How to become a casting director favorite, what to prepare for a commercial audition and why some agents get all the appointments
I’ve always been fascinated with the commercial world because while most actors come to Los Angeles to pursue work in film and television, many get into auditioning for commercials as a way to supplement income and get experience. I love when my actors call me after their commercial auditions to describe what crazy things they had to do to convince the casting director and clients (advertising execs, brand execs) that they were right for the role. I also know that the commercial industry is a high volume, super fast-paced, high-stake industry, so when I was introduced to Laurie Records, I couldn’t wait to ask her all the juicy questions. Laurie is such a joy to be around and I can see why her great reputation precedes her. She’s a beautiful, intelligent woman running her own commercial casting business with McDonalds, SONY, Nike, Jet Blue, Infiniti, Range Rover, Toyota, FedEx and American Express being a few of the campaigns on her resume. Since we’re both DTLA residents, we met at my new favorite restaurant, Manuela, and got to talking…
How did you get into casting?
LAURIE: I moved from Seattle to LA against my will. My boyfriend at the time wanted to pursue a career in film & television so I went with him. It was 2004, and I was working at Starbucks. One of my customers was the owner of Casting Networks. It was just when the online submission revolution was happening and he asked me to come work there. Eventually, I agreed. I was about the 10th employee of the company at the time. I started out helping actors by scanning their headshots into the system and of course, back then, nobody knew what was going on. Actors would just come in and say that their agent asked them to get this done but they had no idea why they were paying for this service or what it was for. Because the company was so young, I worked in every department. I ended up working with commercial casting directors. I learned a lot about the commercial industry that way. I worked at LACasting for about 3 years and then got a job as a commercial associate. I skipped being an assistant which was great. I worked as an associate for another 3 years and then I opened my own business!
Wow! And now here you are! How did you start getting your own clients? Do you reach out to clients by yourself or is there some sort of directory?
LAURIE: Oh my gosh, isn’t that the million-dollar question!? Basically, I started reaching out to anyone and everyone that I knew and didn’t know. I shared my website and talked about what I do. It helped to reach out to lower-level production people because nobody stays in a lower level position forever. The hope was when they started producing, they’d think of me. And that’s something I still do today. We’re always looking for new clients. It’s the business we’re in. It’s certainly a hustle.
What’s it like being a female business owner?
LAURIE: There’s a huge sense of pride. It’s something I’m deeply proud of. But it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When people entertain opening their own business, I always say that it’s the best and worst thing you’ll ever do. I don’t know if I would wish it upon my worst enemy yet I want it for everyone. It’s madness.
I know the feeling. It requires great responsibility.
LAURIE: When your name is on the door, the buck stops with you. You can’t make a mistake. But of course, you’re human, so sometimes you do make a mistake. Then it’s about how quickly you can fix it and putting systems in place to make sure that it never happens again. With casting, although we’re not curing cancer, there’s a lot at stake. A mistake can cost a lot of money. Sometimes it gets overwhelming.
Is a lot of it to do with crazy scheduling and having to see so many actors?
LAURIE: Sure, but it could be a multitude of reasons. You could be running an hour behind because you over-scheduled. Or the lights went out in the studio! Maybe casting networks went down. Or the camera just broke. It could be anything! A client could forget to give you a role. It’s 3 o’clock and you have to schedule actors before 5:30. “Can you bring a bunch of moms in?” Moms? Where am I going to get a bunch of moms? They don’t just appear. How do you think this works? Sometimes it feels like people believe actors just appear. How am I going to get 12 moms, attractive to real, 34 to 36 years old, to just appear?
So how do you go through all the submissions and what’s the average amount of submissions per role? It seems like more and more actors are being submitted. Is it because more agencies and management companies are opening or does online submitting make things too easy to click on?
