Actors Need Some Backstory To Grab Onto
Being an Adman, I’ve been involved with something we in the trade call commercials or spots (let me know if this is getting too ‘insider’).
One of the keys to creating a successful spot is casting, the hiring of actors to pretend they are speaking the words you’ve put in their mouths. To help actors, I write extensive casting specs so the person knows the backstory of the character and can deliver a believable performance that won’t suck.
Here are the casting specs for a spot we did recently. Feel the characters leap to glorious life!
OVERVIEW: This spot is about people and their seemingly never-ending need to eat food (preferably good food that has not been poisoned and will pass through the bowels gently). As such, we should cast real people, with a strong bias toward people with mouths so they can appear to eat food. The ability to act like you’re eating food is a must!
Marcie––African American girl, age 8 or so. She has an innate sense of style and a passion for dusting furniture. Many of her friends feel she may be a little too attached to Swiffer cloths, but Beth Ann assures them she only “likes them” for light dusting duty.
Beth Ann–– Caucasian girl, age 8 or so. She is precocious, has an exceptional vocabulary and loves her family even though certain members are plotting against her. She’s something else!
Gammy–– African American woman, age 65-70. She is a passionate cook and a compassionate soul who sees the good in all people (except Ben Stiller, who she thinks is “pretty stuck on himself”). Gammy is all about the love of food, her family and the semi-annual sales at Linen & Things (where she has acquired a very impressive collection of “things” and some cheap towels and threadbare dishrags).
Susan–– An African American woman, age 35 or so. She is Marcie’s mother and Gammy’s daughter. She is a kind woman, warm, caring and not as tall as she looks. She is proud of her daughter and somewhat fearful of her mother ever since ‘the potato salad incident.’ She wishes she were better with numbers, but what can you do– you’ve either got the ‘number gene’ or you don’t. What are the odds she’d be born with it? Susan will never know, she’s horrible with numbers.
Robert–– African American man, age 35 or so. He is Marcie’s father. He loves action films, is a huge fan of James Patterson’s fiction and is quite adept at managing his minor bladder infection he’d rather not talk about.
Tracy–– Beth Ann’s mother, age 35 or so, who harbors some resentment that Beth Ann’s name is “Beth Ann” (she was named after her husband’s departed mother). Tracy wanted to call her daughter “Cinderella Sue Bethany” because she had never met anyone with that name. But, as Tracy is often fond of saying when she nips a cool cocktail, “Life is one miserable compromise and disappointment followed by another… and bitterness, rejection, agonizing pain and sorrow is your just reward.” She’s a ‘glass half full’ kind of gal!
Ken–– Beth Ann’s father, age 40. He’s a gregarious sort, fond of quietly counting to 10,000 by prime numbers. He had a dog named Barney when he was a child. The dog was hit and killed by a garbage truck. Ken has hated garbage ever since and so refuses to throw anything out, including table scraps he’s saved for Barney.
Michael–– Caucasian boy, age 9. He is the brother of Beth Ann and coincidently, the son of Tracy and Ken. Michael is a quiet child making him the perfect companion on a trip to the library. He loves his parents but harbors some resentment toward his sister, ‘Miss Perfect Pants’, who he feels his parents show favoritism toward. Like on her birthday when she got a pony, a ride on a hot air balloon and a crisp $10,000 bill. On his birthday, he got the lid to a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a small length of mangled yarn and a pinky poke to the left eyeball.
That should about do it, actors. Enjoy your roles, become the character, live in the moment from moment to moment!