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The Working Actor

How to Format Your Acting Résumé and Headshots

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How to Format Your Acting Résumé and Headshots
Photo Source: Britt Sanders

Dear Michael: I live in Phoenix now and plan to move to Los Angeles some time within the next year. I’ve had this question for the longest time, but no one seems to have an answer. I’ve been told that your acting résumé and headshots have to look a lot different in the big market than they do in my smaller market. Please share with me (and others) what a résumé and headshot should look like when submitting for jobs and representation in L.A. Thank you! —Airheaded in Arizona

Dear Airheaded in Arizona: This may sound a little snobby, but acting résumés and headshots that don’t adhere to the current forms simply scream, “I just got in from out of town!” to big-market agents and casting folk.

Here are the résumé basics. At the top: name, representation (or contact information if unrepresented), and union affiliations (if any). Next come credits, grouped into “Film and Television” and “Theater” (put your primary market first) followed by any special performing categories, such as “Hosting,” “Webisodes,” and so forth. Finally, sections for “Training” and “Special Skills.”

List individual credits in three columns, with project titles in the left column. Information in the middle and right columns varies with the medium. For on-camera credits, list the type of role—background, featured, supporting, principal—in the middle (character names won’t mean anything to casting people in terms of the information they’re looking for) and the production company, TV network, or website on the right. For theater, list the character name in the middle and the theater, company, or venue on the right. Don’t list names of directors or actors unless they’re recognizable outside of your city.

Now let’s talk headshots. Photographers in larger markets stay on top of the ever-changing trends. The “in” look has gone from glossy 8x10 borderless close-ups to bordered matte to color three-quarter body shots. Now, because of all the online casting using “thumbnail” images, we’re back to close-ups. It’s almost a certainty that an out-of-town headshot will seem off to a big-market casting director.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot to make a headshot really great, really bad, or simply dated in style,” says New York photographer Sean Turi. “I would say, in most cases, it is the latter that occurs when shooting with photographers outside of the New York and Los Angeles areas. Investing in quality headshots, within your targeted market, shows the rest of the industry that you care about what you do and that you take your career seriously.”

New York headshot photographer Rick Stockwell makes another point: “The smaller-market photographer may be a good shooter with good technical skills, but he is rarely knowledgeable about good headshot photography, because that specialty is something you can only make money at if you live in one of the entertainment capitals. There is a look to a headshot that is different from portraiture, which is how most of these guys in smaller cities are trained.”

Coming to the big city with your acting resume in appropriate shape will help you avoid being flagged as a newbie before you get in the room. “Remember,” says Turi, “you only get one shot to make a first impression. Make it count.” 

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