The Business of Show Biz: Help with Headshot Hype
Thursday, May 08, 2014
By Velina Brown
Q: I get that since I'm an actor it's important for me to have a picture. But I still don't understand why I need to spend so much money on it instead of just having a friend take a picture of me. There's such a big deal made about this two-dimensional thing. It's not me and it's not who I am as an artist. Also, if I'm auditioning for someone who already knows me, then I shouldn't have to give them a picture, right? It's expensive to be an actor. I want to do what is necessary, but I don't want to run around focusing on things that have been exaggerated in their importance. Can you help me sort out what I really need from the hype about headshots?
Actor and career consultant Velina Brown
Yes, a headshot is the primary marketing tool for an actor. It is a necessity. Without it you are largely invisible. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. Here's why: anything you do to market yourself will rely largely on the quality of your pictures. When you register on casting sites, build your website, send out postcards or submit yourself for projects, you will need at least one very good picture. This "two-dimensional thing" is sometimes (often, in fact) the only representative in the room of your three-dimensional, multifaceted self. That picture is sometimes all you've got in the casting person's office pleading your case. So you'd better have one. And it had better be good.
What makes a good headshot?
First and foremost, it must look like you. You on a good day. You rested, nourished, hydrated and in a good mood.
But that doesn't mean glamorized. In other words, if you show someone your headshot and they exclaim, "Oh. My. God! You look amazing in this shot!," hang it on the wall for fun but don't use it as a headshot. It's a bad headshot because no one should be shocked and amazed by how you look in it. It should look like you. It should be a look that you can re-create for an audition in 15 or 20 minutes. Otherwise, the shot is probably overglamorized and misleading.
Next, the shot should help folks know how to cast you. I've seen a lot of pictures that show the actor in a light that doesn't match the vibe they present when you meet them. For example, if an actor is quirky and funny but their headshot presents them as this smokin'-hot babe because that's how their makeup artist wanted to style them or the photographer wanted to shoot them, they've got a bad headshot. It's bad because it's not representing the actor accurately. It's confusing. Remember a standard marketing adage: "The confused mind says no." You don't want your picture to communicate one thing and then, when you walk in the door, you're communicating another thing. You may think you're "covering your bases" when you're actually just confusing them. The point is to present your actual strengths at the photo shoot and capture them in the shot, so that you are called in for the right things and cast!
Can you have a friend take your headshot? Sure, if your friend is an excellent headshot photographer! Yearbook pictures, family portraits, wedding photos or great selfies on Facebook are not the same thing as a professional actor's headshot. Get a pro.
Do you need a picture even if the casting folks know you? Yes. For example, recently, I was helping run an audition at which an actor had forgotten her headshot. One of the auditors laughed and said, "Oh well, we know what you look like!" But once the actor finished what had been a good audition and departed, we promptly forgot all about her. Then we spread out the photos and mixed and matched them different ways to see which actors fit together the best. The actor with no headshot to represent her was gone, invisible.
After we'd put together a first draft of a cast it was decided that we should go home and sleep on it. Something was bothering all of us, but we couldn't put our finger on it. The next morning one of us woke up and emailed the rest of us, "Hey! What about Ms. No Photo!" We were all like, "Oh my gosh! That's right!" She was perfect for one of the roles and solved a lot of problems, but without a picture in the mix she completely disappeared and nearly lost the role. Scary.
A great picture will assist you in getting the opportunity to show who you are as an artist. If it's bad or nonexistent, you risk not even getting the chance.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.