The 1 Thing Commercial Auditioning Is All About

Hi everyone! I have been working in the commercial casting world for about 15 years. I have worked as a commercial actor, a session director, and a casting director. One of the biggest factors to booking in my experience is “going for it,” or perhaps I should say, not going for it. The majority of actors we see on a daily basis appear to be trying to just get through it—meaning get all the lines right without relying on that board “too much.” Reading lines off a board or mastering the art of memorization is not acting. The big bookers are those smart, thoughtful actors who understand the campaign, know their lines, and make big bold choices!

In 2016, try an experiment: Take a chance in that room! When I say big, bold choices, I don’t mean a big, over-the-top performance. Commercial acting is very small and subtle for the most part. What I mean is, when sitting out in that lobby preparing, be creative. Think about the campaign and the script/scene you’ve been given and see if there is room to throw in a little something that isn’t on the page, but is still in sync with the point of the campaign. In all the years I’ve been in that callback room, I can tell you with certainty, the majority of actors book by what they do that is not on the page! The director wants to see what you bring to the party.

Now you may say, “Killian, that’s not fair! They are trying to make us rewrite the spot and are stealing our ideas. That’s why SAG-AFTRA has a no improv rule for commercial auditioning.” I am not advocating throwing it all away and start over line by line with your own script. This rule came about because the ad agencies were doing that at one point, but not so much anymore. The commercial script is pretty much a done deal by the time it gets to the casting lobby. The clients have approved it and like it, they checked with the lawyers and they approved it. On the day of the shoot, you are probably going to be saying it verbatim. One of the main purposes of the callback is so the director can see if she or he can work with you. Give them everything you’ve got in that moment! Don’t hold back. Make strong choices in the lobby and then follow through when you get into that room.

In my classes I try to teach the “big picture.” It isn’t about booking that specific job. The point of each audition is to show the casting office that you are someone they can count on in front of their clients. The point of each audition is to get into that offices “favorites” folder. The point of each audition is to make a fan of somebody in that room so they remember you and call you in often. The point of each audition is to show them you should be their go-to actor, always. The point is that even if you don’t book it, the director says, “Well I couldn’t get that actor past the clients this time, but make sure you call them in for all my jobs, I want to work with her/him soon.” This happens every day in casting. But too often I see actors thinking only of the current situation and not the big picture.

So in 2016, take chances! Throw in a button if it’s warranted or a gesture or an eye shift. Show them you are a smart, thinking actor that has something to offer to the project. If nothing else happens, I guarantee this one thing will, you will feel better as you leave. Going for it feels great. It feels the exact opposite of not going for it! I say this in every class I teach: “Everyone is good in the lobby, and everyone is good on the car ride home.”

Don’t leave that next audition wishing you had done that thing or said that other thing. Do it! In the history of casting these words have never been uttered: “Book her/him. They got all the lines right.”

We have adopted a mantra at Killian’s Workshop and I want you to adopt it as well starting in 2016: Leap and the net will appear.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Killian McHugh
Killian McHugh, commercial casting director and creator of Killian’s Workshop and Actor’s Gym in Hollywood, began working in commercial casting in 2000.