"Who am I anyway? Am I my résumé? That is a picture of a person I don't know."
Those well-known lines from A Chorus Line may have become a cliché over time, but what actor hasn't experienced the painful reality of submitting a picture and résumé and not knowing how someone would react? We showed four professionals in the industry -- three casting directors and an agent -- pictures and résumés that you submitted to Back Stage and asked them to give us their quick first impressions.
On this occasion we talked to Erica Jensen, Stacy Baer, Todd Thaler, and Arnold Mungioli. Jensen is a casting associate at James Calleri Casting, which casts films, television, and theatre; she currently works on the ABC series Hope & Faith. Baer is an agent with Leading Artists Agency, a boutique-size firm, and she represents mostly theatre-trained actors for film, television, and theatre. Thaler, of Todd Thaler Casting, casts film and television, working mostly on independent, low-budget projects based in New York; he recently completed work on a studio production, Perfect Stranger, starring Bruce Willis and Halle Berry. Mungioli has been in the business for 27 years and has worked as the head of casting for both Livent and Disney Theatrical Productions. He has run his own company, Mungioli Theatricals, for the past five years and casts primarily theatre but also television and film. His current projects include casting for the Actors Theatre of Louisville, a new (as yet untitled) Richard Maltby, Jr. musical, an avant-garde project for P.S. 122 titled Hell, and the ongoing show Jewtopia, which is shortly going into its fourth company.
Here's Looking at You, Kid
Here's what our panel has to say about your individual headshots and résumés. Bear in mind, these are quick impressions and purely subjective. You might find diametrically opposed responses to the same photo. As Thaler points out, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor" when it comes to looking at actors' photos. "Any headshot you pick or someone recommends," he adds, "means there's a 50-50 chance that it will be disliked." Mungioli explains, "We're all hired for our individual taste. That's why there are more than one of us that a producer can choose from."
Jensen: This looks like a high school yearbook. Getting started is fine -- everyone has to learn and there's nothing wrong with just having school credits -- but in this case it would be tough for me, being here in New York and having access to lots of young people, to seriously consider calling her in to an audition. But you do have to start somewhere.
Baer: She should take off half of what's on this résumé -- like Long Lake Camp. This should be a tiny little résumé, all about her training and skills and one or two credits. It doesn't matter that the name is not on the photo, but if you don't have an agent, I would definitely put the name on the photo.
Thaler: This looks to me like the entry-level headshot. And the smile makes it seem all that much more like posing for a high school photograph. It has become industry standard almost to have the name on the photo, and this is not an 8-by-10.
Mungioli: I like that she's smiling, but she doesn't look completely comfortable. It looks more like a high school portrait. This is an 81⁄2-by-11, and it'll get squished in a file. She needs to double-space between the categories on the résumé, as opposed to double-spacing between every theatre credit. I don't understand the Romeo and Juliet credit, which says "(scene)." There's a lot of density under training and special skills.
Jensen: I like her smile and I like her eyes, but it looks a little too white. The type [on her résumé] is really small and hard to read.
Baer: It's fine, but I think it's time to get an updated picture. The print on the résumé is really awful to read. Some of the credits are really old -- that Fiddler was done ages ago -- but that's fine. Maybe she can take out her one-woman cabaret show if she wants.
Thaler: There is just so much attitude with the holding of the sweater slung over the shoulder. It's like a picture that should be in a magazine rather than the picture to use as your headshot. I prefer the least amount of behavior or attitude, just repose.
Mungioli: I don't need to know about her sweater; it's just so distracting. Honestly, when I look at this picture, I look at her fingers and how they're posed and I don't look at her face at all.
The résumé is a little hard to read because it's blurry and looks like a copy of a copy of a copy, especially the tiny print of her stats and the contact information. It's important that contact information is clear and legible. [Under] theatre, she separates out classical, which leads me to believe that she sees herself more as a classical performer, which is okay as long as she can deliver that. She separates her tours and her cabaret, which is also fine because she has a few credits in each one. It's photocopied crooked, but other than that, the information is well presented.
Jensen: I don't know that the background is necessarily serving her well. Her eyes look like there's something going on there, but it's just not the best framing for her. The résumé is readable. She's a dancer, obviously, and that's fine.
Baer: This is not my favorite, but I get personality from this. I don't love the black border, but that's fine. She has a chorus/theme park résumé here, which is not helpful for my purposes, but that's what she's done. As long as she wants to be a dancer, this is a perfectly fine résumé. I would take out the cruise ship because there's no point.
