Since we’ve covered creative design topics, we’ll now look at practical issues: Do you need a website? Are actor website services worth the money or should you do it yourself? I interviewed some actors whose websites were featured in last week’s piece and these amazingly gracious, helpful folks are just filled with great information! So much that I’ve decided to make this a three-part series, with many more actor contributions next week, to close out the year. Yippee! Now, go show their sites some love: Catherine Campion, Amy Crofoot, Cynthia Foster, Kyle Keller, Jay Prichard, Tricia Rockman, Anna Vocino, Shea Weaver.
Why Actors Should Have Websites
I’ll get more specifically into the subject of how the industry uses the Internet to search out actors next week, but let’s lead off under the assumption that you do need a website, for the purpose of this week’s column. If you treat your acting career like a business (which you should do) then your online presence should be professional and easily located. Google yourself. What do you come up with? My name yields (in this order): my company’s website, my personal website, my IMDb page, my blog, Hollywood Happy Hour’s website, and my books at Amazon.com. If my goal is that people seeking me out for business purposes get a clear image of who I am when they search my name online, that bunch of “top hits” at Google does the job quite well. Can you say the same? And how do you feel when you Google a company and find no website for it? It’s weird, isn’t it? So, the industry may be a bit behind the rest of the world in terms of embracing technology. Still, it’s time to have an official online presence (especially if the unofficial ones do nothing to help your acting career along).
“I submitted my site URL to the various search engines on my own. You need to register with them to submit your site, but it’s free and fairly straightforward. There are services that charge for this (it’s $99 on ActorWebs) and I’m sure there are lots of things I didn’t do or know about (tags and such), but within a few weeks of submitting to Google, Yahoo, and MSN the search ‘cynthia foster actress’ brought my site up first. Why is this important? I want to make it supremely easy to be found by casting directors, agents, and the people who tormented me in high school for being a theatre geek!” — Cynthia
“I always include the link in my submissions (except you can’t on the OTHER casting site) and CDs have brought me in because they were so impressed with my site.” — Catherine
Y’know, that whole “other casting site won’t let you post a URL in your profile” thing really pisses me off. Are they so worried that you’ll drive customers away from their site with the link to your own website or to your reel, parked elsewhere online? It’s just a really stupid and petty policy. I mean, look at MySpace. They let you post links to other sites all over the place in your profile and messages. Yeah, just look at how much business that choice has cost them. (Insert eyes-rolling cartoony face here.)
“As an unrepresented actor, I self-submit for roles and do a lot of casting director workshops. I wanted a place that CDs and (hopefully) potential agents could go to find out everything about me… professionally. So, a website was a perfect option for me! My site address is listed at the top of my resumé with my contact information. I also put it on the front of my postcards. I love that I have a vehicle for my headshots and demo reel that is truly accessible for everyone. The beauty is that I now have the peace of mind that if someone is trying to track me down, there will always be current info on how to reach me.” — Amy
“I put my website address on all of my emails, business cards, postcards, resumé, and in my program bio when I do a play: ‘For more information visit cynthiafoster.com.’ And I keep it updated so that it always has the most current info. I have an email account through my site and list info at cynthiafoster dot com as my address, that way my email address becomes an advertisement for my website.” — Cynthia
“Once you have your domain name, you should stop using that freebie email address that you got from Yahoo or some other source, and use your professional email address. You can do this because once you have created your domain name and you own it, you will have the ability to create whatever email addresses using that domain name that you want. This gives a more professional image of YOU! It is much better than something like BestActor32@yahoo.com or something else more goofy and unprofessional. And don’t worry; you can still keep your old Yahoo (or whatever) email address for non-professional purposes. At some point, you will wish that you had done this, so the earlier in your career, the better. And if you use email programs like Outlook, you can set it up to receive BOTH (or more) email addresses at the same time, so you don’t miss anything. That is how my Outlook is setup, but I have it defaulted to SEND only as jay at jayprichard dot com.” — Jay
“My very favorite feature is the STATS page! I can go on there and it tells me the details of web traffic at my site. I can see exactly when and how many people go there. I can see that when I’m doing a show, after an email blast, mailing, or media appearance, my web traffic increases dramatically. Also, I can see when I’m being seriously considered for a role (callbacks, etc.) that there’s a lot more activity on the site.” — Cynthia
You Are Your Own Spin Doctor
“Our own website is the one place we can control how we’re perceived in an industry where if you’re not already known, you don’t exist.” — Kyle
That’s so true! And this is why branding (in website design) becomes as important as knowing your type (in choosing headshots). Of course, as I mentioned last week, the one thing that most actors don’t have in their websites is a sense of their brand. Actors who created their websites with their brand in mind succeeded. The rest of the actors didn’t know branding was an issue. On almost all of the “bad” examples I used, the “bad” was an issue of design, not content. But if the design is somehow displeasing, even the best content will do you no good. So, start your career’s “spin” with knowing your type, determining a brand, and crafting all of your marketing materials with that focus in mind.