LAURIE: Is that it? I don’t know. I think there’s some, We’re just going to have a giant roster! agencies out there. So agents might submit 25 people on any given role. And then I think, Does this actor have any experience? Do they know how to slate? Who are you sending me? So that’s not fun. It also depends if the job is SAG or not, how much it’s paying, and WHO we’re looking for, what age range, etc. but it’s certainly not unheard of to have 3,000 submissions per role. And sometimes you’re prepping 2 or 3 commercials per day. Can you imagine going through those submissions when you put the job out that morning? To turn around and have auditions the next day? It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. It’s crazy. How am I possibly going to look through 25,000 submissions in what ends up being about 4 hours? Because, of course, it takes agents time to submit. Then I look through all of the submissions, make selects and get them all in a schedule. The goal is to get those schedules out by 5:30. That’s not a lot of time. It’s insanity.
How do you look through all those submissions? Is there a process you have? Do you even look through all 25,000?
LAURIE: I try to. If somebody took the time to submit talent they thought were right, then I should probably look at all of them. But I do the math and figure out how long I have to look at each page. I just try to keep scrolling. I just scroll to keep on schedule.
“And sometimes you’re prepping 2 or 3 commercials per day. Can you imagine going through those submissions when you put the job out that morning? To turn around and have auditions the next day? It makes me want to cry just thinking about it. It’s crazy. How am I possibly going to look through 25,000 submissions in what ends up being about 4 hours?”
So it’s just a really strong photo that needs to pop?
LAURIE: Its a bad day if I’m only looking at the thumbnail photo when making selects. It’s the one that has to catch my eye, but I look at MUCH more than that. I look at the additional photos; I look at the resume. Resumes are important right now because, for example, we’re casting funny people and they actually need to be able to act.
There should be a limit as to how many actors an agency can submit.
LAURIE: Sometimes I put out a notice to agents and say, “Folks, give me your top 5.” Some agencies respect that and some don’t. But agents should be able to look at the clock and think, She’s seeing people tomorrow… and submit only their best. I don’t want a day full of people, that isn’t the goal. I want a full day of great actors. I want to call the best people in.
You must prefer some agencies to others based on their supply of actors.
LAURIE: I need to trust agents. I need to trust they aren’t submitting someone who is 10 years younger or 10 years older than the spec. Occasionally I’ll get a 40 year-old submitted for a 25 year-old role. Are you kidding me? How do you think she’s going to feel when she’s standing in the lobby? How do you think I’m going to feel when she’s standing next to the actual 25 year-old she’s partnered with? This is embarrassing for everybody. You didn’t sneak one past me. You just made me angry. So there are agents out there that I have trouble trusting. And then there fantastic agents whose actors always look like their headshots, they’re always in the appropriate age range, in acting classes, and all really solid. A submitted actor might appear a bit older than the spec in their headshot, but I trust this agent so much that I’m sure the actor is totally fine. And they are. Those are the agents I work with whenever I have the choice. Does that make sense?
IN THE AUDITION ROOM
It absolutely does. And I make all of my actors take commercial classes. You can be a great theatrical actor but for commercials, you have to know a whole different skill-set.
LAURIE: Apples and oranges. It’s a different beast. We do our best to create the commercial they’re going to shoot, but in a casting studio. There’s a lot of make-believe. You’re not really driving that car. You’re not really in a pool. But in a commercial audition you have to look like you are. It’s tricky.
So how do you become a casting director favorite?
LAURIE: Ahhh, that’s a good question! You confirm quickly (within the hour). Don’t cancel. Don’t ask for a time frame. Show up on time, in wardrobe, be prepared and have a good attitude. Do your thing and do it well. Then, I will call you in for the rest of your life. Because all of that is not a given.
Look like your headshot. Don’t show up 10 years older or 15 pounds heavier than your shot shows you to be. Wardrobe is HUGE in commercials. It’s always weird when I say, “Upscale with great hair and great makeup,” and then the actor shows up in a track suit. What’s happening?
That’s my biggest nightmare- one of my actors showing up to an audition with bad wardrobe or hair and makeup and the casting director is wondering who sent them.
