Thursday, June 22, 2017

7 THINGS YOU NEED TO WRITE DOWN WHEN YOU GET THE COMMERCIAL AUDITION

THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FOR BACKSTAGE AND PUBLISHED JUNE 22nd, 2017

1. The Time

There is a big difference between an audition at 2:15 and 12:15. I have dropped that 1 once or twice and there is a bit of a difference. I do not like that assistant’s blank look when I arrive two hours early. And I definitely don’t like that furious casting director’s look when I arrive two hours late. 

2. Location/casting director

How long is it going to take you to get there? An audition on the West side is different than an audition on the East Side. 125th street or 12th street. I once went to the wrong casting agency but they were auditioning a different commercial for THE SAME PRODUCT. I sat there for 45 minutes until someone told me I wasn’t on their list. I missed the other audition. A one in a million chance, but it happened. 

3. The product

What does the product want you to think of them? And what do you actually think of them? For example, Superstores want us to think of them as All American, family friendly, quality goods. Which is different than what I actually think of them, which is cheap crap destroying the mom and pop fabric of this country. Which if I’m not careful will create an unconsciously cynical slate. I’ve seen it in class over and over again and unfortunately noticed it in my own auditions. Your thoughts follow you into the room. So instead focus on what they want you to think, instead of what you actually think. Also, if there are any products you would never audition for, let your agent know immediately. You don’t want to wait until you get the audition call to tell them you are morally obligated to not audition, because their response is going to be, “Ah, yeah, you ARE morally obligated because I spent time to get this audition for you.” 

4. What you’re wearing

You will be asked to dress CASUAL, BUSINESS CASUAL, or BUSINESS. Watch your commercials, find the roles you’d play and see what they’re wearing. Keep your commercial wardrobe separate, clean and ready to go and have pieces that represent each category. If they ever ask you to “Dress The Role,” it’s been my experience that it’s best that you nod to the role and not go full out. If you need to be a fireman, leave the hose and hat at home and put on a red shirt. Unless it directly asks for a full costume, nod to it and let the costume person do their job on set. 


5. Role
Are you there to play Mom 1 or Mom 2? Don’t make the assistant look it up for you at the audition, drives them crazy. They have 80 actors to get through in 4 hours. Know which role you’re there to play. If it isn’t listed on the audition breakdown, ask your agent before you go in. 

6. I am going to have fun in this audition. 

Or This audition is going to go great. Or This audition will lead to a job. 
A positive affirmation battles all the negative thinking just before we audition. If we write it like it’s the sixth fact we need to know, the brain might just accept it as another fact it needs to know. The mind is our greatest tool and our biggest obstacle. Make it do your bidding, not the other way around. 

7. Your mileage and any cost incurred during the audition. 

Have an accountant that is familiar with an actor’s deductions. Lunch, mileage, meter costs, subway rides, costumes, make up. They can help us find those extra dollars during tax time, but we have to have the documentation to verify it. 

NOTE: Again, thank you BACKSTAGE.COM for letting me publish this. For other articles written by me, please visit their website!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My 27th Commercial- SUBWAY (My most recent Backstage Expert Article)


Bill, you booked the Subway commercial!
Cut to the shot of me in the city, clenching my phone, screaming in victory at anyone who will listen, basically just the pigeons on the sidewalk who quickly fly away terrified to a safer street.
I booked it! My 27th national commercial. For Subway. Free food! (Yes, this is how I think sometimes.)

I show up on set which is an actual Subway restaurant closed that day to the public. The first department I’m sent to is Hair and Make Up. I befriend them immediately as they are usually the most fun, the biggest gossips, and will give you a sense of what the set will be like.

The next department is Costume.
“Nice black socks Bill.”
If you’re a woman working on a set you should always bring flesh colored underwear in case they dress you in something sheer. For men, you should always wear black socks. You’ll never get dressed in anything else and if you bring your own you’re making their job so much easier, a goal every actor should have.

My scene is the first shot of the day. The set is bustling with close to forty crew members, all stuffed into this small restaurant. They’re directing huge lights, setting up the sound cart, laying down track which will help the camera smoothly glide back and forth for a dolly shot. It’s incredibly warm and loud. A few actual Subway employees are looking on incredulously. How could so many people could fit into their small place?

