by Casting Director, Terry Berland
When viewing your commercial auditions as a Casting Director, I need to get who you are very quickly. After all, the entire story probably only takes around 23 to 40 seconds, not counting the voice over.
I have to feel you connected to something specific. You can’t just recite words. The elements that comprise being connected are you being able to reveal who you are, what you are connected to (your relationships), where you are, and what you want. You have to be able to bring your acting skills into the commercial arena and make them work. Those of you who have heard me lecture or seen me on any panel discussions, have heard me refer to your acting skills many times. Those who have studied commercial acting with me learn how to transfer their acting skills to the commercial venue.
No doubt there are some talent who do not have strong acting chops who are successful in commercials. But it is the norm for talent will go further with strong acting skills. So what makes good acting skills?
I thought this information should come from a well known acting coach,Sharon Chatten, who works with many celebrities as well as developing talent. I’ve asked Sharon questions that address “what makes up good acting skills.”
What is it you see and feel that is the “breakthrough” as people are progressing?
The first breakthrough is truthfulness, that they are really talking to someone rather than sounding “like an actor;” to be feeling and thinking as the character and not just trying to make the words “sound” right. Also, that the actor is not dumbing down the character but allowing them to have an intelligence, heart, and sense of humor (as we as humans all have). Then comes the expansive breakthrough when the actor can juggle a lot of balls: crafting who their character is (based on the author via an understanding of script analysis), emotional and physical preparation, carbonation of prior circumstances, personalizations (people, places, events and endowed objects), objectives and intentions, destinations, and physicality. There are actors who do all of this intuitively, but it is important to have the craft to be able to make these choices consciously.
Are there distinctions that you see to being a really good actor?
On an intellectual level, a great actor must be true to the author and understand the music of the writing, the genre/style of the material, and be able to find all the clues the author gives as to the characters and story. Script analysis is vital. Then great actors morph into the character mentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and physically. There must be an ability to respond to imaginary stimuli and situations, which makes it possible for the actor to enter into the experience and emotions of the character. Really good actors are able to organically cook up:
- Who he is (the character when alone in heart, body, and thought knowing the history of that character from birth to current time)
- Where he is (place), where he is coming from and where he is going
- What is he doing there and what does he want (action/physicality)
- Who is he with (relationships/personalizations) and what he wants from them (objectives)
- What happened before he came there (given circumstances)
Actors must then listen and respond (as if for the first time) to other characters moment to moment, and with this immediacy, the spontaneity and chemistry between characters is experienced. Great actors do not do this externally, but fill up and really live the emotional life, heart, intelligence and humor of the character. No matter how broad the style of the writing (even heightened reality and farcical comedy) it is only brilliantly acted when emotionally supported. Great actors bring originality to their work and don’t fall into a cliché either in their own character choices or in their response to others and to situations.
What are other elements to being a good actor?
An actor must have full use of their voice and body. They must stay healthy and honor their instrument (themselves). Acting requires a full range of vocal and physical expression. I personally like the Alexander technique (http://alexandertechworks.com/) as it helps actors to align their bodies and elongates and widens the actor so they take up 360 degrees of space. Many actors hunch or have excessive “forward energy” which makes them smaller and kills their charisma by shrinking themselves or leaning forward with extraneous tension. Many actors have thin, little voices and have no control of their vocal production or their regional dialect. Often both a voice teacher for proper full resonant use of the voice and a dialect coach are needed in the training. Other classes like dance, martial arts, yoga, etc are always helpful. Also study the great clowns and notice their physical gestures and emotional truth. With classic films readily available this is easy to do.
Students in my ongoing classes learn in a very structured way the specific techniques geared to their training over time. It is very gratifying for me to have ongoing students in class once a week who are really learning the art and craft of acting and have the gymnasium of class to develop. Class is much different than private coaching (which is geared to performance of a particular role or audition). Ideally I think having an ongoing acting class once a week and getting private coaching for all auditions or once you get a role, is a wonderful combination.
As a member of the Actors Studio, I remember Robert Redford saying when asked what advice he would give to young actors. He said “have a life.” I agree. Love your art, work hard, commit to discipline in your craft, get good with the business end of, but experience fully all the rest of your life too. Volunteer, nurture your friends and family, and enjoy other interests. Somehow make enough money to live comfortably. And don’t base your life’s happiness on the call, text or email from an agent or casting office. You are NOT as good as your last job. You are as good as you are, simply being a good human being. Know that.
Partial list of clients (alphabetically): Laura Allen * Brandon Barash * Julie Marie Berman * Justin Bieber * Michelle Borth * Jim Carrey * Eddie Cibrian * Jeremy Davies * Paz De La Huerta * Cameron Diaz * Kim Dickens * Matt Dillon * Vincent D’Onofrio * Sherilyn Fenn * Jorja Fox * Rick Fox * James Gandolfini * Janeane Garofalo * Eddie Griffin * Marg Helgenberger * Charlie Hunnam * Billy Idol * Vincent Irizarry * Chris Kattan * Catherine Keener * Courtney Love * Elle Macpherson * Shirley Manson * Kevin McKidd * Matthew Modine * Patrick Monahan * Alanis Morissette * Megan Park * Sarah Paulson * Amanda Peet * Piper Perabo * Evan Peters * Kellie Pickler * Nicole Richie * Eden Riegel * Alan Rosenberg * Keri Russell * William Sadler * Richard Schiff * Grant Show * Will Smith * Scott Speedman * Jordana Spiro * Ben Stiller * Jason Thompson * Jeanne Tripplehorn * Robin Tunney * Aisha Tyler * Mark Valley * Barry Watson * Robin Weigert * Vanessa Williams *
For more information on Sharon Chatten sharonchatten.com/
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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.”