LAURIE: But I’m not a yeller. I simply won’t call the actor in again. They’ll never know. And I won’t call the agent, either. I don’t have time for that. That actor will just never hear from me if it’s happened enough.
Right. Also, I know actors put so much time and preparation into their theatrical auditions but it doesn’t seem to me like they do the same for commercial auditions.
LAURIE: Well actors don’t come to Los Angeles to be commercial actors. They come to LA to be TV & film actors, so I get that. But I need you to give me a certain level of commitment. If you want to book commercials, YOU HAVE TO WATCH COMMERCIALS. What type are you? What type will you book? You need headsets that reflect that. If you’re a young mom, I want to see a young mom headshot. If you’re a Helpful Honda guy, then I need a Helpful Honda guy headshot. I want you in the polo looking like, I’m here to help America! And I want you to show up to my audition with that polo shirt and a smile on your face. As far as prep goes, it’s not hard to pull up YouTube and watch a few of the last spots from the brand. It may or may not be what you’re doing this time around, so that’s a gamble. But you’ll spend 15 minutes max doing the research so it’s not a lot of time wasted, even if the current spot goes a different direction. Look at the boards. Learn your copy.
People who book commercials book for a reason. They study them. They work hard doing that. They take classes. They practice by putting themselves on tape. They become a student of commercials. You might book 1 commercial because you had a great look or you happen to be able to (insert random skill), but if you want to make a living or good money in commercials then you have to study them. You have to take it seriously. It’s not a fluke that certain people book commercials over and over and over. Learn the art of the commercial audition. It’s not luck. Stop thinking that if you go to 100 auditions you’ll book 5 of them. I’m not a fan of the numbers game theory.
All the greats start as great students first.
LAURIE: Yes. If you’re a young dad, what should your hair look like? Should you have facial hair or not? When you’re a student of commercials, you’ll find that out. You can look however you look in life but if you want to book commercials then you need to be willing to wear the clothes you might not typically wear. Put on that cardigan, button up your shirt and have your dad haircut.
Also, I always find it interesting that when I cast a theatrical job, actors will come in with pages of script memorized but if there’s commercial copy with 2 lines, so many actors come in saying they didn’t have time to look at it.
“People who book commercials book for a reason. They study them. They work hard doing that. They take classes. They practice by putting themselves on tape. They become a student of commercials.”
That blows my mind. What about when actors complain that they got paired up with someone terrible at the audition. What do you say to that?
LAURIE: It happens. I’m sure it doesn’t make you happy. It doesn’t make me happy. It’s great when partners are good and have fantastic chemistry. But trust that we can tell when there’s a bad partner. Trust that we know what we’re doing and that it won’t keep you from a callback. Don’t let it throw you and do the best you can. I sometimes wonder if a bad partner makes you look better. I think it can. Fight being upset, angry, annoyed or bitter. Because angry or annoyed actors don’t book commercials. The more you can zen out and just be the best you can be, the less a bad partner will matter. And that applies to everything. If the lobby is crazy and there’s a long wait and your kid is crying and somebody’s talking too much—the more you can tune that out the better. The more you can be blissfully unaware of the fact that you’re waiting 59 minutes to get into the room for your 4 minute audition, the better. Remember: warm, likable, nice, relatable actors. Those are people that book commercials because those are the people that are in commercials. When you walk into the room annoyed, and probably rightfully so, but think you think you can drop it when you slate, you’re likely wrong. The camera picks up on the annoyance. Commercials are utopia. So let the long wait and crazy lobby and bad partners get everyone else annoyed, but you zen that out and book the job.
✨ ZEN 🙏🏼
COMMERCIAL CLASSES WITH LAURIE: https://www.facebook.com/commercialclassesbylaurierecords/
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH
LOCATION: 907 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
DISH: Hushpuppies, Flash Fried Brussel Sprouts, Roasted Carrots, Honey Glazed Beets and Carred Cauliflower
NOTES: By far one of my favorite restaurants! Artsy, urban DTLA location with lots of natural light, ample seating and the freshest food