The Assistant Director comes up to me, always the time task master.
“Okay Bill, let’s run it a few times so lights and camera can get it right. You walk in, you sit down in this booth here. Yeah? Let’s try it.”
I walk in, sit down in the booth.
“Great, let’s try it again. Lights, good?”
I walk in again, sit down in the booth again.
 “Okay, great, last checks (the make-up and hair department hustle in and out) let’s shoot it. Picture is up people. Lock it down”
All of a sudden, complete silence. Forty crew members come to a standstill. You can tell the Subway employees (the real ones) are impressed. I am impressed. This crew is a disciplined army.
The A.D. calls out over his microphone. “Sound.”
The sound guy calls out “Speed” which means the tape is up and running and we are good to record.
The A.D. calls out “Camera”
The Director of Photography calls out “Rolling”, which I am sure you can guess what that means.
The director, from the back of the room calls out “Action.”
I walk in, I sit down in the booth.
The Director calls “Cut.”

Silence.

Then from the back of the room, a sound that still raises the hair on my neck. The Director screams out, and I mean SCREAMS out, “WELL, THAT SUCKED!” like a punch to the stomach.
Every person turns and looks at me. Every. Person. Even the real employees. Maybe not the sound guy who quickly puts on his headphones to check to see if all of his mics have just blown out.
You can hear me swallow.
And I will not lie, my first thought was, “I’m fired.”
But wait. I came in, I sat down in the booth. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. What’s going on? Then I understood.

This Director is secretly terrified.

In my class, we talk a lot about being in Service. Being present in the moment to recognize what is actually needed in the moment. It is our strongest tool as actors, and is the only thing we actually have control over. By recognizing the fear in these moments, we can deal with it both in ourselves and in others, in a deeper, more effective way.
I recognized in that moment that the director was nervous, both by the tone of his voice (masked as aggression), and by the fact that I CAME IN AND SAT DOWN IN THE BOOTH.
So, very gently, I responded over the silence,
“What do you need?”
Not I am so sorry, not please don’t fire me, not what the hell are you talking about I came in and sat down in the booth. Instead, what do you need? Service.

Silence. Then he screams out,
“Okay, moving on. Next shot.”

The army moves on to the next shot, sound guy removes my mic and I’m done.
The director was just posturing, showing everyone on set who was boss, but with me he had no ship to put this barnacle on. I let it pass through and got right to the truth of the matter which was that I was just there to help. But for a second I knew exactly how those pigeons had felt when I found out I booked the job, and pigeons, I am so sorry.

*Thank you Backstage for allowing the use of this blog on my website. And for being so cool.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WHY IS YOUR COMMERCIAL HEADSHOT IMPORTANT?


Your headshot is important, but it may not be why you think. Students come into my class with their headshot in hand and ask what I think of their photo.   To be honest, it’s akin to asking your Grandma. Yes, I have experience in the business, but it’s no business of mine what your headshot looks like. It’s your agents.
I once had a very good and professional manager and she taught me a lot about my headshot.
She was a little nutty, but fantastic at her job. She told me that my pictures were her ammo to try and get me into the room, and that a good rep knows which photos they need. She suggested I find stills of scenes from the shows I wanted to be on, and find the specific scenes that have actors like me. What were they wearing? What were they thinking? What was it about their image that I could emulate in my photos. Mine was what’s his face from Criminal minds. Crimson shirt, grey sports jacket. A ‘tell me what you know” look. This was the prototype. And this was the result. And you know what? I ended up on Criminal Minds, acting across from what’s his name. Wild, right? Check it out HERE. 

I knew right away I wanted to sign with my LA commercial agency, because during our first meeting they laid out exactly what kind of photos they needed.
“We need an outdoor dad, with a grey vest and pop of color for the shirt.”
“We need a business casual with a blue button down, sleeves rolled up look.”
“We need a business shot, same blue shirt, but with a jacket.”

I mean, come on! I signed with them immediately, because they knew which ammo they needed (as well as other reasons of course, professional and not so professional. I mean they all dress up at the office for Halloween for God’s sake, how cool is that!?) The fact that they knew what worked, and what would work for me spoke volumes about their confidence and ability to get me into the room.
Which is a warning to be wary of the rep who blames your headshot for the inability to get you in the room and doesn’t suggest an alternative! Ask your reps for suggestions before you get your headshot. Talk to them about it, what do THEY need? Not how can I look good so I can show these pictures to my commercial acting class teacher and get some lavish praise (which is awesome, just not helpful for your career.) Bring them in anyway, I’d love to see them. In fact, post them below and let’s see!

TRY THIS: Contact your agent today (via email) to get their feedback on your headshot. Do they feel it’s helping them, or is there something they need to help get you into the room?


Friday, March 31, 2017

MY 34TH COMMERCIAL: ZANTAC

You know you’ve made it when they animate your stomach as a cartoon. That was my first thought when I saw my commercial airing at the gym. My second thought was, “Why is no one recognizing me? I’m right HERE?”  In fact, I’ve only been recognized once from my commercials, and that was by a guy who had also auditioned for it. Fame, so fleeting.

