Casting for Commercials: How to Find the Best TV Talent

Learn how to find the best talent when casting commercials. Get insider insights straight from Filmkraft's Chief Brand Officer, Paloma Veinstein.

Casting the right talent

Casting plays a pivotal role in creating a successful TV commercial. It's not just about finding individuals who can act. It's about finding the right people to bring the script to life in a believable, compelling and relatable way for the target audience.

Actor getting ready for commercial
An actor gets ready to star in our Keepsake Moments campaign for Keepsake Frames.

Your message will resonate powerfully with viewers when you do your casting for commercials right. If not, even the most creative projects will fall flat.

Casting for Movies vs. TV Commercials

The casting process for movies, TV commercials, and photoshoots require different approaches. Casting for an affordable commercial is different from let’s say… casting a Hollywood star in a blockbuster. In films, we often lean towards an 'inspirational' cast - actors who embody the characters so fully that they become famous to audiences. In commercials, it’s more about ‘relatable casting’. It’s crucial that our audience sees themselves in the people on their screens. When we start the casting process with a client, we ask: "Who are you trying to speak to with this project? Can your target audience see themselves in this person's shoes? Can they relate to this person's situation or emotions?”

This focus on relatability doesn't mean we compromise on the actors' skills. Quite the opposite. It requires an actor with strong abilities to convey emotions and a storyline convincingly within the short duration of a commercial, not to mention being able to deliver a powerful performance within a few hours on a short one or two day shoot.

Current Casting Trends

The media landscape is always evolving, but the current casting trends gravitate heavily toward authenticity and relatability. Audiences today crave genuine connections and stories. They expect to see people who look, talk, and behave like them. So, when we cast, we look for those authentic elements that the audience can connect with, whether it’s a warm smile, a specific accent, or a certain attitude.

Two women hugging
Portraying a genuine bond of sisterhood helped a wide audience connect with our 1-800-Flowers.com's WOW campaign.

However, we also understand that every project has its unique requirements and challenges. For example, a commercial might call for a very specific look or skill. But the key is to find the right balance – people (or animals!) that meet these specific needs while still resonating with a broader audience.

The Casting Process

The first step of our casting process is understanding our client's goals, needs, and the project's creative direction. From there, we create a casting call detailing the roles we need. Nowadays, a casting call is a brief posted on casting website platforms like Breakdown Express and Backstage. This allows us to reach a vast talent pool, quickly filter for specific requirements like age and gender, and easily review photos and videos submitted by talent. Nowadays, these casting sites have access to hundreds of thousands of actors ranging from beginners to seasoned pros. They range from stage actors, film/TV, commercial, voiceover, UGC, influencer talent, models, and more.

A screenshot of the search filters on Backstage.com
Backstage.com allows you to filter for demographics, geography, and keywords to find the perfect people.

One very important note about casting is to make sure you post anything unique, challenging, or risque about a production or what an actor will be required to do. Be mindful to disclose details when it comes to posting about intimate scenes, nudity, working with animals, or extreme conditions (like an outdoor shoot in cold weather).

According to Elijah Cornell, Account Manager at Backstage, communication is key.

"Starting with the notice, be sure to include as much specific information as possible (production dates/locations, etc. When beginning to communicate directly with talent, be sure to be precise in what you are looking for out of them -- are you wanting them to submit a self-tape; are you wanting them to "hold the date" until you get final word from the creative team; are you casting them for the project and, if so, what further details need to be provided so they can prepare. Be clear!"

At Filmkraft, we will sift through hundreds of responses, selecting potential actors based on their headshots, resumes, and showreels. Then we'll invite the shortlisted candidates to audition through self-tapes, and in-person if necessary. This step is crucial – it allows us to see the actors' interpretations of the roles, assess their skills and see if they'd be a good fit for the project.

Selecting the Right People for Your Brand

Casting isn’t just about finding the right people for a project, it’s about finding the right people to be the face and voice of your brand. We always pay specific attention to select talent that align with a brand’s style, goals, and guidelines. For example, we will cast completely differently for a startup shooting their first direct response TV commercial aimed at a Gen Z audience vs. an established brand looking at brand awareness for a broader demographic.

One thing often overlooked is background checks. The last thing we want is a nasty surprise after the project is released. We do our due diligence to ensure that the person representing a brand aligns with its values and has no skeletons in the closet that might surface later.

Finally, casting isn’t just about an actor's talent, but also their professionalism and commitment. We want to ensure any actor will be reliable, easy to work with, and dedicated to delivering a strong performance. Every TV commercial shoot is a high pressure environment on a tight schedule. If an actor comes unprepared, then the entire shoot will be held up, and that means things can go wrong or cost more.

Union Status

It's important to know the difference between "union" and "non-union" talent when looking for actors. Simply put, if you don't know if you should use union members, you should use all non-union talent. However, using union talent gives you a certain assurance of quality and security for larger productions.

