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10 Tips from Commercial Session Directors

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10 Tips from Commercial Session Directors
Chet Nelson, Del Hunter-White, Gary Armstrong, Joy Lofton, Kirkland Moody, Mark Dalbis, Marvin Kruger, and Spencer Kramber are all session directors for commercial casting offices. Most are also actors. Here is what they say separates the bookers from the rest.

1. Listen.

Many actors tune out the explanation. They're filling out a size card, chatting, running the copy in their head—and missing some golden opportunities. Remember, session directors have talked to the clients and know what they want. Be flexible, especially at the callback. If the director gives you something different from what you did at the first call, roll with it.

2. Have fun.

If auditioning isn't fun, get out. The regular bookers bring some joy to the room. They're smart, happy, prepared, and relaxed. So when the pros walk in and just do the job simply and cleanly, playing a supporting role to the star—that's the product—they stand out.

3. Make choices.

Think like a director. Commercial casting directors often see 200 actors per role. When commercial casting went from videotape to DVD to uploading auditions on the Internet, CDs lost the time needed to work with each actor. You have to come into the studio ready to nail the first take. If you have an idea for your second take—after you've already done one take with the direction you were given—then ask nicely.

4. No swearing or apologizing.

It's perfectly fine to slip up a little. It's not perfectly fine to start cursing and apologizing. Don't ask; just start over without saying a word about it. And no, they cannot erase that part of your audition.

5. Be professional.

Be on time. Early is on time. Exactly when you were scheduled is late. Have your headshot and résumé and the right clothing, and wear the same thing to the callback. This is your business; don't show up clueless and then give attitude. Be friendly but don't schmooze.

6. Slate well.

Make sure you start by facing the camera with a pleasant expression. You need to hold a smile for the camera for a couple of seconds, before slating and without blinking. A thumbnail picture of you is created from those seconds and used with the online posting of your audition. This is what the client sees before viewing your audition.

7. Be prepared.

Sides are often posted online the night before. It's in your best interest to memorize your lines and be aware of the other characters' lines. It never looks good when your eyes keep darting to the cue card. If you're not good at memorizing, take an on-camera class; learn how to make the cue card a partner in the scene. If there isn't any dialogue in the spot, they might post the treatment, which tells you what the director envisions, helping you with everything from mindset to wardrobe.

8. Look like your headshot.

Casting directors rely on the headshot to know what roles an actor is right for. Get a new headshot every couple of years. Don't overdo the retouching. Leave the mole, the bags under the eyes, the acne scars. When you look like your headshot, no one's time is wasted, no gas is wasted, and, most important, you get in on the right opportunities.

9. Improvise.

Many auditions are improvised: "Your car's been hit, you're talking to the other driver—go." Know how to tell the story without taking focus away from the product. And if your partner is struggling with dialogue, be ready to improvise a bit to help get your audition back on track; you will stand out that much more. Make positive choices. If you're not comfortable improvising, take a commercial improv class.

10. Be confident.

From the moment you walk in the room, whether it's for a first call or a callback, your confidence—not arrogance—will elevate your standing in the eyes of the director and improve your performance. And confidence flows from being prepared. As Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better."   

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