The Zantac commercial (my 34th national commercial) was a lesson in stillness. In the callback, the director whispered to me from the other side of the room. “Okay, you don’t feel very well..it’s uncomfortable, more uncomfortable, no less, less ,then….relief.”
 I barely moved. It was the predecessor of the “keep it small” direction every commercial actor gets these days. But I remember the energy in the room. All the clients were very still, watching, intently. Later I would find out why.

In my class, I teach 101 things you need to know before your next commercial audition. One thing that’s not included, but it should be is, don’t get your hair cut the day before the shoot. I did and when I showed up in the make up chair, I got a low whistle from the hair artist. She perused the five polaroids of my hair from the fitting.
“Uhm. Okay. Someone get the director.”
My heart sank. For the next ten minutes, they took pictures of my hair again and wondered if it had changed my look and what “they were going for.” I thought for sure they were going to fire me. It wasn’t as if I had shaved my head bald, but it was short enough that I no longer looked like what I had looked like in the audition. Lesson learned. Arrive on set exactly how you looked at the audition.

The shoot was in a freezing studio in Queens, NY. A huge warehouse with a small office set built in the middle with retractable walls. The lights were intense and everywhere. The director loved his lighting. Which was cool, but took a take or two to get used to. We did a few takes and the director seemed pleased, his whisper now gone and his voice more conversational. Everyone seemed in a good mood. Shot after shot was getting set up and knocked down. The Assistant Director, who runs the shoot and tries to keep it all on time, seemed pleased. We were on track. And then.. the client took over.

On every set there’s a “video village”, a set up of director chairs and monitors that the client and producers watch while the commercial is being filmed. Always check in once with the Village at the top of the day,

“Hey guys, good morning. Thank you so much for having me here. Such a blast!”

Sometimes the Village stays silent during the day, sometimes, as I was about to find out, there are 38 chefs in the Village kitchen. They had a runner that would tap the director on the shoulder, whisper something, the director would then have to walk back to the Village, discuss the note, then walk back to the office set and incorporate the note into the next shot. My favorite note of the day was:
“When he’s suffering from heartburn, he’s slightly thumping at his chest, that’s a heart attack, that’s bad. It’s more a windmill motion, like this.”

Cut to twelve people at the Village “wind milling” their chest with their hands.

The director was getting more and more impatient, the temperature started to rise and it became very, very quiet on set. The director walked over to me, eyes rolling and whispered,
“They have a ton of money in this. They are really nervous. Can you, like, windmill?”

I wind milled. They were thrilled. The set cooled down.

I have found that the strongest tool for actors is Service. Being present in the moment to recognize what is needed and to be constantly asking in our thinking and action, “How can I help?” In that moment, all that was needed was a wind mill. And the moment passed.

Try it out next time. It feels much better than:

“What if I don’t do it right? Are they still angry about the hair? Money? How MUCH money?” All of that is fear based thinking which means we now look, smell and taste like everyone in that Village. And they don’t want anything to do with what looks, smells, and tastes like them. Instead they gravitate towards those in service and want to work with them again and again and again. Which is a career. Even if no one recognizes you at the gym.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

THE NUMBER ONE OF THE 101: WHY I BOOKED 50 COMMERCIALS

Commercial Acting 101 is literally 101 things you need to know before your next audition. No lie, it is a shotgun of information. But there is a main philosophy that ties it all together, and once I started applying this philosophy to my auditions, I started having more fun, and my booking rate went through the roof.

First, an observation. The On-Camera commercial world, the advertising world is a world that’s rooted and driven by fear. Why is that? They have no idea if the commercial is going to work, if the demographic they are trying to reach is going to spend as much money as they want them to. Imagine that anxiety. This fear rolls from the advertisers, through the production company, through the casting agent, into our rooms! And I recognized this fear because I was walking out of these rooms in fear, doing something that I absolutely loved to do. And I thought, this is crazy, I am going crazy. How can I combat this? Or always better, how can I use this to my advantage.

So I started to apply this philosophy: walking into these fear based rooms, and asking the question, both in action and in thought: HOW CAN I HELP? And asking with a true intention, really listening and looking for an answer. If you ask this question you will see the fear just fall off their shoulders and they will gravitate toward you, and return this service with the only currency they have which is the job.

Now keep in mind when I talk about service, I’m not talking about servitude. Genuflecting to the great advertising God. I’m talking about being present to the moment to RECOGNIZE what is needed now. But there’s no way we can be present to the moment, if we as actors are in fear based thinking.

“Nobody here looks like me.”
“Everyone here looks like me.”
“This is my tenth audition and no callback.”
“This is my tenth callback and no job.”
“Is this shirt right?!” (My personal demon).

