Negotiating the new online ecosystem

With more media channels opening up to actors than ever before, the plethora of opportunities is growing. Commercial jobs in particular have increased significantly in recent years, as the entertainment industry itself has expanded into online commercial content and native advertising. As with all uncharted territories, there are an equal number of unique avenues and potential pitfalls. Here, Associate Agent and Head of Commercial for Winterson’s, Lawrence James, looks at how actors can approach a career in front of the camera in a strategic way within the modern media setting.

“As an agency with a strong reputation across both Stage and television/film, Winterson’s is also an agency to embrace lucrative commercial work on behalf of our clients,” said James. “The commercial Industry is a growth area, not least because of the ongoing invention of new media platforms, branded and sponsored content, and shorter terms of use – we are now negotiating deals for social media GIF usage for example.”

“And it doesn’t stop there. Even traditional media outlets for example are placing a bigger emphasis on commercial content. The New York Times recently opened up a branded content division, dedicated to creating original programming for commercial advertisers. In other words the old model of creative content commissioning being solely the preserve of the television stations and film studios is changing.”

While this expansion of potential platforms is encouraging, James highlights that the industry at large can still be a tough place in which to find a recurrent income:

“As much as this is one of the best industries to be part of, an actor’s life is precarious and income can be unpredictable, which brings additional anxiety. After graduating actors often have student loan commitments and also need to support themselves when they are not performing. The need to secure daytime employment outside of the industry for monetary stability can lead to periods of unavailability, which may result in missed casting opportunities.”

“This is where the growth of the commercial sector can be an actors friend. With the right support, guidance and contract negotiation, income from commercial work for an actor can provide many financial benefits, security and longer term stability. Successful agencies operate a designated commercial desk in order to give undivided attention to the quick turnover of castings, pencils and bookings, and most importantly a specialist agent to negotiate and agree the best terms and conditions on often complex contracts. We at Winterson’s pride ourselves on being prudent regarding the artist’s profile and frequently we agree large contractual options for further usages which can act as a type of annuity.”

One such example is Winterson’s actor, Alex Chang, who was recently featured in The Stage offering his view on the commercial sphere. Alex has been very successful in commercials because he is talented, personable and dedicated to the craft – very often a client and director is looking for more than just a look. In this particular case the income from commercials has funded a comfortable lifestyle for Alex. As a result of a commercial usage renewal, Alex was recently able to fund a visa application and visit Los Angeles for a month, where he currently has the opportunity to enhance his career prospects.

“Winterson’s called me about a casting for a commercial campaign,” said Chang. “As an agency they have facilitated regular commercial castings since the moment I joined them. I went to casting dressed in a suit because the role was for the hero role in a wedding setting, Lawrence always says ‘dress to suggest the part’ which has proved sage advice. Minimal preparation was required for this casting but commercial castings can also be very prescriptive and songs, scripts and special skills are often asked to be learnt. They usually work fast in these castings and being at ease in front of camera is essential, Lawrence also advises “smile from the moment you enter the room and as soon as the tape starts rolling”

“Fee wise it’s been a goldmine for me. I’m very lucky and blessed to have it running 2 years now as it is funding my whole year again, with money left over for a deposit on a house so I can be creatively liberated from the confines of throwing money down the drain because of rent. But I feel I’m also experienced enough now to know what casting director and the client want in terms of commercials.”

“I find it curious that a lot of actors won’t do commercials. They can provide such stability and it’s quick work, unlike theatre and other screen work. They can also be artistically fulfilling. You have an opportunity to be part of an advertising creatives artistic vision and your job as an actor is to bring a depth to the commercial as a human being that is relatable to consumers. If it was so easy, they would just hire anyone. You have a skill. They have a pay cheque.”

“I’ve been with Winterson’s since my third year at drama school. I was elated with the opportunity to work with Niki Winterson. As a team, Niki, Faye and Lawrence look after me so well. They get me into doors regularly and are ferocious negotiators which is what you want from your agent. I love our working relationship so I look forward to more successes.”

To this day, even with the changes in media we are witnessing around us, many agencies are still neglecting the commercials side of the business and consequently what can be a very rewarding and lucrative support stream. We believe it is imperative for actors to be looked after commercially as much as any other area of the business and strive to forge long term careers in this field for our actors.