This post is a followup article to last week’s How to Become a Commercial Actor: Part 1.
Most budding actors these days attempt to begin their careers in commercials for two reasons: first, it’s quick money for a relatively short amount of work, and second, you still get to practice your acting chops which beats waiting tables. A big misconception among budding artists is that commercial acting will give you a break in other sections of the entertainment industry. That is not true. Now and again you can make some valuable connections, and maybe there were a few cases where commercials helped an actor’s exposure (Brad Pitt?), but ultimately, it’s still a very different field from stage or screen acting.
Our last week’s column spiked some arguments on Reddit about how “talented” an aspiring commercial actor must be to pursue success in commercials. This goes back to our nature vs nurture discussion, so let me repeat once more what has been mentioned time and again: what matters most for commercials is your look (the look casting directors are searching for) and the skills, techniques and methods which you can learn in a good commercial class. Almost anybody with a marketable look can be a successful commercial actor to an extent.
How to Become a Commercial Actor: Part 2
Commercial acting, just like any other type of profession, requires a certain amount of training to develop your skills. Despite the fact that your ultimate goal might be to become a theatre actor or a movie star, you need a strong foundation in commercial acting before the infamous “overnight Pitt-like success” hits you over the head.
Many commercials nowadays are casting actors with zero experience and no training whatsoever. Your look is what sells you, and it’s an important part of your commercial success. However, there isn’t much you can do to make yourself look that much different. What you can do is train and acquire the necessary skills to beat your “better looking” competition in the audition room.
“I find most actors don’t put the time and effort into training. We think of commercials as ‘less than’ a theatrical audition. But a good commercial booking can subsidize your career. An actor could earn $30,000 from a one-day job…. Yet many actors would consider auditioning without any training. The audition is not where you come to learn. I’m constantly shocked at the amount of under-preparedness I see,” says Killian McHugh, one of the most popular commercial acting teachers in Los Angeles.
Good commercial actors know how to take direction well, offer different types of approaches to a situation, think fast on their feet, interpret the material accurately, and are good improvisers. Commercial actors need to be able to relate to the camera and know how to sell the product. Professional acting training is important for an actor, and anything that will sharpen your performance skills will benefit your career in commercials.
Here are the types of classes you should start looking into if you want to know how to become a commercial actor:
The first two are absolutely essential not only to become better at commercial acting, but also because that type of training on your acting CV/resume is what will potentially get you in the door after your headshot has caught casting director’s attention.
If your goal is to start a career in TV commercials, begin with learning about your type, get yourself into a commercial class (these usually last 1-2 months tops), and if you can afford it, enroll yourself into a good improvisation class and stay there for as long as you can. Ability to improvise well is by far the most versatile and beneficial skill an aspiring actor can acquire.
Short step by step plan to a career as a commercial actor
1. Enroll into a commercial class. You need to put some type of training on your resume, and a good commercial class will help with that. This will take 1-2 months of hard work, but you’ll come out ready and more knowledgeable about the field.
2. Get a set of great headshots. Your look is what initially sells you, so make sure to invest a little more in a well regarded photographer who knows how to shoot acting headshots. Learn about the different types of headshots, too (commercial and theatrical headshots are different).
3. Put a great resume together. Include all the acting training and experience you’ve had, omit information of any other commercials you’ve done (conflicts of interest) and remember to include all the special skills you have.
4. Sign up for casting websites. Depending on your location, websites will vary. Research what are the best casting sites for the city you’re living in and sign up for a full membership. Start submitting yourself for everything you’re suitable for.
5. Enroll to an improv class. By now, you should be done with your commercial class, so get yourself into a good improvisation class. If possible (mostly if you live in a bigger city like London, NYC or Los Angeles), find a well known class or improv group – casting directors love seeing familiar stuff on the resume.
6. Continuously work on everything. Don’t avoid any type of work in the beginning. Submit yourself for any casting breakdowns you believe you’re a good fit for and audition for everything you can. At this point, you need experience in the audition room, more exposure and connections with casting directors.
7. Some outside work can help, too. If you can afford it and have time to do this, try some non-commercial acting. Submit for indie projects, high quality graduate student films and everything of the higher scale. This will expand your resume and look better in the eyes of casting directors.
8. Get into a scene study and auditioning classes. Once you have a strong grasp of how commercials work, and you have the necessary skills under your belt, start working on your scene study and auditioning techniques. If you can, get into a really good professional acting class as well to work on your acting chops.
9. Look for a decent commercial agent. By this time, you probably have some credits on your resume already, a few finished classes and a couple more ongoing ones. You know how the business works, you have a great set of headshots and you’re ready for the next step. It’s time to find a really good agent to push you further.
10. Continue to pursue better projects. As your work starts to pick up, and you see yourself auditioning more often and becoming very busy, it’s time to learn how to say no to certain things. Pick your future jobs wisely, consider not only the money but also the connections, exposure and experience that you will get out of it.
Update: For those wondering what commercial the featured image is from, it’s the British Heart Foundation‘s Hands-on CPR ad called “Vinnie Saves.”