Let me tell you a story. About a year ago, my writing partner and I were casting for a short film we wrote. We posted notices for two roles on five of the major casting sites in L.A. and received close to 450 responses.
A lot of the submissions had demo reels that needed to be watched so we could narrow down who we actually wanted to call in to read. We wanted to filter out the bad actors from the good.
Now, because of certain time constraints, we soon realized that we were not going to be able to sort through every single submission and we needed a way to quickly separate the good from the bad.
We began to notice a pattern.
The actors whose headshots looked professional and were up to date because they were shot by a professional headshot photographer were also the better actors based on their reels. The actors whose headshots looked out of date and/or looked like they were shot by their roommates (or worse, some random dude walking by on the street) turned out not to be the better actors. And, quite frankly, we received some submissions that were so god-awful bad and cheesy we thought someone was playing a joke on us (Unfortunately that was not the case. What some people are thinking I have no idea.)
The point is, we finally decided to skip over the submissions whose headshots didn’t look professional; we made the assumption that those people would continue to fall into the pattern of also having the weakest reels.
I would imagine a similar filtering process is used in the industry at a higher level. There are just more agencies, actors, and managers now than ever before and the flood of submissions must be daunting.
How you present yourself as an actor with up-to-date, professional headshots is vitally important because you’re sending a message to casting directors that you’re taking your craft and your career seriously. This alone will likely mean you make it past the first round of possible rejection. It’s like going on any job interview. You’re not going to show up in outdated clothes and hand over a resume you typed up on the ‘ole Smith-Corona typewriter. People aren’t going to take you seriously. They’ll sense something is off or downright strange.
You see, it’s really about trust. The people in power with the money want to be able to trust that you are a professional and that you know what you’re doing. A big part of that is how you present yourself as a professional actor. They need to trust you so that the project runs smoothly and they don’t end up spending more money than necessary...because of you.
Granted, this was a low-budget, non-union project so we weren’t exactly getting the cream of the crop from CAA or WME, but I’ll tell ya’... I’ve looked at enough legitimate agency’s client base to notice that this problem doesn’t just exist at the lower levels. Quite frankly, it was surprising to me. You’d think that if you transplanted yourself from somewhere across the country to come live in L.A. and pursue your dream of becoming a professional actor that the last place you’d want to compromise would be your headshot.
The more professional and captivating your headshot is, the more professional and captivating the people who are receiving it will assume you are. Of course, the opposite is also true.
You’re sending signals to potential agents, managers, and CDs with your headshot that can either elevate you or derail you unintentionally. Let them reject you based on the fact that even though you have a great headshot and had a great audition, they just needed someone taller or shorter—whatever the reason—and avoid getting rejected like so many of our submissions did because of poor-quality submissions that reflected poorly on the actor.
Charles Mitri is a Los Angeles-based headshot and portrait photographer who specializes in creating dramatic, moody images for actors and models. His work elicits emotions that are rarely felt from standard industry photography. He is also involved in creating his brand of stylized portraits that combine backgrounds shot separately with subjects shot in-studio, then composited together to create one of a kind artistic images. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing, yoga, swing dancing, tennis, and eating chocolate chip cookies.
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