Although commercials are sometimes the bane of television and video viewers, those 30-second TV and video ads are still considered one of the best forms of advertising. If you are considering breaking into acting by getting a job doing commercials, you follow in some big footsteps; many of today's notable actors, such as Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, began their journey to stardom by following a similar path. While the payoff is sometimes huge, it's not for the faint of heart; starring in commercials takes determination, dedication and a little know-how.
If you've never acted in a commercial before, you can learn a lot about the process by simply paying attention to commercials when they come across your screen. Note what types of characters generally advertise what types of products. If you watch closely, you will see that there is somewhat of a pattern that most commercials follow. As an example, hurried-mother characters are usually used to advertise products that provide convenience in cooking or cleaning, while father-type figures left on their own in parenting usually take on a more comical role. Think about how you could best fill such roles as an actor.
Perfect those Acting Chops
Although the basics are the same whether you act in movies or commercials, there are some subtle differences. Unlike movies, which take up a lot of screen time, commercials are fast-paced, and actors typically tell a story in 30 seconds or less. Taking professional training through a workshop or acting class can provide insider knowledge on how commercials are made and help you to handle the quicker pace in which they are filmed. You can also gain some inside information on the process by reading books on the subject, such as “Acting in Commercials: A Guide to Auditioning and Performing on Camera,” by Joan See, or “Acting in Television Commercials for Fun and Profit, 4th Edition,” by Squire Fridell.
Kid, I'm Going to Make You a Star
Websites such as Backstage and Actors Access have made it easier for actors to find roles in movies and television shows. Actors that want to work in commercials still typically need an agent, however, since most casting directors notify talent agents first whenever they need actors for a commercial. Although sending out a CV or resume and a recent headshot photo to local agencies is the method most actors use to find an agent, actor William Mahoney tells Show Business, a performing arts magazine, that he has had success by either scheduling an appointment with an agent or asking other actors who work in commercials for a referral to their agent.
To Unionize or Not to Unionize
Once you begin to get roles as a commercial actor, you may find you are facing the decision of whether to join SAG-AFTRA, the film, TV and radio artists' union. Although joining the union gives you many benefits, including residuals, safe working conditions and health benefits, its rules also prohibit you from taking commercial roles that are nonunion. Unfortunately, if you are just starting out, this can seriously limit the amount of work you are able to obtain, since many commercials that are filmed fall under the nonunion category. An article by John Handel for Backstage magazine suggests talking to your acting teacher, coach or other actor friends to decide if joining the union is the right move for you.