Monday, December 01, 2008

Getting Headshots

So I'm finally back to a normal (ish) schedule, which means I am back to my good old fashioned blogging self. After a crazy week of intense rehearsals, a week of show, and a week of recovery, I am feeling pretty ready to share my wonderful self with you all again. Aren't you lucky!

Today I thought I'd be the Actress, and talk a bit about one of the necessary evils of the acting world, and that is the joy of getting headshots.

Whether you have an agent or not, a headshot is probably the single most important thing for an actor to have, probably even more so than even a resume (though a resume is still pretty darn important). The business of acting is one based hugely on looks, and not just good looks, but a kind of "look". Gritty cop, pretty secretary, world weary doctor, queen of a fantasy land . . .

Casting directors go through hundreds of headshots and resumes a week trying to match up the look in their heads, with that of a real live actor, and they do so at a pace:

"No, no, no, maybe, no, no, absolutely, no, no . . ."

Your headshot then, in a brief second, must not only represent the best of you (and it had better look like you because if you then show up at the audition looking completely different, they ain't gonna be that happy about it . . . ), but be eye catching enough to stop the casting director to take that extra second to put you on the maybe pile.

It's kind of how authors only have their query letter to sell their writing, actors have their headshots. And in fact it is way worse, because a headshot can't tell you if the actor can act or not, whereas a query letter can tell you if an author can write.

So headshots are very important. They also cost a lot. In Canada they are on average (at least this year) around $500, with some photographers charging less, others more. I was told, however, that in places like New York, they can be upwards of $1200. Uh . . . wow.

A headshot needs to capture you. Thus they are incredibly annoying. Because "you" can be many different people, and to capture all aspects of who you are in one picture . . . well it's tricky. That's why most agents request three different shots that they can then choose from depending on the role they are sending you out for. Still . . . three ain't a lot. And let's not forget how tricky it is to just be yourself in a picture, not making a goofy smile, not rolling your eyes at the camera. . . or even how if you are yourself it might not actually be a best representation of you. I smile so broadly that in my pictures I can look pretty crazy . . .

Though . . . maybe that is me after all . . .

Considering how expensive headshots are, considering how important they are, and considering how difficult they are to get right . . . you can bet that then makes the actor's life even more tricky at the photoshoot itself, trying to relax and be as natural as possible. There is a lot at stake, and I know at least I personally feel the pressure.

So . . . how do headshots come about.

1. If you have an agent, chat with her. I had a nice conversation with mine who expressed that what she really wanted from me was two looks - youthful, and buisness smart. She also wanted, to be blunt, prettier pictures of me than the previous headshots (though she was quite sweet about it, saying that I looked better in person than in my headshots, and we needed to rectify that). She noted my huge smiley problem, and how, on the other end of the scale, I could look a bit standoffish. These were things I was to take note of.

2. I then met with several photographers. Some recommended by friends, others by my agent. I spoke with them and looked at their portfolios. It's tough to say what I was looking for. Definitely comfort, as I am not naturally at ease having my picture taken. I also wanted to see their work, to see their consistency. I expressed the issues my agent had raised and listened to how they planned on resolving them. After all that, I made my choice.

3. The photoshoot:

The day of the shoot you pack up a bunch of different outfits and head over to the photographer's studio. Ideally you want clothes that are solid colours, necklines that suit your build, and a variety of choices that get across different aspects of your personality. Upon arrival you try on outfits for the photographer, and come up with three different options (most photographers take three different sets, though if the cost is prohibitive, you can take only one, or two or whatever). Then you get your hair/makeup done. Most photographers have a hair/makeup artist they like to work with. This is, of course, extra in cost, but very much worth it. Makeup for photographs is not the same as in everyday life. You think you are wearing far too much, and then you look at the picture and can be hard pressed to see any at all. It's a skill in and of itself.

Once you are dressed and in makeup, the photographer takes you to where they plan on doing the photos. I have been photographed in the stairwell of the building, hallway, outdoors, and in the studio itself in front a variety of backdrops. You hold up a little sign with your name on it, so the photographer can keep track of who he is shooting (see pic at the top of this entry). And then . . . it starts.

I am always very stiff at the beginning. But if the photographer is any good, he'll lead you through some poses, often changing them in very small increments. After the first dozen snaps you start to feel more comfortable, and things finally start to go smoothly.

Then when you are done the first set, you change into the next outfit, get some touch up on makeup and hair, and do the next. Etc. And then you are done, exhausted, and you trudge home on the subway with your entire wardrobe in tow.

