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.