The Actor Reads

The Actor Reads

The entertainment industry is chock full of professionals who are willing to share their stories and expertise with up-and-comers. Many casting directors, managers, agents and photographers have blogs and books that give actors keys to opening doors in Hollywood.

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Acting Zen

Acting Zen

 Los Angeles, and California in general, has a distinct reputation around the globe.  Angelinos are seen as health-conscious, image-conscious, self-helping liberals who start or quickly follow the latest dietary, fitness, or spiritual trends (and that’s one of the more diplomatic categorizations).

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Who Am I Anyway?

headshots los angeles shoot

Five Questions to help define who you are as an Artist

     So much of being an actor in Los Angeles is knowing your type.  When you know and embrace your type, you help casting directors do their jobs more efficiently.  But type is a sort of superficial category only a few layers deeper than skin and hair color.  And while knowing your type might help you land your next job, if you want to get to the nuts and bolts of what gives you longevity in Hollywood and what transitions you from day player to lead actor, you’ll need to delve into the more nuanced attributes that make you your own special and unique brand.  Knowing who you are as a performer is the difference between a working-class acting career and star-powered artistic success.

     As photographers, our jobs are convincing our subjects to reveal themselves, and the more sincerely our clients behave, the better the photos are.  So I’ve had a lot of conversations with actors over the years hoping to scratch at what makes them unique as an artist, what makes them special to the industry, and what makes them a commodity worth buying.

     Here’s a few questions that every actor should be able to answer, but I’m constantly amazed at how often the actors I shoot can’t answer these very simple ice breaker questions.  While there are so many conversations that happen in our studio, the following are the types of conversations that help define who you are as an artist and what makes you interesting and unique.  If you can’t answer these questions, you're neither interesting nor unique.  I love knowing what an artist connects with—what moves them and why.  It’s a way to see what creative wells they draw from.  So take a few minutes to see how well you know your place in the industry.  When you’ve reflected on your answers, think about whether or not you like the answers.  It’s okay to keep the answers evolving - it just means your artistry will evolve and become more robust as well.

     What are you watching?  While there are many ways to answer this question, there’s really only one wrong answer.  If you’re not watching anything, you’re not participating in the industry on the most basic level.  You’re not learning and you’re not able to picture yourself in the industry.  If you are wanting to act in the film and television industry, it’s important to know the industry you’re breaking into.  You should be able to talk about the current television season or films with Oscar buzz.  And you should be able to have something interesting to say about them.  You might also want to be watching classic films and TV shows.  Classics are what they are (in part) because of their talented casts.  Maybe you want to study a specific actor’s filmography, or re-watch a sitcom with an inspired cast.  You must have a sense of history if you want to make any of your own.

     What are you good at?  This shouldn’t be a hard question, but time after time I encounter artists who don’t really know where their talents are.  When you know what you’re good at, you show a great deal of confidence and when you have confidence in yourself, it’s easier for others to invest in you.  When you can openly share what your strengths are, it’s easier to communicate with everyone around you who are helping to get you to your goals, including your agents and managers, your photographers and of course your casting directors.  Don’t be shy and don’t be wishy-washy.  Define yourself as the actor you are and the actor you want to be.  Think about the roles you enjoy playing and examples of when you really shined as an actor, whether professionally or in your scene-study classes.  When you know yourself, you help others to know you.

     Who do you admire as an artist?  You should be watching performances that excite you and you should know why you get excited when watching these moments.  And when you actively watch and study great acting, it’s inevitable that you can learn from it, even if it’s only a sense of what is required for you to succeed in a role.  It’s important to have great talent to aspire to.  It’s important to recognize what great talent is.  If you can articulate why your favorite actor is a superior artist, then you’ve made your first step and discovering what is required for you to have an equally successful career.

     What are you’re long term goals?  If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll never get there.  It’s hard for an actor to have an endgame, when so much of the time is spent hustling for work.  It’s important to remember what you want to do and not just what you’re willing to do.  What you want to do will drive you to become better than you currently are.  It will keep you motivated and you might even start creating that work on your own and not waiting for it to magically arrive.  Having a strong sense of what’s going to keep you happy as an artist will keep your passion alive and keep the drama in the script and out of your personal headspace.

