Last week, I touched on the whole “authenticity vs. type” dilemma that many actors face. You hear so much about the importance of knowing your primary type and marketing yourself accordingly that you might lose sight of the fact that what we’re actually asking that you do is really simple: Know who you are and get on our radar as exactly that essence. That way, when we need your type, we know who to call.
Everything you put out there should “sell” your primary type. When we started Cricket Feet, Inc., five years ago, we created a little “placeholder” logo that didn’t really mean anything, just so we would have something. This year, we decided that it was time to hire a graphic designer to create our “real” corporate image. I am so freakin’ excited to roll it out next month that I’m beside myself! But coming up with that image required money, time, and research into what our “brand” is. What we did is what I’d advise you do (and try not to wait ’til your fifth anniversary as a business to do it).
Ask yourself, “What am I?” Write your own breakdown. You know how those go, right? They’re about 20 words in which a character’s essence is described. This is not the time to think about all of the many flavors you can bring to any role. This is the time to get very specific. What is your brand? What are you selling? Once you know the answers to these questions, it becomes rather simple to make sure that your marketing materials fall in line with your business plan, with your mission statement as a provider of a service. I’m talking about getting your website, headshot, resumé, postcards, business cards, even the font that you use on these items all in line with that brand you’ve decided on.
And then don’t change that image up every few months just because “it’s not working.” You can’t know how much brand loyalty you’re building up until years down the line, when your resumé shows a long list of work and you’ve been cast by everyone in town because you are consistently their go-to guy for whatever it is you taught us you can do best.
Along the road to making that happen in the long term, there’s going to be a point at which you have to scale back your materials in order to stop using them as “risk minimization” tools and to start showing us how to cast you. For example, when you’re ready to move up from chronic co-star to more of a guest-star level actor, you want to minimize the number of co-star credits on your resumé in order to draw focus to the one guest-star role (which you hope we’ll see as the beginning of a trend that we can be a part of). For our fifth anniversary as Cricket Feet, Inc., we’re revamping our website and scaling way back on the information we include. Why? Because by now folks who are our potential buyers get us and, for those who don’t yet know what we’re about, we’re looking to show them where we plan to be (which we hope they’ll see as the beginning of a trend that they can be a part of). See how that works? I no longer need to list every single project I’ve worked on, because the ones with major festival wins tell a better story about my brand as a casting director.
And once you’re working on studio features in lead roles, you no longer need to tell us all about the one-liners you did on low-budget indie films. And, of course, by this point, your student films and community theatre projects are long gone.
Does that mean you love those projects less? Of course not! But your resumé is a marketing tool, NOT a comprehensive list of every job you’ve ever had. So, if you’re too caught up in showing us everything you have done, you’re missing out on using your resumé to show us how to cast you now. Same thing with your headshot. It’s got to show us how to cast you. And having ten different looks on your online casting profile could talk us out of believing you’re right for the part. Primary and secondary type headshots are all you need. Commercial and theatrical are all you need. Network and indie are all you need. And there is overlap with all of those so you really could have only two, three, or four different headshots to choose from and cover all of your bases.
Certainly, one awesome headshot can be enough to get you seen everywhere, no matter what, but there are some projects where an “edge” is almost required (like The Shield) and others (like According to Jim) where you need to have no edge (even if you’re the edgy character). There’s also the whole “I would spend two hours with this person” (by sitting in a theater watching a movie) vs. “I’d have this person in my living room every week for years” (if we’re talking about a series regular on a hit show). The CDs are looking for something very different in each case. NO, you do not have to have a bunch of different headshots because of these subtle differences! A great straightforward headshot that is appropriate for your brand can work just as well for getting on the radar of CDs casting network sitcoms, stylized commercials, or gritty indie films.
