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Commercials: It’s Not Craft, But There’s An Art To It.

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I didn’t get into acting because I wanted to peddle products but I’ve found success in booking commercials, I have a great agent and I enjoy the work. Here are a few trade secrets I’d like to share.

1. Generic clothes to auditions

An actor in a commercial represents the demographic the advertisers are targeting.  My category includes terms like ‘aspirational’ ‘quirky’ ‘young mom’ ‘off beat’ ‘approachable’ ‘girl next door.’ I wear the cheap imperfect fitting t-shirts from Target or K-Mart. I never dress quirky or off-beat, I let my performance and energy in the room convey that. There’s a sense they are going for; that has less to do with creativity and more to do with your reliability to the demographic. So I avoid dressing in my Katie-ness, and show up as a kind of blank canvas for them to imagine me into their campaign. And if you are lucky enough to get the storyboards for an audition, I dress exactly as my role on those boards.

2. Remember it’s :30 seconds

You head in the room ‘make it your own’ code word for improv. Be prepared to play, however, it should be the icing on the cake, not remaking the cake into an apple pie. What I mean by that is – the script and concept that you have in front of you at the audition has gone through a million edits and stages of approval. Good or bad, this draft is the agreed upon concept and your job with the ‘make it your own’ is to enhance that concept slightly, not to recreate it. Do not waste your time doing a super long amazing improv. Your talent is needed to shiny up their concept, that’s it. Do not add a button unless it helps the campaign.

3. Slate in the tone of your role, subtly

If you’re role is happy, slate your name happy.
If you’re role is awkward, slate a little awkward.
If you’re role is confident, slate with confidence.
BUT like your performance it must be grounded. All of this must be real.
Do not let them see you acting, just draw on that part of yourself that IS that happy, awkward confident, etc. They want to believe you are the role they are hiring you for. It’s not craft, it’s commercials, and there’s an art to it, even if it isn’t art.

4. Check out Vine

Viners are a great example of the kind of quick storytelling that advertising campaigns are all about. They get in and get out with a clear simple beginning, middle and end. If they are good, there is no fat on the content. Every detail is essential for their bit, same with commercials. Think about that when you want to improve a button, (remember #2)…does it enhance the concept or distract.

5. Learn the session runners names

Session runners are the gals and guys running camera. Learn their names, thank them genuinely and when they help you out – give you 3-5 extra takes and give good direction, let the casting directors know. You can do that with an email or a card, like in the mail kind of card. These folks are underrated and can be the key to your successful audition. They’ve been watching everyone all day, they hear what the director and clients want, they know the temperature in the room. Treat them well and they will always help you.

6. Truthful acting

If advertisers could get “real people” to do these ads, they would. We represent them. When you know your type, you know the demographic you are attracting. Understand who they are, where they live, what they wear and why YOU are the shiny version of them. Honor that and you will book work, earn a nice chunk of change and qualify for health insurance.

For myself I must say that I feel like my commercial success is a bit like dancing with the devil because I have strong opinions about the impact of the media on culture and young people. I am making a living as a commercial actress, I’m grateful for that. The middleclass in America is shrinking and that includes acting. Journeyman actors and actresses in TV, Film and Theater are competing with Oscar winners and flash in the pan internet sensations for the same guest star spot. The world is in transition on all levels including entertainment and media. While I’m on the path of a greater calling, being a team spokesperson for Ford Service is lovely gig and I wish you all success as well.

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Katie Wallack

About Katie Wallack

Katie Wallack is a professional actress and active union member. She serves on SAG-AFTRA’s Commercial Performers Committee and Commercials Contract Standing Committee, and partnered with the grass roots group Union Working. Katie began graduate school in 2017 at Claremont Lincoln University pursuing a Masters Degree in Ethical Leadership. She received numerous scholarships including the John L. Dales Scholarship from SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Her undergrad degree is in Theater and Dance from Trinity College. Katie’s recent film projects include “Mum” for Shoot ‘Em Up show, “Stillwater”, and “Wight Christmas” shot on location in her hometown – Anchorage Alaska. In addition to her theatrical credits, she has been seen in numerous commercial campaigns over the years, including McDonald’s and Ford Service.