The importance of a beat.
Many commercials do not have much speaking, but there are important moments and transitions that have to be executed by the actor. These moments, or beats are described to myself as the Casting Director by the director. When they play back the auditions they will look for these moments with great intent.
It is our job as the Casting Director to work out the beat before the audition starts. In the morning before you arrive, the Casting Director with the Session Director works out where you should look and what the moment before and after the beat (the look) should be. Then it is up to you to make it your own.
Many times we place a piece of tape of the wall and refer to it as a reference point to where you should look. We have discovered if you look too far to the left, we won’t see as much of the other side of your face as we need to see. Or if you look too far to the right, it might look like you are looking right into the camera and there won’t be a distinct recognition that you are looking over at something else.
My first example of a beat that the director might be looking for is a moment between two people, a look at each other, with no speaking.
For instance, if you are eating, you look up and see someone you recognize and are happy to see, the beats would go like this:
- Beat #1: You are eating; your facial expression is as if you are in your own world, having pleasant thoughts, but not connected to anything in particular going on.
- Beat #2: You look up casually and you see the person you recognize.
- Beat #3: Your look transitions into looking happy to see them and there is a connection between the two of you.
In this case, the director is looking for the transition of recognition to joy.
The trick is to execute the transition smoothly. It can’t feel clunky or forced. And above all, unless directed otherwise, it all has to be very subtle.
Here’s another scenario, which I’ll follow with the actual commercial. This was for a Fruit of the Loom commercial that I cast.
Scene: Two guys are involved in a guy’s guy discussion, just shooting the breeze while barbecuing.
Beat #1: They hear something odd. It is actually the thundering of galloping horse hoofs, but they don’t know what it is. They casually look up while still in conversation.
They see horses jumping over the hedges of the backyard they are in. Riding the horses are grown men in fruit outfits.
Beat #2: You see a slight registration in their face that something is “just not right.” Slight is the operative word here.
Beat #3: They look at each other with the subtlest look, just in their eyes, of “what the heck?”
Beat #4: They look back out at the riders with an internal look in their eyes of “this just is a little odd.”
These beats were the requirements of the director. The execution of these beats is what the director was focused on when reviewing the auditions. All importantly, these beats are for you. The beats are for you to use to show who you are and how you feel.
The big lesson here is listen carefully to the session director’s description of beats and transitions. Don’t blow off this direction and think that it’s not important because there are no words. This IS your audition.
Here’s a treat. Take a look at the final spot.
Happy Holidays and the best wishes for a Happy New Year. Here’s to a successful, productive, fulfilling year ahead.
Any reproduction or usage of this article on other websites must be credited to Terry Berland, Casting Director and linked back to here.
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.”