     What made you want to be an artist?  Frankly, after answering the other questions, this one should be a cinch.  Being an actor in Hollywood can be a real struggle at times.  It’s important to remember why you started down this path, so you can manage the disappointments that happen along the way.  Every artist knows that moment when they knew their fate was sealed.  It’s important to think about why that moment was so moving to you and if it continues to drive you today.  And if the reason you're pursuing an acting career is superficial (i.e. the fame or the money), chances are your career will be superficial as well.

     You are a unique spirit with a unique talent, and the better you can define yourself as an artist, the greater your chances to communicate your brand of entertainment to your team, your colleagues, and most importantly your audience. 

Wardrobe Choices for Young Actors

What clothing to bring to your child’s headshot session

     “What should I wear in my headshots?”  It’s the most common question we get.  And depending who you ask, you’re likely to get a a variety of answers.    Wardrobe can really make or break a shoot, so do yourself and your child actor a favor and plan ahead.  With a little preparation, you can give your child the edge—successful photoshoots begin long before you arrive at the studio.  If you assemble and bring the right clothing, your photos will be a step above the competition resulting in more auditions, more opportunity, and ultimately more work.

     As I’ve said in previous blog posts like Submission Specificsa great way to start preparing for your photoshoot is to talk to your child’s agent.  Your agent will have a very clear idea of how your child fits into the industry and what kinds of looks and styling will be most useful in getting them called in to meet casting directors.  Before you book your photo session, talk with your agents and managers.  If you don’t have the right clothing in your closet, you may need to make a trip to the mall to get just the right styles to fit into Hollywood.

     There are two types of agencies/managers in Los Angeles.  Usually the largest agencies with huge client rosters are less specific with your child’s submissions.  These agencies usually want one catch-all commercial shot and one catch-all theatrical shot.  So the goal is two complimentary outfits—one shot that is more commercial in tone and one shot that is more theatrical or serious in tone.  In some ways, this might make your job as your child’s stylist a lot easier, but sometimes a smaller target is harder to hit. What constitutes the perfect clothing choice for headshots?

     Generally speaking, a catch-all commercial shot, should be bright and “pop” off the casting website.  Bright colors that compliment your child’s coloring is ideal.  When choosing colors, think about what colors would bring out your child’s eyes, or what colors compliment highlights or hair color.  Skin tone (and undertones like lip color and eyelid tone) might also be a consideration when choosing colors.  Solid color tops are a safe bet, but texture can also be great.  The shirts should never be distracting, but some detail or small low contrast pattern can help create the illusion of depth and help to pull a viewers eyes to your photos.  Lace and knitted materials as well as textured low contrast prints can be interesting without being distracting.  

     Theatrical shots tend to be more muted in emotional tone, so muted colors usually enhance and amplify theatrical impact.  Darker colors can sometimes help bring about a more dramatic energy, so be sure to bring those choices as well.

     If your agent or manager prefers more specific photos for submission, you’ll want to take some time to think about the types of roles you’ll be submitted for.  By styling yourself to look like the roles you want to play, you’re literally using the law of attraction to help the casting director see you in their films and television shows.  If you’re agent wants specificity, consider bringing clothes to your photoshoot that fit into one of the following categories:

(See Gallery Below for Pictures)

The kid next door.  Think of this as the friend or neighbor on one of your favorite network sitcoms.  In fact, you can use the kids on those shows for inspiration.  A colorful T-shirt with a light hoodie or sweater looks great.  Or maybe try a low contrast plaid or denim shirt over a brighter tee.

The popular kid.  This is sometimes the mean girl, sometimes the jock.  Typically styles conservatively, girls can wear trendy sweaters or letterman-type sports jackets.  Think intense gender conformity—where girls are really catty and guys are playfully belligerent and everyone is congratulating each other for creating the mold that others want to fit into.   

The edgy tough kid.  These characters are the lost children of CSI or the junior crime fighters on the CW.  Leather jackets or army drab can give the your child the look of the terminator franchise or the school yard bully. Distressed thermals or hoodies also are great for this look.  The tough kid is often overlooked by parents, because they don't necessarily think of their children this way—take a moment to reconsider.        

