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The Working Actor

Out, Out, Damned Spot; Study Stall

Out, Out, Damned Spot; Study Stall
Dear Michael:
I shot a major national commercial a couple of months ago. I thought it was a great shoot and was sure a good spot would come of it. However, it's been months and the commercial hasn't aired. I've slowly been sinking into despair over this. Is there any resource to find out if a commercial is playing and which shows run which ads? Also, is there an appropriate way to contact the production company to get a copy for my reel, or even ask what happened?
—Sitting in Traffic, Los Angeles

Dear Sitting:
For heaven's sake, don't sink into despair! There's a simple solution to your dilemma: Stop stoking the fires of expectation.

When you shoot a commercial—or anything, for that matter—it's best to think in terms of what you're paid for the day, rather than what you might make in residuals. That's your paycheck, period. And it's usually a pretty decent wage compared with other jobs. Let anything else be a pleasant surprise. It's way too common to get edited out (it happened to me only recently) or for a spot or TV episode not to air at all. Banking on residual income is a certain mistake, both financially and psychologically.

Sure, you could probably track whether a commercial is playing by calling the production company, contacting the client's advertising department, or asking everyone you know to look for it on TV. But my question to you is this: Then what? What if it isn't playing yet? Are you going to check back weekly? Daily? Hourly? And what if it is playing? Are you going to hound your agent until the first check comes in, and then again in a few months to see whether the commercial is renewed for the next cycle? All this can become quite obsessive. So unless you have reason to believe that someone is trying to cheat you out of income (it happens, but it's rare), my advice is to move on and put that focus toward new pursuits.

Getting a copy may prove difficult if your spot hasn't aired. Advertisers will have their reasons for not wanting it seen. Maybe they're shelving it with the intention of airing it later, for strategic marketing purposes, in which case they won't want it circulating prematurely. If they've yanked it altogether, they may not want it seen at all.

Nevertheless, I'd ask. Call the production company, the director, anyone for whom you have contact information. Present yourself confidently, like a colleague rather than a nervous underling, and you'll be more likely to score that footage. I've been surprised again and again to find lovely, cooperative folks on the other end of the phone. (If the production company is able to provide a copy, there may be a nominal fee involved, just to cover mailing and materials.)

Dear Michael:
First, let me say that I've wanted to act ever since I could breathe. It's all I think about and all I want to do. For so many years, I've been looking for information on how I could do so. I know you're probably asking why I didn't join the drama club in school. Well, it wasn't that easy for me, seeing that I live with my mom in Georgia and I wouldn't have had transportation after school every day for rehearsals and I knew no one who could possibly help me.

Well, fortunately, this year I got lucky. I graduated from high school last May, and over the summer I went to New York to visit family. While I was there, one of my dad's friends, who happened to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild (just my luck!), gave me some helpful information about acting opportunities in New York. From there I did my research and went on a few auditions. While I was there, I got cast in a student film, a few background jobs, and a nonunion play, and I took a few classes and attended seminars. I was psyched! I couldn't believe that in a blink of an eye, I had so many opportunities in New York at my fingertips.

But I have a dilemma. I have so many family members giving me different advice that I'm confused. I don't want to take out a million loans to get a degree in acting when I can just attend classes, and I definitely don't want college to get in the way of what I love to do. I'm also back in Georgia, where there aren't as many opportunities. The last thing I want is for things to stall, especially seeing that I've waited so long to even get this far! I'm extremely passionate about acting, and I definitely know it's something that I want to do forever.

I'm basically asking if it's possible to have an acting career while attending college, and if so, should I do so in New York, where there are more opportunities for me?
—Beyond Confused!, Conyers, Ga.

Dear Beyond Confused:
Generally speaking, it's very difficult to have an acting career while attending college. If you think about it, booking a job would probably mean missing classes and, depending on the length of the job, maybe even dropping out. I know there have been students who've managed the occasional gig, but it's tough. One option to consider, if you choose to move to a city with more opportunities, is attending college at night and auditioning during the day. Obviously, if you got a big theater gig, you'd have to reassess at that point.

I can't tell you whether or not to go to college. There's no right or wrong answer to that question. But I do want to caution you: The opportunities you've described, while wonderful, aren't the equivalent of a blinking neon sign declaring: "You don't need college! You're on your way!" Background work, student films, and a nonunion play are great, very accessible gigs for beginners. Be careful about interpreting them as signs from the heavens. This is a moment in your life when it would be very wise to step back and assess the big picture.

It might be beneficial for you to post this question on our Working Actor message board (go to and click on "The Working Actor") and gather a spectrum of opinions. Take them all with a grain of salt; we actors love to express our views, informed or otherwise. But I believe you'll get valuable brainstorming there, preferably from fellow actors who've faced similar decisions.

I applaud your passion, and I encourage you to pursue your calling—judiciously.

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