I had just finished reading for Barbara Claman. It was a great supporting role for a feature film and she was a casting director with a long history of casting top quality projects. When I was done she said, “You do a lot of commercials, don’t you?” As soon as I heard those words I knew I was screwed.
It had taken me years to get into see Ms. Claman and now, in less than five minutes, all the efforts my agents and I had put into getting an appointment with her were dashed. I slinked out of her office like a beaten dog, upset I had blown the audition.
And now because I teach acting, and because I teach two very different types of acting — a commercial acting class and a film acting class, I feel compelled to remind my students to remember what they’re auditioning for — every time they go out.
You can’t audition for a film the same way you audition for a commercial. They are two different animals. Both involve storytelling and while the stories told in commercial scripts may not be as engaging as those told in a film script, they are stories nonetheless.
Commercials are all about finding resolution; solving a problem. Films, on the other hand, are driven by tension and conflict and in order for those stories to be successful problems need to be created — not solved. In a commercial, your job is to do everything you can to help another person get what he needs. In a film, your job is to make sure your character get what he wants regardless of the havoc it may cause.
This in-and-of-itself is huge and should have a major influence on the way you approach your auditions.
Another factor you need to consider is the emotional underpinning of the audition. Because commercials are about resolution the go-to emotion is joy. Madison Avenue figured out a long time ago the best way to sell their clients’ products was to create stories infused with happiness. Nobody wants to buy anything that is fraught with anger or fear or sadness.
Ad agencies want to show their product in a “good light.” And while a “problem” may be mentioned in the copy it is quickly solved once the “hero” product is introduced. The knees of Jimmy’s jeans are dirty; Tide is there to take care of it. Your house smells from your husband’s cigar smoke; one spray of an Air Freshener and the problem is gone.
With film (and theatre) scripts you get to use the juicier emotions — anger, fear, sadness, betrayal, embarrassment, jealousy. Because instead of helping someone else get what they need your job is to make sure you get what you want. It is possible your character may not get what he wants in the end but it is the struggle of watching you try that engages the audience and makes this brand of storytelling so effective.
I know first hand what can happen to an actor if he/she doesn’t make the proper adjustment before going into an audition. I’ve also witnessed the same thing numerous times as a director/producer. Recently while producing Scrambled Eggs the casting director brought in an actor who I recognized immediately; he had several spots running on TV. But when he read, he read as if he was auditioning for a commercial. Needless to say we didn’t call him back.
Actors need to how to audition for every type of media – you could have a theatre, film and a commercial audition all on the same day. Are you ready for that? Do you know how to switch gears? What to do at a commercial audition? What not to do at a film audition?
Coming Soon: May 28th the casting director Brette Goldstein will be the guest instructor for our next Free Industry Workshop. More details to follow.
Class Notes: New Commercial Level One Class starts 4 May. Click here for details.
“I never thought about being a commercial actor until I took John’s class. Now I’m booking jobs left and right. My last two were Jack Black cosmetics and Fisher-Price toys.” Robert Ballard
“I wanted to tell you you I booked my first national commercial today! For Brisk Iced Tea. Thanks so much for everything you taught me. You’re a wonderful teacher.” Divya Sethi
Want to audit my film class? Shoot me an email.