The nerd/class president.  There's one in every class, and your kid might be the perfect choice for casting.  If your child wears glasses, bring them to the shoot.  Conservative outfits work best for this.  Little suits for the boys can be appropriate with both straight ties and bow ties, or maybe a v-neck sweater over the shirt and tie or a vest.  For the girls, go with cardigan sweaters over peter pan collars or school uniforms.  You can also mismatch plaids and sweaters for a more goofy version, but in general you want casting to see the photo and believe this is an authentic version of your child.                                                                                                                   

The Disney/Nickelodeon kid.  Do some homework and watch a few of the most popular shows on Disney and Nickelodeon.  Pre-teens and teen girls often wear small floral patterns with simple but trendy accessories.  Younger kids sometimes wear overalls.  Small stripes and low contrast patterns are also a great way to bring out the broader, brighter, younger side of your child actor.   

Midwestern/Southern. Denim and plaids over plain white tees will help with your fly-over state castings.  There are so many shows and films that are looking for blue collar kids.  Western and work shirts also are great choices.  Again, this might not be parents first thought when they are pulling clothes, but it’s worth considering

 

Goth/Loner/Skater while this is a much more specific look that isn't in the breakdowns daily, it might be worth shooting, if your child has a more dramatic edgy look.  If the photo looks authentic, you'll have a much better chance of being seen for the role.  Girls can have a little fun with the darker makeup and both guys can rock messy hair with a more grungy clothing.  Accessories are a plus here as well

Regarding accessories:  In general accessories should be avoided unless it helps tell the story of the photo.  Maybe the goth girl wears a plastic lace choker or the nerd wears glasses, but in general, if the accessories aren’t helping to tell the actor’s story, then they can only be distracting from it. Girls under 12 should remove earrings and any other jewelry.  Hair ties should be nearly invisible.  Bobby pins and clear or simple bands are all you need.

     Another general rule is to dress your child for youth.  You always want your child to look younger than they are.  Older kids can work longer than younger children and often times are more mature and able to handle the stress and structure of a film or television set.  So when you are dressing your child for a headshot, consider clothes that keep them looking young.  Any hairstyle or shirt that can help to shorten the face will keep your child looking on the young side of his age.  When hair and wardrobe help to lengthen the face, you are essentially aging your child up.  For example a crewneck and bangs will make a kid look a couple of years younger than a v-neck and pompadour.  Stripes, overalls, and brighter colors can also help de-age your child.

     Remember it’s a good thing to bring too many clothing choices to a shoot than not enough choices.  Bring two or three options for each look you’re trying to achieve.  The photographer will help you choose the best choice with consideration to his style of shooting, your child’s complexion, and lighting choices.

     Also remember this should be fun.  Carve out some time in your schedule to really assemble the right clothing for your kiddo.  It will enhance your child’s shoot in a really beautiful and subtle way.  You’re helping to create your marketing tools for at least the next year, so put in the energy now to reap the rewards of a higher audition rate afterward.

5 Ways to Completely Destroy Your Headshot Session

How to find mediocrity, when being mediocre isn’t mediocre enough   

headshots los angeles ruin shoot.jpg

     As a Los Angeles headshot photographer, my goal with every shoot is to create dynamic actor calling cards that tell a story about the artist’s energy and charisma.  I want to create compelling portraits that explain who actors are and who they can be.  I want to share what’s best about the performer and why they are relevant in Hollywood.  I constantly try to make every photoshoot wildly successful, by capturing moments of intrigue and appeal, but I understand not everyone is hardwired for my definition of success.  In a society that constantly rewards mediocrity, I forget that not everyone wants to be burdened by the heavy crown of over-achievement.  So if you’re one of those money performers who just wants to phone it in, or if you’re not a results-oriented bundle of ambition, this is the blog post you’ve been waiting for.  Here are 5 things you can do to completely obliterate your headshot session.  If you want to “kill it” at your photoshoot, start by launching these torpedoes.

     Show up late.  It really is the best way to make a first impression.  Make sure that everyone you’ve hired is waiting for you, including the makeup artist, the photographer, and anyone else you’re working with that day.  When you show up late, you set the tone for the shoot.  You let everyone know that your shoot isn’t that big of a deal—you’re not “desperate” for great shots.  You don’t need all that time your photographer has allotted for you.  After all, you’re a one take wonder.  You’re mom told you so!  Plus, when you show up late, you immediately show people how important you are.  It will become clear to everyone involved, that the shoot can’t happen without you.  

     If you are on time, or even early, you’ll have to waste time relaxing and getting centered.  You might actually focus on your shoot and that might make you nervous.  It’s much better to use the time and energy to freak out before your shoot.  You can do this while you’re weaving in and out of traffic. 

