What’s the Deal with Commercials? How to Generate Commercial Auditions and Start Bringing in those Residuals

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Commercial auditions are your gateway to starring in commercials. The great thing about getting started in commercials is that you don’t necessarily have to have a ton of credits or acting experience to start auditioning. Nowadays most casting offices are looking for “real looking people,” so there’s really no need to wait to finish your two year acting conservatory before you start going after a career in the commercial world. 

However, there are definitely key components that you do need to set up and have in place for you to maximize your potential success in the commercial market.

What’s awesome about commercials is that there are a number of casting websites you can submit yourself on if you are currently not represented. First of all, your headshot is the most important tool and piece of marketing material (especially in commercials) for you to use when submitting yourself for commercial castings. I go into great depth about how having “good headshots” isn’t enough these days, and how it’s so important to develop your brand and know how to market yourself in my Headshot Article (click here).

Some key reminders to having really great commercial headshots:

Commercial auditions

  • Go for the more “real look” – you no longer have to have a large, cheesy smile or crazy outfit
  • DO be specific with the type of demographic and market you are trying to target
  • Watch commercials that are currently airing and take note of what they are wearing

Once you have about 3-5 headshots that vary, but are still on brand, then you can start uploading to the casting sites.

Some of the top casting sites for commercials:

  • LAcasting.com
  • Actorsaccess.com
  • Castingfrontier.com
  • Nowcasting.com

Remember I said how you don’t need a ton of credits in order to be going out for commercials, as opposed to TV and Film?

Well there is still a strong emphasis on two types of training: Improvisation and commercial classes.

Because commercial auditions happen so quickly and so often it is essential that you take some improv classes. These classes will not only allow you to think on your feet, but will also give you an edge on your resume.

Some of the top schools to take improv classes include:

  • IO West
  • Second City
  • Upright Citizen’s Brigade
  • Groundlings

Most commercial agents want to see that you also didn’t just take one class at these places, but were able to really hone in on your skills and go to at least the intermediate or advanced level.

Another piece of the pie is your commercial training. Having at least 1 or 2 commercial classes under your belt will also help, not only in getting reps to take you seriously, but also in the eyes of casting directors. Almost all of the commercial casting offices are familiar with the top commercial classes and teachers. Having trained with these professionals that they trust shows that you have invested in your career, understand what it takes to be able to adapt on set and a knowledge base to understand a product and your particular role in that commercial can mean the difference between you getting the appointment or not.

Some of the top commercial classes to take in LA:

  • Chris Game’s Commercial Classes
  • Killian’s workshop
  • Stuart K. Robinson’s Classes (Commercial CD)

So you have your killer branded and targeted commercial headshots, you’ve joined the acting websites, have some improv and commercial training and are now submitting.

Union or Non-Union?

What’s great is that even if you are non-union, you can submit for both union and non-union commercials. However, once again, do not LIE that you eligible to join the union if you ARE NOT.

You may still get the national union commercial even if you are non-union, but in order for you to book the job, they would have to Taft-Hartley you. We will go more into depth on this and ways to become eligible in another article, but just keep this in mind.

While you are submitting yourself for commercials, you can also be reaching out to commercial agents.  There are a number of ways to get an agent’s attention in terms of cover letter, marketing materials, etc. that we will cover in another article. But having your very branded headshots, improv experience and some knowledge of commercials from one of your commercial classes will definitely improve your chances of signing with a strong commercial agent.

There are SO many commercial agencies out there, but here is a list of some of the top commercial agents you can be targeting:

  • AKA
  • ABA
  • Bobby Ball Agency
  • BBR,
  • CESD,
  • Coast to Coast
  • Commercial Talent
  • AEFH
  • Daniel Hoff
  • DDO
  • House of Representatives
  • Innovative
  • Momentum
  • Aqua
  • Reign
  • …..etc.

Commercial auditions for kids and commercial auditions for teens are really no different than ones for adults, although your target list of agents may be a bit different, as you will want to target commercial agencies with strong youth departments.

These agencies include:

  • Abrams
  • Osbrink
  • Coast to Coast
  • Daniel Hoff
  • Mavrick
  • The Savage Agency

How to Audition for Commercials

Commercial auditionsSo either you got the notice on your own or you got it from your new cool commercial agent (see list here for top commercial agents)…

AUDITION NOTICE: first McDonald’s national commercial. Yay! Now what?

First, you want to read over all of the requirements for the audition – Did they mention any special skills? Was there any copy attached? Where is the office? If it’s in Santa Monica, how much time should you allow? Did they ask for headshot and resume? What type of character will I be playing?

Then, you want to take a look at that product online by doing some research. What types of colors is the brand? What types of people are in their commercials? If you are playing a customer service representative, what are they wearing? How have they styled their hair? What type of demographic are you in?

…What do you mean, demographic?

Let’s say you get a breakdown for the role of “Mom” in the “Shopping Ad. Well, not every mom is the same and shops at the same store.  You need to do research to see what types of “moms” or women shop at that particular store.

