Strategies For Starting Off Your Commercial Audition Right

At the start of a commercial audition, your name used to be written on a small handheld chalkboard, thus the term "slate." When you slate (speak) your name in auditions today, it's the very first time the director and ad agency get to see you and decide whether they will actually watch the rest of your audition. So it's important to create a good first impression.

Maria O'Driscoll of Popcasting, a commercial casting office in Los Angeles, tells us, "The first few seconds of each recording becomes the thumbnail that appears on the log sheet. You must have your face to camera, with a pleasant expression, waiting to be asked for your name. And please hold that expression for a few seconds even after you're done slating. Never offer '…and my agent is...' or anything else actory."

Mark Randall of L.A.'s Mark Randall Casting adds, "Directors and ad agencies really want to believe that they're hiring a likable, real person with real-life interests, and that you just happen to know your way around a set."

When you say your name, speak clearly and put a tiny slice of air between your first and last names. Don't comment on anything or anyone else.

If you are asked to show your profiles, Randall urges, "Please don't say something like 'Here's my good side, and here's my evil twin!' After the second guy, it's just not funny. At all." Says O'Driscoll, "Models have a leg up on most actors when it comes to doing profiles. They know how long to keep their eyes in the lens before turning completely into profile, and to bring their eyes back to the lens before the rest of their face has returned."

Remember that you are in a close-up during every slate, so if asked to show your hands, you must put them right in front of your face, then flip them to show the palms, then drop them to your sides. It will feel odd to put your hands in front of your face the first time you do it, but just think of playing peekaboo. Don't launch into "Oh, I need a manicure" or "I was gardening" or "Working on the car."

If you are asked for a "full turnaround," at this point the camera has widened out to reveal you from head to toe. They just need to get a sense of your shape. Assuming that your headshot and the height and weight on your résumé are current, you will be brought in to audition for roles that match your body type. So just turn around.

Here's a little trick that makes it more comfortable for everyone looking at your backside: Ladies, when you're facing the back wall, just shift your weight from one hip to the other as you continue your spiral to face camera. Gents, when your brawny back is toward the camera, give us the "up belt tug," then in one continuous motion return to facing camera. This says, "I know you are looking at my gluteus fabulous, and I'm okay with that."

Now let's discuss the personality question. O'Driscoll advises that your answer should be longer than one word but shorter than 30 seconds:

Casting director: What do you do for fun?

Actor: Hike.

Casting director: Thanks. Next.

And that's your whole audition. "Give me the first thing that pops into your head," says Randall. "Don't stammer, 'Oh, gosh, ohhh, let me see,' looking for the perfect reply. We're not going to fact-check your answer. And if we ask about your worst date, worst dinner, worst Christmas, we're looking for a humorous answer, not 'When I opened the box, the kitten was dead.' "

Also, refrain from answers that are product-related:

Casting director: What do you do for fun?

Actor: I love dusting my apartment with Pledge.

Casting director: Uuggh. Next.

And avoid anything political or sexual, no matter how obvious it may seem. It's a commercial, folks; keep it smart, happy, and clean.

Director Robert Logevall speaks for all directors when he says, "Tell me about you, not your acting world. I want to know if you're confident and interesting, then you'll be all that on set."

And O'Driscoll reminds us, "This is a job interview. Come prepared. Know who you are seeing, what job you're interviewing for, and look for the sides online ahead of time. And bring something to eat. It's not our responsibility to feed you."