Commercial Agents In Depth

In our previous article, Your Own Personal A-Team, we discussed other types of representation on top of your standard theatrical reps (agents/managers). Lawyers, publicists, personal assistants, and business managers can make fantastic additions to your ‘team’, especially when your career gets to a certain level. However, one other type of rep that we haven’t discussed is a commercial agent. Most actors trying to break into Hollywood think that they should focus all their time and energy toward finding a theatrical agent/manager, and only going out for film and television projects. While that mentality isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not the only path to becoming a successful working actor. Often overlooked and taken for granted, commercial representation is a fantastic way to not only make extra money, but to also boost your overall acting career!

What is a commercial agent?

As the name suggests, commercial agents help find you work in the realm of commercials—a side of the entertainment industry that is more complex and multi-faceted than you would think. Like theatrical agents, commercial agents are constantly pitching and submitting their clients to commercial casting directors and companies — which often result in auditions. Then, if you happen to book the commercial, your commercial agent will negotiate your deal and all the standard administrative details. Just like a talent agent, commercial agents will commission the standard 10% off of the projects that they worked on for you.

How do I get one?

Getting a commercial agent is fairly similar to getting a theatrical rep (see Doing the Impossible: Getting an Agent), and usually consists of submitting your actor materials (headshot, resume, demo reel, etc) to the agency. If the agency is intrigued enough by your submission, they will bring you in for a meeting to decide if they want to represent you. Just like most things in Hollywood, referrals always go a long way: if you don’t have any luck cold-submitting your materials to a commercial agency, ask your talent agent or manager if they can refer you to someone. Chances are, your agent/manager will have a commercial agency or two that they like working with. Alternatively, many agencies have their own in-house commercial and theatrical departments, and it is quite common when signing with a new agency that they will want to sign you “across the board,” which typically means that they want to represent you both commercially and theatrically (although sometimes it can also mean in other areas like directing or writing).  If you don’t have a theatrical rep to consult, just do your typical actor research — consult the internet, ask your fellow actor peers, and always make sure to check each commercial agency’s submission policy, as they will differ from company to company.

It’s also worth noting that finding and submitting to a commercial agency tends to be significantly easier than submitting for theatrical representation. The commercial world is always looking for a broad and diverse pool of actors—performers of all ages, ethnicities, genders, looks, voices, and other walks of life. Because of this, commercial agencies naturally tend to be more open to taking on new and different types of clients, and often have less stringent submission policies, i.e., they are much more likely to look at unsolicited submissions (see How to Send an Unsolicited Submission)!

Why does this matter?

Having commercial representation can help actors in all stages of their career. For the new and up-and-coming actors, working in commercials is a good way to ease into the entertainment industry, get experience being on a set, and being able to meet and network with other actors, directors, producers, etc. Besides for the experience, having a commercial agent and working on commercials can also help the budding actor achieve two crucial milestones—becoming SAG-AFTRA and getting theatrical representation. Acting in commercials, specifically union commercials, is one of the many ways to become eligible to join the union, which you will have to be a member of eventually if you are serious about pursuing an acting career. As previously mentioned, one of the ways to find a commercial agent is to ask your talent agent or manager if they can refer you to someone. The inverse of this situation is also true: if you are looking for a theatrical rep, your commercial agent could be a good resource as they will most likely have theatrical agents/managers in mind that they readily do business with.

Another major benefit of doing commercial work is the money. Whether you are new to the acting world or just a “working actor”, the topic of money is probably on your mind. It’s no secret that actors are part of the “starving artist” community, and are always in need of work— headshots, acting classes, as well as your personal living expenses add up quickly, after all! Commercial work can be an excellent source of income because these shoots are typically very short (usually ranging between 1-3 days), and the payoffs can be quite good, especially considering the minimal amount of work days that are required. Of course, it is important to note that most union commercials will only offer standard day rates for the shoot, but the real money can then kick in if that commercial is aired on television, particularly on a national/global scale. For example, I had a client that worked prolifically in the commercial world, with most of his work being for brand name products on nationwide campaigns. These commercials would naturally get a lot of airtime, and my client would find himself receiving checks weekly for sums ranging between $15,000 – $30,000, all because of residuals. Not too shabby considering these commercials only take a day or two to film, and getting paid to act (albeit in commercials) is still better and more productive than waiting tables or bartending (two common “actor” jobs).

Besides for experience, connections, and money, working in commercials can also yield large synergistic benefits to your overall acting career. Every aspect of your career feeds into each other, like streams of water flowing into a river. Working in commercials can help open doors and make you more well-known, resulting in more casting directors wanting to bring you in and cast you in their projects. Then, as your theatrical profile increases, even bigger commercial opportunities and endorsements may come your way! This pattern can build upon itself with every step pushing your career higher and higher. Take Morgan Freeman for example. Throughout his career he has starred in front of the camera, as well as lent his voice to countless films and television projects (his narration in the critically acclaimed documentary March of the Penguins is a recent standout). Lending his voice to high profile theatrical projects like March of the Penguins only increases the notoriety of his voice, which then helps make him a clear and obvious choice when companies are looking for a “namey”’ voice to narrate their commercials. Specifically, Morgan in recent years has become the voice of Visa, and consistently narrates their high profile ad campaigns – his last major campaign was during the 2012 Olympics! Because of this synergy between theatrical and commercial work, Morgan’s notoriety has sailed to even greater heights, and he now has arguably the most recognizable voice on the planet.

At the end of the day, having a commercial agent and working on commercials are by no means mandatory requirements of being an actor. However, it is far too easy to simply write off commercials as unnecessary and distracting to one’s acting career when that is simply not true. Actors ACT, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get paid for it. Getting paid to act (whether it’s a play, commercial, film, etc.) is always better for your career in the long run . . . unless it’s acting in porn. That probably won’t help you.

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