For instance, a mom shopping at JC Penny’s versus Nordstrom vs. Old Navy will be wearing vey different outfits.

Why is it so important to understand the product?

The more you understand the product, the more you will be able to understand what the advertisers are looking for in order to sell it.  If you come in dressing like the consumers who they are targeting, (if this is your role in the commercial) they are going to see you as relatable. The more the audience can relate to you, the more they will see themselves as you, or one of their friends who too, should buy their product.

So you can see, for a lot of commercials, it really does come down to the look.

HOWEVER… having special skills also can help you in generating more commercial auditions!

What classifies as special skills? On many of the sites they will name every variation of special skill you can think of, however writing in your specific skillset in the “NOTES” section also helps.

For instance, instead of just clicking “soccer – advanced,” in your notes section you can write the specifics that you think may help casting directors in terms of looking for people with those skill sets:

  • 12+ years soccer including college level, can juggle for 5 minutes straight, own all athletic gear

One of our clients has gotten “straight to callbacks” for soccer in particular because she had such specific notes on her experience. This is also the reason why being TRUTHFUL in your skill set is so crucial. If you say you are advanced in something, make sure you are actually advanced in that skill. There is nothing worse than having a “Straight to callback” with 15 advertisers in the room seeing that you don’t actually play that sport, or instrument or speak that language.

But wait… DO YOU speak multiple languages?

If you can speak at least conversationally in another language, be sure to make note of this! I have gotten at least a dozen different Chinese-speaking commercials, and booked a Chinese Double Mint Commercial from being able to speak Chinese.

However, JUST because you have the skillset, doesn’t mean they necessarily want that or that your odds are better, if you don’t LOOK like the type of person who will have that skillset. (Brutal honesty here.)

Another example: I auditioned for an NCAA sports spot on lacrosse. I have a YEARS of experience playing lacrosse and actually very good at the sport. HOWEVER… according to the product and organization’s demographic… I didn’t LOOK like someone who would play lacrosse, so they didn’t end up casting me.

So that happens too. Don’t be mad, just be aware of it: When it comes to commercials, they can be VERY typecasted!

Okay, let’s get back to your audition… you go into your Fast Food audition, prepared and ready, looking like someone who would sell or buy that product and you are now in the waiting room with a ton of girls or guys who look like you. You notice some of them from your favorite TV shows, some of them who have huge campaigns, others who look like your next door neighbor, others who look like they just stepped out of GQ. You start to feel the nerves.

Instead of shutting off, going straight to Instagram or Facebook, or worse case, staring at your competition and giving them evil “I’m going to take you down eyes,” you are going to chat with one or two people who are sitting next to you – get to know their names and have a brief interaction. You can go back to your phone if you want, but be sure to build rapport with at least one person around you.


Well, by now you have taken at least one commercial class so you will have a really strong foundation with how these commercial auditions will go, but essentially, there are so many times where you will be auditioning in groups and will have to improvise with those who you were ignoring in the waiting room.

Someone might have also arrived early and heard more about what the advertisers are looking for… it’s always good to be friendly, because this can make or break the actual audition!

So you go in with Suzie Q., they make you improvise as best friends (perfect, you’ve already become best friends an exchanged your very avocado recipes), you are given adjustments in the room, you take them beautifully, you don’t try to linger after the audition because you understand no one has time for that, and you go to your car and move on to the next.

Now a couple hours have passed, or maybe even a day or two and you forgot about your audition because you are so busy with producing more results and know that booking the work is out of your control… but you get a CALLBACK.

You go in and do your callbacks the same way you did your first audition and CRUSH IT yet again.

Now your agent calls you and tells you that you are on AVAIL.

“Wahoo!!! I’m on Avail, I basically booked it!!”

Nope. It IS exciting, because you are probably 1 of 5 people who are among the top selections for booking the product… but never ASSUME that that means you BOOKED it for sure.  Now they want to know your availability for the wardrobe and shoot days and there may also be some discussion among the advertisers and direct of what specifically that commercial or ad is looking for. It can come down to hair color, ethnicity, sex… but the truth of the matter is, just like in any audition, you will NEVER know why you didn’t book something.

What’s great is that most of the time your reps will be able to tell you if you are released from your AVAIL or not. If you haven’t heard from anyone in 1-2 days you can assume you didn’t book it.

Because commercials move so fast, unlike some TV and film auditions you may have where you can find out a week later, I wouldn’t give it more than 2 days.

“I didn’t book my first 10 auditions… are my agents going to drop me?”

I can’t speak for every agent out there, but for the most part I will say, NO.

Keep in mind the ratio of commercial auditions to bookings. It usually takes AT LEAST 30 auditions to book 1 commercial audition, and that depends on how specific the roles are that you go out for. If you are going out for everything under the sun, maybe you only get called back for 10% of the roles.  Just keep auditioning, show gratitude toward your representation and keep doing the research and the preparation we discussed to stay competitive.

If it’s been awhile and you haven’t had ANY callbacks, you may want to take a callback class (Killian’s has a great CALLBACK class).

I hope this article was helpful to you and I wish you nothing but success in the commercial world!

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