There was a time, not so long ago – where the collective belief in promoting yourself as an actor was this; “If I offer up a headshot of myself dressed in every conceivable scenario, they will see me as the veritable chameleon that I am. After all, the Casting Director couldn’t possibly imagine me in a cowboy hat. I’ll need to get one… well two actually – one white and one black, I can play good guys and bad guys.”
Many a young actor fell for this mindset, and I was one of them. So, armed with my credit card (and a headshot photographer who, in retrospect, appeared to have a lot of free time) I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a marathon shoot that was the photographic equivalent of The United States of Tara.
I had the Mobster look. I had the Attorney look. I had the Reformed-Mobster-Who Studied-Law-In-The-Joint-And-Became-An-Attorney look. I had Young Dad. I had Old College Student. Izod-clad East Coaster. Flannel-Clad Lumberjack. Bespectacled Nerd. And just to make sure I covered the trade show/industrial market, I had TWO shots in a lab coat, with and without stethoscope.
“If you thumbed through my headshots quickly, a sort of surreal ‘flip book’ effect was achieved…”
This being back in the day when we actually printed our photos, I did just that. Yes, every one of them. If you thumbed through my stack of headshots quickly, a sort of surreal “flip book” effect was achieved. My face pretty much stayed the same with everything around it changing, resulting in a creepy animation that seemed to chronicle one man’s journey from Optimistic College Student to Bi-Curious Cinnabon Night Manager.
Yet, if you peruse various actor and casting websites you will still see many examples of this more is more mentality. So, of course there has to be some merit to showing your versatility, right?
“Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true,” says Gary Marsh, President and Founder of Breakdown Services, the parent company of Actor’s Access. “Through the headshot, actors are marketing themselves. A strong, confident actor will know who they are and how to sell themselves for roles. Twenty different headshots tells a Casting Director; “I don’t know who I am, or what I do well.”
“At the end of the day, actors are storytellers and they need to know what stories they tell well. Imagine Apple having twenty different logos – we’d have no concept of what Apple was.”
Thom Goff, who heads Breakdown Services’ New York office concurs. “Every picture you use needs to show your personality, or what you are marketing to the casting director. If your forte is comedy, you don’t need a serious, dark photo. If you have a half dozen pictures in different outfits but the look on your face is the same, you only need one of them. Each picture needs a reason to be in your profile and show a part of you that is marketable.”
The issue is not only marketing, but also monetary.
“It’s unnecessarily expensive…” says Marsh. “The lengthy session, the cost of printing the shots, posting them online – it’s a lot to spend on something that, in my opinion, hinders your chances far more than it helps.”
So, what’s the magic number, then? Marsh recommends a serious/dramatic shot, a warm/inviting shot and potentially one or two character shots if one identifies as a character actor.
Although online submissions have made the cost of promotion less of a burden for the working actor, I do find myself pining for those simpler times. I stumbled across an artifact from the pre-digital days recently and shared it with my wife.
“What’s that?” she said.
“The comp sheet from a headshot session in the early 90’s.”
“How’d these work out for you?”
“Not too good.”
“That’s odd. These would have been great. You know, if you ever did that solo show where you play all of The Village People.”