by Casting Director, Terry Berland
The AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) has an awards competition every year for the best commercials, divided into many categories. It is called The Art and Technique of the American Commercial. Putting aside the auditions where you slate and “tell us something about what you like to do other than acting” auditions, I really do agree that acting in commercials is fascinating and an art in itself.
What makes a good commercial audition? Actors will ask “What makes one stand out”? Thank goodness the “old school” mugging and over acting with broad facial expressions is far behind us. Plain but not simple, the more honest and the more depth that you can reveal of your personality in this short format, the better the audition and the more you stand out. A lot of awareness and choices go into preparation resulting in seemingly effortless transitions.
You need to stand on the mark that you are given and immediately let us know who you are and how you feel. I liken it to a short theatrical scene, the “under fives”. There is not much to grab on to; very little time with very few words. And in that short amount of time, you need to connect to whatever the scene and character is.
You need to know where you are, what your relationships are, and most importantly, who you are. Actors, sound familiar?
The words become secondary. It is WHO is saying these words that the client is going to buy. That is what makes your audition unique. Even the same “types” have unique personalities. The key to a strong individual audition is letting out your personality, which allows the creative team into some depth below the surface.
The client does not need you to sell anything. They take care of the sell. They are using you as a vehicle for their sell. You do, however, have to understand the sell. You, then, have to take the script (or the improv) and make that a vehicle to let out who you are and how you feel.
Understanding the space you are working in, knowing how to expand it, and being able to identify beats will give your performance in this little space texture and dimension.
I don’t believe in thinking of yourself in terms of specific characters that you can play. I think it is limiting to categorize yourself as a lawyer, doctor, businessman, nurse, etc. However, know your type. What I mean by that is what qualities do you innately have? For instance, do you have humor? What kind of humor is it? Are you grounded, flighty, upscale, blue collar? Commercials happen so fast; there is no time to develop a character. You hear many times it’s “how you look”. Looks do play an important part in this venue because of the speed of the message. Longer theatrical scenes are actually easier because you can dig your teeth into and develop the character. In commercials, we drop right into the scene and within one minute, it’s over. No time to develop, grow, mature or evolve. You have to make a choice and be committed starting with the first word. Commitment starts way before you come in to the audition. During the selection process, I recently had the experience of looking at four photos of the same actor. The actor looked completely different in the last two photos, even as far as hair color. I asked myself “who is this person, who would show up?” I felt confused and a lack of confidence in the message the actor was conveying. I ended up calling in an actor I felt certain about.
Commitment continues during the audition. The client is looking for a personality to make the character in their spot come alive. You have to make a choice and then stay true to who you are. To do this, your personality choices need to drive your performance and the words will take care of themselves. Don’t let the words drive your performance.
Choices are a concept to respect. You cannot be everything to everyone. Yes, you need to know your technique to make smart choices and then put your energy into confidently staying committed to that choice. Wondering what “they” want while performing is counterproductive. If you understand their sell and know the space you are working in, you won’t do anything terribly wrong. After that, you’ll be directed with a slight adjustment if need be.
Know your technique, make strong choices, be flexible to change as directed and enjoy the 60-second opportunity.
It’s an art to tell a story and act in 60 seconds. Be the best artist you can be.
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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.”