Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beyond the Brick Wall II

Once again it's time to see if we can take the next step in pushing the envelope in actors' headshots.

As part of an annual project, I work with several actors who are willing to work on creating marketing images that go beyond the brick wall headshot. Agents and casting directors say that as an actor you need a headshot that "looks like you." I believe that, at the very best, is only part of the story because if all they needed was a headshot that looked like you, all headshots would be mug shots. Actors would be stood up against a wall that had marking indicating height, there would be bright, flourescent light, no make up, and the shot would consist of a front and profile. I'd love to see an actor walk into an agent's office with something like that.

The fact is, the minute an actor decides between wearing a green shirt versus wearing a blue shirt for his headshot, he's making a decision that communicating with the viewer. The Archetype Images Headshot project is all about identifying the rhetorical choices that an actor makes and making a conscious decision on how to use those choices to communicate who the actor is, what type of work she's seeking, and the quality of the work she will deliver once cast.

For this project I've identified four actors. Yesterday I met with two of them, Franette Liebow and Dan Howard. Our conversation focused on headshots for theatrical work. While both actors want work that will pay the bills -- and then some. And we know how much stage work pays in Chicago, we also focused how we could communicate to agents about the types of roles and the segments of the industry where they felt they were the most marketable. It was a fascinating discussion and in the coming weeks you should see the images here and on the Archetype Images website.

Why am I passionate about this?

I truly am passionate about this because I feel that there is a lack of support for actors to feel empowered in the entertainment industry. Much of the support that is available is on the artistic aspect, with audition coaches, acting classes, and the like. On the rare occasion that there is something that focuses on the "business of acting," the information is couched in terms that underscore the subservient position of the actor. "Professional Survival," and such tell the actor that it's a jungle out there, and the odds are against him.

And that's absolutely true. With more than a hundred actors vying for one small role, there is probably not a more competitive industry. Yet accepting a passive role within the industry is NOT the way be successful. As an actor, it's YOUR career. Take charge of it.

Of course, it's very easy to get discouraged. There is an overwhelming amount of rejection as an actor, and it's difficult not to take that rejection personally. But it's not. It NEVER is personal. Not EVER. Even if an actor has a prior relationship with a director or producer and that relationship turned sour, the fact is professionals hire professionals who they think will make them money. Now, it doesn't hurt to have your boss like you, but at the end of the day that is a very small component of how a professional makes her decision.

Every actor needs to come to each audition, each meeting, with the knowledge that they have a commodity -- their skill, their talent, their training -- that is a valuable asset. That asset may not fit every job, but an actor has to present that asset, that commodity, in such a way that the director or producer can see the value. Does a picture "that looks like you," smiling and standing against a brick wall convey any value? Does it say anything about you except that you can smile? And in a stack of one hundred pictures, doesn't it make sense to try to communicate something beyond what a good person you are?

Part of the discussion yesterday focused on a famous Chicago actor I've worked with in the past. He will remain nameless here because he's not getting very good press at the moment. He has a reputation for being difficult, and the reputation is deserved. Still, twenty years ago that actor knew where is career was going. He knew when it would peak. He knew what he had to offer the market and he marketed those skills and talents. Today he's very, very successful.

But Franette pointed out that he's also not very well liked, and with his current run of bad press he has no one coming to his defense. She contended, and rightly so, that being arrogant and cocky and pushy may be a formula for success, but that it was no way to live a professional life.

I responded with there is a difference between being a confident professional, aware of your skills and how those skills work within the industry, and being arrogant and cocky. It just so happens that my famous actor friend is arrogant and cocky, he knows it, and that's what he marketed. And while he's exceedingly unpleasant to be around and I can't think of a single person who would switch places with him on a personal level, on a professional level I also can't think of a single actor who doesn't envy his career and his success.

His success did not come from being arrogant and cocky. It came from knowing he was arrogant and cocky, knowing what roles he could utilize those aspects of his character, and marketing those skills.

It's a formula that will work for any actor, and it's a formula that empowers the actor and makes her a driver in the creation of her career and a business partner with the people who hire her for a job. What's more it gives her a perspective to see that the rejection she faces is not personal. It's professional.

But above all that, I contend that a headshot that has a rhetorical purpose beyond just "capturing your essence," or showing that you can "play" in front of a camera is of infinite more value than a headshot taken in natural light against a brick wall. And in the coming weeks I intend to prove that here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Happy New Year

Isn't the start of a new year exciting? There are certain milestones throughout the year where I feel as if I officially get a second wind, and January 1 is definitely one of them.

Over the holidays I did a lot of planning and there are some exciting things coming for Archetype Images, including our first exhibition, more weddings, and the annual headshot project. Details on all of those and more will be coming in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, have you kept your new year resolution? Is that agent mailing ready to go? Have you started reading that list of plays, looking for new audition material? Is that closet cleaned? Then what are you doing reading this blog?!?