I choose not to do a lot of on camera work. At least that’s what I tell myself. (And my agent.) Being a woman of a certain age (and waist size) the opportunities are slim. (see what I did there?) But today I happen to be on set as a principal actor shooting a lottery commercial (Lotto Max for Sid Lee) and having more fun than I planned. The process is reminding me of everything that I love and everything that’s tedious about acting in front of a camera.
The Commercial Crew
Is awesome. Everyone on set is a consummate pro with years of experience a scads of credits from the director of photography to the props, to the grips to lighting crew, I am in the presence of collective greatness and the humility of being part of a large group working effectively and exactingly is moving.
The Acting Work in an Ad
The acting work is fun. Running the lines, improving around them, delivering multiple takes with myriad variations on intention. Concentrating hard to make it all fall away and stay in the tight focus of the world in front of the lens. It’s challenging. I find it much easier to world build in my own sound booth, without distraction, but then as a full time, working all-the-time voice actor, that’s what I’m used to. But the acting on cam, it is seriously not different one iota from acting behind a mic.
The Waiting and then more waiting
This is my bone of contention. Long, long periods of waiting while everyone (crew, etc) moves the set-up, marks the shot, lights it, mics it, touches everything up. We’re doing a double shoot, too. As Canada is a bilingual country, we’re shooting one ad in English, then another (pretty much exactly the same) in French. Years ago, when I worked for the national weather network, the French and English channel shared the same set. The room was divided on a diagonal. One channel (one part of the diagonal) was live, with weather woman or man talking throughout, for 4 minutes and fifty-five seconds. We’d get a 5 second reprieve of silence, then the other language-channel (diagonal) would go live. Lots of waiting. Lots of breaks. That’s TV.
At the dawn of when millennials began walking the Earth, I worked on-cam daily in television. As a TV show host, a reporter, a weather woman, an actress. Wardrobe and make-up were part of my life. I’d forgotten how much. Colors and patterns and textures, oh my. Being uber careful not to drip anything down the front of my costume. Watching in fascination as the makeup artist conjured a magical transformation with many, many subtle brush strokes and blends. Resisting tickles and the need to scratch or touch my face ALL day so as not to disturb her masterpiece.
The Special Treatment
A steward from my Union (ACTRA) showed up first thing to make sure all was ok. “Did you get anything to eat?” Shannon asked. Wow. I usually only see my stewards at the AGMs or Awards shows. But all day, I’ve been constantly handed water bottles, snacks, a boxed lunch. Being led away from the cold stairs (where I’d parked myself to jot down these notes – I liked the cool marble – the set was warm) and parked in a short (i.e. comfy) folding (i.e. set) chair at a table. I forgot about the spoiling. The spoiling is nice.
The Bottom Line
Is the money better on-cam? You would think so, but not necessarily. It all depends on the media buy. I did an hour’s worth of voice over work in June on a regional ad that paid more than what I will get for today’s full day (8 hour) shoot (including the much smaller media buy, plus fees for the 90 min wardrobe call, the two hour rehearsal and the audition call-back). The drawback with on-cam stuff is that your face gets burned (not literally, obviously). I mean, unless you become the spokesperson for a brand (i.e. Flo from Progressive), you can’t expect to get hired and rehired every month for different commercials in the same city. Ad agencies (and clients) will not want to use the same face over and over again. Personally, it’s another reason why I love and live by voice over work. I get to work much more often in a huge variety of jobs.
What’s your preference? On-cam or behind mic? Or do you love both? Got any stories to share?