Thaler: This [photo] looks a little overproduced, overmanaged. The photographer has too much to say about the pose and looking over the shoulder. She's a pretty girl and I would rather see her just listening rather than reacting to something.
Mungioli: It's overexposed on the left-hand side in a way that's not servicing her well. She is very interested in showing me her nice diamond stud earring, and she's giving me her shoulder. I also have a lot of border and not a lot of Stacey. She has dance/theatre first [on her résumé], which tells me she's a dancer, and it looks like from her credits that's what she is, so I think that's fair. "Urban Rush Television" -- I don't know what that means. I think it's a reasonable résumé.
Jensen: Her picture is okay. I think this is definitely a case where she can narrow the credits on the résumé down a bit. We don't need to see all the Theatre Guild of Webster Grove credits -- pick and choose your best.
Baer: This is fine but the quality is not fantastic. There's too much on the résumé. The Theatre Guild of Webster Grove -- I think that's a local community theatre and she can leave it off. Commercial, radio, and television -- all of that can go. It'll be a lot easier to read and there are some really interesting credits on here.
Thaler: I like it, despite the smile. It seems like she'll look like that when she gets here. There's too much on the résumé. She lists having been in Bye Bye Birdie twice. She could have mentioned the radio shows without listing them individually.
Mungioli: Get her hand out of her hair! You have a lot of unnecessary shirt, and the arm in this picture, which distracts from the face.
[On the resume] I don't think we need "Actress" -- we know that. I don't think "commercial/industrials/voiceovers" is necessary; you can say it's available upon request. Theatre Guild of Webster Grove -- that tells me that she's done a lot of work at this place and it tells me that she's worked with a few different directors there, which is useful. The fact is, I don't know these directors, so it's not going to make a significant difference; however, it doesn't work to her detriment either. The information is clean.
Michael J. Lair
Jensen: Too white and washed-out looking and a little too flat, but from his face I get a sense of who he is.
Baer: I've seen a lot of old-fashioned résumés where everything is in paragraphs like this. He's got feature films -- great. For my purposes, I don't need to know what vehicles he owns or his availability.
Thaler: [The headshot] looks like it's from a corporate catalog. Even if there is a greater likelihood that he would be considered for the suit-and-tie guy, I just don't think, for the purpose of the headshot, that this kind of photograph is helpful.
Mungioli: The photography-studio marbled background and the exposure of the photograph, which is around the same as his skin tone, I think, really do him a disservice. I also generally don't need to see people in a jacket and tie. We're not that formal a business.
The mailing address is unnecessary. He gives a bit too much prominence to height, weight, hair, and eyes. He can space out the credits better. I would say it's time to make an update on the résumé format. The old format doesn't work because of the amount of time needed to read it, and it doesn't give me what I need to know. "Vehicles": That's for extra work. "Availability": It's assumed that an actor's availability is anytime, and it's assumed that short notice is fine and that you're flexible. If not, you'll tell us.
Michele Athena Morgan
Jensen: This is a good example of someone who didn't touch up the eyes and around the mouth. I like that. It gives a sense of age. I'm not always looking for 17-year-olds -- rarely, actually. It looks like she has very dark hair, so it would be nice to see her wearing something lighter, because it all blends into one. The angle is also a little bit strange for me.
Baer: I don't know really what she's trying to say here. The stuff she did in L.A. and Chicago looks interesting, but the stuff she did in community theatre I would take off.
Thaler: There's a bit of behavior [in her photo] -- that sort of leaning over the shoulder -- but I like the off-center thing. I bet there are some other photos from this session that I would prefer. The thing about headshots is that you should pick the one that best represents you. This looks a little pinched.
Mungioli: There's more space than there is Michele Athena, which gives us the sense that she's moving out of the way for every chorus girl in the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes to be put in front of her. Even her body language is leaning herself way out of the picture. The résumé format is fine.
Jensen: Now, there's saying something. It looks like he's coming up from somewhere. I don't know, he could probably do better.
Baer: Without having him in the room, I don't know what he's going for, but it's fine. He looks like an indie film kind of guy.
Thaler: It has a darkness, a little attitude -- if you're going to do stuff with stubble and your hair is perfectly spiked and moussed. There's also something that makes me wonder about this guy from this headshot, but I don't necessarily know if he's one that I would automatically save just by looking at it.
