Friday, March 28, 2008

Survey Says...

Several weeks ago I sent out a brief survey to all of the people on my e-mail list, asking a few basic questions. Since Archetype Images is all about helping performing professionals and small businesses to target their marketing images, I wanted to determine the best places to focus my own marketing efforts. Of the nearly five-hundred people on my list, approximately ten percent responded. This is, of course, a wildly unscientific survey. To date, most of my marketing efforts have been focused on Craig's List, PerformInk, and direct mailings, so, it's not entirely surprising to find that the people on my mailing list would also favor those sources for finding work.

Much of the results were expected. I knew that most of my clients and potential clients are in the Chicago area, but I was surprised at the number of responses I received from New York and Los Angeles. I also had a fair number of responses from cities such as Detroit and Milwaukee.

Of the fifty-three responses, thirty-five said they found work on Craig's List, twenty-eight referred to PerformInk. Twelve mentioned Model Mayhem, and eight are listed with TalentHunter. One person mentioned the League of Chicago Theaters website.

Fifteen people were affiliated with actors' unions, and twelve of those were only with AFTRA. Eight were with Actor's Equity, and nine were SAG. The remaining are non-union.

Only fifteen identified themselves as actor/models. Eleven are exclusively models, and the remainder consider themselves only to be actors.

Most clients are listed with multiple agencies, with the most popular being Charlie's Talent, BMG, and Encore.

However, the most surprising responses came to the question about which agencies were viewed as the most helpful. Of course, actors and models tended to find the agencies that represented them to be the most helpful, but eight percent of the people who responded took the opportunity to express disappointment with Chicago agents in general. There was no agent or agency that was singled out. Rather, there was a consistent expression of frustration at the lack of professionalism and a low sense of business ethics.

Of course, that has been the lament of Chicago agents about the Chicago acting community for more than twenty years. Almost every Chicago agent will tell you that the Chicago talent pool has the reputation of being somewhat provincial, that the talent in Chicago does not take the business seriously. It was surprising to learn that perception is reciprocal in some quarters.

So, thank goodness for Archetype Images! Our mission is raise the level of professionalism within Chicago's talent community. I've been quite fortunate over the last few weeks to work with some astonishing talent. And it is our goal to help these dedicated professionals refine their approach to the industry by creating topnotch, emblematic marketing images that at once distinguish the artist from the crowd, and communicate who that person is artistically and professionally.

I want to extend my thanks to everyone who participated in my impromptu survey. With the coming of spring comes a renewed sense of commitment. Let's work together to raise the level of our art and our business!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Candles to the Sun

A dear friend once said to me, "I'll take mediocre Tennessee Williams over the best of just about anyone else." I couldn't agree more. I don't think there are many who would argue the statement that Tennessee Williams is the greatest American playwright, and could easily fall within the category of the top five playwrights working in English. And of all playwrights, there are few who capture the dynamics between the male and female, from the female point of view, better than Williams.

So, keeping all of that in mind, you can imagine how excited I was to be asked if I'd be interested in shooting Candles to the Sun. Candles is Williams's recognized first full-length play. While it's not a masterpiece of stage literature, it is a pretty darn good script. In it you can already see Williams's recurring themes. In some ways it's like watching adolescent versions all of his greatest characters beginning to work themselves out, to stretch and introduce themselves to the world.

As I usually do with production shoots, I ask to sit in on a run thru before doing the actual shoot. I want to be able to make relatively informed suggestions for shots and I want to understand how the actors are relating to the space. The Eclipse cast was working in the Strawdog rehearsal space and I arrived a minute late. The huge cast was milling around, and I was afraid they had been waiting for me, so I tucked myself in an out-of-the-way corner and opened my notebook.

For an actor there is one terrifying point when the stage manager stands up and says, "Tonight if you call for line, you're going to have to figure it out for yourself. I won't be giving them." This was that rehearsal. However, this can also be the most exciting rehearsal because without the crutch of the script, or the safety net of someone on book, this is the first rehearsal when the characters have a chance to come to life. And for Candles to the Sun, come to life they did. In this cluttered rehearsal room, with only a table and a few chairs, these actors and this playwright made me forget I was watching a rehearsal. I became completely lost in the play and had to remind myself to take notes. It would be grossly unfair to single out one actor for superlatives. They were all that good. The direction is first rate, and the technical support is flawless.

The Eclipse Theatre Company is clearly entering its prime, and this is one production that simply cannot be missed. The shot above is one that was selected by Nat Swift for the press packet. Unfortunately, the press require nice, bright pictures, so I had to edit the final version for publication, but as a photographer I greatly prefer the version above.

