How to Get Union Commercial Work

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Commercials are the working actors’ bread and butter. Because of commercials, I haven’t had to take a job I didn’t want in over 10 years and I’ve traveled the country and the world. Because of commercials, I’ve had insurance for me and my family for the past decade so when we had a child a few years ago⁠—well, my wife had a child, I watched⁠—and that delivery cost our family $20,000 we ended up paying only $3,000 because of SAG-AFTRA insurance. All because of commercials. I was so excited I wanted to name my daughter Sagaftra Coelius. My wife wisely refused. But if you’re a union actor, or are interested in becoming a union actor (which you irrefutably should, but that’s another article) and are thinking about union commercial work, how do you find those opportunities?

This is the question I get asked the most in my commercial classes and honestly, it’s just like everything else in this business. You audition. How do you get auditions? Just like for everything else, you get an agent. Once actors accomplish this Herculean task though, I often find that actors lose their initiative, their drive, and their motivating energy. I know I did. It once took me over a year to find a new agent and to be honest, I was exhausted. It was like I collapsed on my couch and exhaustedly waved, muttering “new agent, take it from here.” That agent dropped me in less than six months and rightly so. 

It was a huge lesson for me. I learned the journey to get an audition begins once you get an agent, but the only one who can maintain that journey is you. When you get an agent, you have to do one thing: Put in the work. Now is the time to really start putting in the time. If you have a commercial agent, call and schedule a meeting immediately with the intention of asking the agent “How can I make your job easier?” Throughout my career, whenever I’ve asked this question to any of my agents, their eyes light up and I usually last longer than six months at their agency. Usually, the answers are to sign up for casting director workshops, book out when you’re leaving town, or to keep them updated on any and all plays, readings, or film and TV you’re doing. 

Overall, this should be the framework of the relationship. Make their job easier. If you make this your mantra and follow it up with action, you’ll be the first one they want to call in. That’s the easiest way to an audition, the quickest way to booking, and the fastest way to reap the incredible benefits of a long-running union commercial. 

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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Bill Coelius
Bill Coelius has been in numerous television, movies, and over 50 national commercials. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit.
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