Welcome to the newest series at Casting Networks: Commercial Audition Class. We’re kicking it off with a casting director whose commercial portfolio includes iconic campaigns like Nike’s “frozen moment” spot with Michael Jordan, Capital One commercials with Jennifer Garner and the Emmy-nominated “magazine buyer” spot for Bud Light. Arlene Schuster is the founder of asg casting and has a wealth of information to offer actors auditioning for commercials. Schuster took the time to virtually sit down with Casting Networks to provide her own mini-class on the topic via seven key takeaways regarding the process, including pandemic-related changes.
1. Have a current headshot.
People may have been putting off the process of shooting updated headshots because of COVID-19. If that’s the case, you’re now at least a year older than the headshot you’re using, and your style has probably changed during that time. We want to know what you look like now instead of finding that out on a self-tape or during a virtual audition. That is not something we want.
2. Carefully follow the instructions given by the casting director.
Every audition is going to come with different notes. The instructions are going to be unique to the casting director, as well as to the specific job for which you’re auditioning, which means they can change from one audition to the next. Don’t assume that you know what you’re supposed to do just because you’ve auditioned for that office before. Read through every single note. It’s important to follow the directions on how you should slate, how you should do the takes, how many takes you should submit, framing, etc.
3. Familiarize yourself with virtual auditioning.
That includes familiarizing yourself with all the current virtual platforms and how to get on them. You should not be surprised by how they work at the time of your virtual audition and end up being late for it. You can start by making sure you’re ready to go on Zoom, Hey Joe and BlueJeans.
4. Make certain you’re prepared to self-tape at home.
Your self-tape set-up should be easily accessible, and it should allow you to create videos that are of good quality.
5. Clearly state if you are out of town and auditioning virtually or with a self-tape.
Some productions may have a problem with the turnaround time in relation to testing and COVID-19 precautions. For a long period of time, we could not fly in actors because people traveling into California needed to do a two-week quarantine once they got here. Actors in places that didn’t have the same requirements as our state thought that if they booked a project in LA, they could just jump on a plane to go film it. But that wasn’t the case, and when actors don’t communicate that they’re out of town, it causes a lot of problems with our casting process.
6. Put up a video reel that showcases your abilities.
It’s always helpful for us to be able to watch what you can do, especially these days when in-person auditioning is limited. Anything that can help us understand a little bit more about your strengths is appreciated. That could include footage that shows your skill with dialogue, singing, comedy, etc. Plus, upload anything that can help us understand the essence of who you are as a person.
7. Check to make sure you have everything covered so that you can give your best performance.
By taking care of the different aspects I mentioned in regard to your audition, you’re telling casting that you’re a professional. Actors need to prepare and get potential audition issues out of the way so that they can put their best foot forward. For example, it’s hard to see an actor’s talent during a virtual audition if they have a problem using Zoom because they didn’t familiarize themself with the platform ahead of time. The same goes for if they didn’t check their WiFi beforehand and it’s spotty during their audition. So get all the logistics figured out in order to focus on your main job: continuing to further your abilities so you can be the best actor possible. Putting all that together will help you get the callback and book the project.
Those interested in more audition advice from Schuster can go to the @asgcasting page on Instagram, where the casting director will periodically go live to answer questions and connect with actors. (You can check out the IGTV section to view past live sessions.) She’s also active on Clubhouse, and users can find her on that platform as well. Actors looking for additional training can check out Camera Left / Stage Right, a collective founded by Schuster and her asg casting partner Justin Radley, which now offers classes focused on techniques for virtual and self-taped auditions. The two casting directors oversee the class formats and hand-select teachers for the offered programs, as well as pop in for Q&A sessions. As for wrapping up the takeaways Schuster shared with Casting Networks for this mini-class in print, the casting director left us with one last lesson. “The [audition] game has been upped,” she noted. “A lot more people are in the game because it’s virtual… and it’s here to stay in different ways. It’s not like you can just throw virtual and self-tape auditions for commercials away [in the future].” Those who want to start giving their best auditions now and in the days to come would be wise to take all of Schuster’s lessons to heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.