Friday, April 27, 2012

Now casting: Offbeat, quirky, character types. Translation: We need ugly people.

After I had built up enough credits, and joined the SAG-AFTRA unions, (now a combined union.), I made the move to Hollywood. Obviously, I wanted to do films and TV like everyone else does. I ended up booking a number of commercials during my first year there, and right away I became "typecast" as a "commercial" actor.

Which was okay, I was on the TV all day long playing various roles, and I became pretty recognizable to many casting directors. Many of them didn’t know me, but they had that, “I know this guy from somewhere” thing, and it gave me an edge.

A good commercial campaign can make a career for you. I had three that ran for over four years. I had others that aired just a few times, and some never even aired at all. I learned right away that it’s bad luck to talk about a booking until I actually see it on the air. Plus, it can really piss off ad agencies, and producers to have project information leaked before they want it talked about. You can jinx a job, and even find yourself in serious trouble. Loose lips can sink your $hit.

I got to be pretty good at auditioning, and booked my fair share consistently. It's not like we get to pick and choose roles at the working class level. Just auditioning well, a good callback, and booking work is hard enough. Doing the actual acting job seems like a reward after all of that. Not to mention the years of training that goes into this line of work. Add to that, all the running around we do for free until we book something. (Just like our agents who only get the 10% unless we book something for them.) So naturally, agents want to send out the actors who they think have the best chance to land the role. Our goal is to be that actor in that category, so we get the call before they choose their other clients that are similar to us.

But honestly, doing a lot of commercials did hurt my theatrical career. I didn't mind because a few good “Class A” national commercials with a good run, pays the bills much better than movies or TV until you get above that "earning union scale" level. Don't think I didn't try constantly, and never gave up trying...but the industry kind of chooses who you are, and where you fit in. In the acting business, in some respects it is a small town. I learned to just roll with it.

Some of my friends fought against that, and hated going on commercial auditions, because the odds are so stacked against you. They can see as much as 200 actors for a single role. The ones that fought it, lasted less than a year and went back to the mid-west. In some respects Hollywood is a very small town. The casting directors get to know you, and your reputation as an actor very quickly, so it's critical to take every audition seriously, and be professional all the time. They remember you even more if you screw up, or are unprofessional.

Taking some improvisation classes, and doing stand up comedy helped me a lot with auditioning. I figured if I can handle the pressure of doing that, regardless of the outcome, it would help me to be more comfortable auditioning.

I’m not saying getting an acting coach, or some good acting training isn’t important, because it is. You are up against the very best in the world in this business. But stand up helped me to be fast on my feet, and develop good comic timing. I was able to react to direction better, and booked a lot of jobs over the years. I never wanted to be a stand up comedian, I just wanted to be an actor that could do comedy well. Looking back on it, it helped me probably more than anything. I admit, starting out at open mic comedy nights was terrifying, but if you keep at it, you get used to it.

Writing comedy material that fits your style is difficult, and finding your stage persona isn’t easy either. My strategy was to write a different set each week, and ever other week I was out there. Sometimes I did pretty good. Other times, I got a free salad. It’s all about taking a risk.

Need some advice on getting rejected? Just ask, I'm here for you. Anyway, my Internet Movie Data Base page link is on the right side, or you can just go to and search on my name. I'm #1,673,592 on the star meter...really moving on up there. Was in a few films, and the Tonight Show a bunch of times.

At the end of the day, earning a living as an actor boils down to one thing: winning the job. I wrote it to help my peers. Plus, I figured I could reach more people with an inexpensive book, rather than writing a blog post now and then. (Do people still read these things?) I spent the last few years working on it, sharing my learning’s, screw ups, successes, experiences and stories. If my book helps just one person out, then it was worth the effort I put into it.

The price of my working actor book is $5. It's 240 pages. If you have an Amazon Kindle, or the Barnes & Noble Nook, the book is available there for five dollars. To find it, just search on my name, or the book title, "An Actor's Face".

I priced this book low, because I would rather you have the extra money for more important things like good headshots. There are a lot of overpriced books out there. My intent is to inform, prepare, educate, explain the realities, and help my peers.

I hope that one day you will do the same thing. Although many of us compete for jobs, at the same time, we are all artists, and I believe we should be supportive. My suggestion is to read all the books you can by acting teachers, coaches, casting directors, other actors, and anyone else who has a lot of experience out on the front lines. That's where it really means something. Make yourself as well informed as you possibly can, and don’t go to NY or LA until you are really ready.

Check out my website: & I encourage you to follow me on Twitter:


I joke around a little about the acting biz, have some fun, and share acting advice, from myself, and others, (as much as I can in 140 characters anyway.) I do follow back.

“Casting: Real People For Reality Show”. Translation: We need idiots willing to go on TV for free.


Unknown said...

Shannon, I just wanted to tell you that in reading your posts, I believe I have found a treasure. Going into this crazy realm called acting is a daunting task for professionals, not to mention the guy just starting out like me. I thank you for the insight and tips, and look forward to many more entries! Let's break a leg!

starving_actor said...

Thank you for those kind words, I really appreciate hearing that. I always kind of wonder if this reaches anyone. I'm pleased to hear it helped you a little. The biggest thing I learned was don't be afraid to look silly or get laughed at in a role. Lots of egos in Hollywood, so many actors are worried about their image. That can be a secret to success. It takes some courage to look stupid. There's nothing wrong with bringing laughter to people. Now go book a big nasty national commercial!