Yesterday, I went up to Oklahoma City to appear as an extra in an upcoming television commercial that will be seen mainly in Oklahoma. Extras are talent who typically have a non-speaking role that is somewhat nondescript. When I tell people this, it triggers the question, "what does it take to make a 30 second spot commercial?" Answer: a whole lot of time, people, and money!
A TV commercial starts with the creative department of an advertising agency. Once they get a sense of what their clients want to achieve, they map out a strategy that includes all facets: media, creative, you name it. Then there is the storyboard, a sequence of drawing with dialogue and some direction, of how the spot will look. Once approved by the advertiser, the agency then plans the actual production process. Agencies have certain commercial production companies they are accustomed to using to produce the spots. They also have relationships with talent agencies whom they inform of their upcoming casting call for talent to appear. The casting call has certain specifications of the type of talent the agency wants, such as age, gender, ethnicity, look, etc. It then goes to people under contract with the talent agencies and then they indicate their interest in being submitted. Time is usually of the essence so the quicker one responds, the better.
Once talent has been submitted and accepted, they are provided instructions on the day, date, time of production, wardrobe specifications, script (in some cases), and rate of pay. Pay scale can vary if the job is union or non-union. The talent is also provided a schedule of events. The production crew usually has the longest day as they have to get everything set up prior to shooting the spot. The rule of thumb for talent is, "being early is being on time, being on time is being late". I try to get there no later than 15 minutes before the published casting call time because there is usually paperwork that has to be filled out. The main thing is to do exactly what the talent agent and the on-set director tell you to do! Run afoul of these rules and you will get a bad reputation.
Most :30 commercials can be shot on location in one day, although it varies from spot to spot. Scenes are shot in various order but not necessary in the order that you end up seeing them on TV. And most of the time the director has to do multiple takes of the same scene to get it just right. No detail is unimportant. Sometimes there is extraneous sound that creeps in, other times the visual is not right or an actor flubs a line or movement.
Once principal photography is over, then there is the post-production process of putting the spot together. Once that is done and the client has given their approval to the agency, then the TV spot buying process occurs….and that's a topic for another day!
As you can see, a :30 TV commercial doesn't happen overnight but takes months of planning, lots of people involved, and lots of money! And if you are cast in a TV commercial, it's a lot of fun!
See you next time.
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