I noticed when visiting CatherineCampion.com for last week’s column that her main page includes links to her photos on Wire Image, Getty Images, and Daily Celeb. I’ve also seen actors link to search result pages associated with their names at the websites of Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, or even Google News. In addition to linking to (and quoting from) your best reviews and including your official fan sites in your links, this tactic of promoting your “press presence” is a great way to cause the industry to associate you with red carpet events, upping your perceived level of stardom.
Also, I’m sure you’ve been frustrated with the lack of an IMDb page for a film or pilot you’ve been a part of, right? The criteria for getting your project listed can be so strict that you simply give up. Well, on your own website (assuming you have permission to use the material), you can put up poster art, stills from the set, trailers, and even “award season ads” congratulating you for the stunning work you did. Why wouldn’t you want to be your own hype machine?
“I must admit I have a bit of a marketing background and HALLELUJAH has it helped me to promote myself and my own projects. Please stress to your readers that all the talent in the world will be for naught if nobody knows who you are. Me? After a decade of extensive training and professional theatre, I abandoned both all together. I decided to spend my time and money getting the word out about me and my vast talent. This has led to an annual DOUBLING of my acting income the past few years. No regrets there. (Disclaimer: This tack may not work for everybody and is probably best not shared with amateur eyes. Key words: ‘decade’ and ‘training.’)” — Catherine
Potential Pitfalls To Having a Website
Certainly, there’s a downside to being a public person to any degree. Having a website can cause people to feel very close to you, especially if you share intimate details about your personal life. Also, there is the stalker issue. Having had a real-world stalker myself, I am less nervous about the online kinds than most (and perhaps living with a Marine gives me some sense of security), but absolutely there are whackos out there and they do love to have access to “famous people.” (And no matter how unfamous you may feel, sometimes just having had one line in Borat will do the trick for a stalker.)
“It can be a risky proposition, especially for the ladies. Or, at least, an annoyance. Shortly after North Country came out, I started receiving international phone calls from fellas asking about my work in the film, could they meet me, etc. It took me weeks to realize they had found my website via my IMDb link. My contact page used to have my cell number. My phone number is still on my site, but now it’s only on my resumé. It’s also on IMDb, but only available to those on IMDb-Pro. Since it takes a little effort, it seems to have stemmed the flow of ‘interested parties.'” — Catherine
Another way to help limit the stranger-watching-you feeling is to keep the professional website away from your personal blog. This could also help with regard to potential employers not being scared off by your tales.
“I used to keep my blog on Blogspot but I transferred it since it was offered with my acting website. My blog is personal though — largely because I do write, both cathartically and because I know I have the makings for another story somewhere in my blog. 🙂 Not limiting oneself in this business is key too, as you well know. It does make sense though. But I really don’t know how many CDs read a blog. But it could be a deterrent from calling me in as well and I’m just blissfully unaware. 🙂 I get a lot of compliments on it (but I have this weird stalker reading my blog! That’s not the fault of the website of course, just some crazy person that somehow got my web address. It comes with the territory).” — Tricia
I have a blog… a way way way personal blog with way way way too many readers. But it’s not connected to my casting website. I would never NOT want those things “out there” (and certainly, by putting them out there, I prevent anyone from “finding secrets out” about me and “exposing me” without my permission), but by putting them AWAY from my business site, I prevent my “journal” from costing me work (or at least make it a little more difficult for that to happen).
Obviously, if someone wants to get to know me before they hire me, they can read a zillion words I’ve put online over the years — some very personal and intimate experiences. But if an investor wanted to tell a producer that he needed to hire a great casting director — and if that investor only checked my professional website to be sure that CD was me — I’d hate to give him a link right there on that professional website to something that could be used as a reason NOT to hire me. And with actors, there is so much emotion and passion anyway (and creative types are scary critters to a lot of non-creatives), I worry that a blog on the same page, in the same format, in the same “look” as the “professional site,” could cost an actor a gig. Especially a series regular gig or something where they really are going to want to see what you’re like before hiring you (since it’s not just a quickie).
