Talent frequently find themselves asking, “how much can I improv to change the script?” The answer is “it depends.”
Let’s start with the actor wanting to improv to make the script more his own. If the spot is not humorous at all, don’t change any of the copy just to be creative. Let your personality (your chosen attitude) do the work. Commercial scripts have been legally approved and have quick transitions. The transitions are usually written well to move it from a beginning, middle and end. You might just throw a word or a phrase in that interrupts the flow, and the transition does not work as well. You also might change something that was put in there to satisfy legal specifications. You don't want to be the talent involved in a breech of contract, so stick to the script and respect the boundaries you've been given!
The funnier the script, the more room there is to improv. On union productions, CDs have to adhere to SAG improv rules and be cautious that we don’t cross over the union guidelines. The SAG guidelines state “An ‘ad Lib’ or 'Creative Session Call' is a work call involving ad lib or improvisational performances where no script is provided, or when a principal performer is required to deviate substantially from a prepared script in a manner created or conceived by the principal performer or to invent situations which he/she performs. The principal performer shall be paid for such services”. This rule came into effect many years ago stemming from the complaint of some actors that something they “created” in an audition ended up in the final spot on air.
On a non-union set, however, there are no protections for creative or intellectual property a talent may use in an improv casting session. Here it is best to showcase your skills and personality rather than spend time rewriting the client's copy.
The conundrum arises, how does a casting director give you the best chance of showing how creative and funny you are reading someone else’s words. The answer is: When the script is high comedy, in order to really let out who you uniquely are, you want to make it your own and you can do that by changing more of the copy. We can’t come out and tell you to improv, but we can invite you to add your own unique comments to the copy to make it more of your own distinct performance. It is then your choice. Obviously the more you make it your own the more you are showing who you are.
When you know the situation is broad humor and we are looking for someone who is great at improv, go for your best audition and don't worry about someone stealing your material. Ad agency writers are hired by the ad agencies because they are good at what they do. They have big egos and as a rule, they are not looking for anyone else, such as yourself, to write their material.
Be true to your performance and what is best for your audition. Know your technique and with that knowledge, don’t limit yourself with worries, concerns and what if’s. Be the best you know how to be in the moment of auditioning!
What is the most confident you've felt after an improv audition? What choices did you make that made you feel confident?