by Casting Director, Terry Berland
The thought process of a commercial casting director for selecting an actor is the same as a theatrical casting director. However, as a commercial casting director, I live in a 30-second world. Everything is faster and more compressed.
First I see a look. I would say commercially this is the big difference from theatrical. In theatrical, if you are looking for a doctor, lawyer, FBI agent, forensics person, neighbor, etc., the look doesn’t really matter as much. In commercials the look matters more because our clients are appealing to a particular audience that they want to target or “sell.” For instance, if the product or situation is upscale, our casting spec could very likely call for an upscale-looking person.
Other than the look, the other elements of the thought process are similar. We are looking for good actors. How do we know you are a good actor? We either have seen your work before, or we look at your resume and then at your demo reel. There are all kinds of ways to get a good short demo reel in this day and age. For online submissions I suggest not to waste time with a montage presentation up front. I fast forward through that introduction because I’m not watching your reel to see different looks, hear music and generally see a pretty presentation. We don’t actually have time for those niceties. I want to get right down to seeing your acting. Therefore, start right out with the scene. It only takes a few moments to know if I want to watch a little further. First, I’m looking for all the elements it takes to be a good actor. Then I’m looking for a feel for the character that I’m casting. I can easily tell if you have an urban feel, an outdoor feel, hip, edgy, no-nonsense executive essence, etc. In my head I quickly “see you” as the character I’m going to make come alive.
Before I bring you to the audition, I come up with a condensed scenario for our clients, showing them quick, distinct, easy transitions. Transitions are important for our directors to see. Some examples of transitions would be frustration, then relief, confusion/understanding, unaware/aware or skeptical/convinced. More times than not, the transitions are extremely subtle.
An example recently is, I had two friends barbecuing. They were talking over the grill…horses jump over hedges…they glance up because “something” has grabbed their attention and they are asked to show subtle registration in their face that there is a strange situation going on. It usually just takes a shift of the eyes to each other to register a cool calm off-the-cuff message that “something is just not right.”
I work out my transitions before you come in and then discuss them with my session director. Then the first couple of actors come in to audition and the session director and I put our decisions to work. We make sure angles work to your advantage and we see the pitfalls of how the talent is interpreting our written direction. Many times we have to re-write our direction and keep adjusting our verbal direction until we click in to an understanding with the actor and the scene we are recreating. It becomes apparent where the situation is generally bringing the actor and what similar choices the actors are repeatedly making that are off-base, through no fault of their own. For instance, the way a script is written may bring an actor to convey concern, when the client actually wants the actor to convey a feeling of assurance. Another example is the storyboard and direction is interpreted as evoking a large reaction, when our director really wants a subtle reaction.
If you are one of the first people who come in, please don’t feel that you are at a disadvantage because we are still working out our communication. I can assure you, people who come in first get booked and people who come in last get booked. Our operation just runs smoother and our communication is clearer after we work it out with the first couple of people.
After a while, to save time, we’ll start bringing you into the audition room four, five, six or more at a time to give a group explanation. Once the day is rockin’, perhaps you notice the session director will tend to reel off quite a lot of “don’ts.” They are getting this list of “don’ts” from many actors who came in before you who have similarly interpreted the written direction or storyboard in a particular way that is not working. Please don’t interpret the “don’ts” as negative. Telling you what not to do from previous discoveries throughout the day saves everyone a lot of time.
After you’ve read the direction outside of the audition room, and then hearing someone give you direction of what we are looking for and who you are in the spot, will make things much clearer. Please don’t make the mistake of not reading the direction before you come in the room because you know the session director will be verbally giving it to you. There will be a clearer understanding after having read it first and then hearing it. It is extremely annoying and a big waste of time when actors clearly have not read the direction and start asking a lot of questions to first start the digestion process.
Some distinctions you might hear are “you are generally a happy person, even though things are not going right,” “you wear the pants in the family, with humor,” “you are not pushy, you really think you have a great idea,” “you are saying this with all innocence” or “you view the world with a comedic skew.”
We are clearly in a communication business from our clients, to us, to you. Thank you for doing what you do best.
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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.”