Striking It Rich?

Article Image
The gains that resulted from the 2000 Screen Actors Guild commercials strike are black and white, and that translated into green. For the first time in decades, Commercials Contract dollars increased. Actors saw a rise in Class A money, a significant increase in cable compensation, the establishment of minimums in online advertising, and greater contributions to their pension and health plans. So what other changes have commercial casting directors seen in the first decade of this new millennium?

"I think everyone has noticed the trend towards clients wanting more 'real'-looking people rather than actors," says CD Craig Colvin. "The talent's acting job is to convince the clients that they believe in and use the product and just happen to be an actor, rather than an actor playing a role." With games like Scene It? and sites such as, consumers have become much more savvy about answering the question "Where have I seen that actor before?" Adds Colvin, "Overexposure can be the kiss of death."

Maria O'Driscoll of Popcasting concurs: "The ad agencies are saying, 'We don't want to see all the same people that we've always seen in auditions.' Recently we had one agency producer say he felt like they had already seen every mom in L.A. and maybe they should shoot somewhere else. This is good for the actors who don't get to audition much, because they're seen as new faces. People who work all the time get the jobs because they're good, but now the ad agencies are tired of seeing them."

CD Mark Randall, famous for having cue cards surround the camera lens, says, "Ten years ago it was hell to cast dialogue-heavy or comedy commercials nonunion, because it was difficult to get submissions of talented actors. Agents were SAG-franchised and could catch a lot of heat for submitting, even nonunion talent, on anything that was not union. Another thing that totally changed the game is online casting. Anyone with a computer can submit themselves, regardless of agent or union status. Whenever advertising budgets shrink, clients are less willing to take risks, and anything creative or genuinely funny involves a certain amount of risk. The success of the film 'Napoleon Dynamite' changed the look of commercials. Suddenly, awkward-looking, slightly 'off' types were the stars of these deliberately weird ads. The noncommercial actors and the spots became the new cool."

About commercials without on-camera actors, Randall says, "The first thing I think whenever I see one of those Old Navy 'modelquins' ads is, 'They just don't want to pay for any on-camera talent.' It's a shame, because Old Navy used to have great ads." Of course, there are still commercials that require actors, such as Randall's "barbarian invaders" campaign for Capital One. Fortunately, it's hard to find real Visigoths these days; more power to the actors.

In my opinion, SAG thinks it's the only game in town, and this has made the guild arrogant, out of touch. There is a huge chasm where there should be support for SAG members. Randall reinforces my thoughts: "Because agents are no longer SAG-franchised, they can't get in trouble for submitting on nonunion projects. You can't blame actors or agents, though. People's livelihoods are at stake."

In closing, Colvin states, "With regard to compensation, we are seeing a much smaller percentage of higher-paying jobs. Fewer network runs. And those commercials that do run network are for much shorter terms than they used to be. There are more cable- and Internet-only spots with buyouts and no residuals. Over-scale or guarantee-per-cycle payments are basically nonexistent."

What online casting submission services do you use, and what's your take on their effectiveness? Lend me your thoughts for my next column in the comments below.