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For decades now, legions of actors have emerged from assorted acting schools across the country harboring a deep aversion to pursuing and accepting commercial work. Yet, if you scratch the surface a bit, you’ll probably find this unfounded antagonism typically stems from the misguided notion you’d become “a sellout” if you perused commercial opportunities. It’s especially unfortunate and shortsighted when you consider mastering commercial voiceover and on-camera work offers you the greatest opportunities to effectively subsidize your acting career.

Besides, what business, with any hope to become successful, shuns commercial success? Generally speaking, the mission of every industry is to achieve commercial success. That doesn’t mean your integrity and commitment to delivering above and beyond the basics of what’s promised all go out the window. Professional integrity and commitment to excellence are two of the primary aims and benefits of hiring a professional in any field, not just ours.

Yet, talent routinely find themselves wrestling with the stigma that embracing commercial work might betray their creative soul in some way. It’s a form of conditioning drilled in to so many from scores of self-proclaimed experts or “coaches” who have never accomplished much for themselves professionally. Giving fuel to the adage, “Stop asking people who have never been where you’re going for directions.”

My point is: you may not see yourself as commercially viable at the moment, yet you may be ready-made for the genre. I suspect this might be true for a good many people, regardless of their experience level.

Perhaps so many talent overlook commercial work as the opportunity it is out of a lack of understanding as to how they innately read as a type. Or maybe the assumption commercial acting is phony, forced, and “sell-y”, when the polar opposite is what’s required most. In fact, the more national the campaign, the more realistic and honest the performance is required and most often. That said, the more local, or regional, the commercial is the more over-the-top, exaggerated, and, frankly, off-putting the performance tends to be. Not the other way around.

Think about it: you spend, on the average, four to eight years training to “become someone else” as an actor and the moment you’re out auditioning on a professional basis, all you hear is, “Just be yourself. We don’t want to see you ‘acting’.”

Why? Because there’s often a seamless, or at least subtle corollary between your brand/your personality, and the product or service you’re representing, which translates directly to brand identity for both you and the product or service. The same is true for film, TV or stage styles. You’re either playing into the tone of the piece by embodying it, or you’re playing the antithesis. The same applies to commercial work, only with far shorter runway to get off the ground.

Commercial work forces you to ‘get there’ sooner. It’s far more immediate than other genres. No two weeks of rehearsals or ramping up into the feel of the thing. The timeline alone demands you get there—now!

Additionally, commercial work subsidizes the actor by helping you keep a roof over your head and the lights on between the accolades and awards. It might surprise you to learn some of the greatest cinematic minds, from Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, and Spike Jones all continually return to commercial work throughout their careers. It takes a long time and a lot of money to produce a film, which is why they aren’t alone.

What’s more a majority of those producing today (the people most likely to hire you as talent in the entertainment industry) typically spent six to eight years in advertising. During that time they learned timeline, budgets, and (ideally) teamwork. This is also where the professional standards for demos (especially voiceover demos) come from based on the adage, “Don’t tell me—SHOW me.”

There isn’t an aspect of the entertainment industry that doesn’t require a professional demonstration (a demo reel) of your very best work to take the guesswork out of what you bring to the table and to define you as a professional.

Suffice it to say, embracing commercial work can allow you to:

1. Master the art of “being yourself” in a mass medium. Commercials typically demand a reality from you, as an actor, that’s often more authentic than you might have initially assumed.

2. Showcase your greatest assets and skills in a short form format on a national scale, which can (and often does) lead to future guest star roles on sitcoms and serials. Mastering commercial work forces you get up to speed faster than you are likely to experience in any other medium.

3. Subsidize your life and your career. Commercial work helps facilitate eliminating the dreaded “day job” so you can effectively act full time.

4. Gain greater professional experience and exposure. Commercial work allows you access to a mass audience that dramatically increases your appeal, familiarity and allows you to stand out professionally.

5. Join the union! Union pay translates to a more reliable pay rate and greater income. As well as better talent agents with greater, professional opportunities that can transition into great career advancement in TV and film.

Copyright © 2024 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.

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