As Head Commercial Agent at Avalon Artists Group, Stephany Burns represents some of the most talented actors in Hollywood today. Her clients have recently booked numerous Network commercials and campaigns with companies like Coca Cola, Snickers, Pepsi, Ford, BMW, Kay Jewelers, Allstate, Apple, Samsung, Verizon, AT & T, UPS, Progressive, Wendy’s, State Farm, Applebee’s, Toyota, Clorox, Ameriprise, Go Daddy, Acura, Hyundai, Target, Dodge, Nationwide, Best Buy, McDonald's and many more.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephany was a child actress with The Iris Burton Agency and went on receive a B.A in Theatre from Arizona State University. While working at a number of the top commercial casting agencies in Los Angeles, she discovered that her ability to understand the needs of actors made her a natural fit to be their biggest champion. She prides herself on her dedication to her clients and her determination to advance their careers. She has developed strong relationships with some of the biggest names in commercial casting, all of whom have come to trust her and her talented roster.
The 5 "doors" of commercial success
I used to be a struggling actress, waiting tables just like you. I would say, “My agent never sends me out,” or “I’m sure my agent isn’t submitting me.” Almost 15 years later, I’m on the agent side. I understand now why those arguments could not be further from the truth. I was shifting the blame onto someone else, when all I had to do was open another door.
There are five main reasons why other actors are getting commercial auditions and you are not. Five doors that anyone like you can open. If you’ve ever thought, “My agent doesn’t get me out,” ask yourself if you’ve opened any of these doors. Then ask why you haven’t opened them at all.
This is the most important door and the easiest one to open. Headshots should be less than a year old and show casting immediately who you are. Costumes and props aren’t necessary. But show me who you are. Do you work for the company or are you the boss? Do you love or hate your job? What roles do you get called back on and what roles do you book theatrically? How you carry yourself in one look can tell us everything. If your shots are dated, bland, or too vague, they tend to get overlooked. Trends change rapidly. If your shots are over two years old, that look might be “out,” even if the photo looks like you. Quirky glasses were cool two years ago –not so much now. When beards are in and you have a current headshot with a beard, you will go out more. Do you fit the type they’re looking for in the breakdown? I represent an actor with few TV credits, no industry connections and hardly any special skills. But his headshots are a RINGER for the “Seth Rogen” type that shows up in 75 percent of the current breakdowns. He gets called in.
Commercials are about selling a product. Watch commercials. See how those folks look and how they’re dressed. This does not mean you should change your headshots if they are getting you out. It means you should get new headshots if they are not working for you. Give us options, too. Most actors have 6-8 photos posted on all three submission sites with at least 3-4 looks so we can submit you for all types of roles. If you only have a “bad guy” shot posted, it’s extremely hard to pitch you for the “innocent nice guy” roles. Hire a professional headshot photographer. It’s immediately obvious if your friend took them, and that tells me you’re not taking your career seriously. This is the FIRST thing casting sees!
Sure, you’re thinking, but my friend Joe goes out all the time and his photos are five years old. Joe has probably opened one or more of the other doors
You need to constantly build your resume. Graduating from a well-known theatre school is helpful. But we also need to see major TV and/or film credits. Your most important credits are less than two years old. I represent someone with older headshots, who has a few connections but who’s currently recurring on two TV shows and gets called in for commercials all the time. Why? Because he opened those doors previously and built his way up! Working on a currently airing TV show gives us something to pitch. “She’s hysterical. Just did a Guest Star on Big Bang Theory.” The best way to start building credits is to take workshops. Get in front of the casting directors for the shows you see yourself in. Pick five casting directors that are currently casting shows with your type and get in front of them! For actors building their resumes, this is a great way to get your foot in the door. Which leads to Door #3…
3.Who you know
Yes, It’s WHO you know. But remember, the more auditions you go on and the more workshops you take, the more casting directors you will know. If casting gets 2,000 submissions for a role and picks 100-150 to bring in, you can bet half of them are the “aces in the hole” they already know and love. They do love to see new faces. But the actors they know are the ones they bring in the most often. Let’s say you were casting a commercial. Wouldn’t your first thought be someone you already knew that fit the breakdown perfectly? There are quite a few ways to meet commercial CDs and by networking through social media it should be even EASIER than ever!! Take workshops, do showcases, do live shows and make friends with other people in the entertainment industry –not just actors. For all you know, your next door neighbor might work in casting!
Opening this door can really make your career take off—even if you have bad headshots, no resume and don’t know anyone in town. Maybe you are AMAZING at speaking different languages, surfing, stunts, sports, juggling, stilts, etc. This is where we do lots of “real people” submissions. Commercial castings love “real people” that do “real things.” Most of the time, they are really asking for “real actors that do real things” like actor moms, families, pet lovers, Honda drivers, etc. Agents will never know these personal skills or traits about you unless you tell them. Remind them constantly and send photos and video clips of you doing these activities. Have a fantastic golf swing? Let’s see it!! You will be our go-to “golfer” when we see a breakdown looking for one. We love real couples and photos with pets. But we can’t submit you as a “real couple” if we don’t have a photo or know your personal life, right? I represent an actress with mediocre headshots and a weak resume. But she is an extremely talented actress who also happens to be very athletic and skilled at just about any sport. She constantly hustles to find work that fits her athletic type and therefore gets out more often than others. Don’t hesitate to email stuff like this to your agent. You’re giving us extra tools to get you more auditions. Casting loves it when agents add notes to submissions with details about your special skills. Help us help you. Give us detailed reminders about the Ping Pong championship you recently won. We want to know!! Plus, it keeps you fresh in our minds and lets us know what else you’re capable of when we see a breakdown for it.
5.Training & Comedy
Most commercials right now are booked by heavy-hitting comedy folks. The young brunette in the AT&T commercials? Milana Vayntrub (Upright Citizens Brigade). Flo from Progressive? Stephanie Courtney (Groundlings). Two professionally trained actors with extensive comedy backgrounds who got to where they are by living and breathing the comedy scene. The Sonic Guys? Thomas James "T. J." Jagodowski (Second City) & Peter Grosz (writer for The Colbert Report). You need to have a major comedy school on your resume –one that you completed at the highest level. Being on a team or sketch group is even better! (And helpful if you are stuck at Door #2.) I represent a guy with headshots that are six years old. But he’s got guest star and recurring credits, he knows everyone in town, and he’s a Second City Conservatory graduate. He gets a pass for Door #1. Most commercial auditions rely heavily on improv, so you should constantly train that muscle. Walking into the audition like a deer in headlights is the kiss of death. Only professional training can help you overcome that fear. Most major commercial actors have graduated from one of four main improv schools. They get called in because of that school’s reputation for great training. You should always be training! The harder you work, the luckier you get.
These are the five doors to helping you get commercial auditions. Some actors are lucky enough to get auditions with only one door open. You might need to open all five. Yes, a strong agent working for a well-respected agency always helps a bit too. :) But you should be the one doing 90 percent of the work to get auditions. With big celebrities doing commercials more and more, the commercial industry is more competitive than ever. We need to give casting a good reason it should be you instead!