Mungioli: I don't like the stone thing because he's not dressed in a way that he's mountain climbing. The sort of leaning under the big rock doesn't work for me at all. The hair seems a little bit fixed in a way that's not natural, and I'm not sure he's going to have the unshaven quality when he actually walks in the room. Because of the angle of looking up, it's a little mean looking. The information on the résumé is easy to read and easy to absorb, so I'm fine with that.
Jensen: There's not enough detail. You can barely see her nose; it's kind of gone away. But she has a nice smile and her eyes look very nice.
Baer: This is fine. I would take out the dates of the theatre credits. Oh, and also take out the year you graduated from college. If people think she's 20 for the next four years, that's fine.
Thaler: Sometimes I like a full frame, but this feels just a little too close. I like that there's some definition -- you can see some freckles. That's a plus.
Mungioli: It's not a great picture because of the shadow on the right-hand side from her hair and the lighting, and the way the bright light overexposes her on the left-hand side. The white shirt is not helping her in that lighting. I want to know where you worked, not just who directed. I don't need the year in which the things were done because, in this business, you might not work for four years but you might have great credits. However, I do like to have the year of graduation because it helps me to retrieve any notes I made easily.
Ruth Maria Nicholas
Jensen: Now, this one I like. I was immediately drawn to her face and I get a sense of personality. I like what she's wearing; she looks really comfortable and not intimidated by the camera at all. Her picture on the résumé communicates a different, softer look, even though she's wearing the same thing.
Baer: Now, that's certainly an interesting picture. The knees don't bother me, but I don't love that she crosses her arms, because it implies that she's uneasy with her body. The picture on the résumé is a much better shot. And she's got interesting credits -- that's fine.
Thaler: This I like. She's in repose, her hair is pulled back off her face, and she has beautiful features. You could say she's holding something back or hiding something, but I don't think it changes what I feel about the headshot. And there's something relaxed and casual sitting with your legs hugged to your chest.
Mungioli: Could she put up more defenses or create more of a barrier between me as the observer and herself in this picture? Her arms are crossed over her legs and she's completely closed off her entire body. She's also looking very serious and somber and very directly, almost in a confrontational way. I think this is a very dangerous kind of headshot, because it tells me the actor has no availability, which I'm sure is not the message she means to send. Technically, weight is "lbs" not "lb" -- details, details! She mentions a valid green card, which is useful to specify because she points out she has Australian and British passports. I don't really know what VCA and MSU stand for, so she needs to spell that out.
Jensen: It's not my favorite. It looks like her arm has gone. Some of her hair has disappeared too. But aside from that, you do see her face. Her résumé is readable.
Baer: The picture is fine, but I bet she's a much prettier person. On her résumé, Fordham University Theatre stands out, and it shouldn't. I don't think that you have to fill a page; it just gets distracting. I want to focus on the credits that really matter.
Thaler: I don't want to go on record saying you should be attitude-less, but there is a little come-hither thing with the chin down in this picture. But I like it.
Mungioli: The picture is so overexposed in the background and she has such a dark top on, it looks like she's floating freely without arms. She looks suspicious and perhaps a little angry, certainly not welcoming. The outdoor thing isn't helping her because the light filtering through her hair is competing with her face.
The name of the website is a little confusing because it doesn't have her name. Do I have to go there and look for her? She separates out Fordham University Theatre, which is fine, but she could have also put it in [the rest of the credits] as "Mainstage or Studio, Fordham University Theatre," so that it doesn't jump out at me. It needs to be as easily readable as possible so I can just look at it and absorb what's in it and move on to the next picture.
Jensen: With what she's decided to wear -- her jewelry -- clearly she's telling us who she is. Now, if that's how she wants to be cast -- classy, upscale, sophisticated -- that's great. But it also can be limiting, and she needs to think about that. Her résumé is hard to read because it's a little bit light. I don't know that her credits match her picture either.
Baer: Well, if you're going to do the beauty mom, then this is a good shot. I can't read the résumé; the print is awful. I would rather see a good student film on a résumé than I would extra work. And she could take out the "Other" work.
Thaler: It looks like an advertisement for the earrings or the wardrobe as opposed to the selling tool for the person underneath all of that. It's over-made-up, over-coiffed, over-wardrobed, over-jewellried -- it seems like it was taken for a catalog and then used as a headshot.
Mungioli: The hand leaning on the face, the bracelet, is distracting from the purpose of her headshot. I can't read [the résumé] because the reproduction is way too light. "Hair (spunky and feisty)," "Dance: a singer who moves" -- that's cute; it doesn't bother me at all. Obviously, I'm going to call her in more as a singing, musical theatre type, if I'm able to read any of this.
