Sometime over the last few months, I “officially” became a commercial actress. I have a lot to say about this topic, so if you were ever curious about what it means to act in commercials, do read on….
As an actor for screen, I strive to do a range of work and have had experiences with feature film background work (more here) music videos (more here) and most recently with short films. However, the majority of my work has been in the form of commercials (for general TV/ online audiences) and “industrials” (online ads geared toward industry professionals). In my few months’ experience, I have had the pleasure of working on about a dozen marketing projects (commercials/ industrials/ print ads) across three states. Here are some things that I learned/ experienced along the way:
How did you become a commercial actress?
Hard work, perseverance, luck… no, I’m just playing you. Acting is just like any other job— make a resume and apply! I found the platform Backstage.com which connects actors with job opportunities. You can pay for a yearly subscription (if you want a referral code— email me, address in the comments 🙂 ), create a profile complete with your headshots and resume, and then submit your application to matching jobs. If you don’t have any experience, it is recommended that you make a video of yourself performing a monologue or some other work to showcase yourself (…here was my video…). On Backstage, you can filter jobs by location. As you would expect the bulk of the opportunities exist in LA and NYC, however, there are a smattering of jobs in other locations. Also, be sure to check out local Facebook groups like “[insert the name of your city here] Filmmakers Group” for nearby jobs, do your due diligence, and then… apply 🙂
What are commercial auditions like?
After you send in your application, you may get the pleasure of actually hearing back about your application (if you’re not being considered, it’s not uncommon for you to never hear back). For commercials, sometimes all you need to do is submit a “self-tape” audition, which is just when you read the provided lines or execute the requested movements in front of a camera in the comfort of your own home, and then email the final product to the production team. If the “sides” (the provided part of the script for the audition) include a dialogue, you may also want to recruit a “reader,” someone who reads out the other lines off camera for your audition. Although this is way less likely with commercials, you may also receive a request to attend an in-person or Zoom audition. In a small few (ultra-low-budget) cases, I have even been hired just on the basis of my application (which, note, did include a video reel to showcase past work).
So! …how much do you get paid??
Everyone always wants to know — how much did you get paid?? It’s a fair question, as we all have visions of actors making a boatload of money for a relatively small amount of work. This is only sometimes true. I have applied for commercial jobs that have ranged in pay from $50 for 2 hours work, to $1,500 for 10 hours. In these payments, a “full buy out” or “limited usage” is included to compensate for the use of the actor’s likeness in the advertisement for a limited time (one or two years is common) or in perpetuity. The overwhelming majority of commercial projects that I have worked on have been low budget (which means low pay).
How is wardrobe decided?
The wardrobe process varies greatly depending on how big budget (erm, “professional”) the production is. In the overwhelming majority of my experiences, I have needed to provide my own wardrobe, which usually means a selection of business causal outfits making sure to avoid bright colors and “busy patterns” (like paisley or narrow stripes), which do not translate well on screen. Nine times out of ten, you will not have to worry about packing shoes, as the camera frame will unlikely capture you from this angle. On a very small number of shoots, I have been provided with wardrobe, which is always preferable as it eliminates the need to schlepp around a big suitcase filled with clothing options. One time (and this isn’t even uncommon), I brought my wardrobe for approval and the wardrobe people steam pressed my dress on the spot to get out even the tiniest of wrinkles.
Do you need to rehearse before a commercial shoot?
Good question. Not likely, no. Unlike for other larger productions, you will unlikely need to attend any rehearsals for basic commercials. Usually, you will just show up, the director will tell you what to do, and then, you will run it a few times before the camera rolls.
What’s the work environment like?
Being a commercial actor really just makes you a fancy-looking contractor. You show up to a project, provide your service (i.e. acting), go home, and then send an invoice for your time (unless there is some other payment arrangement in place). Also, on this note, make sure that you get paid. This sounds dumb, but make sure that you get paid. A small handful of actors that I have worked with have messaged me weeks after a production to inquire about whether I had received payment (the answer for me is always — yes! Make sure you follow up about payment and complete ALL the paperwork). Anyway… the production team all know each other — you’re the outsider. It may just be another day at the “office” for everyone on set expect you. It’s always good to learn names and ask questions if you’re unsure about something (there could be protocols in place that you are unaware of for example). Also, although snacks or catering is often provided (especially for all-day shoots), it’s always good to bring your own water, snacks, and coffee.
While I have had some experiences where I was the only “talent” there, mostly, I have had the pleasure of working with at least one other actor. It’s always so fun to meet other actors and hear their stories. In Boston, there aren’t many people who pursue acting full time, so, like me, there are usually many others who are balancing school, or work, or both! The Boston acting community is a small world. I have already worked with some of the same actors more than once. Similarly, I have even spotted someone that I’ve worked with in a local commercial, as well as have connected with most everyone that I have worked with on social media.
Will I ever get to actually see the commercial?
Um, hopefully, maybe? I have had a range of experiences in this department. Most often, I have had to scour the internet myself to find the final project (which can be produced within a few weeks to, like, three months’ time). Also, there is one project in my experience that has yet to be produced and I’m doubting whether it will ever see the light of day — ho hum. Conversely, I have also worked on small productions, where the producer has personally emailed me the final product (so, so grateful!).
Overall, acting for commercials can be fun if you have reasonable expectations. For example, I probably spend more time applying for jobs/ auditioning for them than I actually spend on set. Conversely, once, a producer I worked with called me the day before a shoot to ask if I would sub in for a non-speaking industrial role when the original actor cancelled due to illness (no audition required; I’ll happily be the backup!). On this note, one of my most valuable assets as a commercial actress is neither my skills nor how I look (although these are, of course, important) but my flexible schedule. Most of my jobs have taken place during normal office hours, which already makes participation in such jobs impossible for most people (I’m a grad student, by the way — more here).
If you want to start acting — start now! Take classes… or, like, don’t! You can even do what I did — apply for background work (more here) and get experience on set that way. Make a video reel with your best monologue performance, and then just apply!
Break a leg!
P.S. if you would like to sign up for the acting job platform “Backstage” contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a Backstage.com referral code (you’ll save money… I think??)