Getting signed by a commercial (or any) agency can be incredibly rewarding, but it is no easy feat. I have been rejected numerous times before finally signed by my agencies. That alone is enough to deter anyone from pursuing modeling and/or acting as a full time profession. You can make a lot of money for a couple of months, and not make any money for the next six. Some of us have part time jobs to supplement those slow burning times, or when we don't book work. It's important to be realistic, self aware, and have thick skin because this business can be harsh, and I certainly don't want to crush any dreams or get anyone's hopes up. It takes a lot of commitment, dedication, and investment to survive in the entertainment industry, knowing your most recent job worked could easily be your last.
Now that we've got that out of the way...
One of the most repeated statements and probably the #1 thing I hear from agents is to have fantastic headshots. A memorable picture is worth a thousand words, and it really counts for something when an agent is sifting through hundreds of new client submissions daily, on top of the other hundred million things they have to do. These same images are now the size of tiny thumbnails when submitted to casting directors for auditions. Yes, it is a bit of a looks game in this business; your look must be marketable to the potential brands and markets you'll be representing. You want your photos to stand out, capture your essence and personality, and show that you can be bookable.
How to Dress
Your picture should look like YOU! Don't wear too much make up (ladies) or wear an outfit that will take attention away from your face. Your wardrobe is your own personal style. Keep it simple! Commercial photos are generally natural, light, bright, and fun. Some commercial agencies like to take it a step further (like mine) and go for bold, bright colors and vary the looks to fit multiple types (the model type, hip/cool kid, the mom, businesswoman, young creative professional, etc)...but nothing too character-y; remember it's about you!
Budget & Hiring
Hiring a photographer can be expensive, but it is worth the investment. Thankfully, there are a range of qualified, talented photographers who are more than capable to take the shots you need within most price ranges. Do your research, and vet with referrals and other sources to make sure you are getting your money's worth. Look at their portfolio, and see if they have taken photos of people who are the same type as you. If you are brand new and have not been signed before, I recommend sticking to a lower budget, as an agency may want to sign you, but then request you take new headshots (again) to better fit whatever type it is they see in you as bookable. Most agencies have a recommended list of photographers as well.
Here are a few (of many) headshot photographers within a range of prices:
Now, it's true; there are times when someone gets signed to an agency with a terrible headshot or lack of professional pictures, but this is not a common situation, and generally, that person has some sort of killer, marketable look that caught the agents eye, at the right place and at the right time, or they have a killer reel and resume. If you cannot afford headshots, but feel you must submit, stick to shots against a white background, outdoors, in natural light (indirect light, such as a nice shaded area, works great).
COMMERCIALS ARE NOT SO MUCH ABOUT ACTING AS IT IS ABOUT CAPTURING THE ESSENCE OF THE BRAND AND PRODUCT YOU ARE REPRESENTING.
Agencies love to see improv, comedy, and commercial technique classes on your resume. Of course, any acting class is helpful, but these generally stand out more to commercial agents. From my own experience (and others), improv and commercial classes helped me immensely. Even with prior theatre and acting experience, I did not realize how important these little adjustments are: being comfortable and where you look toward the camera, listening to direction to the most minute detail, being present in the scene, and having a natural flow of chemistry and conversation with a group of actors you just met (and now you are all best friends at your husbands birthday party...go!). Knowing these tips, tricks, and learning improv are all essential components to getting you the job, and your agent expects you to know that. Remember, this is also your potential future agency's reputation at hand.
But I Don't Have Any Experience!
It is certainly not a deal breaker if you do not have much or any experience, as you don't have to be a great actor to book commercials (some teachers believe that having less acting experience is actually better for commercials, but we'll save that for another post), but having that incredibly strong headshot will then become that much more essential.
Here are a few recommended improv schools and commercial classes:
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Commercial Acting 101: Getting an Agent!