Entries tagged with “commercials”.

It takes some digging to find the right people.

It takes some digging to find the right people.

Having been involved with the production of well over four commercials, I believe success starts by casting the right talent. In order to do so, it is up for the creators of the spot to create “casting specs” (or “casting specifications” for those not in the industry).

What makes good casting specs? A clear knowledge of the character, his/her backstory, dreams and aspirations, food allergies and the like. What follows are some casting specs I wrote for a commercial shoot a few years back. I think you’ll see what I mean…

The Professor:

His name is Charles Humbecker, but his friends call him “Charles” and his enemies call him “that no good bastard prick, Charles.”

He’s the sort of guy you might meet standing in a long line, or at a pot luck supper at your sister-in-law’s. You might see him seated in a crowded stadium watching a baseball game eating a hot dog as if it were a braut, or you might not see him at all if he were hiding in a tree. The point is, he’s that kind of guy.

He is an intellectual of sorts. Bookwormy. Nebbish. Comfortably tweedy. If he smoked a pipe, his jacket would probably smell of tobacco and have some burn holes in it.

He’s the kind of guy who looks good wearing a belt.

As a youngster he probably had some jocks hold him by his feet and invert his head into a toilet bowl for a swirly rinse. He is dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and higher education. He pursued his dream and became a tenured professor at a prestigious college where he has the unique ability to make every minute in his classroom feel like fifteen minutes. His students hate him with a passion only matched by mine for the Air Supply catalog.

He fancies himself a font of invaluable arcane knowledge and will drone on and on about any and every subject. He has a thirst of knowledge coupled with uncontrollable diarrhea of the mouth–– a deadly combination.

He is a pompous, officious bore. His age is fifty-plus, metric. He can be tall or he can be short. He could even be two very short people stacked beneath a large overcoat. He can be like Ben Stein, he can be like James Cromwell, he can be like Wally Cox, too. His manner is stilted, his monotone is slow and stiff.

He likes antiques and hordes cotton candy. His favorite number is 8, but sometimes it’s 3. You know the type, right? He’s that kind of joe who eats green apples and complains that they’re not red delicious.

The Smart Shopper:

She is every woman, except much prettier. And her name is Amy Gattersnort.

She’s thirty-something and conveys bewilderment and confusion as she hears the professor blather on about eating nutritiously. When she leaves the classroom, she has a relieved and comfortable smile. She operates her smile with her lips. Life is suddenly easy thanks to her leaning about how to eat better. Now her cheating husband will be true to her and stop his daylong drinking binges and obnoxious habit of scattering broken glass on the floor. Now her estranged sister will call and apologize for the awful “Cheez Nip Incident.” Now she will finally feel like a natural woman, only more humble and contrite.

Our Smart Shopper is a woman who can convey the range of emotion from rage to smugness to aggressive ambivalence to total satisfaction. Ain’t she something?!

Bruiser “The Wonder Dog”:

Should be a dog, or maybe even cat, of some sort. If the animal could do something wonderful, like talk, juggle or calculate annuities, all the better.


   Actors Need Some Backstory To Grab Onto

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!     

    OUR CAST:     

    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!