Written by Gywn Gilliss
Most actors I meet who really want to do commercials and aren’t booking jobs can’t seem to figure out WHY it’s so difficult. They’re sent out for an audition, work on the copy, go through the process of auditioning and then wonder, “My audition was so good. Why didn’t I book that spot?? Or at least, get a call back?”
To take some of the mystery out of the process, let’s deal with some basic facts. There are only a few reasons WHY anyone gets booked on a major market commercial:
1 – You LOOK like the Spokesperson the client had in mind – the corporate guy in the Amex or Citibank spot.
2 – You LOOK like the “family member” they were trying to match up for the group scene- A family dinner at the Olive Garden.
3 – You LOOK like “the girl next door” the company needed to be their “image”- CoverGirl or Ivory, the suburban Dad building a deck & buying stuff at The Home Depot,the Mom with her kids having burgers at McDonald’s.
Did you notice that for all the examples above the word “LOOK” was very important? How you look determines whether or not you will be cast. And that includes how you DRESS. It’s not your BFA degree in acting, your
“talent,” your acting training in Meisner, Method, Stanislavsky or Classical theatre. As a matter of fact, over 30% of all commercials don’t even have “lines” you can perform so your acting technique may not be considered
at all! It’s your “LOOK,” how you present yourself in those precious 22 seconds or more accurately, the first 4-10 seconds during your SLATE that is so important!
That’s when the Client, the Producer, the Writer and the Advertising Exec’s decide WHETHER TO HIRE YOU OR NOT!
Does that mean that everyone who wants to work in commercials has to look like a model or be perfect?
On the contrary, everyone who wants to work in commercials today (with the exception of those “beauty or cosmetic spots for shampoo, lipstick or fashion) needs to LOOK REAL-like a real person.
What does “REAL” mean?
A REAL housewife, mom, dad, neighbor in the suburbs, a high school coach, a handyman, the telephone guy, The FEDEX delivery guy, a small shop owner, the saleslady at the boutique at the mall, the teenager at the pizza parlor or the kids with their parents at the beach or on a picnic-these are all “marketable types” and niches that most people fit into. The LESS you look like an actor and the more you LOOK like a real person in “Middle America (west of the Hudson, east of the Pacific) the more you’ll get booked! Commercials cater to the average American Suburban family because those are the people who buy 95% of the products produced and therefore advertised.
But, in the Commercial World, REAL people have an attractive or “polished” appearance. That means, hair is clean, well styled, trimmed, NEAT. Teeth look white not uneven, discolored or unattractive, wardrobe is in vibrant
colors not dark, dingy, wrinkled or “urban chic”. Unless stated clearly in the “breakdown” description, any actor appearing to be a disenfranchised individual (unless their casting a goth or hipster)- one with tattoos,
body piercing, odd-colored hair or a weird haircut will probably NOT be considered for the job. You get the picture. And there is a professional standard that even the average real person may not adhere to.
Casting Directors politely call it “CAMERA READY”.
As an actor you need to understand that COMMERCIALS are a photogenic medium. You are cast by how you look on camera.
People who have a polished appearance will ALWAYS BOOK THE JOB over those who don’t. That means you need to “spiff up”. It pays off because booking a major market spot could earn you $$$thousands weekly/monthly in “passive” income as your spot is viewed nationally and sometimes globally. So, get the advice of an Industry Pro- a Commercial Casting Director, a
Career Coach, a TV Director or Agent before accepting an audition for a commercial.
The standard rule is WYSIWYG. What You See Is What You Get. Don’t think for a minute that “THEY” will hire and “fix” you- cut your hair, polish your teeth, change your clothes. If you present yourself unprofessionally, you won’t be hired! If on the other hand, you look “perfect” for the character they need to cast, you’ll not only be hired, they may even ask you to bring that shirt, sweater or jacket you wore in the audition with you for the Shoot!
BINGO! You hit the nail on the head! You’ve been booked!
You provided them with exactly what they needed.
Here are a few Camera Tips to Keep in Mind
1.Don’t wear Red, Black Or White for the camera
Red can turn an odd or ugly color on camera-from fuschia pink to dark blood, rust, orange or firey red – not attractive for anyone with any coloring and may create a mood of anxiety or fear.
Black takes all the energy from the frame of the shot and signifies something serious or possibly negative- death or depression. NOT wearing black also means not wearing dark navy, dark green, dark purple, brown, dark gray. Dark colors will definitely lose you the booking!
White creates a “ghost” of green light around you. Looks bad and tells them you are an amateur,not understanding camera work and lighting.
2. Bring HAIRSPRAY and “Fix” your hair problems.
If your hair tends to get in your eyes, is whispy, frizzy, uncontrolled or is hanging limply, blocking your face in any way it will probably cost you the booking. If they can’t see your face or your hair is annoying to watch while watching you read copy, they won’t cast you! Girls with long straggly straight hair will almost NEVER get booked! Cut the hair, have layers put in or have it styled -use product- so it frames your face and “flows” naturally. Or don’t waste your time going out for commercials. (Sorry, but it’s easier for guys! For you, don’t use too much mousse or product or you’ll appear to be greasy or wet!)
Remember you are shooting from the waist up for the most part so wardrobe below the waist is not that important (the exceptions would be an “athletic” or “action” spot where you may be jogging, playing tennis or golf. Then dress for the full length camera angle).
3. Bring and Use POWDER.
Everyone looks greasy, shiny on camera. It’s how light affects everyone’s skin. If you powder, (guys too) you’ll look more professional. Yes, these details make a difference. But you’re saying to yourself- “I didn’t study acting to learn how to wear make-up”! No, you didn’t. But if you want to make the money commercial residuals can offer you, LEARN! Just as you learned dialects, dance, singing, stage combat or wearing 18th century clothing not to mention different styles of acting, learn how to adapt to this area of the performing arts. It’s one more skill to add to your professional bag of tricks. The rewards will be enormous!
Happy Auditioning and Successful Marketing!
Gwyn Gilliss is the Founder and Executive Director of TAM, The Actor’s Market, a marketing firm for actors. They provide monthly FREE seminars/teleseminars, FREE weekly marketing tips as well as access to top photographers, graphic artists and videographers who provide every marketing tool an actor needs. Gwyn’s acting career spans several decades during which time she appeared on and off-Broadway, in classical roles in American Repertory companies in over 18 contract and recurring roles in Daytime/Prime time TV, Films and dozens of network commercials/V.O.’s. As the foremost Marketing/Career Coach she is available to work One-on-One with ready-to-succeed actors.