The camera picks up on this thinking and we now look and smell like everyone on the other side of the camera, and they don’t want anything to do with what looks and smells like them. They’re scared enough, no reason to bring another person on who can’t help them.
So we ask that question a lot in class. How can I help? How can I help in slate? How can I help outside the room, inside the room? How can I help in my copy breakdown?
How can I help in the callback, on set?
How can I help?

Because I’m sorry, I don’t care what kind of career coach you have, we have NO control over whether we book. We have all control over whether we serve. And I found, the more I serve, the more I book. Over and over again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

THE THREE ALARM FIRE: THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF A COMMERCIAL SHOOT

I booked my first union commercial job in college.

And the morning of the shoot, I woke up fifteen minutes AFTER my call time.

Yeah, I can hear every single actor out there suck in some panicked air. I still remember just…staring at that digital clock by my bed. It…couldn’t be…I, no….couldn’t…..(jump cut to a terrifying, illegally fast drive to Detroit to park up on a curb to find about twenty people WAITING AROUND on set. Can you even imagine the silence?) Oh, and did I mention I didn’t bring the clothes I was supposed to bring? Another blog, another time.

After the shoot, I returned a jacket to an older, distinguished actor who lent me his spare for the shoot. I apologized again. He turned to me and said: “You’re the reason people hate actors.”

And you know what, he was right.

Time is currency in business. And if you want to rock in the commercial business, play by this rule: always show up 45 minutes before your call time. This gives you time to achieve the 3 M's before the audition: make calls, memorize the directors name, and meditate


  1. But back to that college job. After that fateful, horrible, but ultimately huge learning experience (remember 2 burns = 1 learn, check out that blog here) I NEVER showed up late for a shoot again.
The night before your shoot, you want to set the three alarm fire:


  • 1      Set a phone alarm
  • 2          Set a separate clock alarm
  • 3          Have a friend, trusted relative, or accountability partner call you


You’ve got a huge day ahead of you, a day you’ve been visualizing, preparing for,  perhaps even dreaming of for years. Show up for yourself. And show up on time. Be the reason people love actors.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL ON SET, or SHAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT


Here I am getting paid to learn and I got to keep the jacket.

What’s the most important tool on every commercial set?
Not how many M ‘n M’s you can fit in your mouth at craft service, although God knows I’ve tried. (68, I’d like to see Flo beat that!)

It’s listening. Being present in the moment to recognize what is needed.

Lets’ take a time travel back to my Hershey’s Pot O' Gold spot. A great national spot that ran for years, bookended a Late Night with David Letterman I was watching, and made me tens of thousands of dollars. But ultimately, those weren’t the most enjoyable results of the spot.
The best part was learning something incredibly valuable on set. Learning to listen.
If you go to my reel, you’ll see at the end of this spot how I reach into a planter and grab the host’s flowers as a panicked last minute gift. Pretty funny.

After the first take, the Assistant Director who was standing behind the camera spoke. (He was getting notes in his earpiece from the director who was watching on the monitor off set) The AD says, “Okay great, this time shake the flowers so we see the dirt fall out.” Which I did. “Cut!” Huge pause. We wait on that porch for about 10 minutes while off-set the whole production crew, a group of producers and team of clients discuss.

Finally, the AD comes back up to me. “Okay, they say forget the dirt. Just hold up the flowers.” “I thought that was pretty funny,” I think to myself. “Too bad.”
And we shoot it again. After “CUT,” the AD immediately comes up to me.
“Okay great, we’re going to do it again. And don’t shake the flowers.”
“I didn’t know I shook the flowers.”
“Yeah. You did.”
We shoot again. “CUT” The AD slides up and grabs the flowers out of my hand. A tight smile.
“Okay. You’re still shaking the flowers. DON’T shake the flowers. They don’t want you to shake the flowers anymore.”
Another take. “CUT!” The director whips around the corner. No longer in his director’s chair.
“Okay Bill, you’re shaking the flowers when you hold them up.”
The props department guy, who had to re-plant after every shot, says, “Just, hol’ ‘em.”
“Right,” I think to myself. “Just hol’ ‘em.” Which I did. And in the next shot, I just held them. And we’re done with the shot, moving on.

See, I wasn’t listening. I was thinking of the first shot. I was thinking of not messing up. I was thinking of wasting everyone’s time. I was frightened. I was resistant. I wasn’t THERE. I was in the past, I was in the future. And the only place we can act, and act well, is now. Indeed, a true “Pot O’ Gold.”

Try this: Take a second to listen. Right now. What do you hear? Allow the sounds to meet the ear. No judgement, just listen. Try this again in an hour. And an hour after that. And after that. Hey! Look! You're listening!