The Green Room: Have you experienced any degrading commercial castings?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Eoghan Barry, 30, has worked professionally as an actor on fringe projects, for young people and more recently he has been working as a writer
|Jenny Talbot is 39, with nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre, and occasional forays into TV, film and plays|
Pierce Caffrey, 23, graduated from drama school and has performed on TV and in theatre
Jit Singh is 42 and has worked extensively in theatre, film and TV, including new plays for companies such as the Bush and the National Theatre
Victor Winstanley is 42 and his theatre career has encompassed the National Theatre, West End, touring and regional work. He also writes extensively for radio and TV
Tina Cerrito is in her 20s.She has worked on a number of productions in leading new writing theatres, as well as film work
Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company, worked on numerous new plays, and toured both national and internationally
Beryl I rarely do commercial castings now, but I have done many over the years. Some are fun but mostly they are hideous.
Victor I’ve done loads, and, yes, they are pretty degrading.
Eoghan I’ve not done as many commercial castings as perhaps I’d like – they’d help pay the rent, after all – but they haven’t been degrading so much as awkward.
Beryl I think this is intrinsic to the nature of selling ourselves to sell stuff. Let’s be honest, I’ve never been to a commercial casting thinking, “I really want to advertise this stuff.”
Pierce Commercial castings are undoubtedly a different ball game, but as long as you have come to terms with what you are getting yourself in for then you’re okay.
Eoghan I always feel a slight sheepishness about the fact that it really doesn’t matter how good your performance is; the client will pick the person who ‘looks right’ at the end of it all.
Jit I did a TV ident with a penguin. And yes, I was upstaged.
Eoghan In one audition, I found myself having to read a single line in a group of five people, some of whom didn’t have the sides with them – sides that were originally written in Spanish and then Google-translated. You kind of wonder why you’re even there.
Jenny They involve lots of improvisation and it can feel ridiculous.
Victor Things I have had to do include: make my stomach ‘dance’ to The Blue Danube; run on the spot ‘for a bus’ for five minutes without stopping while the casting directors whispered to each other off-camera; and rave to the beeps of a fax machine.
Pierce To do commercials you have to be so technically skilled as an actor. There isn’t a lot of traditional acting to get right, but that’s why getting it wrong looks so bad. I think you have to understand the commercial medium so well, and just be really good at making ‘business’ look effortless.
Victor My other half and I will often look at each other during particularly grim ad breaks on TV and say: “He had to audition for that.”
Jit When it comes to commercials, the storyboard includes a corporate small print as to whom your face would sell to.
Pierce There is no time to build your character when your palms are up in front of a casting couch. It is most closely related to improv comedy, actually, more so than traditional acting disciplines.
Eoghan I was made to ignore the script I’d spent three days learning once because they wanted to improvise around it. Fair enough, but then you see the final ad: it has gone to two girls instead of a guy and a girl like they originally said, and they’re using completely new lines. You wonder if they’ve just been using the improv you’ve been doing to write their new script for them.
Victor I once had a brief to do a “singing Santa”. I spent days working out what Santa’s singing voice would be like, then when I turned up for the record they said, “So what would you like to start with, the singing or the Santa?”.
Tina Good money can be made in these commercials. So dressing up as a life-size baby while pretending to ride a donkey might just pay off a bit of your mortgage.
Eoghan But the pay rate is so low now. An advert for a big electronics store, to be shown during the last European football championships, paid less than €1,000 all in. They were going to be all over the TV during a massive sporting event from a big company. It infuriated me.
Jit Gone are the days of residuals.
Victor Pay has undoubtedly dropped. I know people who bought houses on the back of a year-long campaign. That won’t happen again.
Pierce I remember coming into this business and hearing glorious tales of commercials that set you up for life. They still exist, but so many companies now make viral videos and online-only campaigns that don’t have a budget for the type of money you would expect. And Equity rates become the absolute max anyone will stretch to instead of a starting ground to negotiate up from.
Eoghan A massive computer company, one of the richest in the world, rang a friend of mine a couple of years ago wanting actors who would do its new worldwide ad for £1,000. My agent had a look at the brief and said the minimum should have been £6,000.
Pierce Lots of TV ads fall into that category. The technology is so good now that it is so much cheaper to make an ad. The most expensive aspect is the humans they have to pay to say the lines.
Victor Of course, the people who still get the big bucks for ads are those who are rich already.
Eoghan Yes, I think advertisers are pushing the boundaries of how little ‘a lot of money’ is to actors, especially newly graduated/struggling ones who will accept pay that is lower compared to that of a few years back.
Jit The voice-over market now also has famous faces involved, so that limits the average jobbing actor further.
Beryl We know it’s generally not art, it’s about earning a decent wage for a short job that means you can subsidise your theatre career. Does that sound cynical? Don’t go to them if you hate them, but if you can deal with the slightly cattle-market nature of it all, you just might get the gig.