Jensen: The background is a little overpowering and she's almost blending in. From what she's wearing, I get a kind of a tomboyish feel from her. I don't like the font she uses in her résumé.
Baer: This is okay, but it's a little busy with the wall. [The résumé] -- that's bad: the print, the handwriting. She has some decent theatre credits, I think, but it's just put so poorly.
Thaler: It seems self-conscious and not comfortable. It almost looks like too much bricks and not enough person.
Mungioli: This is a terrifying picture because it looks like she was found in some catacombs in Argentina. I think it's a huge mistake. It's an example of how the background can become what the picture is about instead of the headshot aspect of it.
The Chorus Line credit pushes the columns out of justification; so does the Symphony Space credit. She has only one phone number. You would be amazed at the number of times I've tried to contact an actor from a picture and the phone number is disconnected, and because there's no other information, it goes in the garbage and they lose a job. She needs more contact information -- or she needs to never change that phone number as long as she lives. The categories are in the same font and boldness as the credits, so it melds together in a way that makes it not easily readable.
Jensen: It would be nice to see more of her face, actually.
Baer: The smile is a little forced, but it's a cute picture. She's done some indies and some Columbia U. films, which is fine, and some decent theatre.
Thaler: I like it because the smile seems genuine and does seem like this is who she is, a generally happy, perky, fun person. Hopefully, we have imaginations and we can see beyond, but my concern about these kinds of shots is that she might be discounted for the more dramatic and more serious roles. Going by her résumé, she's got conservatory training and can probably do drama just as readily as something light or comedic, but someone who's looking for the darker side might say, "Too perky, too smiley."
Mungioli: I'm looking at the street and I'm wondering what those lovely reflections are -- if they're windows or if we're in some kind of a tunnel on Riverside Drive with the arches and light patterns -- and my mind goes into this stream and I don't see her at all. She's also actually leaning out of the way so that we can get a good view of the arch light patterns.
She has no stats whatever on her résumé. Hair, eyes, weight would help because I've just spent a minute looking at light patterns and I have no idea that she looks like.
Jensen: The face is nice, but the gray and gray is kind of old-style.
Baer: Old-fashioned but fine. He's got his suit size on his résumé, which we don't need. Commercial people may need it. But anything he puts on from now will be new.
Thaler: You see something like this and it makes you miss borders. I'm not a stickler for any one type, but this picture seems to be crying out for one. I like the casual aspect of it, that he hasn't dyed his hair or retouched his smile lines. Still, I just prefer a repose picture more than I do the cheerful, toothy picture.
Mungioli: If he was showing off the sweater as a model shot, it's great, but it detracts from him. It also gives a somewhat suburban, somewhat fixing-up-the-house, handyman sensibility, none of which he wants to present in a headshot.
Get the address off the résumé. "Vital Statistics: jacket, shirt" -- all of that information is useful for print modeling and commercials. It doesn't harm a professional résumé, but it makes me think you do more of your work print modeling than you do acting. The résumé is who you are and what you do, and that's fine. If you have no other experience, extra work tells me that there's commitment -- that you're willing to get up early in the morning and show up. But for me, I don't cast extras, so it's not helpful. He doesn't use a three-column format, which makes it more difficult to read, and he has some of his titles in quotes and some not, so it's not consistent.
Jensen: It's very dramatic. It's a little too gray and I feel her hair could be styled a little bit better. At the same time, maybe that's what she's trying to communicate.
Baer: That's an interesting picture: indie girl. Looking at her résumé, Gertrude at La MaMa -- that makes sense right there. There's a credit here from college which would have meant nothing to me, so she was smart to include that the director was Melia Bensussen, who directs all over New York. I would say take out the other school credits.
Thaler: Strange. With the very flat gray, it has a kind of alien quality. She has very dark eyes. But it's actually an interesting picture and it's given me pause. It has an ethereal, otherworldly quality. She's done a lot of theatre and conservatory work. I'd be curious to meet her, but would she live up to the photo?
Mungioli: She's walking out of the picture frame. She's given herself maybe 6 square inches of space out of 80 square inches of paper. The hair looks a little bit unkempt in the way it photographs, which is not to say it might not be lovely in person. She's separated her theatre credits as "New York" and "Other," which doesn't bother me. It doesn't add or help, either.