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Surf’s Up! Jessie Fraser on Booking Commercials

Whiskey and toothpaste and cars, oh my!

My first commercial audition was a baffling experience. I walked into the audition room and the casting director said, “Ok. You have a terrible cold. You’re sniffling and sneezing and you feel miserable. And you’re riding a surf board. Rolling!” I sniffed, sneezed and surfed my little heart out. I didn’t get a callback. Not because I was unconvincing as a surfer with a cold, but because my trepidation and confusion were written all over my face. I didn’t understand how the commercial casting process worked or what my role was in that process. As soon as I did my research and figured out that my job was to facilitate the story and help the director and producers solve a problem, I started booking on a regular basis.

But I don’t want to sell carpet cleaner! That’s not why I became an actor!

Remember, long long ago, when you could watch a movie trailer or a cute puppy video on Youtube without being forced to watch a commercial first? We all knew that watching online content unimpeded was too good to last. Deep down we knew that the infernal ads would come! Why? Because despite our desire as actors to appreciate the art and creativity behind our favourite TV shows and movies, the film and television industry is in reality a profit-based, corporate juggernaut. Have you noticed how often the characters on the critically acclaimed series House of Cards drink Diet Coke? Product placement and commercials pay for our viewing pleasure. The television series we strive to be a part of wouldn’t exist if brands didn’t buy advertising time. Understanding your role as a moving part in the film and TV industry machine is essential for booking both commercials and film and TV roles.

Learning about “the machine” changed my perception of the audition process and helped me get over those pesky audition jitters. The director, the ad agency, the producers and the casting directors are dealing with hundreds of moving parts. The actor’s job is therefore to walk into the audition room as a professional who is available to collaborate and serve the story. Commercial auditions are a great place to practice getting out of our own way so that we can, (ironically!), focus on what we actually find exciting and inspiring about this industry.

In addition to conquering jitters, navigating the commercial audition will provide experience taking direction, slating, improvising and learning about the casting process. You’ll master hitting a mark, working with multiple eye-lines, and dealing with last minute script changes. These technical skills will certainly come in handy on a film or TV set. And as an added bonus, commercials produced by reputable companies pay actors very handsomely. How awesome would it be to have and influx of spare cash to pay for acting classes and those new headshots?

Commercial auditions can be intimidating, perplexing, or just plain silly. It may not seem like it sometimes, but there is a method to the madness.

Surfs up, my friends.

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