Commercials – To Do Or Not To Do?

First a shout out to Summer Crockett Moore. Summer was my guest in our latest FREE Industry Workshop Series. Twenty-five actors presented their work for her and afterward she said, “I’m producing several projects right now. I am SO glad I saw these people tonight. It is going to make my job easier.”
Summer’s upcoming film projects include The Alternative, Heather, Love Thy Keeper, Before I Do, and Miss Liberty. For television she’s producing: Little West 12th Street, One Night Only and an hour-long dramatic series More. THANK YOU, SUMMER!

A few days ago one of my students asked me if performing in commercials could have a negative impact on her career. She had heard it might. I told her I had the opposite experience. When I moved to LA (after five years in New York) I knew a few other actors but I didn’t know any LA casting directors and or agents. But because I had done 60 plus commercials in New York I didn’t have any problem getting commercial representation but I had to scramble to get a legit agent.

I finally got a legit agent (Dick Lovell – great guy, long gone unfortunately) and when he first started sending me out he got a lot of, “No. Don’t know him.” Fortunately, shortly after I arrived in LA  a Hallmark commercial I had shot a few months before started to air. After that whenever Dick called to submit me he would say, “He’s the guy in the Hallmark spot.” And the casting directors said, “Send him in.”

I was lucky and booked a lot of episodic work right away –  – Hill Street Blues, Simon and Simon, St. Elsewhere – and those shows lead to other shows – Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Bay City Blues, Dallas, Knot’s Landing, etc.

And even though I was doing a lot of episodic work I continued to shoot commercials. The issue of being overexposed wasn’t my problem, my problem was getting double booked. On more than one occasion I had to make the difficult choice of which job to accept. “Is this guest role on TV show X going to lead something or is it just going to be a one-off? Or should I take this national commercial that will probably pay me a lot and allow me to put a few bucks in the bank?”

I’m not complaining. It was a nice problem to have. And by the way, sometimes I made the right choice and sometimes I didn’t. One particularly painful memory is the time I turned down an episode of Family Ties. I had been offered a national Chrysler commercial and the shoot dates conflicted.  After a lot of back and forth with my agents we decided to turn down the Family Ties job. The part ended up becoming a recurring role. The Chrysler spot didn’t test very well and it never ran the way we thought it would. I kicked myself in the butt over that for a long time.

Another question I’m often asked is: “What role can commercials play in a actor’s career?” For me they played a huge role. I’m not sure I would’ve survived in the business without them. I can’t tell you how many times I paid my rent with commercial residuals. And those residuals, along with money I made working in Film and  TV, helped me buy a house, two houses actually. I was able to take early retirement and have a really nice pension a because of the money I made from commercials. Many actors will tell you the same story. In an interview recently Brian Cranston said he lived off of commercial residuals for about ten years while he was trying to get his acting career going. I hear you, brother! I hear you!

Watching TV last night I saw Jennifer Garner and George Clooney promoting products. These are major stars and I don’t think either one of them is worried about being overexposed because they’re doing commercials. So, my advice to my students and to you is if you’re offered a commercial go for it! You never know where it might take you.



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2 Responses to Commercials – To Do Or Not To Do?

  1. samkatznyc says:

    One of the funniest commercials I’ve ever seen “stars” George Clooney, but his female co-star steals the spot … and she never utters a word. I also have no idea who she is … but whoever she is, she’s brilliant.

  2. This is great John. Thank you!

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