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My First Job in Film: What are commercials?

What is a commercial?

Despite the 30 seconds of screen time, well-executed commercials are widely regarded as micro films that have the power to sway opinion, excite and engage us. Commercials have their own award ceremonies, own superstar directors and most importantly own identity within the film industry. While commercials can be lavish affairs (Baz Luhrmann’s 2005 Channel commercial cost £18m), they can also be simple and thought provoking. The commercial industry fosters and creates opportunity for new talent to use their commercial experience to springboard into other avenues of filmmaking. Ridley Scott, David Fincher and Zack Snyder all begin their careers in commercials; it is the one area of the industry where directors can start to build a reputation in directing.  

Commercials are made in collaboration with the creative agencies who represent the brand or product being sold. The creative agency conceives the strategy which can be applied to broadcast and online commercials. Often, if the budget is there, a commercial will be shot over a longer period, with two or three versions edited from the material. The 30-second broadcast commercial, and a longer 60-second or 2 minute commercial for online content. With advertising revenue down and the shift toward engaging audiences using branded content on the web, some commercial production companies have built in or merged with creative agencies.  

As companies diversify, you may find commercials companies advertising a service known as direct response TV. This is a form of branded advertising that asks the viewer to become engaged straight way by calling to donate or visiting a website. Charities, business and DRTV commercial production companies work hand in hand to compelling powerful campaigns either in short or long form.  DRTV is a very specialised area of the industry, combining strategic marketing and creative innovation.

who makes commercials?

There are many production companies in the US that have been formed with the sole purpose of making commercials. Corporate video companies also make commercials, they are usually the online variety or branded content/infomercials that can be found online or playing on in-store monitors.

how much does it cost to make a commercial?

Commercials are made to fit all budgets. The higher end of the spectrum can see thousands, if not millions of pounds/dollars going on 30 seconds of screen time. While smaller production companies can keep overheads and costs down for clients producing commercials for more modest sums. Often these companies will be working on other areas of production, such as corporate videos or music promos. If you are engaged as a production assistant at one of the smaller companies, the more likely it is you will be working on set and the office. 

how long does it take to make a commercial?

Commercials can be shot in anything for a day to a week if shooting in multiple or foreign locations. Unlike film sets commercial sets work very quickly, time is of the essence, but each shot has to look exactly right.

what crew are involved on a commercial?

On a commercial with a good budget you will most likely see all the usual suspects you would find on a feature film, on smaller productions many of these roles may not be present and the post production can be accomplished in-house.

  • Director 

  • Producer 

  • Production manager 

  • Production coordinator 

  • Production assistant 

  • Office manager 

  • Exec producer 

  • Head of production 

  • Sales team 

  • Treatment writer 

  • Picture researcher

Principle photography.
  • Director 

  • Producer 

  • Production manager 

  • Production coordinator 

  • AD Department including runners 

  • Camera Department 

  • Playback 

  • Grip Department 

  • Electrical/Lighting Department 

  • Sound Department (if sync sound) 

  • Art Department 

  • Makeup Department 

  • Costume Department 

  • SFX 

  • Members of the creative agency.

  • Post-production supervisor 

  • Post-production coordinator 

  • Post-production assistant 

  • Editor 

  • 1st assistant editor 

  • 2nd assistant editor 

  • Sound design supervisor

  • Sound editor 

  • Music supervisor 

  • Music editor 

  • VFX supervisor 

  • VFX producer

Who hires the crew on a commercial?

Production managers will be responsible for recruiting and negotiating with freelance crew. Set PA positions can be hired through the ADs as well as production managers depending on the type of project.   

where do i find these jobs?

Alongside the opportunities listed on MFJF, you can look at Production Hub and see which companies in your area make commercials.

what experience do i need to work on commercials?

A multinational brand's advertising spend is going to be large unless of course, you’re Bentley, who made an online commercial in 2015 filmed on iPhones and edited on an iPad in the back of a Bentley that evening. The majority of the big brands are going to be looking to work with notable directors, the bigger the budget, the greater the pressure and responsibility for the production company; so when it comes to the shoot they are going to want to populate the set with an experienced crew. Members of crew working in commercials can be found working on feature films, slotting in the odd commercial in between. If you’re a member of crew your best way onto a big-budget commercial is to have worked in the industry for a few years, having some feature film work under your belt. Commercials do come in all shapes and sizes, however, and more modest productions made by smaller production companies can have in-house PA's out on jobs and use crew that work across corporate or TV.

If you wish to work in a production company and have a resume that lacks any work experience, internships can be extremely helpful. The advertising world is very specialised, so you will want to display a clear commitment to this side of the industry. With some work experience under your belt, you can begin to feel more confident when applying for jobs, being able to demonstrate you understand the role of the production company in the commercial making process. When you are stage 3 of your plan, where you have been working in the industry for three or more years, you can look to the Established website for job opportunities