The Roadmap to Commercial Success

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They always say there is no map to success in this industry. You can’t just go to school, work for X amount of years and expect to be earning X amount of money by 30. But come on the uncertainty is what makes it fun! Right….right? While there is no roadmap to success, there are patterns that bleed little tiny bits of advice about how to book work. Heck, there are entire classes devoted to those patterns but instead of suggesting you enroll in a class, I have compiled some advice from super-bookers in this industry. These incredible folks have the commercial game down pat and are generous enough to share their tips and tricks! Meet: Buckley Sampson, Erin Maxick, Willie James Warren Jr, and Amy Argyle!

Do you do drop-offs at commercial CDs?

Buckley: I think it’s important to make some face time with casting directors, whether, it’s a quick in person thank you after your audition or a written thank you note. If I book with the office, I do send a little basket of fruit, coffee from Starbucks or snacks for the office.

Erin: I only drop off little thank you gifts when I book. I have a handmade soap business so many commercial casting directors have received Eclore Soap! One year I did a postcard mailing to show my new headshots but I’m not sure it was effective and haven’t done it again. I’ve found doing great work over time gets me called in again and again, much more than other avenues.

Willie: I never do drop offs of headshots at commercial CDs. I like to get more personal. If they teach I sign up for at least one month of classes with them. This gives me enough time to learn HOW to audition for that specific office, and it allows me to build a rapport under a different hat than that of an actor trying to ingratiate themselves to get a job offer. By taking a class I make myself a student to them, and what teacher doesn’t want to see their students succeed? Usually I end the class by bringing a gift (usually wine/champagne or maybe tickets to a show) on the last day and extending the olive branch of staying in touch via facebook or email. They pretty much always give contact info after a month of class.

 

One thing you think that helps you book commercials?

Buckley: Attitude is key. I have a mantra before I enter the casting room. I recite to myself, WHO I AM IS THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING THE ONE. I’M THE GIRL FOR THE JOB! So when I enter the room I allow myself to play and be in the moment knowing the job is mine.

Erin: Experience over time helped me become a pro! I’m really clear about my type, and am much more relaxed and easy going in the room, understand the way commercial auditions/jobs work and how to best show up. I do my best to keep the attitude that I’m there to have a blast, enjoy myself, and give a good option to casting. Having fun is key! Amy: Honestly, just go in and be you. Don’t want the job, don’t try to win the room over by being overly talkative or something. Be cool, be you, be friendly and say hi, and do your job. If there are lines, KNOW THEM! If you audition with kids and they need a little extra help, do it. That’s partly how I booked a recent commercial this year. I was helpful with the little kids in the room and helped explain what we were doing. If you can add a short and funny button at the end of a scene if it fits, do it.

Willie: The commercial world is much more surface than the theatrical one. The FIRST impression is the most important. Before you say a word when you walk in that door 70-80% of the judgment is made based on how you look. Are you the hero they built specs for? Do you match the hero they want to use? Do you reflect the demographic of the target market (will someone watching you in this spot see themselves)?

 

One way you think commercial auditions are different than theatrical? 

Buckley: In commercials you need to convey a story in 30 seconds. Beginning, middle and end. It’s an art.

Erin: With theatrical, we’re telling a story and with commercial we’re selling a product. They’re both forms of story telling but in nearly all of my commercial auditions/jobs, the direction is to be small and real and it’s about expressing a small simple human moment – a look, a realization, a funny little moment. With theatrical it’s usually more about the character going through a longer arc, expressing more of a range of emotion along a path that often has a larger shift. There are commercials like this that require bigger comedy/improv chops but for the majority of spots, it’s whether the look and energy of the actor represents the vibe of the product.

Amy: Ah, well there is less prep, less stress, and you are going up against waaaaay more people.

Willie: In a theatrical audition you have a chance to change their minds with your performance…for better or for worse. In commercials if they look at you when you walk in and decide “that’s not it”, there is no coming back. It may seem cheesy but your wardrobe/the specs are the number one thing in commercials. In Theatrical, a great performance could get them thinking about how to alter your appearance to fit the bill. But if Lexus wants a tall suited manly man, and you show up in jeans chucks and a button down, there’s no coming back from that. You have to SHOW commercial CD’s what to cast you in. It’s competitive and most of it is looks. If you coming in looking the part, you will be ahead of 7-8 out of 10 others that come in for the same audition.

 

One thing you have learned over the years about booking commercials? 

Buckley: No matter how many callbacks, avails or bookings you get….all you have control over is your audition in the room. Your job is to audition and whatever happens after that is beyond your control. Enjoy the ride.

Erin: I can only control how I show up – arrive early to be as relaxed as possible, wear the appropriate clothes, be rested and in good energy, have the copy memorized, research the product and their other spots, be prepared in all ways. I do my best work, then let it go! We never know why we are or aren’t cast so doing my best every time leaves me feeling professional and trusting that when it’s right it’s right. Good for me, good for casting, good for clients!

Amy: You just never know. Once you get into a groove of booking its like magic. Its almost really never quite about you and most of the time they don’t even know what they are looking for. Be dressed appropriately for the type of role you are going for and always remember that usually you are trying to appeal to mainstream middle America unless the role is super specific and typecast.

Willie:  If you approach them seriously like any other job, the pay-off you get from booking a few of them could set you up financially to focus on launching the rest of your acting career to the next tier. Don’t treat commercials like a crap shoot or a lottery. There are actors who make a ton of money on commercials, and its not luck. They know what they are doing, and they are professional enough to put time and work into learning the commercial world and how to maximize the time they invest in it. Those faces you see year after year in 3,4,5, 6 different spots a year; that’s not because of luck or because the advertising companies got together and decided to bless this one person with a ton of work. Those people booking regularly and making a living in commercials take it seriously. And if you play your cards right and put those national bookings to use with the new found face time you have coast to coast you may be able to boost your career to the next tier.

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Deborah Smith

About Deborah Smith

Actress/ Blogger/Storyteller - Deborah is the ultimate girl next door/ gal pal but don’t underestimate her wit or brains. Originally from Los Angeles, she fell in love with the Bay Area while attending UC Berkeley in English and Theater. Since she caught the travel bug, she moved to Australia to pursue her Master’s Degree in Film Production and Marketing. Five years, and one Aussie boyfriend later, she has worked in the Australian film industry while starting a construction surveying company and her own marketing/web design freelance business. She has returned to Los Angeles to continue building characters, chase her dream of becoming a superhero, and write about powerful historical women whose tales’ go unheard!