terry Berland is an award-winning casting director for on-camera, television, voice-over, and hosting. Her casting awards include Clio, The Houston International Film Festival, Art Director’s Club, Addy, and the International Film and Television Festival. Her former casting staff position for Madison Avenue giant BBDO/NY has lent to her deep understanding and involvement in the advertising industry. She is known throughout the country for her talent development and is the co-author of the how-to industry book,”Breaking Into Commercials.”