Jason Bateman once said, “I’ve always loved commercials. I like working out how to organically weave a brand’s message into the writing process. It’s like an improv show, where comics ask the audience to throw out a word and a skit is built around it.”

The commercial format is unique amongst visual mediums. Unlike a feature film or a television pilot, a commercial must connect with an audience and promote its brand in a very limited amount of time.

For an actor, this can be especially challenging. Here, a performer does not have two hours or an entire season to flesh out a character. Their persona and how it ties into a product or service must be revealed instantly.

But how can an actor maximize their chances for success during commercial casting calls?

Well, today we tackle that question. Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Justin Radley, commercial casting director and President of The Commercial Casting Directors Association of Los Angeles. With over 20 years of casting experience, Justin shared his advice on the do’s and don’ts of commercial auditions, and how he sees the process of casting talent evolving.

Alright, let’s get started!

How Justin Got Started in Casting

From an early age, Justin was interested in storytelling. Enamored by the work of Steven Spielberg, he majored in English in college, with a concentration in screenwriting.

After moving to Los Angeles, he got a job as an office manager at an LA casting office. For Justin, casting talent was entirely new. But, it didn’t take long before he found himself compelled by the process. Soon, he was working his way up through the casting ranks, and eventually settled into the role of commercial casting director.

To Justin’s surprise, casting reminded him of writing. Like his favorite novels and screenplays, acting had the ability to bring to the surface the most unexpected elements of reality. It’s a phenomenon he still cherishes.

“I’ve always had an interest in storytelling, and my approach to casting reflects that,” Justin says. “The casting process is about finding the right actors to tell the story the way the director wants to tell it. Sometimes an actor will read for a role, and suddenly you realize a whole new way to play it. The story just opens up in a way that nobody expected. I love those moments. I have the highest respect for actors who really know their craft. As long as actors continue to surprise me with unexpected choices, I’ll keep coming back to the office every day.”

Commercial Auditions are About Being Prepared

As with most acting roles, preparation is key to conquering commercial auditions. Now, this may seem obvious. But, in Justin’s experience, this is one of the things actors neglect most during casting calls.

For him, it’s a simple yet essential component when pursuing acting jobs.

“If the script is available in advance, study it,” he says. “If there is dialogue, know your lines, but don’t be so locked into them you won’t be able to adjust if there’s a last minute script change. You aren’t required to have your lines memorized in commercial auditions, but if you do memorize them, you’ll stand out in a good way. It’s hard to gauge someone’s acting ability if it looks like you’re reading lines off the cue card in the audition. It comes off like a bad SNL sketch where the host didn’t have enough rehearsal time.”

In Justin’s view, actors need to be malleable. Part of the preparation process is the ability to adapt. If you go into casting calls with just one approach ready, then you may be hurting yourself. It’s important to take time to understand the scene, and the many ways those emotions can be represented.

“Think of a couple different ways you could play the script,” he continues. “If there’s dialogue, practice different ways to deliver your lines (and not just changing the inflection of certain words in a sentence like the Seinfeld episode where Kramer practices his line for a movie, “These pretzels are making me THIRSTY… These PRETZELS are making me thirsty.” If it’s non-verbal, come up with several different reactions. When you get in the audition room, you’ll most likely be given specific direction, but it’s always good to have a few different ways to play it if you’re allowed the freedom to show something else in a second or third take.”

Along with understanding the scene, it’s also important to understand the brand behind the commercial. If you’re unfamiliar with the product or service the commercial is promoting, then how can you properly support its message? In all cases, make sure to familiarize yourself with the history of the product, and how your performance can act as an extension of its essence.

“Know the product the commercial is advertising,” Justin says. “If you’re not familiar with it, do some basic research. If you go out for a guest starring role on an episodic, you’re going to watch an episode (or several) of the show to understand the tone and style. Commercials are no different. Understand how your character relates to the product in the scene.”

Don’t Think Like a Casting Director

One of the age old questions when it comes to acting jobs is should I or should I not think like a casting director? Is it necessary to develop the mindset of a casting director during commercial auditions?

For Justin, the answer is no. In his experience, the more important element an actor should focus on is the scene at hand.