4. Maybe a week later the proofs are ready. These have changed greatly even in the short time I have been in the biz. It first used to be a page full on maybe two inch tall thumbnails of all the pictures the photographer took. Basically the negatives, but printed as pictures. Several years later, the proofs then became photograph size pictures, each one detached from each other, like you are looking at your pictures from a vacation. These were great because they were large enough that you could see the fine details. Nowadays a lot of them come on CD, which is nice because you have digital copies of them all, but tricky as you can't really spread them out on a table before you to compare them to each other. At any rate, it is now your job to choose, out of maybe 100 shots, 3 that you think are best. And some are so close to each other in appearance that it seems impossible to tell which is better. At this point often your agent will get involved and just tell you what she wants, which makes your life a bit easier.

5. Once you have selected the headshots you want, you tell the photographer and he does minor touchups on the images, before sending them to be printed as 8 x 10s (the standard size of a headshot).

6. Then you pick them up, deliver several to your agent, and voila! You have headshots!

And here are the final pics (after hours and hours of trying to choose . . . oy . . . ):

My "youthful" look.

Serious, but not "standoffish".

Smiley, but not . . . you know . . . crazy . . .


Joanna said...

wow... you are GORGEOUS!!! Love the pics!!! And what a great blog. Very interesting. Even though I don't really need a head shot in my line of work, I've always wanted to have some taken anyway :)

Adrienne said...

Aw thanks, you are sweet! I do have to remind people though, that these are the best of like 100 pictures, that there is amazing lighting and makeup, as well as further touch ups in post production. My point is, I had a little help.

They are fun to get done though, totally!

ChristaCarol said...

Love them Adrienne! The last head shots I have of were from 10 years ago lol. Well, professionally done anyway. My husband is a photographer and video producer, so he hooks me up every now and then but still . . . he can't do make up ;) You look great!

lucyp said...

These are great --- you look so different in each one. And I know you were being "actressy" but this is also great advice for authors' headshots too.

AWG said...

Great advice Adrienne, I'm getting my head shots done for the first time on December 12 and have no idea what to expect. I was scouted by a Film/Modeling agency at an event in September and was called in to talk with the agents. They choose me to be on their roster but I have no previous experience in this new world. They are looking for the Mom/Businesswoman look which I'm both. I have always been very camera shy except for the past few years my husband constantly chased me around with the camera telling me to just stop and pose and not to run away or hide from it so I've become more comfortable. I am so nervous I will upset the photographer if I'm nervous. What do you think about when getting your photo shoot done so your eyes don't have a blank dead stare? I don't get to choose my photos although I will be there to go through them with my agent, but the agency is picking my three they feel will best get me auditions for what is looked for in the Mom/Businesswoman look. You gave great advice, I'll definitely be following along with you. Keep up the great work!

MJ said...

To AWG and Adrienne,
Thank you for your blog. It was very insightful. I took my 3 year old "drama queen" to an open audition yesterday and they want her for some commericials, but they also want money to coach her. We can't afford that plus they look like scammers. I would really like to find an agency who doesn't charge an arm and a leg to look at my daughter. Do either of you know how to go about this? Any insight would be appreciated. -MJ

Adrienne said...

AWG and MG, thanks so much for stopping by!

AWG good luck with the new career, it should be a lot of fun. To avoid a blank stare I tend to try to look into the camera, see past the lens, try to pretend I'm making eye contact with someone, if that makes sense. Try to think of something happy, or like the camera is in the middle of telling you an amusing story (you know when you're with your friends and you want to make sure you show them you are enjoying what their saying, you might smile a little or whatever, kind of like that).

Tyra Banks has dubbed it "Smeyes" which is smiling with your eyes.

MG - I'm not sure what kind of audition you went to exactly if they wanted to sell you classes. Was it for an agency maybe? Could not have been for an actual acting job. Nonetheless you never should pay to be seen by an agency, nor pay an agency anything in general. And frankly anyone who suggests a 3 yearold needs to take classes is definitely trying to scam you.

You should never have to pay an agent. Ever. That shouldn't even be a concern. Sometimes they might suggest further training (and I have always supported the idea of acting classes, having majored in drama since I was 11), but it should always be a choice for you, and you should be allowed to choose the course. What I was told in the past as a kid was, "She's good but she needs some more on camera training" and then it was up to me and my parents to find a good class.

So please don't even ask the question about how much you should pay an agent. The answer is always nothing. They make money once their client gets work. That's how it is.