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When Will It End?

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As we approach the holiday season, expect to see a rash of holiday-themed commercials. In economic jargon it's the fourth quarter--time for businesses to nab consumer dollars. For years fourth quarter was advertising's busy season. But two years after the commercials strike the ad market is still struggling to regain its ground, resulting in a continued downturn in commercial casting.

The 2000 strike gave advertisers an opportunity to find other ways to produce commercials: i.e. runaway and non-union productions. And it seems they have taken full advantage of that option.

"Due to the strike that happened two years ago, I don't think we've ever recovered, and I don't think we ever will," said Commercial Casting Directors Association president Jeff Gerard. "I have directors, still to this day, who put me on hold for a job and then call back to say, 'I'm shooting it in Ireland--a Lysol commercial.' I'm thinking, Why would you be going to Ireland? But they've learned--especially for those spots that are MOS [without sound]--to cast with non-union or non-American actors who look American or can pass for it and they don't have to pay residuals to."

Added Gerard, "We just had a CCDA meeting the other night, and of the 25 people in that room, I can guarantee you at least 20 of them hadn't worked in a month. Even my office, which is pretty busy for the most part, has dropped significantly. We're kind of lucky because we do features as well, but when you lose 50 percent of your revenue from commercials it's taking a big chunk out of your business."

Gary Marsh of Breakdown Services, the communications network and casting system that provides integrated tools for casting directors and talent representatives, pointed out that prior to the strike the average number of commercial breakdowns was around 60 a day. "After the strike the average is 40 a day, and it has never come back," said Marsh.

Agent Robyn Harrington of Dragon Talent stated that while her company's commercial department has felt the lingering effects of the commercial strike, there has been growth in other departments. "Lucky for us we've always been diversified: We do a lot of music videos, our print department is going strong now, we're booking a lot of co-star roles and some independent films and a lot of TV episodes, so I think that's why we didn't go out of business."

Mick Dowd Casting partner Tom Reudy agreed that the strike and the economic downturn since 9/11 have contributed to the commercials slump, yet he appears a bit more optimistic. "There was a two-week period about a month and a half ago when it was really going great. We all thought it was going to continue, but it really didn't. It kind of just dropped back down. Now it's OK but it's certainly not great. I can only hope that it's going to come back again."

Commercial actor Joel McCrary noted that because he is a "character" actor, jobs tend to go in waves fairly regularly--but the numbers are particularly low right now. "Top of the wave, you're probably averaging in a week four, five, maybe six [auditions], and I haven't been anywhere near the top of the wave. I am deep in the bottom, I'm looking for the wave, hoping I can stand up on my surfboard, but I don't see any in the distance. You hear rumors every once in a while that there is a wave coming and it never shows up."

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