I’m on check avail for a TV commercial! Yippee! What does that mean, and how did I get there? Here’s the scoop, based on my experience. Your mileage may vary, as they say.
If you didn’t know, just getting a commercial audition at a casting director’s (CD) office is a pretty big deal. For 99% of auditions (a few seek “real people” and specifically exclude actors), you have to have a talent agent, professional headshot (which looks like you look now) and most of the time some sort of experience. Then there has to be a breakdown with specs fitting your ethnicity, age range, skills, etc. Hair color, weight and height can come into play. In Chicago, improv experience is often mentioned as important or a requirement.
After seeing a breakdown, your agent can submit you. The CD can call you in from that, or can request you even if you haven’t been submitted, perhaps because they know and think of you or they’ve come across your headshot while searching an online casting site. You need to be available for your specific audition time, ie, “2:15 tomorrow at this CD.” Only rarely can you request and get a different time. Don’t be late!
Usually you get the script and/or storyboard (a shot-by-shot depiction of the commercial) the night before. You need to learn your lines, if there are any, and make specific, strong choices about how to say them and what to do/not do in between. How much is too much? Many commercials are MOS (without sound), but you may be asked to speak in character at the audition, say, a bank teller greeting a customer. And you have to decide what to wear…staying away from super bright colors and prints. The specs often say “wardrobe to fit character.” So for that bank teller, you wouldn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt. Or your interpretation of “nice casual.” What color is the wall in the casting room…if you wear certain shades of blue, you might blend in and look like a floating head. Do you want to wear glasses? If you have long hair, do you pull it back? If you have curly hair, go as is, straighten, or something in between?
Upon arrival in the CD’s waiting area, you fill out an information form. Sometimes you’re called in alone, sometimes with others. In the room, you’ll usually find an intern manning (or womaning) a computer, adding your name and making sure the video records. The session runner controls the camera and gives any direction. You’ll start with a quick closeup picture, then slate (say your name in a friendly and personable manner. Men with facial hair are often asked if they’re willing to shave.) They may do a quick pan to show your full body. Then they point or say, “Action,” and off you go. Sometimes they make suggestions for a second take. Other times, you only get one.
Your job is to do a great job. Even if you do, you may not move to the next step: a callback. The CD may offer their selects, but usually the client(s) (such as an ad agency, production company and/or advertiser) choose who they want to see again. In my experience, around a third or fewer of the original auditionees get a callback, though sometimes it’s hard to tell how many. You’ll wear the same clothes, do the same things. My quickest callback was for a reaction shot. I wasn’t even in the room for a minute. The longest callbacks are usually those where they mix and match people to see how they interact/look together, such as employer/employee, this or that friend, husband/wife, etc.
Then you hope for the next step, which can be check avail, first refusal, or on hold (I’m not going to delve into the differences…just know any are great). This means you’re on the short list! The next call (and/or email) will be a booking…or a release. Though there’s nothing else you can do at this point, somehow waiting can be the hardest part (as the song says). In part because you have to keep open the date(s) for the wardrobe fitting and the shoot. Some are out of town, so you may need to keep open four or more days including travel. It’s hard to not think about it, hard not to hope, hard not to wait for the phone to ring (usually good news) or that email notification to chime (usually bad news). My agent called yesterday around 5pm, and I got excited when I heard the custom ring! She was calling with another audition. That’s great too, of course, but not the same as a booking….
It’s exciting and rewarding just to get the callback. This shows your agent and the CD that a client likes what you do and may want to work with you. The check avail is even better. After you get the news, the process starts all over again…when/if you’re fortunate enough to get in the room…..