How to Study Commercials & Television To Improve Your Auditions



You have to study the medium you intend to work in to feed your imagination, and therefore your read. Lucky for us, today we’re able to view and study television, voiceover, film, and commercial work with greater ease than ever and from almost anywhere.

You could rent a DVR (digital video recorder) through your local cable provider for a nominal monthly fee. However, if you’re among the legions of cable-cutters who doesn’t have cable, there’s always Netflix, HULU, and Amazon to rely on.

For commercials, check out iSpot.TV. This site allows you to view current (and a few retired) commercials that define formulaic styles you’ll likely audition for. This site allows you to determine which shows the commercials play as well. Shows you might already watch.

First, if you record shows you watch religiously, great! Study them, commercials and all. You’re more likely to land work within your wheelhouse; styles you’re familiar with, and that you find entertaining. That translates into work for you as an actor and a voice talent.

Second, make a point to see popular shows that you may have heard of but haven’t seen yet in order to stay on top of popular references. Do a quick Google search of the top 25 shows. Make a shortlist of last years’ Emmy nominees. Every single one was a close race, because there’s so much great TV playing right now! You’ll likely discover at least 10 you’ve been meaning to watch. That’s manageable. Get busy!

Third, the direction you’re likely to get on auditions and sessions alike will be based on Pop Culture references from shows on network television, cable, the premium pay channels, and a variety of streaming services such as Netflix, HULU, and Amazon. We’ve never had this much remarkable content! It’s astounding. Nevertheless, if it’s popular, you should watch at least 6 to 8 consecutive episodes to get a feel for the style, genre, tempo and characters, whether there are commercials playing between breaks or not.

It’s your job as a professional to stay on top of what’s current.

Here’s a great tip: Rather than attempting to watch a series you’ve missed thus far from the very beginning, try starting with the 2nd or 3rd Season. Watch the last 3 episodes of that season, and commit to watching another 3 or 4 episodes into the following season. Watch at least 6 consecutive episodes total of the show recommended to you most.

It’s overwhelming to try to watch a series from the very start, especially if it’s been on for a few years. Besides you would have seen it by now if that process worked. Frankly, I rarely got hooked on a show watching it from the very beginning. At least this way you’ll get the gist of what you need to feed your read, and maybe even find a new fave series. Could go either way. The objective here is to improve your frame of reference. You can’t play what you don’t know.

Beyond that, take note of the items I’ve listed for you below to build your observational skills, and become familiar with a variety of recorded media.

  1. Is this a commercial or a series? If it’s a commercial, is it a product or service you’d find nationwide? (Avoid concentrating on bad commercials for local products and services. Not that the job isn’t worth doing, but because even small, non-union clients want their commercials to appear national caliber. If you concentrate on the lowest common denominator, that’s what you’ll become. Aim higher.)
  2. Do you identify with the one or more of the featured (on-camera or voiceover) roles?
  3. What’s the probable age range of the roles featured: 18-25 years? 25-35 years? 35-45 years? 50 plus?
  4. Do you use the product or service? Are you personally opposed to the product or service, or series? If so, what’s the deal killer for you here?
  5. Does the reality of the production seem plausible? Or is it a heightened reality?
  6. Is there a great deal of narration? Is there a character affectation in one or more of the voices/characters featured, or do the performances seem conversational?
  7. What is the overall emotional tone of the spot? Hopeful? Dreamy? Sarcastic? Warm? Stoic? Confident? Authoritative? Edgy? What’s the attitude? Is it witty?
  8. Do you recall seeing this spot for a year or more? (If so, could you carry this campaign as the Principal?)

Dedicate at least five hours a week to this form of study for a solid month. You’ll become familiar with what’s current, and get a better idea what’s needed of you on auditions.


Copyright © 2018 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.


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