In a small basement room in Soho, central London, Kate Evans — a casting director with more than 20 years experience — and I sat on a brown sofa, surrounded by camera equipment.
In front of us was a white screen, and a table covered in food.
We were at a casting session for a TV ad for a well-known restaurant chain, which I agreed not to name.
Cameraman Oggi, a filmmaker from Norway, was next to us. He explained that he films advertising auditions to pay the bills, while sending movies to film festivals, where he hopes his own work will get noticed.
The film industry is notoriously difficult to break into for actors and filmmakers alike. Even after years of drama school and promising auditions, many aspiring performers are left with their dreams of fame and riches in tatters.
Fortunately, you don’t need well-honed acting skills to get screen time and earn a thick wage packet from commercials, the co-founder of Kate and Lou Casting told Business Insider.
Evans explained that being too well-trained can actually hinder your chances of getting a role in an ad.
“Lots of people are trained in theatre and drama schools for years, so they act everything. In commercials, they just need to be themselves,” she said.
Actors can earn up to $30,000 from a single commercial
It’s a lucrative business. Actors in the UK used to be paid by the “repeat fee system,” according to how many times the ad was played. However, that was replaced by a buyout system, where actors and companies agree on a set fee.
Starring in just one TV commercial, you can earn anywhere between £2,000 (about $3,000) and £20,000 (about $30,000) from a buyout.
The exact amount “depends on the product, the marketing space, and the media space,” Evans said.
Celebrities can earn far more by endorsing products on ads, but, rather than being cast by people like Evans, they are approached directly by ad agencies.
Before the actresses entered the room we were sat in to audition for the role, Evans explained how the process works.
About 400 people had applied for the part in the ad.
Evans reduced this to the shortlist of 12 that we would meet that day.
Afterwards, the video director re-watches the auditions and then decides who gets the part. “We don’t need to re-cast very often,” Evans told me.
They were looking for a young woman with a “rock ‘n’ roll attitude”, who was prepared to dye her hair, and get tattoos. For the audition, each woman had to dance to a ’70s punk track while putting together an item from the chain’s menu.
During each audition, Evans was a ball of energy, jumping out of her seat and dancing to the music to encourage the actresses.
“It’s my job to get the best out of every single person who walks through my door,” Evans said.
Evans gave everyone three takes, asking them to adjust their performance each time.
Often Evans asked them to look into her eyes and “flirt.” Other times she told them to smile more, or dance less.
Understandably, some of the actresses struggled to perfect the balance between dancing and cooking, but the casting director did not utter a single negative word during the auditions. Instead, her enthusiasm could be measured by whether something was “amazing” or simply “good.”
“I constantly spend my time chasing people down the road”
In the pause between auditions, Evans kept asking me if I thought the last person was a trained actress, model or a “street person.”
Evans is a passionate advocate for giving roles to “street people” — normal people that have not applied for the part.
Evans spots these people in the street or reaches them online, often through Twitter.
“I constantly spend my time chasing people down the road. I jump off trains and I’m like, ‘Please talk to me. I’m a casting director and you’ve got a great look.’ I don’t stop working,” Evans said. “That’s the best part of my job.”
She explained that you don’t even need to be good looking to star in adverts.
“No, my dad’s not good looking at all, it’s characters,” Evans said. “I got my dad to do a Pizza Hut advert. They needed an old man’s mouth and my Dad is old and craggy.”
I left the auditions, half-annoyed my “look” wasn’t interesting enough to get scouted.
Then I passed corridors lined with hopefuls with bright blue hair, phenomenal bone structure, and striking clothes, and I understood why.