how to rock actor headshot shootThe first thing everyone will tell you when you’re starting out as an actor in LaLaLand is that your headshot is The. Most. Important. Thing. Evah. Why? Because it’s the first and often only thing agents, managers and casting directors see of you. Especially for casting directors it really matters, because casting directors get thousands of submissions for each role. They release roles on a thing called Breakdown Services, and submissions show up as tiny thumbnails of actor’s headshots. So your headshot thumbnail will be part of a screen with at least a hundred other photo thumbnails on the same page, and if you’re an unknown it’s what decides wether you get an audition or not.

Headhot shoots have always been a struggle for me. When I started out doing actor headshot shoots I had no clue what I was doing. I though “theatrical” meant “serious” and commercial meant “smiley.” That’s about it. So I went to shoots smiling 50% and trying to look intense and mysterious the other 50%. I’ve been in LA two years now (and have gone back and forth many years before that) and it’s only now that I’m starting to see how to really approach a headshot shoot. So, in order to prevent you from making my many mistakes and wasting your valuable Dollars or Euros or Colones, here are my 6 tips to rock your headshot shoot…

1) Ask Strangers What Type They Think You Are

Go out on the streets or a new acting class or whichever and ask people what kind of person they think you are; what kind of impression you give them. If they’re other people in the entertainment biz ask them what roles they see you in. You’ll be surprised how it sometimes doesn’t rhyme with your own idea at all. I for example always get yogi, vegan, hippie, when I’m really a meat devouring control freak. Knowing this is so, so important in general because it really ups your rate of auditions when you know what to aim for, as well as callbacks and bookings. So get straight with how you come across and embrace it!

2) See What Roles There Are For You on Breakdown Services

Breakdown Services is the name of the platform where all new roles that are open for auditions get released on. Since important roles in studio and even independent movies these days are often “packaged” by the big agencies before they ever make their way to Breakdowns, you won’t find any of these here. So what’s left is supporting roles in features and lots of TV guest-stars, co-stars etc. Think barista, receptionist, thug #2, cop, valet boy, waitress, victim on a crime show etc. The breakdowns aren’t really accessible to actors (but kinda also are – don’t ask; I know nothing) but you can ask your agent for a submission report to see which roles you’re being submitted for.

This step is super important because even though people may see you as a feminine assassin, sadly there aren’t really a lot of roles like that. So getting aiming for that killing shot (pun intended) may be a waste if you only focus on 2 looks. For example: I always get Kirsten Dunst, and sometimes Jennifer Lawrence (because: cheeks) and Evan Rachel Wood so was always aiming for independent female kind of headshots. I won’t start a lengthy female-roles-in-Hollywood essay but sadly those are not as abundant as I always thought they were.

3) Find Out Who’s Playing Your Roles

So now you have a shortlist of roles, find out which actors are booking those jobs! Who’s always playing Geeky Guy/Girl or Bubbly Barista or Sassy Cop? What are their headshots like? What do they dress like? Which TV shows have a lot of those roles you’re good for? Basically find out who has your job. Learn from your competition. This will provide you with a lot of clarity.

4) Prepare Looks For Each Role

If you’ve nailed a shortlist of roles and did your research, start preparing looks for your types. Bare in mind that busy prints and plain blacks and whites usually don’t work well on camera. Oh, and don’t be too literal about it. If one of your types is doctor don’t wear scrubs in your headshots. But wearing something blue may help. It’s all about suggestion!

5) Prepare Scenes For Each Role

What’s gonna run through your mind when you’re shooting? For me it used to be “Let’s be bubbly! Let’s really smile!” or “I hope I look intense now.” Yeah, I’m not a natural at these things. So forget about being a model, and just be an actor on your shoot. How? By preparing short scenes for each of your types. That way you won’t have insecurities or actor thoughts running through your head during your shoot, but character thoughts. And the great thing is if you think character thoughts, the camera catches it. You won’t have to do anything extra; that sneaky camera catches everything. Which is why “putting on” something never works. I’ve tried, trust me ;)

6) Find A Good Headshot Photographer

This is the hardest one. Because it’s not just about finding a good photographer, but finding someone who suits you. Sure, the lighting, cropping and backdrop all needs to be non-distracting and preferably even enhancing, but there are thousands of headshot photographers who can get these basics straight. And some charge $200 while others charge $1,000. In my experience however, in a lot of cases price doesn’t reflect quality. To illustrate: I shot I took of myself (selfie before it was a thing) with a simple digital camera at 18 landed me two meetings with Hollywood agents whereas later expensive shoots resulted in nothing.

I’ve shot with so many people (Beth & Taylor, Michael Hiller and even one of Hollywood’s best known headshot photographers Dana Patrick) but in the end it’s about what you bring to the shoot. A good photographer will help you with that though, will bring it out in you. I recently shot with Micky of The Real Portait and I find her incredible. Being a former model herself, she’s just great with connecting to models, and a shot she took of me years ago got me a bunch of meetings.

So my advice? Ask around, browse websites and meet with 3-5 headshot photographers before doing a shoot. That way you’ll know if you click with the person and the shoot won’t be a first time meet-and-greet, which takes some pressure off.

As you can tell headshot shoots have always been a struggle for me, but hopefully this will prevent you from going through the same! I learned a lot of lessons of course, so my headshot shoots were never a waste, but I wouldn’t have minded spending that $900 on a ticket home or an amazing hiking trip in Peru instead.. ;)