Many A-list actors, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Mila Kunis, and Steve Carell, got their start in commercials. Whether national or local, the medium continues to be a great place to build a lasting and fruitful acting career. Looking to break in? Casting directors Ellen Jacoby of Miami and Los Angeles–based Stuart Stone, author of “The Keys to Commercial Acting,” can help! Leaders of their respective markets—Jacoby was among the first to begin casting Spanish-language commercials 30 years ago—the two have cast campaigns for AT&T, Best Buy, KFC, Chevy, Microsoft, Nissan, Hasbro, L’Oréal, and countless more. They know a thing or two about what works—and what doesn’t—in the commercial casting room. Below, they’ve got eight invaluable, off-the-cuff tips for your next audition.
1. Put the product first.
“When you’re casting a commercial, you become a part of the product, so you’re not just selling yourself,” says Jacoby. “The product is No. 1, whereas if you’re doing a dramatic piece, it’s more about the inner workings of the actor and being believable in that way. Of course, we have to believe you like the product.”
2. Get comfortable with the fourth wall.
“In commercials, a lot of it is just expression and personality if there is no dialogue. You break the fourth wall,” Stone explains. “A lot of times, you’re talking right to the camera. You have to be able to create that space. What I teach in my workshops all the time is how to be in the moment. A lot of people just aren’t prepared to be in the moment in commercials, and then they don’t know how to use the camera.”
3. Have a change of clothes.
“Whatever roles [you] generally are called in for, always keep a change of clothes in your car,” Jacoby advises actors. “You never know when you might get called in. Maybe you’re at the beach, but you’re called in for a banker [role]. You’ve got to quick-change!”
4. Connect with CDs on social media.
Stone is a fan of using social media to network. “Social media is the No. 1 way to go: finding [casting directors] on Twitter, their Facebook page for actors, or Instagram. More and more now, it’s connecting with them socially and communicating with them socially,” he says.
5. Practice on products you love.
“To be believable in a commercial, [actors] should take a product they use every day that they know and love and do a commercial for their product. That’s when you’re being real, because you use it!” Jacoby says. “Then transpose that into the product that you’re doing. We can see whether you’re telling the truth or you’re lying. We don’t want to see [that]. We want to believe you.”
6. Turn to others to help determine your type.
“Ask people what roles they see you in,” says Stone. “Ask other actors, ask people on the street. Go out with a buddy and ask people in a mall. Create a list of all the possibilities, and go out and get a cross-section of what people out there say.”
7. Dress appropriately.
“You should never wear black or white in front of the camera. It’s not great for your face,” according to Jacoby. “No geometric prints. Come dressed according to what you’re going out for. If you’re coming out to be an upscale dinner guest at an upscale restaurant, I don’t expect you to come in in jeans. And directors and producers recognize that. Don’t forget: I’m showing them a whole lot of people, and they’re looking first at all the stills, and then they click on the video. If you don’t look right, they won’t even click to see your video.”
8. When you get the job, know your place on set.
“You don’t want to go and get behind the [directors and writers and producers] that are there and get in their way and try to chum up to them,” Stone warns. “You become an annoyance. They’ve got work to do. If they’re in their own little area with their monitor watching what’s going on and you’re over there trying to schmooze them, it’s a hindrance. The ideal way is to always stay in camera view of the director, just off to the side, because then they can call you in last minute. [And] always make sure that you check with a second A.D. before you leave set, because he’s responsible for you as an actor. First and foremost, your second A.D. needs to be your contact throughout the whole job.”
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Struggling to sound convincing as your practice your commercial pitch at home? Try an acting class! Watch the video below to understand how to start the search.