You have to study the medium you intend to work in. You must feed your imagination, and in doing so, feed 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.

Here’s what I suggest:

First, if you record shows you watch religiously, great! Study them, commercials and all. TV and commercial styles are the core of Pop Culture. 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’ve heard of but haven’t yet seen in order to stay on top of the popular references. Do a quick Google search of the top 25 shows, and you’ll likely discover at least 10 you’ve been meaning to catch.

Third, the direction you’re likely to get on auditions and gigs will be based on Pop Culture references from shows from network television (i.e. Modern Family, ELLEN, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder), cable (i.e. Better Call Saul, Fargo, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story), the premium pay channels, such as HBO, SHOWTIME and STARZ, and various streaming services such as Netflix, HULU, and Amazon.

We’ve never had this much content! It’s astounding. There’s about 500 more series in production this year over last year, and an increase in commercial production by more than 28% according to AdWeek. Both forms of media have seen a significant and steady increase in production over the last 5 years, so there’s no shortage of content being created.

Therefore, if it’s popular, you need to become familiar with it. I suggest you watch at least 6 to 8 consecutive episodes to get a feel for the style, mood, 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 vital tip: Rather than attempting to watch a series you’ve missed from the very beginning, try starting with the 2nd or 3rd Season. Watch the last 3 episodes of that season, and commit to watching at least to 6 – 8 consecutive episodes in order to get a feel for the style, mood, 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, and this is something you can do quite easily.

I rarely recommend watching a show from the beginning. Besides you would have seen all these shows you’ve said that about by now already if that actually worked for you. It’s too overwhelming to try to watch a series from the very start, especially if it’s been on for a few years. 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. 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 what you’re best suited to play. Commercials are based on popular TV shows and movies, and vice versa.

  • Is this a commercial or a series?
  • If it’s a commercial, is it a national brand? (NOTE: Avoid concentrating on poorly produced commercials for local products and services. Not that local commercials aren’t worth doing, but because even small- market clients want their projects to appear national caliber. If you concentrate on the lowest common denominator, that’s what you’ll become. Aim higher. Make it your mission to elevate every production you’re involved with.)
  • Would you land this voiceover, or be featured on-camera in this production? Would you be appropriately cast for either one?
  • Do you identify with the one or more of the featured roles? Is it the look? The sound? The attitude/behavior of the featured role you identify with most?
  • Do you use the product or service? If it’s a TV series, is this a show you would watch?
  • Are you product loyal to the product, service, or series?
  • Are you personally opposed to the product, service, or series? If so, identify the deal killer for you here?
  • Does the reality of the production seem plausible? Or is it a heightened reality?
  • Does the program you’ve recorded have a great deal of narration throughout?
  • Do you recognize the voice, either from a celebrity, or a familiar sounding voice talent you may have heard before?
  • Is there an unusual character affectation in one or more of the voices or roles featured, or is it a more realistic, natural, conversational delivery?
  • Do the featured performances seem sell-y, stiff, choppy, or forced? Do they sound uncomfortable? Do the featured talent sound as if they are reading the script?
  • What is the overall emotional tone of the spot? Is it thoughtful? Hopeful? Crabby? Sarcastic? Warm? Stoic? Confident? Upbeat? Manic (high energy)? Easy going? Edgy? Witty?
  • What’s the probable age range of the voice(s) and characters: Under 16 years? 18-25 years? 25-35 years? 35-45 years? 50 plus? Retirement age?
  • Do you recall seeing this spot or something like it for this brand for a year or more? (If so, that means repeat business for you as the talent, should you land a campaign like this.)
  • What are the principal actor(s) in the production wearing? What colors are featured? Style of clothing? Do you have clothes like this in your closet to wear to auditions if you’re going in for on-camera?

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 and on the job. Pop culture references are some of the most commonly used examples when we are offered direction, and this should help a great deal.


Copyright © 2017 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.


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