Commercials – you may have heard it’s a great way to make a lot of money in a short time, and it can be – if you’re willing to put the work in for it.
For those who really want to give this a try, the world of commercial auditions aren’t for the faint of heart. This is a full-time occupation, which will require your focus and – and you still might not get booked. But if you’re persistent and determined, casting directors will keep giving you that chance, and eventually something might click – and if not, you can always blame it on the television star they cast in your place.
Looking at you, Johnny Galecki.
There’s no “standard” for casting commercials, but you’ll find most of them follow the same pattern. You’ll get an audition with anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of people that fit certain attributes ranging from age and skin color to special skills they can perform, to literally simply being able to say “Yes” to the question, “Do you own a clown costume?”
If the casting director likes what you did for the part, they’ll call you back for the callback (that’s where that comes from). This time you’ll read for the people producing and/or directing the commercial. Usually it’ll be a day or two after your original audition, but sometimes it’ll be that same afternoon, so be ready to shift your entire day accordingly – and if you can’t, they’ll probably just go with someone else.
If by some miracle you’ve caught the producer’s eye for the role, your agent will call you with the news that you’re “on avail.” This means casting is making sure you are available to work should the people who are paying for the commercial want you in it.
Finally – and this almost never happens – you get called with the news that you booked it, you got the role, you’re filming next Monday and feel free to tweet everyone you know.
That’s the ideal, anyway. Nine times out of ten you won’t even get the callback to start. That’s why the smart commercial actors still do the regular actor things: practice, network, publicize, and especially take classes. Trust me, casting directors will want to see certain workshops on your resume, and the skills you’ll learn will help inform your acting in general.
A Day in the Life
Every day is a different day, but when you really start rolling through this (and you’ve got an agent or manager that can get you out) you’ll notice certain constants. The below is an example of what you can expect in this unpredictable process.
Your alarm goes off at 9am, letting you know it’s time to start the day you planned out completely last night. After you got the call from your agent about today’s audition, you took all the proper steps:
- Read the breakdown details: regional commercial, 11am, union rate, hipster casual wardrobe – you’ll be playing “Customer” (the part you were born to play)
- Figured out what you’re wearing (not plaid because that’s what literally everyone else will be wearing)
- Rehearsed the copy (the scene), which is nice because not always an option
- Mapped out exactly where the audition is: Santa Monica, 45 minutes by freeway. Easy.
Shaking off last night’s dreams (congrats on another Oscar), you look at your phone – and see you have an audition for another commercial at 1pm in Burbank, a full hour from Santa Monica on a good day. And this one wants you in a business suit. Thankfully you already have one in your closet because this is your career and you have plenty of clothing options available (right?).
In your car by 10am, you put the pedal to the metal – and within five minutes are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10 Freeway. That’s okay though, because you built an extra 20 minutes into your commute just in case.
You sign in at 10:45am, going over the copy in your head while sitting patiently, and you wait. And wait. And wait. At almost noon you risk using the bathroom, running back within 40 seconds to make sure they haven’t called you in yet (they haven’t). Finally, at 12:10pm, they call you into the room. Marking the camera and your spot and listening to the directions, you perform once and then get redirected.
Three minutes later, you’re out of the casting office and flat out sprinting to your vehicle.
Back on the freeway, you’re making good time (traffic seems to have let up for the midday), but because you’re a professional you still call your agent and let them know you’re going to be late for audition two. No one yells at you, in fact they’re thrilled you can make both your auditions today and they’re happy to make sure casting knows you’re on your way.
You arrive at the second office at 1:10pm, having chowed on the emergency energy bar you have stored in your glove compartment. Inside the waiting room you see a dozen people dressed as leprechauns – you’re in the right place (it’s an Irish business). You rush to the bathroom and put on the business suit, checking to make sure you don’t look like you just rushed across the entirety of Los Angeles west-to-east.
You get home at 2pm and that’s it. Five hours of driving and sitting and pacing for about seven minutes of job interviews. Opening the door, you’re interrupted by a phone call – it’s your agents, you got a callback for the first audition, can you get to Santa Monica by 3pm?
You don’t know, but you’re sure gonna try.