From Elijah Cornell, Account Manager at Backstage:

"To hire a union member in any discipline in the entertainment industry, your production needs to first be signatory with that specific union which would take the producer of the project being in communication with whichever union/guild to ensure that the production is signatory and that the appropriate guidelines are being followed. The main U.S.-based unions are SAG-AFTRA (the screen actors' union), AEA (the stage actors' union), IATSE (the main crew union), WGA (the writers' union), and the DGA (the directors' union)."

Picturing the Cast Together

After shortlisting great candidates for your project and brand, the next step is to test cast chemistry.

Picturing the cast together: for our Fall 2023 Photoshoot, we had to create a dinner party involving a family and guests!

To do this, we recommend creating a one-pager where you can see all pairs and combinations together. This way, you'll be able to feel whether the entire cast is believable and resonates for your project. Does the couple you're casting for have chemistry? Do you believe these two actors could actually be sisters? Ask yourself these questions as you view the shortlisted actors side by side.

Pro Tip: Instead of just using headshots to create a casting one-pager, do a little digging online to find photos of the actors that match the tone of your project and brand. Instagram is a great place to start looking for these more organic images.

Importance of Meeting Actors Before the Shoot

At Filmkraft, we believe that meeting actors before the shoot is crucial because it allows us to check in person if they are the right fit for the role and can bring something special on the shoot day. This meeting also provides an opportunity to discuss the role in detail, plan for any challenges and requirements, and answer any questions the actor might have.

Importance of meeting actors before the shoot.

For instance, a particular scene might require the actor to perform a challenging physical task or convey a complex emotion within a few seconds. Discussing these aspects beforehand ensures that there are no surprises on the shoot day, and the actor is prepared to deliver their best performance.

How Much Should You Pay Talent?

What you pay talent in the end depends on several factors from the client's budget, the demands of the shoot, and the quality of talent you cast. An established actor is going to demand much more than someone just starting out; a very specific type of person is going to demand more than a non-specific voice over.

Elijah Cornell, Account Manager from Backstage gives us his recommendation:

"We always recommend following SAG-AFTRA pay scale guidelines when possible, even if not using a union contract, but if that is not feasible make sure to create enough room in your production budget so that the performers are being paid adequately and fairly for the work being done."

What Kind of Usage is Reasonable?

Similar to pay, usage rights can vary depending on the actors you cast and the final goal of the commercial. An actor with an agent will want to negotiate for bigger buyouts and options if a TV commercial is going to be played nationally for years. We've negotiated with actors individually as well as their agents. It's important to acknowledge their reasoning and understand their perspective, but as an agency, we always negotiate the best terms for our clients. After all, a normal actor would probably prefer to do the commercial and get paid than not.

Elijah Cornell from Backstage gives us his rule of thumb:

"Usage rates on commercials vary and have many different timelines, from a traditional 13-week cycle, to securing the rights for 1 to 2 years. With the huge rise in online commercials and social media advertisements, some productions will pay for usage rights "in-perpetuity," or forever. While this is not against anything when on a non-union production, one should remember that an actor's appearance along with their actual acting is their job, so a usage fee with a set time period negotiated in the contract is the fair way to go."

Casting for TV in a Nutshell

Casting demands patience, insight, and a strong sense of intuition. It's a constant process that involves finding the right people, aligning them with the right projects, and then preparing to make sure that they give a great performance on the big day.

At Filmkraft, we recommend posting on online platforms such as Breakdown Express and Backstage, carefully reviewing your submissions, and creating a one-pager to test cast chemistry.

Interested in learning how to write a script for a commercial like a pro? Check out our blog for more details.

Why Filmkraft is Great at Casting for Commercials

Behind-the-scenes at our commercial shoot for The Vets.
  • Experience. We have developed a keen eye for spotting talent. We've seen time and time again that our talent goes on to become successful later on TV and in movies, which speaks to our ability to identify promising actors. 
  • Variety. On our award-winning shoot for 1-800-Flowers we needed a cast that would relate to a broad audience from Millennials to Baby Boomers, rural and urban. We booked a fresh cast who could deliver a variety of specific emotions.
  • Speed. We are known for our ability to quickly find the right actors for specific roles. We have frequently managed to find the right cast in a matter of days, something we take immense pride in. Our world record? Getting a cast locked in 48 hours after receiving the brief!
  • Flexibility. We understand that the initial idea of a project can evolve. If the client changes their mind about the cast or the direction of the commercial, we can quickly pivot and adapt to new requirements. This flexibility ensures that there are no roadblocks in the project and everything keeps moving smoothly.

The casting process at Filmkraft is not just about finding actors, it's about finding the right people who can tell the right story for the brand. With our rich experience, vast network, quick adaptability, and strong intuition, we strive to create a perfect cast that can bring a commercial to life and create a powerful impact on the target viewers.

If your next video campaign requires the perfect actors to represent your brand, then get in touch with us today!

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