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!

Monday, January 16, 2017

What should be posted on your resume, or How To Keep It Reel

This is a question I get a lot because I suspect actors don’t want to stand out and look green. Do I list all of my commercials? Do I only list the ones I have a copy of? What if I haven’t done any commercials at all?
When I first started at Paradigm Talent Agency in NYC, they gave me good advice and it’s been on my resume ever since.
If you haven’t done any commercials, leave off the commercial section on your resume. No harm no foul.
If you have done a commercial, even if it never aired, even if you don’t have a copy yet, if you have ever stepped on set to do a commercial put this:

COMMERCIAL REEL AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

This is brilliant for several reasons.

One, LESS IS MORE. Never list all of your commercials. Maybe an exec from Coke is looking over your resume (.000000878 percent chance of that happening) and sees a Pepsi commercial on your list. Gives them pause. More likely though a casting director is looking at your resume, sees that Coke commercial on your list and wants to call you in for a Pepsi audition, either has to assume your spot is still running and not call you in, or go through the ordeal of having to call your agent, check to see if you are available, and if you are, is the spot still running, see…too much time wasted, you won’t get called in.


Two, LESS IS MORE. By saying less, “REEL AVAILABLE” there is an inherent suggestion that you might have done more than you actually have. If anyone ever asks for your commercial reel, which I have to admit in my years of this business I’ve been asked for it ONCE, just tell them what you’ve actually done and you’re working on it. If you have done a commercial, make a reel. For my reel click here. Tell me what you think about it. Post your reel. Let’s have a reel fest.