See all of the publicity shots at

Candles to the Wind, written by Tennessee Williams and directed by Steven Fedoruk, features Julie Daley, CeCe Klinger (pictured), Sorin Brouwers, Ariel Brenner, Stephen Dale, Nora Fiffer, Barbara Harris, John Milewski, Nina O'Keefe, JP Pierson, Rebecca Prescott, Kevin Scott, Chuck Spencer, Ross Travis, Josh Venditti, and Bubba Weiler.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Nicholas B. Nelson

There is just a certain type of professional who commands respect, the type who comes in for a meeting or a job prepared, knows the agenda, the goals and limitations. Quite simply, a professional delivers one-hundred percent every time.

Nick came to me with a very specific need. He's a model, who over the last few months has been actively booking gigs and expanding his portfolio. And like many models, he is starting to transition into acting and needed some strong, all-purpose headshots. I've got to say, for a model based in Madison, Wisconsin, Nick works more steadily than many professionals in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. He's everywhere, turning over every rock, answering every audition notice, pounding on agency doors in all three major markets. Nick will not be denied.

We discussed his needs over the phone and had the standard wardrobe discussion. When Nick walked in, he was wearing his entire wardrobe. Dark suit, sweater vest, and interesting shirt, all impeccably tailored and pressed. Our shoot utilized pieces of what he was wearing and we got a wide range of looks. However, at one point he raised his arm and a tag fell out of the sleeve of his shirt. That's when he confessed.

"I spent twelve-hundred dollars for all of my shoots this week, and it's all going back."

Like many actors and models, Nick sometimes has to provide his own wardrobe, and he's found a creative way of doing it. It's a strategy that works for Nick. "If I didn't take all of this stuff back, I'd be broke." Yet, it's important for Nick as a working model and aspiring actor to give a flawless presentation. Even his shoes sparkled, and we didn't even shoot them, but it contributed to his frame of mind as a professional, and was reflected in the over-all presentation.

It's this attention to detail, this relentless energy, this preparation that is what makes Nick an outstanding professional, and what will eventually lead to unparalleled success.

Many agents will tell Nick that this headshot is not going to work because there is too much shadow in it. In point of fact, the shot works BECAUSE of the shadow and the way it falls below his right eye. The shadow frames the eyes and draws the viewer in to Nick. "But casting directors want to see what Nick looks like." Well, first, you can see that Nick is an attractive man in this picture. But what casting directors really want is to be intriqued. They want you to grab their attention. They want to be compelled to flip the picture over and look at the resume. And then they want an energetic, thoughtful professional to deliver the goods. That's Nicholas B. Nelson.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Absurd theatre is, perhaps, the most delicate of all the theatrical genres. Absurd scripts are drawn in such broad strokes that the inclination of the director and the actors is to meet the playwright's bravura. But Joanie Shultz gets it right by taking a very delicate approach. Adam Rapp's Faster is a script that doesn't need a lot of gimmickry. The text speaks for itself. Shultz is blessed with a perfect cast in Bryson Engelen, Ryan Heindl, Paul Myers and Bries Vannon. There is not a weak performance, and while some actors have more lines than others, each actor is critical to the balance of this performance, just as each character is critical to the balance of the script. This is one of those shows where you forget you're in a theater.

It has been a long, long time since I've been as excited about a company and its work as I am about The Side Project. Chicago is world-renowned for its theater, and the consistently superb work that is put up by The Side Project is why. In addition to Faster, which opens tomorrow night, the dark-night production of Slipping is going into an extended run before it packs up and crosses the pond for the Dublin Gay Theater Festival in May.

If you want a sure thing for your theater dollar, you owe it to yourself to see these two shows at The Side Project. These shows are examples of why we do theater.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Archetype Light and Dark

The prevailing wisdom about headshots is the best shot is the one that does not contain a single shadow.

I disagree.

It's not the light that communicates. It is the shadow and its placement, the shadow's color and intensity, that communicate more than anything else.

Joette Waters came to me because she wanted to add some "grandma" shots to her comp card. We talked about her recent auditions and the types of roles she wanted to play and we boiled them down to two archetypes: Good Grandma and Evil Grandma.

These two shots were taken with essentially the same set up. The only real difference is the type of light used and the camera angle, and yet these are very different pictures. The difference is not just in the expression, not just the severity of the light, but in the placement and intensity of the shadows.

It's true that they are also very specific headshots and that Good Grandma is probably going to get Joette more calls. But a complete session with a headshot photographer should not only include that standard, shadow-free shot, but it should also address your specific marketing needs and incorporate all elements of the photograph to communicate who you are as an artist and professional.