Impress Me, In 60 Seconds or Less: Submissions, Part 1

The Fools & Kings Project is putting up its inaugural show, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Excitement! Merriment! Auditions….

I have spent the past few weeks poring over actors’ submissions with my lovely and amazing Fools & Kings partner, Vanessa Wendt. I could hardly wait to talk about them here. This is one of the subjects that inspired the existence of this blog.

(Almost) no one to whom you submit will give you feedback. Rightly so. If you’re being rejected anyway, unsolicited advice is just salt in the wound of your sensitive actor ego. Sensitive, we truly are. It’s part of why we’re good at our jobs. In one of my college auditions (that safety school I mentioned), the ladies behind the table told me I should wear more makeup and “dress more like a woman”, whatever the fuck that means. In addition to being oddly sexist, inappropriate, useless advice, it also made little 17-year-old me feel terrible.

However, since you’re here, I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you want to hear what I think. I certainly do not speak for all casting directors; I can only share my personal preferences. Hopefully I’m not alone in my opinions, and this will be relevant to producers other than me.

For our Midsummer auditions, Vanessa and I encouraged a bunch of our talented friends to apply, and we also put out an ad on Our little non-equity production received over 100 unsolicited email submissions. Imagine how many more submissions well-established companies likely get? Yeesh. We are super excited to have garnered interest from so many new people, but we only have one day to see people, and one day for callbacks. Even we have to be selective.

Who are we picking? Why do some emails catch our eye more than others? Well, there are three opportunities to introduce yourself as a person and as an actor when you send in a submission: your headshot, your résumé, and your cover letter. None of these three things have much to do with your talent, or how awesome you are as a human being. All we can do, unfortunately, is make educated guesses based on the material we get in a short email.

I originally wrote about all aspects in one post, but it got so heinously long that I needed to split it into two. Today, I’ll do my best to explain to you what I like to see in a headshot. Vanessa thinks I’m excessively picky, so take this with a grain of salt, I guess.

Particular though I am, I’m not one to put too much stock in a headshot, and have called in many an actor even though I’ve hated theirs. I’m a thousand percent sure there are plenty of casting directors, et. al. who are not nearly as forgiving. Many want a certain look, and will make a snap decision based on your picture and nothing else. I’m going to spare you my sermon on casting based on appearance, the good and the bad. For our purposes here, let’s just talk about what I (subjectively) think makes a good headshot.

  •  It looks like you, at your best. Most importantly, it looks like YOU, the person coming into my audition room. If I call in an actor, and she arrives looking nothing like her picture, I’m going to be confused. It’s going to be hard for me to keep track of who you are. It will go something like this: “I loved that woman with the dark brown hair who did the King John monologue! Who was that? I can’t find that person among our headshots! I wanted to give her a callback! Where is she?” Please don’t confuse me.
  • It looks professionally photographed (and retouched, printed, when you hand me a hard copy). I do not care how much you spend on your headshots. I don’t. If your best friend will take your headshots for free, that is awesome – if they’re good. Because I DO want you to care enough about being an actor that you put your best effort into generating quality marketing materials for yourself. Good headshots are worth it, because they help you get jobs.
  • You look interesting. This is one of those intangible things, but I’ll attempt to explain. I want to see a spark in your eye, an inkling of your personality in those Windows to Your Soul. You know those awful yearbook photos, in which a high school senior has dead eyes because the photographer snapped 76 pictures beforehand, and the poor guy is blinded by the flash/staring off into nothingness, trying not to move a muscle? Avoid dead eyes in your headshots. When sorting through the 800,000,000 thumbnails that your photographer gives you after your session, pay special attention to the shots in which you look like you’re planning an adventure, thinking of a lover, or devising a prank. Show me who you are. As long as you don’t appear mean, or mad – that will make me afraid of you. Smiles, semi-smiles, even smirks > FROWNS.
  • It’s of YOUR HEAD. I really appreciate it when at least 33-50% of the photo is actually your face.
  • Please avoid fussy backgrounds. This will help me concentrate on you. I get distracted by shiny objects.
  • It should be in color. I know. I’m sorry. I have about a hundred gorgeous black and white 8×10’s of myself with which I can do nothing. Unless you want one? But yeah, color is industry standard.
  • I’m fine with a couple (two, three maximum) supplemental photos attached, as long as you – first and foremost – send me the headshot that complies with the above. Make sure any additional pictures are there for a reason, like to prove that you can hang upside down from trees/poles/etc.
  • A note about quirky headshots: be careful not to pigeonhole yourself. This industry will continuously try to put you into a neat little box – your “type” – even though you and I know that you are a chameleon who can act any role set before you, from Little Orphan Annie to King Lear. Definitely represent yourself, but also leave room for versatility.

Coming in Part 2: Résumés and Cover Letters!


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