     And when you’re late, don’t apologize.  That just gives away your power.  Nobody wants to hear you’re sorry for throwing their day into turmoil.  They really want to hear an elaborate story that reiterates how important you and your life are.  Seriously, you’ll never be a diva, unless you start acting like one.  Fake it, until you make it!

     Bring only one outfit.  If you give your photographer too much choice, he might choose something that you don’t like.  While we are on the subject of general appearance, it’s good to arrive with your hair wet.  And don’t wear comfortable shoes.  Wear stiletto heals, because they will “put you in character,” even if you’re not a woman.

     Don’t have an opinion.  This one is huge!  It’s so important that you don’t show up with anything to contribute.  If you have an opinion, people might think you have goals, and goals are something that take you out of the moment.  Let spontaneity guide you.  So many people make the mistake of talking to their agents and managers before coming to their headshot session.  Agents and managers are notorious for knowing exactly how they are submitting their clients.  And if you talk to your agent, you run the risk of hearing things you don’t want to hear—like why your current headshots aren’t getting you in the door, or what their other successful clients are doing to book work.  Agents and managers are a wealth of information, but too much information can really confuse you, or worse, help you have an opinion to share with your photographer.  Sometimes it’s better to just fly blind.

     Also, if you have an opinion, your photographer might get lazy and just collaborate with you.  Aren’t you paying your photographer to make magic happen?  You shouldn’t have to spoon-feed him.  He’s the expert. If you are too involved, then all of a sudden your photos are specific to you and your uniqueness.  If you have absolutely nothing to offer, you can effectively entrust your entire career to a practical stranger who clearly knows you better than you know yourself.  Do the right thing.

     Don’t speak.  The best way to ensure that you don’t sabotage your photoshoot is to keep your mouth shut.  No photographer likes a two sided conversation—especially one that involves opinions (see above).  Stop distracting your photographer.  He’s there to document your face (it’s a headshot).  If you have a conversation that involves more that one word answers, there’s a pretty strong chance that your charisma and unique spirit might overpower your photos.  You might make yourself vulnerable and accessible and that will really mess things up.  

     If you actively carry a conversation during your shoot, you run the risk of being interesting.  and if the photographer finds you interesting, he may be inspired to capture your uniqueness visually.  Keep it simple.  Don’t share your goals.  Don’t answer any questions.  Don’t show interest in anything!  Talking is overrated.  That’s why text messaging exists.  You’re first goal is to stay strong and stay silent.

     Don’t take direction. If you shoot with an experienced photographer, chances are he’s been doing it long enough to think he’s some sort of expert on the subject.  He probably fancies himself a director.  If you really want to bring it home, ignore any suggestions and do you’re own thing.  He’ll want to find your angles, give you objectives, coax emotion, but you’ve taken a million selfies, so you know you.  Your photographer is a button pusher at best, and sometimes he needs to be reminded.  This is not a collaborative art.  You’re the MVP of your career.  Remember: There is no “U” in “teamwork.”

     Don’t be present.  We all know that conversation and intimacy can be scary. And when you’r scared, you’re not yourself.  Don’t let that alter ego be captured.  Distract yourself and don’t stay in the moment.  The easiest way to do this is to keep your phone close by.  When the photographer is setting up lights or adjusting your clothing or your hair or even just talking to you, it’s the perfect time to grab your phone and check out your likes on Instagram.  This sort of self validation will really give you confidence when you need it most.  If you have time, answer those texts from your mother asking how the shoot went.  Won’t she be surprised by your speedy response?    Give yourself the greatest gift—a lack of presence. 

     There are other ways to ruin your photoshoot, but these are the big ones.  Try to observe a couple (if not all) of them to really chip away at the quality of your headshots until they reach that mediocre/sub-par level.  If Hollywood continues it’s trend toward the celebration of average, you don’t want to miss your chance to ride that gravy train because you decided you needed some kick-ass headshots.  Stop trying so hard.  It’s all luck anyway.  Isn’t it?

It's Not You...It's You: What to do when your agent blames your headshots

It's Not You...It's You: What to do when your agent blames your headshots

 “Why am I not auditioning more?” is a loaded question for agents.  In general, agents and managers will look at that question as an accusation.  They inevitably will offer one or several reasons why you’re not getting seen, but probably not assume any responsibility.  It’s your job as the CEO of your acting career to look at the factors and variables in the submission process, assess and deliberate how each can be improved, and then take decisive steps to change or replace the variables that stand between you and your success. 

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