Agents receive a minimum of 350 pictures a week. Casting Directors
the same unless they are casting a project then the total could be a
thousand or more. What is going to make these business savvy
professionals stop as they flip through these hundreds of photos and
consider your picture? (All this is true when they search online.)
Before they even consider your resume and experience, something about
your picture must grab their attention. That is the million dollar
question. Actually, it is a multimillion dollar question that can
change your life.
Know the product you are selling!
Too many actors have pictures that will look great on their family’s
piano or mantlepiece. Very few of those 8X10’s would get an actor
entrance into an agent or casting director’s office. Indeed, if you
are attractive it’s an advantage in this business. Everybody likes to
look at a pretty or handsome face. All the same, being attractive is
not enough, unless your looks are extraordinary. Even then you better
have the talent to back up your looks.
I had a student of whom I was extremely fond. She was a talented
comedic actress in her late sixties. The picture she sent to casting
directors was taken twenty years prior and made her look an additional
ten years younger. In addition it showed her in a provocative pose.
Can you imagine the astonishment of a casting director when expecting
a sexy forty year old and a nearly seventy year old actress walks
through the door? Try as I may I couldn’t get her to take another
picture that represented what she truly looked like. The real shame
is she missed out on all the projects for which she could have been
I realize she is an extreme example of self delusion. She saw herself
as this young sexy woman. Nevertheless, she represents, to a lesser
degree, many actors. Ask any Agent or Casting Director what they want
from a picture they will tell you they want the picture to look like
the person who walks through the door of their office.
You can type yourself out of work by having pictures that illustrate
how you wished you looked or how you believe the Industry wants you to
look. I repeat myself. Look like you! You’re the product being
sold. You don’t submit a picture of a ruby then submit a diamond.
They are expecting a ruby when you walk through the door. The office
down the hall may be looking for a diamond but you didn’t send them a
What else are they looking for in a picture?
A real person! Models sell products. The more beautiful and/or
glamorous the model the more the eye is drawn to the ad. Hence, their
attractiveness brings us to the product. Actors, on the other hand,
sell stories. They sell stories in which the audience can identify.
I was coaching a very talented and quite beautiful young actress. Her
8X10 was glamorous and looked very much like this young woman. I
asked her how often she was submitted for projects. She said at least
once or twice a week. I suggested she get another headshot with very
little makeup and her hair as casual as she was wearing it at our
session. She took my advice. Almost immediately her auditioning
quadrupled. Her ‘girl next door look was more popular than her
What manner of picture does the Industry want?
It is unfortunate but the Industry is not consistent with the manner
of picture they are looking for at any given time. Do they want
borders, or without borders? Do they want black and white or a color
shot? Do they want a headshot or a three quarter shot? It’s hard to
know what is the current vogue. If you have an agent or manager they
will advise you as to what is the popular craze. All the same, if you
don’t have an agent/manager you will have to decide for yourself.
Just know you can’t go wrong with a powerful headshot.
Don’t allow a photographer to airbrush the humanity from your picture.
Over lighting on a shoot can have the same effect. If you have laugh
lines, freckles or beauty marks, a bump on your nose, they make a
statement. If you don’t like the statement they make then have it
corrected by a plastic surgeon. When you walk into an office they
want to see you warts and all. If you had a pimple the day of your
photo shoot, or there was a strand of hair out of place, yes that
should be airbrushed away. Those are temporary imperfection that will
most likely disappear before any Industry appointment is made.
Does your picture have the essence of who you are?
Does your picture embody the person you are? Your principal picture
should capture the qualities that represent your persona.
The eyes have it. If there is one feature that should be prominent it
is your eyes. It is the first thing the Industry looks at when they
receive you photo. You’ve heard the expression, “The eyes are the
windows of the soul.” In the Industries mind the eyes are an
introduction to the potentials of the actor. How alive are your eyes
in you 8X10? Are they rich with thought? Are they alive with
passion? Can you feel the energy flowing from them? Or do they lie
flat on the page? The more specific the eyes the more response you
will receive from the Industry. A final note regarding your principal
photo. How open and available you appear in your principal photo can
play an important role, especially when looking for an agent.
I have put the emphasis on your primary headshot. In this day and age
I believe you may need additional specified photos. (To often
photographers will encourage actors to have shots where they dress in
costumes portraying different profession i.e. policemen, doctors, and
nurses. If you see these pictures in a photographers book, leave.)
What I mean is if you wish to play villains surface the qualities
needed for the shoot. This should not concern the beginning actor.
For the beginning actor additional photos should be obtained after you
have an agent or manager.
Follow your instincts but be sure to listen to the advice of others.
I had a student who really wanted to be considered for action films.
He believed that because one of the most popular actors of that genre,
Tom Cruise, was short he too had a shot at playing the hero. My
student was 5 feet 6 inches and I am being generous. He had the face
of a cherub. A thirteen year old cherub. This young man let his
beard grow for a few days, and scowled furiously while his picture
was being taken. The result was a dirty faced cherub who someone had
just punished and told to wash his face. I explained to this student
that Tom Cruise had earned the role of action hero after he had
established himself in the Industry.
Make a list!
When you are looking for a photographer ask to see their book. All
reputable photographers have a book of past clients. Look at the
photos of someone of your sex. Some photographers work best with
people of their own sex, some with people of the opposite sex, and a
few with both sexes. Bring the following list with you and judge the
photos you see with the following criterion:
If you were an agent would you want to see this actor in person?
Is there something about these actors that sets them apart from actors
of the same type?
Are the eyes alive and speaking?
Is there a specific charisma?
A no-nonsense demeanor?
Is there energy and/or passion?
Is the photo inviting, intriguing, or memorable in any way?
Is the photo selling the product, (the actor) in a specific way?
Is this someone worth calling in for an audition?
Are you distracted by anything other than the actor in the photo?
(Busy clothes, too much makeup and hair, poor lighting, or busy
Remember your picture is your calling card in this business. Make
sure it is the best introduction of you possible.
My success wishes are always with you.
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