Up Your Commercial Callbacks and Bookings With Improv!


Pictured Left: TJ Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, The Sonic Guys. Both The Second City alums.

Pictured Right: Stephanie Courtney, Flo from the Progressive Commercials. She’s an alum of The Groundlings in Los Angeles.

When you start your acting career, more often than not, you’ll get more commercial auditions than film/tv opportunities. And lets be honest, commercial work is obviously not the reason you wanted to do acting in the first place. However, it offers actors the chance to make money so they can devout more time to their passion and career.

Improv is an extremely important skill set to have in order to get more commercial auditions, and book commercials. In fact, commercial/talent agents prefer representing clients who have improv experience because they know casting directors WANT actors who can think quickly on their feet and make specific choices.

It is a different creative skill set from traditional acting and most casting directors will not call in actors for auditions unless they are experienced improvisers. Bottom line, most commercials these days are comedic spots and they need someone who will make it hi-larious!

Over the last 10 plus years, and the hundreds of commercial auditions I’ve gotten, the one’s I have booked were due to my improv training. It gave me the confidence and freedom to play and be creative within the boundaries of the commercial. My improv training IS the reason I was able to book more commercials.

Earlier this year, I had a commercial audition for the most recent Transformers movie. They were looking specifically for improvisers. The casting director had me read for one role, and I only had one take to do it. Based off the sides/script, I was able to make a specific choice that fit perfectly into this spot.

The casting director burst out laughing as well as her assistant who was operating the camera. Getting a reaction from casting can be tough as they’re seeing TONS of actors everyday, so it’s important that you find a way to stand out.

Now I did not book that role, but she loved my performance so much that she had me read for another role. And I booked that one! Next thing I know I’m on the Paramount Studios lot being directed by Michael Bay, co-starring with Josh Duhamel, and talking to a Transformer voiced by John Goodman. Crazy!

None of this would’ve happened had it not been for my improv training.

Again, having the ability to think quick on your feet is invaluable in the fast paced world of show business.

A lot of times, you don’t know exactly what you’ll be asked to do in a commercial audition until you are in the room.

The session runner will give a quick explanation, and ask you to slate your name into camera. You’ve got to know what’s going on in the commercial, find the humor in it, hit your mark, and “make it your own.”

As you can see commercial auditions can be a bit overwhelming.

So in situations like this who do you think has the advantage? The trained improviser. They nail it and gets the callback.

There’s a confidence and fluidity that you get from experienced improvisers that makes them really attractive. Improv training goes well beyond the actual craft to make you an overall braver person.

Though you are improvising that doesn’t mean you can go completely off script or not do it at all. The more prepared you are with the script, the more freedom you have to play.

Actors who book often put their own spin at the end of the audition. They make it their own, and add a tag line at the end. It’s good to do two takes. One with and one without improvised lines in case the “client” is comfortable with improv or not. Usually I’ll do one take as written and then another one or having fun and making it my own.

On some occasions, commercial auditions will have no dialogue and they will expect you to improvise. That’s right. You’ll have to improvise you’re entire audition. If you’re not comfortable improvising now just wait until you’re in the room for this gem.

Now I should let you know that SAG-AFTRA does not allow actors to improvise dialogue in their auditions. Technically, actors will never be asked to “improvise”, but they do it all the time. Sometimes you’ll go into an audition and get a call back, but not book the part. Then months later you will see the commercial, and notice they used a line that you came up with.

It’s frustrating to see, especially when they didn’t book you. And don’t expect to get paid for writing either. That’s the downside and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t let it discourage or stop you from what you’re doing. In a way it’s a validation of your talent as an improviser.

Not only can improv help you book commercial work, but also campaigns. A campaign is when a business runs several different spots with a spokesperson. Some of the most recognizable spokespeople out there are improvisers.

TJ Jagodowski and Peter Grosz, you may know from those Sonic Commercials. TJ has the distinction of being named “The Best Improv Actor in Chicago”, and Peter has a recurring role on the Emmy Award winning show, VEEP. Both men are allowed to improvise within the confines of the script, and they nail it every time. Both men earn $300,000 a year, mostly from those Sonic Ads.

And then there’s one of the most recognizable faces in commercials today, Flo the Progressive Girl. Stephanie Courtney, the actor who plays Flo, has made a living for the last 10 years off those Progressive commercials. And guess what? Yep, she’s an improviser as well. She ‘s an alum of the improv and sketch comedy theater, The Groundlings.

When describing the process of becoming Flo, Stephanie said, “You start off with a script, but at the end of the day they usually let me put a little zinger in there….Flo could be one of my improv characters, always on and sort of cracked in a weird way.”

I should mention that within the last few years she makes roughly $1 million dollars a year. Not too shabby.

These opportunities do not come along often, but when they do you better be ready.

Learning acting is easy compared to booking commercial work. So why not give yourself an advantage by learning improv? It’s an empowering and valuable skill you will need for commercial succeed.




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