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Commercial auditions require actors to invest themselves in the preparation, be emotionally present and ready to convey a character, respond to direction, have a look and trustworthiness that engages the viewer, and exhibit professionalism. But what do casting directors want actors to understand about the process? Here are some tips from commercial casting directors to empower performers during auditions:

Be ready to talk about your own life

The audition interview is a great opportunity for actors to show casting directors what makes them unique and memorable. In a Spotlight interview, Tree Petts from Tree Petts Casting discusses why actors are asked to talk about themselves. “When we do the chatty bit, try and give us something back, do you know what I mean? Because if we’re doing a chatty bit at the beginning of the casting, it’s because we want to glean a bit of your personality. So you need to kind of bring something into the room. I never ask about work.For me, I want to know more about the personality, so I want to know what’s going on in someone’s life. And then when they start talking about their own life, and they’re not talking about work, they start thinking, their eyes lighten up, they relax, and that’s important to me. It’s about relaxing.”

Look straight into the camera

It can feel a bit odd to enter a room with people in it and then speak to an inanimate object— namely, the camera. Petts says, “When you come in and talk straight into the camera. Don’t [be like] ‘Oh, should I be looking at the casting director?’ Look straight into the camera, talk to the camera, be confident.” 

New York casting director Mel Mack from Melmack Acting Studio agrees, asserting: “In commercial auditions we ask you to talk to the camera, establish that connection with the camera right from the start. If it helps, make the camera your best friend, Denise, or your next-door neighbor, Malik, or your spouse—whoever it is that you might be telling this commercial copy to about pizza or sneakers or insurance. Connecting with the camera, it really does establish trust with the viewer. And guess what? We buy things from people we trust.” Actors should look at the camera unless they’re told differently.

Dont overthink it

There are certainly times for deep conversations about the motivations affecting characters— but Petts insists that commercial acting isn’t one of them. She says, “The other thing is it’s a commercial—it’s not an Ibsen play or Chekhov play. So I don’t need too many questions about the character. Valid questions are very important, but don’t ask questions because you want it to seem like you’re engaged or you’re interested, because it’s a commercial. And I just need you to get from A to B, and pick up the coffee cup and say, ‘I love coffee!’ Do you see what I mean? So don’t over-intellectualize it, be confident.”

Dont take it personally if you dont book the job

“The Lighthouse” casting director Kharmel Cochrane from Kharmel Cochrane Casting says, “With commercials and clients, there are different things that they’re looking for. Obviously, with commercials, advertising, you’ve got a product to sell. … It won’t necessarily always be about skill; it could be about the way you look, it could be, you know, what the trend is, what the zeitgeist is at the moment. A lot of times, there’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

Emma Ashton from Kastwork says, “For commercials … [the audition will be] sent over and then it goes through quite a mill after that. The director will make their choices that’ll go to the agency; the advertising agency will [agree or disagree] or maybe … put in some people they like, and then they have to go to the first meeting with the client, and hopefully the client will agree. If they don’t, back to the drawing board, and we start again. And with advertising, it’s pretty tight actually.”

Be a pleasure to work with

Everyone prefers to work in a harmonious emotional climate with competent people. Petts offers, “Commercials are about money. Not only about the money … but also I think what needs to be remembered is every feature film director has been a commercial director, and they’ve been a music video director. David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Johan Renck, they’ve gone on to cast big things, and so I wouldn’t poo-poo the commercials. I would make sure you get on with the director and do a good job.”