15 April 2009
by Kate McClanaghan,

The single most valuable, and unexpected, attribute you can develop from doing commercial work, aside from gaining the confidence you
can earn a living for yourself as an actor, is the opportunity to hone your skills from one medium (stage, for instance) to another (television
or film).

If you have had any acting training at all, you may discover we have it drilled into us as actors that we must somehow change our ‘acting
approach’ from one medium to another. Frankly, I disagree.

Granted there are a handful of specific technical things you should know to offer your best performance for film or for stage or stand-up or
voiceover or what have you, but aside from that—acting is acting is acting. There will always be some genres you’re more naturally inclined
or interested in than others until you expose yourself to those in which you are less familiar or experienced.

The fact remains: exposing yourself to commercial work offers the greatest opportunity to build your on-camera experience.  It’s gone under
the public radar to a great extent, but our film directors have been doing just that for decades. Case in point: Ridley Scott (he directed the
most notorious Apple commercial ever in 1984), Tony Scott, Spike Lee, Spike Jones, Guy Ritchie, Wes Anderson, to name a few, and
even Hitchcock first established himself by creating detailed storyboards (which he continued to do throughout his illustrious career) and by
directing commercials.

Further, landing commercial work can offer you the chance to earn union status (your SAG/AFTRA card), assist in preparing you to be
ready for anything as an actor, teach you to relax under stress and time constraints, and, possibly most importantly, lets you discover for
yourself how you can subsidize the rest of your career so you’re not relying on your parents, or the food-service industry to stay afloat.
Commercial work can raise your game as a talent in a variety of ways as a professional talent. This means you need to study the
commercial styles from the ground up.  To begin, you need to concentrate on your own demographic.

A demographic, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a term used by marketing guys to establish who buys what, who does what, who likes what
and when.

Are you a 30-year-old white guy who is single and plays poker every Saturday night with other guys just like yourself? Good. You’re honing
in on your demographic. Do you eat fast food five times a week and work out once a month? That’s also part of your demographic.
Chances are you’re more likely to book (land a job) based on what you already know first and foremost. So if you’ve been trying to be
something that’s a bit of a stretch for you—try for a moment to stop shoving yourself into a mold you might not fit at all.

We’re often taught as actors we’re supposed to be someone else. I’m asking you to suspend that concept for the time being. Not forever,
just for the moment.  I’m not saying stop trying new things or surprising yourself.  Those elements must always be included in the equation
as an actor.

I do understand what I’m suggesting might completely contradict the approach you may have been taking thus far.  However, its been my
experience so many ingénues want to be character actors, so many character actors want to be the lead and far too many leads fancy
themselves as the comic when they may serve the production or their performance better as the ‘straight man’.  Do you have any idea how
tough it is to cast a really good straight man? It’s a massive task.

The bottom line is you need to discover who you are (or how you are perceived) naturally, without embellishment or adornment. Do you
read as an articulate, product loyal, approachable expert who’s (seemingly) interested in what you’re talking about? Can you speak with
confidence and (seeming) experience about something you may or may not know anything about?  This may require you develop a public
personae that’s as honest and comfortable for you to deliver as it is for the listener/viewer to accept as real and genuine.
These are some of the skillful benefits of exercising your commercial muscle.

Kate McClanaghan
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Determining Your Commercial Strengths, VOL. I
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Determining Your Commercial Strengths, VOL. I
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