Life as a Commercial Actor – Part Three: Money
I don’t think Bryan Cranston was too concerned about being the face of Preparation H many years ago before Breaking Bad fame; I think he was concerned about paying his damn rent.
Of course, the pay is the biggest draw for actors to do commercials. In relation to your time on set, it’s generally a high-paid day. If you break down the pay to an hourly wage compared to your day job, your knees will buckle! But the key of course with all acting work is it has to stay consistent. When you book a job and pick up a $5,000 cheque from your agency, that’s always the best feeling! But if it’s the only one you get for 6 months… not so helpful anymore.
You can always look up rates on your Performer’s Union website to see what you could potentially earn on commercials. Non-Union commercials generally pay you for your wardrobe session, the shoot, and a buyout for the usage of your footage in the final edit. Union commercials often pay you for your time as well, but pay out on a per-use or “residual” basis. The more they show it, the more they have to pay you, based on the chart of rates decided by the Union.
Be sure to talk to your agent about joining the Union when you’re ready, because depending on where you live there might be more Non-Union commercials than not. You might decide to hold off, because once you join, you can’t go out for Non-Union gigs, but as a non-member you can work on both types of projects, you just have to pay a permit fee for a Union gig. This can start to get expensive if you’re booking more Union work and you don’t join, so ask around and get the advice you need to make your decision about joining.
But both types of commercials can do well for you. Spend the day driving around in a cool new car for a car commercial, or a cereal commercial and play with kids or animals all day, all while getting a decent 4-figure cheque? That’s a good day.
You might have already decided for yourself that doing commercials forever is not going to keep you artistically fulfilled. But you know what? That extra cash gives you much more freedom. Freedom to not worry about your expenses for a while. To pay for those extra classes. To buy that camera to do self-tapes. To get those new headshots. To fund your own work. I always recommend investing part of your acting pay back into your craft. You can’t wait around for that big break, you gotta do what you can to create it. And aside from time, discipline, skill, perseverance, etc … Money can help.
But know where you stand:
You need to pay attention to how you’re perceived. Could you play a young mom or dad? Do you have experience in public speaking and could be a spokesperson? Do you have any special skills, athletic abilities or talents? Do your headshots or demo tapes reflect these things? Watching certain ads on TV, can you see yourself, or can others, see you being in it? You don’t need to say yes to all these points, but they are worth reflecting upon if you’re interested in this world of commercial acting.
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The reality is that advertising and marketing is now more than ever a prominent force in the world, and it’s here to stay. But the key for the commercial actor is: You can choose your involvement. It’s your career. Your agent or manager is on your side, for what you want to do (at least, they should be!) So, if you have a problem going out for a type of product or brand that you don’t support or feel uncomfortable being associated with … DON’T DO IT! No one is forcing you! Respectfully decline the audition (or callback), call your agent and talk to them. It’s your face out there.
That being said, if you’re just starting out and your agent is pushing to get you in the room, you might need to experience the audition to truly decide you don’t like it. Your agent works hard for opportunities for you, so be firm with your beliefs. But if you’re turning down a lot of auditions, you might want to have a chat with your agent, and yourself, about what it is you want for your career.
An important thing to keep in mind about commercial auditions: They can be very frequent once you become known to casting. Vancouver has a very busy commercial industry. In my biggest week, I had 11 auditions. You best believe I was running my butt off. I was printing resumes, had wardrobe changes ready to go, and snacks and water for those busy days. Being available is important, and mobile (i.e. a car) is pretty vital if you live far from the casting studios. If your schedule or budget doesn’t permit a car, bike or car-sharing, you might have to make some changes or have some talks.
I’m represented by hard-working agents, Trudy Aronson and Aura Benwick at Premiere Talent Management in Vancouver, B.C. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. We’re a team, and we can’t do our jobs without each other giving 100%. Having good representation is just as important as anything. I’m grateful to have a good relationship with my agents. If you’re not excited about who represents you and their abilities to get you in the door, have a chat and/or make a change.
Let’s be clear: I love TV, Film and Theatre, and want my career to continue in that direction. But I’ve always found that when I stay busy with acting-related things like going to auditions of ANY type, on top of taking regular classes, putting up a play, going to formal and informal events in the industry or writing my own material. Things start to click. Callbacks happen. Bookings happen. On all fronts. I experience a snowball or ripple effect that picks up my confidence, discipline, and overall mood, and I carry all this into the next room, be it for a commercial or a TV series, or on stage.
And I largely have commercials to thank for that. So, keep an open mind. We all just want to play, as actors. We want to do what we love, and to be compensated well for it is very gratifying. And commercial work can provide that boost you’re looking for, in more ways than one.
To your success!
Brendan Taylor is a Vancouver-based actor with extensive experience in commercials, as well as TV, Film, and Theatre. Stay tuned for more info on tips for making the most of your commercial experience, from audition, to set, to final product.
Check out some of Brendan’s commercials, video clips and blog updates at www.brendan-taylor.com
Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @brentayofficial
Brendan trains at Railtown Actors Studio www.railtownactors.com
He is represented by Trudy Aronson (Film & TV) & Aura Benwick (Commercial) at
Premiere Talent Management at www.ptmtalent.com