- Friday, May. 24, 2019
In the world of 30-second storytelling, there are days of location scouting, disputes over wardrobe choices and heated exchanges over which couch the spokesperson will sit on. At these times, I remind myself of the simple truth of commercials: performance is everything. Audiences love characters. Show me an iconic spot, and I’ll show you an outstanding performance.
I find when I line up with my clients and agencies on casting, we tend to line up taste-wise on most other elements as well.
I am enormously in favor of ethnically diverse casting, but let’s try to bake it into the brief, instead of trying to cast a super wide net and “letting the best performance rise to the top.” First of all, who has those kinds of casting budgets?
Commit to an ethnic choice and turn your talented (and unsung hero) casting director loose.
I applaud my recent Lending Tree clients, because in the brief, they committed to casting an under-represented ethnic minority. We found a wealth of choices within the brief, but one guy indeed rose to the top.
In the current climate, much of language in scripts is “hard-hitting” in terms of retail sales messaging. That means actors and casting directors have to be on top of their game to mine the nuggets of humanity that create memorable work and move the needle for the client. The Lending Tree campaign is no exception. I needed actors who could make retail personal. In comedy, authentic characters make the message stick. The second they become shills, you lose the audience.
I like having the agency in the room for callbacks. When clients see firsthand how well the actor takes notes, how quick they are with their improv and how well I click with them, the conversation at the end of the session becomes much more informed. These things aren’t apparent on the tape. Casting is a subtle science and at some point, it’s just taste. But I find when we’re all in the room together, there aren’t a lot of arguments about casting.
There’s one additional piece of advice I’d like to share. Many times we hold an idea in our head what the perfect “look” is for a role. Don’t fall into that trap thinking the director can conjure a perfect performance. Directors can shape and sharpen, but they can’t make a performance. If you find yourself falling in love with a look, check that impulse. Go for performance first; in the end that’s what makes for the most memorable, effective spots.
Terry Rietta is a director at Free Market Films. He is known for cinematically-styled, character-driven comedy for Mercedes, Starbucks, MeUndies, Lending Tree, Walmart and Orange.