The point is, as you’ve been doing your research on your primary brand (and writing your unique breakdown), keeping in mind the type of project for which you’re most likely to get hired will also help in crafting your overall “corporate logo.” There’s a reason the Mac and Windows logos (and ad campaigns and general corporate vibes) look and feel so very different from one another. They’re selling totally different experiences. And if you’re a Mac, why try to be Windows? So what if that means you’re more likely to be in more households that way? If your core brand is Mac, you’re thrilled to have 15% consumer saturation! You don’t NEED to compete for that majority stake in the industry. You’ve become so well-branded in your niche that you’ve got brand loyalty that will last forever with those buyers who need “your thing.” Keep it simple, be authentic, and stay consistently true to your branding.
Remember, while agents and managers may want to know your range (so that they understand all of the various ways in which they can pitch you), know that when you’re dealing with casting directors, we want to know if you’re right for this role, right now.
Many actors who have had success in minor markets or with minor projects find that what makes a big difference for them — when they start competing in the major markets and for the bigger gigs — is that they’ve branded themselves well and have a signature type, feel, vibe… and their primary headshots and their demo reel all market to this brand. Actors who complain about the whole type thing tend to forget that in Hollywood, it’s to your advantage to brand yourself — and with as much specificity as possible — until we’ve cast you enough to know that we’re crazy about you. That’s when the industry as a whole might begin to give you free reign to show us your range. Hollywood is all about narrowly-defined specialists. Think about the working actors whose work you know and respect (not the celebs; they have more latitude because they’re low-risk hires). Why do you adore them? Probably because they’re talented, consistent, and you know exactly what to expect from them when they show up on the screen. We want the same feeling about you, every time we see your headshot: “Oh! I get her. She’s that wacky neighbor with a shady past. I love her stuff!”
Where type and authenticity intersect is where you’ll have the best time with this. Getting to know yourself at a true, deep level will help you with your “actor brand.” If you stop focusing on what you think we want to see (in a headshot, in a resumé, in your demo reel, in the room when you audition) and instead focus on how to introduce us to your brand, you’ll never have to worry about “what we’re thinking” or “how you did.” Instead, you’ll be taking every encounter as an opportunity to advertise your brand to a potential customer and, just like Coca-Cola — a company that doesn’t call up its potential customers to ask how their billboards are working — you’ll know you’re reaching your target customer base when they remain loyal to your brand by “buying you” repeatedly over time.
As I mentioned in another column a few years back:
Actors spend so much of their lives being other people, stretching their range of emotions and reactions, keeping their instrument well-tuned and ready for anything. And then they spend so much more of their lives trying to develop a hard shell through which they cannot be hurt in this mythically harsh town that authenticity becomes viewed as a vulnerability. And that’s one thing actors never want showing: the soft underbelly of their craft and their very souls.
I realize I’m describing a paradox that’s tough to live, but as I’m hearing these working actors talk about their ability to just “go in as me” and win role after role, I know it must certainly be possible to strike that balance.
There comes a time when you simply must stop trying to be anything because it’s what they’re looking for and just be who you are, doing the role the way you’ve interpreted it. That way, you’re open for adjustments and direction, you’re showing the room your potential and your take on the material, and most importantly, you don’t leave the room wondering what you could’ve done differently in order to win the role.
You instead leave the room knowing you did what working actors everywhere have learned how to do: be yourself. Your authentic self. That way, it’s never personal when you do not book a role. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do in your audition. It’s simply a matter of what they needed at that time: You? Not you? Whatever! When it’s you they need, they’ll know what to expect, once you show them you’re consistently, authentically you.
Look, we see thousands upon thousands of submissions for every project we cast. We need to use whatever tools we can to help us thin out the numbers and get down to a manageable level of options before we even start looking at anything beyond your headshot (thumbnail). So, in order to stay in the running long enough for us to be wowed by your resumé, your demo reel, your overall package, you need to first have yourself so authentically centered and accurately presented that we couldn’t imagine dismissing you from the running. “Wow! He’s not right for this role, but I so totally get how to cast him! Y’know what he’d be right for? This other role. Let’s call him in for that one.” And then when you come in and make us feel like we were *right* when we were pretty sure we GOT you (just from your marketing materials), you’ve built a solid fanbase. And that’s awesome.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000731.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.