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Terry Berlandby Casting Director, Terry Berland

You can create a character in 30 seconds.

It surprised me that many people were intrigued by my casual remark “you can create a character in 30 seconds” in my July The Competitive Edge article.  Many people asked, “How do I do that?”  I just take it for granted that actors know this needs to be their goal to be good at acting in commercials, as well as in a short scene in a film.  A fully-developed character is what I look for as a casting director as does the art director, producer and director.  It’s your job.  You can’t walk into the audition and give a half-developed performance and walk out saying “I’ll have the rest of the character developed at a later time.  I’ll get back to you on that.”

You must fully develop your character in 30 seconds.  How do you do that?  The answer is dig deep below the obvious and create a backstory with texture. To do that you must incorporate the following elements.

Where am I? Create your environment—in great detail, I might add.

Who am I? You must be able to identify what empowers you.  What makes you feel on top of your game; feel really good about yourself.  What empowers you to stand up on that mark (you are given to work on) and be opinionated?  Avoid being neutral.

Connection: You must be able to connect to multiple things.  Dig deep to find multiple relationships that you will find from knowing how to analyze a script.

Relationship:   The connections you find will create the feeling of being in a relationship.  In a commercial, relationships can include other people in the spot, the one other person you are talking whom we don’t even see, or the product.  In addition, look for other people who are behind the situation that is quickly developing in the spot.

Bring texture to the situation:  You will find texture in the subtext of the spot.  For instance, if the situation in the spot calls for frustration, create situations that will support your feeling frustrated.  To bring even more texture to the situation add “what and who” is behind the frustration.  Go even further with figuring out who are those people and what is your relationship to them?

Find your beats: The beat is the moment of transition.  The place you can grab on to where you apply a particular attitude.  When you get really good at this, the beat creates a little pocket of space that you can play with, or create in.  It’s a very exciting moment to relax enough to discover those pockets of opportunities.

The Words are Secondary:

In a commercial, the client gives you words.  These words might not feel very normal and might include a lot of information.  Interestingly enough, when you have your character figured out, the words are secondary to who you are being.  Don’t let the words guide you;  you guide the words.  If the words guide you, your performance becomes about the words and not about you.  The most elated moments and biggest breakthroughs in my workshops is the “ah ha” moment of someone getting this concept.  The actor becomes free to be who they are and can give a truthful performance with depth.  It’s what session directors are directing you towards, what clients are looking for and what makes your audition unique.

Those of you who are reading this article smiling, know what I’m talking about and  can execute short scenes well. You are the ones who have a chance to receive a lot of avails, callbacks and bookings.  Those who don’t quite know what I’m talking about… find out to be on top of your game.

To be a good actor; you have to be genuine and involved.


Any reproduction or usage of this article on other websites must be credited to Terry Berland, Casting Director and linked back to here.

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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.”