I just scrapped my planned subject for this column. Why? Because I was going to address some nuances… some (seemly) silly subtleties of the commercial world. Unfortunately, it’s become clear over the last few casting sessions I’ve had that some bigger issues should take precedence. Knowing the finer nuances of the commercial audition will prove worthless if you are performing (knowingly or not) some giant jerk moves. You may think you know the golden rules of commercials, but I’d urge you to read with refreshed eyes and consider once again if you are causing a small to large crisis in the world of a commercial casting director.
Commercial actors should never… break the golden rules of the commercial audition.
I’m wondering if it’s the rise of the non union commercial that is to blame for the increase in lackadaisical attitudes for the commercial audition. It seems that some giant no-no’s are back in vogue, and that’s not good. Perhaps it’s ignorance, or maybe normally professional actors are being poorly influenced by what they see or hear around them. Who knows and it really doesn’t matter. But there’s a need to bring up the bar in commercial audition etiquette.
I present to you my list of golden rules for the commercial audition, that really should never be broken.
LOOK LIKE YOUR HEADSHOT.
I know, I know, I know you want to skip this one because everyone says it. You’ve heard it a thousand times. You can imagine, then, how truly shocking it is that many actors don’t. Like, lots! I can only imagine you think you look like your headshots, when you don’t. Commercially, I need you to look exactly like your shots. Get them done every year or possibly (if you are lucky) 2 years. Or… if you have gained/lost weight (+/-10 lbs) or cut your hair. Hair is a biggie for commercials, folks, and men, this applies to you. Why? 1st calls to callbacks or clients present at 1st calls (which results in embarrassment in front of clients when you’ve called in an inappropriate looking actor) and even for first calls. Budgets are small and casting days are few, when we call in more than a couple inappropriate actors, we don’t have a full day of good casting. All these things are harmful to a casting director’s reputation and in a short period of time results in losing the client. Terrible consequences because you don’t look like your headshot, that’s for sure.
ATTEND CONFIRMED AUDITIONS.
When you have confirmed you will attend a commercial audition, you really must attend the audition. This should seem CRAZY to you that I have to say this… so you can imagine how shocking it is to feel like I have to say this. Because I do. Actors are confirming and either canceling same day or simply not showing. Both are equally terrible for casting directors. Why? It gives us no time to fix the situation. And we do have to fix it. We think we are all set for a great day of casting, and we aren’t. We scramble to get additional actors in with same day auditions, and usually unsuccessfully. This is serious. Confirm then come. Period. And don’t get any goofy ideas that coming at a time that is convenient for you works just fine. It doesn’t. Casting directors are now seeing multiple spots in a day. When you come at your leisure, you are quite possibly coming during a different spot. That doesn’t work either. And please, don’t wait to confirm your audition until the last minute, just to keep your options open. No confirm or cancel (meaning no response) is the second worst thing you can do, because it leaves us with no idea whether or not to replace you. Your valid choices are confirm and attend at your appointment time (or at an approved change of appointment time) or cancel.
ALWAYS BE HONEST ABOUT SPECIAL SKILLS. (and well… everything)
When a casting director is requiring a special skill, you must possess that skill and at the level being asked. If you see ahead of time that the required skill is at an expert level and you are a beginner, then cancel your audition! It’s not particularly helpful for you to disclose your novice skill level at the audition, but it’s certainly better than lying about it. If in doubt, have your agent double check with casting about the required level of skill needed before you confirm/cancel. To avoid any uncomfortable situations, be abundantly clear about your skills on your resume. Checking the Casting Networks “skill boxes” is fine, but what’s really required is an explanation of your skills at the end of your resume. Brag specifically. And to add on to the “everything” clause of honesty, be honest about the conflicts you are holding and about your age (if attending an alcohol, cigarette audition) as well as any medication you are taking or insurance you hold… whatever is required to audition, basically. You may not be as surprised that I list this golden rule because it’s a known and sometimes encouraged thing to lie in certain audition circumstances. I quite simply disagree. Rethink this topic.
I feel like I just wrote a rant column. I promise I’ll come back next month with a more positive attitude. Really. Truly. But the truth is it’s overwhelming how often these golden rules are broken. If you feel like you’ve gotten away with these things, you haven’t. Casting directors don’t tell you we are frustrated, angry, or hurt, but we likely are. And we remember when we are burned… and each one of these truly are a burn. Don’t count on getting away with this behavior while you are attending non union auditions but plan to (or do!) step it up a notch when you have the opportunity to come in on a union job. The same casting directors working on non union jobs work on union jobs and both kinds of jobs have equal importance to us. The same standard of perfection is required of us and whether you know it or not, it’s required of you. Union or non union. Big payday or not.
So go out there and be your best… or commit to be better. Casting directors notice that too.
One actor came into the audition and gossiped about a mutual friend of the director’s, thinking it was a way to connect or seem special. But it just ended up distracting and detracting from the audition and getting her eliminated.
Another actor started an intense analytic discussion about the script, leading the director and producer to assume it would lead to a genius audition. Unfortunately, all the talk fizzled and the audition didn’t live up to the expectations of the pre-audition discussion.
Another story the director told was about actors who tried to be personal and overly-friendly, not appreciating a director’s limited power in series casting—the producer and showrunner should have been the actor’s focus. Other examples of actor shooting themselves in the foot included nervously talking through the meeting prior to auditioning or self-deprecatingly expressing a lack of confidence or believing they couldn’t book the job, all of which signaled to casting and the writers that they simply didn’t have the confidence and professional certainty necessary to be part of the project.
The director said there was an actor who had to wait a long time and then walked into the audition complaining. To top it all off, despite only having a few lines and ample time to prepare them, the actor didn’t know them cold.
All these stories were eye-opening and made it clear that everything you do matters. Being conscious of your words and behavior before and after a reading are all equally important in landing a job.
So practice mock auditions with coaches. In audition class, work on more than just the material. Focus on the whole experience, start to finish, and always remember that your acting is only part of the equation.
~Joanne Baron & D.W. Brown