Thems the Breaks

I'm a control freak choosing to work in a business where I'd guess about 90% of everything is out of my control and nothing is ever guaranteed. I am a crazy person. Last week, I auditioned for & booked a commercial in French. I know, pretty exciting stuff! The commercial was actually being shot in English and French but they hired different groups to do each. Though I wouldn't have any lines, I was going to be the "Hero Girl" prominently featured at the end of the commercial.

Shoot day, I go through hair, makeup, wardrobe, then sit around and wait. When I finally get to set, they put me and Hero Girl English in mics because it turns out they've added some lines. A very sweet deal that means I would be getting way more money than originally anticipated. They film everything in English and have us watch to make sure we repeat things exactly as we saw them. Then they switch. I take my position on the set. Microphone & makeup is checked. We are good to go!

That's when I hear it: "The client wants to switch them."

'Them' being myself & the other girl in the background.

So I went from being a featured player in a commercial to being in the background in the blink of an eye. After two takes, I was told they wouldn't need me anymore & wrapped for the day.

Yes, I will still get paid my due, but that doesn't make any of it feel less shitty. And to top it all off, I found out that this sort of thing is normal and happens all the time (!) in this business.

After having a chat with an actor friend, I decided to bring this incident up because I want other actors out there to know, it's generally not about your talent or your professionalism. If this, *insert deity here* forbid, were to ever happen to you, it's probably not even about you. It can very well be because they are four hours behind schedule and can save a shot by using the same set of hands in both commercials but yours aren't black and we're pretty sure the viewing public might notice a discrepancy.

Thems are the breaks.

In the meantime, just be happy you've got rent covered for another month.

The Stepford Phenomena

Commercial auditions are a weird thing.  I remember being told during the Sears and Switzer TV Commercial Weekend that these were the only auditions where a 20-year Startford veteran could be legitimately competing against the plumber from down the street (or was it a veterinarian?) First of all, leave the resume and headshot at home. You'll have to fill out a form and get your picture taken on location.

The less lines there are to learn, the more people you will find packed into what feels like a very tiny room.  There's a reason they call them "cattle-call" auditions and, the first time around, you will be struck by the fact that so many people in this town look JUST LIKE YOU.  I swear I didn't realize there were so many brunettes who like wearing skinny jeans inside their boots before... Remove any delusions you might have. You, my friend, are not special.

If you are a member of ACTRA, don't forget to sign in with your call time and audition number (meaning is this your first, second, third, ect audition with these people).  This is very important because commercial auditions are one of the few times you can get paid just for showing up.  You get $50 for a callback audition and, if they are running behind schedule, about $75 for every hour past your call time you have to wait.  But you have to sign it all in, otherwise you will not get your money!

Then there's the audition itself.  Every single one I've had so far has been different.  Many of them are in groups, lots seem to involve improv and miming of some sort, and I even had one where they just asked us to say a few words about ourselves.  Sometimes there's food, though not always the product food. One time I was supposed to be wolfing down a sandwich so they gave us plain ol' hamburger buns instead.  My roommate often jokes that they just want comedians for commercials and she's not quite wrong.  They don't usually want actors, they want "real people" (unless it's a beer commercial and then they want models).  And since most people watching TV or online ignore commercials, they usually want something funny that will be memorable and hold your attention.  So they want "real people" with "great comedic timing".

There will often just be one other person in the room, and that's typically the camera guy (or an associate casting person who is also happens to be the camera operator).  The casting director, the director and the "client" usually won't show up until a callback, unless there are no callbacks, in which case they will be there.  And if they are there, they will probably be talking to each other a lot and you will wonder why no one seems to notice you're standing RIGHT THERE.

Chances are you won't be in the room for more than a few minutes.  They will thank you. You will leave.

If you get a callback (Congratulations! Enjoy your $50!), just come back and do the exact same thing you did last time.  As a safety measure, just wear the same clothes too.  The client probably saw a lot of tapes and don't have too much imagination. If they brought you in, it's because they liked something you did the first time around.

Oh and I should have probably mentioned this before, but remember to have fun!

After that, well, I'm not sure what happens after that as I have yet to book a commercial, but I am told it is a very lucrative endeavor, albeit not a very artistically fulfilling one.

And there you have it.  That's the commercial process in a nutshell.  If I missed anything, feel free to add it in the comments section.