“I don’t think actors need to get into the mindset of a casting director for an audition, but it helps if they have a basic understanding of the process,” he says. “They should know that there are a thousand and one reasons why they might not book a role, but if they are consistently getting callbacks, then they’re doing their job. If they’re not getting callbacks, then maybe they have a good headshot that gets them called in, but they need some more training. When actors walk into the audition room, I don’t want them worrying about gaining advantages over the other actors. I want them focusing on the script, their role, and showing us what they can bring to the material.”

Understand Your Personal Brand for Acting Jobs

In the world of acting, when we think of the word typecast, there’s usually a negative connotation associated with it. But, because of a commercial’s time constraints, a character must read instantly. Unfortunately, there’s no time for complicated character biographies. Whether it’s a heart-broken cheerleader or a disgruntled farmer, a viewer must understand the character right away.

This is why Justin believes it’s essential for an actor to take time in understanding their own personal brand.

“Commercials are all about a quick-read,” he says. “They’re trying to tell a story in a very limited amount of time, so the more instantly recognizable someone is as a character archetype, the easier it is to tell the story quickly. For example, if someone looks more blue collar, then they should have a headshot showcasing that look. If someone is more of an “everyman,” they should have a headshot that makes them look friendly and relatable. It’s a good idea for actors to have a few different looks, but they should all be looks that are realistic for them to book. Actors should pay attention to commercials to figure out what kinds of roles they would book. Once they determine that, they can promote themselves in a way that makes it easier for casting directors to see where that actor fits in.”

Commercial Casting Directors Face Challenges Too

Because of ever-evolving technologies, Justin sees the commercial casting industry changing not only for actors, but casting directors as well. In light of these developments, he says casting directors will have to monitor advertising trends in order to thrive in the future.

“The major obstacle commercial casting directors will face is keeping up with the evolving landscape of commercial advertising,” Justin says. “With the advent of new forms of media and streaming services, advertisers are spending their money in different ways than they did a decade ago, and many casting directors have had to adapt their businesses to stay relevant. It’s hard to say how technology will continue to change advertising in the next ten or twenty years.”

Using Casting as a Way of Helping the Community

Since assuming the role of CCDA President, Justin has wanted to find new ways of supporting members of the commercial casting industry, while also giving back to the community. During his tenure, he has implemented a number of successful initiatives addressing both the concerns of his members, and the needs of local LA neighborhoods.

“I’m very proud of continuing the annual charity fundraiser the CCDA started last year,” Justin says. “With the support of the acting community and talent agents, the CCDA/LA was able to raise significant donations for families and children in need. “

“I’m also very proud of the dialogue we’ve opened with SAG-AFTRA to share our knowledge on issues at the heart of some advertisers using non-union talent over professional performers,” he continues. “By utilizing the relationships we’ve built at SAG-AFTRA, some of our members have been able to persuade their non-signatory clients to hire a third party signatory in order to put their spots on the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract and cast better performers. On a daily basis, commercial casting directors handle negotiations with talent agents on behalf of the ad agencies, and we understand the way to get the best available talent is to offer what both sides consider to be a fair deal. We will continue to share what we have learned in an effort to help guide each side towards a fair resolution.”

Justin is also passionate about laying a foundation for the future of commercial acting. For him, it’s important to prepare the next generation of talent to enter the industry.

“A few years ago we started a teaching arm of ASG Casting, Inc., called Camera Left / Stage Right,” he says. “Our classes focus mainly on commercial audition technique for both adults and kids. We also have a great improv class for kids that teaches them the fundamentals of improv, as well as one of the most important skills every actor needs — how to listen. We started these classes to help actors rise above common mistakes and pitfalls we see so often in commercial auditions. My business partner and fellow casting director Arlene Schuster-Goss and I take turns attending the classes to answer questions and to give some deeper insight into the casting process.”

Wrapping Up With Casting Director Justin Radley

For many people, a job is just a job. It’s a means of making money, and if you’re lucky, an activity you can tolerate. But for others, a job is a calling. Yes, it’s something you do to survive, but it’s also a pursuit you believe improves your life, and society as a whole.

Justin Radley belongs to this latter group. By assuming the role of casting director, he is concerned not only with acting roles and commercial auditions, but using art as a vehicle for change. To show how acting, and storytelling in general, helps to shape and influence the reality around us.

Legendary actor Max Von Sydow once said, “There are casting directors with lots of imagination.”

Lucky for us, Justin is one of them.