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?
Before they even consider your resume and experience something about your picture must grab their attention.Too many actors have pictures that would look great on their familyʼs piano or mantlepiece. Very few of those 8X10ʼs would get an actor entrance into an agent or casting directorʼs ofﬁce.
Indeed, if you are attractive itʼs 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 was coaching a very talented and quite beautiful young actress. Her 8×10 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 ʻgirl next doorʼ look was more popular than her glamour shot.
I had another student, a talented comedic actress in her late sixties. The picture she sent to casting directors was taken twenty years prior and made her look another ten years younger. In addition it showed her in a provocative pose. Can you imagine the astonishment felt by the casting director when expecting a sexy forty year old woman and my nearly seventy year old student walked through the door? Try as I may I couldnʼt get her to take another picture that represented what she actually looked like. The real shame was she missed out on all the projects for which she could have been cast.
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 the ﬁrst thing they will tell you is they want for 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. Look like you! Youʼre the product being sold. You donʼt submit a picture of a ruby then go in as 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 didnʼt send them a picture.
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, there attractiveness brings us to the product. Actors, on the other hand, sell stories. They sell stories in which we, the audience, can identify.
Donʼt allow the photographer to over light you or to airbrush the humanity from your picture. If you have laugh lines, freckles or beauty marks, a bump on your nose, they make a statement. If you donʼt 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.
It is unfortunate but the Industry is not consistent with the kind 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 head shot or a three quarter shot? Itʼs 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 donʼt have an agent/manager you will have to decide for yourself.
Does your picture have the essence of who you are?
When I look at your picture can I get a feel for the person you are? Your principal
picture should capture these qualities. An open and available personality can play an
important part in your principal photo especially if you are looking for an agent.
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. Youʼve 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 8×10? 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.
I have put the emphasis on your primary headshot. In this day and age I believe you
need speciﬁed photos as well. That doesnʼt mean you don a doctors coat and wear a
stethoscope around your neck, hence you are a doctor. No, it means if you wish to play
villains you surface those qualities in yourself for the shoot. For the beginning actor
these photos should be obtained after you have an agent or manager. They will be the
ones who will decide which pictures should be submitted for what roles.
Follow you instincts but be sure to listen to the advice of others. I had a student who
really wanted to be considered for action ﬁlms like Tom Cruise. He believed that
because Tom Cruise was short he too had a shot at playing the hero. He was 5 feet 6
inches and I am being generous. I explained to my student that Tom Cruise had earned the roles of action hero after he had established himself in the Industry.
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 the clients of your gender. Many photographers work better with one gender than the other. Bring the following list with you and judge the photos you see with the following criterions:
- If you were an agent would you want to see this person?
- Is there something about this actor thatʼs sets him/her apart from actors of the same type?
- Are the eyes alive and speaking?
- Is there a speciﬁc charisma?
- A conﬁdence?
- 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 background?)
Remember your picture is your calling card in this business. Make sure it is the best introduction of you possible.