Hi Bonnie,

I signed with what I thought was a somewhat reputable agency over a year ago and have never once been sent out. All work that I’ve done in the last year I have gotten for myself. Fine, that’s okay, I’m used to it, but my agent is constantly asking me to get new headshots with a photographer friend of his who, according to him, “has a terrible book so don’t look at it,” and doesn’t even have a website. I just can’t bear to waste my money in this way. I want to have headshots that look great and represent me well. I have decided to go with Molly Hawkey, who I actually read about in your column.

Anyway, I sent an email to my agent letting him know I am getting new shots, and here is his response:

When you get the shots done, you need a nurse, casual young mom, detective, lab tech, doctor shot with stethoscope. Make sure lab tech shot does not have a stethoscope. Serious and warm on both.

I just CANNOT bring myself to get shots with a stethoscope, or a lab coat on. It’s SO cheesy, and every casting director I’ve ever spoken to has said this is a major no-no. I don’t know what to do in this situation. I don’t want to bring my new awesome shots to him and just be told, “Where is the stethoscope?”

There are obviously some advantages for an actor to staying with an agency just so you can have their name on your resumé and online, but this is pushing it for me. Any advice in this matter from the perspective of a casting director would be greatly appreciated. If you saw an actor’s pictures and they were corny like that, isn’t that a big thumbs down?

Many thanks,
Adriana Roze

Oy. Okay. Lots of stuff here. Lemme take this in the order you presented it.

“All work that I’ve done in the last year I have gotten for myself.”

Yeah. That happens. I actually wrote about the, “Ooh, I can’t wait to have an agent so I get out more,” phenomenon in “So You Want an Agent” a few years ago. Truly, there are some agents that aren’t going to do you any good. They sign high-volume, they submit like they’re slinging spaghetti, and they hope the odds will shake out so they get enough commission to make it work. It — obviously — doesn’t work for the actors in your position, on their roster.

“My agent is constantly asking me to get new headshots with a photographer friend of his who, according to him, ‘has a terrible book so don’t look at it,’ and doesn’t even have a website.”

Red flag! Red flag! And, again, red flag! Ack! Photographers get work based on the quality of their past work. Their books are filled with essential information. Their websites are powerful marketing tools. Red flags all over the place! Ack! If quality of work and marketing tools aren’t what drives people to this particular photographer, what do you think keeps him or her afloat? You guessed it: Kickbacks.

I know kickbacks exist not only because the signs are SO all over the place, when an agent requires that you shoot only with a particular photographer, but because I am friends with a few photographers. And they talk. See, when I was brand new to casting, I got calls from CD workshop facilities inviting me to receive money in exchange for letting them “recycle” my unsolicited headshot submissions (i.e., pick up the bins of mail I was going to toss anyway, so they add to their telemarketing database for contacting potential customers, saying a “friend” referred them) and from out-of-state “acting conventions” offering me thousands of dollars to attend, so long as I “called back” a minimum number of the hundreds of newbies who forked over thousands of dollars for the opportunity to be seen by “real, Hollywood casting directors and talent agents.” Just like that happened to me when I was new, new-to-the-game photographers get calls from “agents” about participating in a kickback scheme, wherein the agents will send a certain number of customers their way, dictate a certain number of outfits be required, and accept a cut of the session fee, in exchange for being the source of this steady flow of photographic subjects. *shudder*

On what planet would you EVER want to shoot with a photographer who has a crappy book? Awful. I hate that your agent is pushing that on you. I am very proud of you for taking a stand and choosing a photographer you click with, instead. Headshots are far too important to treat with such unprofessionalism.

“I just CANNOT bring myself to get shots with a stethoscope, or a lab coat on. It’s SO cheesy, and every casting director I’ve ever spoken to has said this is a major no-no.”

Yup. You got it. SO cheese. So unnecessary. So much a sign of “newbie signed with a spaghetti-slinging, kickback-getting agent.” And because you know better, good! You’ll say no to your “agent.” (And I keep putting the word “agent” in quotation marks because I don’t want the GOOD agents out there to be associated with those “agents” who will do this sort of thing. Yes, of course, your agent is your business partner and it is his or her job to help steer you toward headshots that will make you most marketable for the career level you’ve agreed you’ll target. But suggesting “looks” and a list of recommended photographers is a far cry from requiring “costume shots” with ONE photographer whose book sucks. Bleh. It’s just gross!)

“I don’t want to bring my new awesome shots to him and just be told, ‘Where is the stethoscope?'”

Yeah. I wouldn’t want that either. In fact, I’d say your bigger problem is not headshots, but being with an agent who is steering you down a path you’re not in alignment with while — bonus — not getting you out on anything you can’t already get yourself out on, as an actor submitting on your own.

And that brings me to…

“There are obviously some advantages for an actor to staying with an agency just so you can have their name on your resumé and online, but this is pushing it for me.”

Girl, there are some agents that do you NO favor, just by having their logo on your resumé. That “any agent is better than no agent at all” concept is as ridiculous as “any demo reel is better than no demo reel at all” and it’s a result of the power structure this town perpetuates if we let it.

You actually CAN be signed with a rep whose reputation hurts yours. You can be taken less seriously because of the logo on your resumé. And the biggest problem in being with an agent — at any level, no matter how legit and professional that agent may be — who isn’t “on your team” in all sense of the words, is that you are lulled into a sense of security that you are “in the game.” And if you’re with someone who isn’t representing you as fully, as robustly, with as much passion and professionalism as possible — in alignment with your overall career goals and marketing plan — you’re worse off than an actor who has NO agent, but who is out there hustling, building relationships, knowing that every single move and moment is an investment in where his or her career is going. There’s a fire that exists in those who know they’re still on the path to meet up with their best-matched representation. I just want to make sure you’re not thinking you have already found that match. I’m pretty sure, from your words, that you get that. πŸ™‚

Basically, if I went into the agent’s office with hot new shots from Molly Hawkey that absolutely lined up with my marketing plan and my career goals — shots that would make any agent’s job easier — and was asked, “Where’s the stethoscope?” that agent would not like to know where I might suggest he look for the dang thing. πŸ˜‰

Good luck, whatever comes next. Using great new headshots to pursue a new agent might be a fantastic use of your energy and time!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001085.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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