If you’ve been in the business for longer than 10 years, you might have been part of many conversations starting with the question, “who did your headshots?” Actors love to obsess over headshots. Why? Not really sure, to be honest. Maybe because it’s the easiest (and arguably) most fun task in the frequently demanding life of an aspiring actor.
I’ve found that actors also love to spend an ungodly amount of time on their postcard mailers, headshot drop-offs (usually accompanied by Porto’s or other high caloric, diabetic inducing treats), Mailchimp newsletters, headshot-stamped chap sticks, fervent cover letters, and even (and I’ve had the pleasure of receiving a few of these), an 80’s throwback to those red 3D ViewMasters with headshots as the main attraction. Not gonna lie, those always impressed me a little.
But are all these time-consuming and (certainly not) LA budget friendly projects effective? Are these what matter most? And will the people that you’re hoping see them, actually see them?
Unfortunately, I can tell you that the resounding answer to all of these questions is… ehh, mostly likely not.
So here you are, living in your 2 bed, 1 bath apt near Griffith Park. You’ve got a pretty cool roomie (for the most part). You finally have a job that gives you flexibility to audition, AND you’ve even signed with a seemingly normal manager for once. Sweet! You. Are. Ready…
Or are you? You might have had a breakthrough in acting class last week; one of those moments where you know you’re exactly where you need to be, doing what you should be doing. Great! But how are you going to spend your time that is the most useful (and cost effective). Believe it or not, it’s not just producers and celebrities whose time is valuable. YOUR TIME IS VALUABLE. YOU. ARE. VALUABLE.
Ok, enough of the pep talk. My point is this. Please, please, please, think and choose wisely what you do with your time. If spending an hour on Minted.com designing a super cute new layout for next season’s mailers gives you the kind of peace and happiness you have been searching for decades, do your thing. Not trying to snatch your zen. But if you’re only doing this because you think you have to? Please, put down the credit card and listen up.
Here are the tools that matter most for actors in 2019 (and mind you, this is in order of importance): acting class, reel, headshot, resume, hard-fucking-work. Excuse my French. But if you’ve ever tried acting or are a working actor, you’ll know it’s pretty hard-fucking-work. But besides that, notice how the reel is #2 (acting class should be an obvious #1). #2 is a big deal! Why is it such a big deal? Let me run you through a typical casting process for us, in terms of what happens, once we release a breakdown, and it might give you a better idea as to why.
Once we release a breakdown (let’s say it’s a pilot), we have A LOT of submissions to go through. We’re talking thousands per role. And if we’re talking about a pilot, we’re on a major time crunch. We have to be efficient with our time in order to cast this pilot, as quickly as possible, while also making the best creative choices. Everyone’s process differs slightly of course, but for the most part, on the day we release breakdowns, the office chatter dies down for most the day, the phones are off the hook, we forget to eat (and sometimes pee) and buckle down and watch reels, reels, reels, self-tapes, and more reels. It is safe to say that most casting offices decide who they are going to bring in for an audition based on what they see in an actor’s reel. Read that again. And maybe one more time for good luck. In the midst of thumbing through submissions, most CD’s do not suddenly remember the taste of that guava strudel from Porto’s which jogs the memory of the actor who dropped it off and WAIT A MINUTE! THEY’D BE PERFECT FOR THIS SERIES REGULAR ROLE. AND THEN THEY BOOK IT. AND THEIR CAREER IS MADE! FROM A STRUDEL, PEOPLE!!
Not quite. If only it took a guava strudel to become a working actor. Back to the reels. What exactly are casting offices looking for in a reel? Well, nothing specific. But what I can tell you is that we are purely asking ourselves these two questions: 1) do you have the qualities we are looking for in this specific role and 2) can ya act?
Seems pretty obvious, right? Let me elaborate. You are either right for a role, or you’re not. And on top of that, your reel shows us what you are capable of, acting wise. Have you noticed it’s been a while that you’ve gone in for a “pre-read” that most of your auditions are “on tape, for producers”? The reason for this is because producers are busy people. If you didn’t already know, the producers (for TV, at least), are also the writers. That’s a lotta work. And time. And some of these people have kids! The nerve! Point is, having casting put actors on tape and then showing them their favorites (via a casting link) has proven to be a time efficient way to get through our modern casting process. The plus to this is that we have the ability to really work together to get the take that is going to bring you the most success. Sa-weet! But what this also means is that we are going to be a little extra selective with who we bring in in the first place. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are only going to click on our favs. What this means is that your reel, in a way, almost replaces that pre-read. We will likely want to meet you based off of what we see in your reel.
Let me quickly walk you through what my process is like. I see a headshot. They look in the realm of what we are looking for. Great! (spent all of 5 seconds looking at that). Moving on to the reel. I skip forward and watch a few seconds of each clip. WOW. That Hatfields and Mccoys clip was some intense stuff. Love her vibe. Let me see her resume. Oh! That’s how I know her! She did that little arc on Love. Great! Clicking on her now.
What did I spend the most time on? I think you’re getting my point. The resume and the headshot are definitely helpful, but in my personal opinion, they are supplemental materials to your reel. Again, don’t get me wrong, they ARE important. Take all the headshots, update all the resumes. But please, please, please, update your reel. Make sure it shows what your ability is. And if it doesn’t? That’s ok! The Casting Director’s Cut is here to help create, cultivate and update your reel to what works best for you. So when a CD sees your face and thinks you might be right for the role, meet their expectations and show them the best you’ve got.
And on that note, off to Porto’s.
Disclaimer: This blog post is an opinion piece and does not reflect the views of all casting directors and associates. In addition, this blog post and any services that The Casting Director’s Cut renders are neither a guarantee nor a promise of employment. Any and all services rendered by The Casting Director’s Cut is NOT a way to obtain employment as an actor.