Further, producers might worry that if you write with great detail about your relationships and experiences that you may also write about THEM in details that make them uncomfortable. Some folks don’t like the idea that you’re an open book. I try to let producers know, before they hire me, that I write a weekly column and will be including details about my casting experiences on their project in my writing both here and in my blog. If they are uncomfortable with that, we have to spell out some terms in our deal memo that prevent me from disclosing information about them or the project. Producers of tiny indie projects might not know how to put those protections in place, so they may just move on and hire someone else, rather than asking you not to blog about them. And, at the other end of the spectrum, big networks and studios might just choose to move on to the next candidate, rather than having their lawyers draft another version of the deal, in which they put lots of non-disclosure stuff.
Remember, if a producer is visiting your professional actor website and is reading about experiences in your blog that could keep him from being able to insure you on the set of his project, that could cost you work. Sure, it may only be a few more clicks for him to visit your blog hosted elsewhere, if he really wanted to dig, but I’ve found that keeping the information separate in both URL and design tends to comfort folks who might otherwise get nervous about your blog.
Setting Up Your First Website
If you’re creating your own website, you’re going to need some web design software. There are many options from which to choose.
“At my old company, we used Microsoft FrontPage, so that is what I use now, because I already knew it. I have never used DreamWeaver, but it seems to be like a religion… some people swear by FrontPage and others swear by DreamWeaver. It is sort of like Mac vs. PC… but in reality, they both work, so use what you feel most comfortable with. When I first got my domain registration and web hosting through AT&T Yahoo, they offered a ‘user friendly’ web development tool. I didn’t like it at all. Web pages are just that… PAGES. And I suggest using a tool that treats them as such, like FrontPage or DreamWeaver. Those ‘user friendly’ web development tools treat the page like a poster, and instead of being able to write free-flowing text and use tables (just like you were working in Word), the text would instead have to be put into little text boxes. I can usually tell when a web page has used one of these programs, because the page looks like a bunch of text thrown all over your screen.” — Jay
“Since I am my own webmaster, I can keep my site VERY up-to-date. All I have to do is log on. Sure, it took a little while longer to figure all the ins and outs, but I was more than willing to take that extra time at the beginning to have the convenience later. I wouldn’t even say I’m that computer savvy. I use iWeb for design. iWeb has a bunch of choices when it comes to creating the look of your site. I wanted something very simple and straightforward, but with some of my personality injected into it. You can have as many pages as you want. I haven’t included a blog or message board on mine, but you can if you choose.” — Amy
Martti Nelson, whose site was in last week’s column, created both her professional website and the site for her pilot using SiteSpinner. She explained, “It’s about $50 and it’s awesome for the HTML-ly challenged. I’d recommend it for people who are computer savvy and who have a good eye for design/are good with PhotoShop type things. Also, they have a 14-day trial.”
I use the free Mozilla SeaMonkey and am looking into the free Nvu. Free is good. At the other end of the scale, there’s DreamWeaver, which has a free 30-day trial, but then costs you $400. FrontPage (now called Publisher) is around $170 for the Microsoft set. For Mac lovers, the iWeb/.Mac combo that Amy uses is free for 60 days and then $100/yr. (and that’s hosting, email, design software, and uploading tools). Registering the name is a separate charge (but we’ll get to that later).
Additionally, you can save this source code to your computer (save the file as “test.html” or something like that) and then open it using the design software you’re trying out. Play around with the page, make changes to it, view your source code from within that program, have fun! (And don’t worry; you’re not changing the original page. It lives on a web server somewhere far, far away from your hard drive.)
“Templates can be a good route for the ‘skilled novice.’ But one of the main things I don’t like about templates is that your website can look like somebody else’s website. I have seen multiple sites that are obviously templates because they have the same graphics. The templates give you a library of images to select, but there are only so many, and people seem to like the same ones, and you see them over and over again on different people’s sites. They are non-personalized and can be limited on your flexibility and personality expression. But using your own creativity (especially if you know how to create computer graphics), you can try to work your way around this. One benefit of using templates is that it gives the ‘skilled novice’ the ability to instantly update your website resumé with that great movie role that you just booked, without have to wait for your web development person to do it for you (and without paying somebody else to do it for you).” — Jay
I’m a fan of templates (my favorites are at WebDesignHelper), but for actor websites, I worry that the vibe can come off as clinical or at the very least, cookie-cutter. Because actors’ personalities are such an enormous part of what makes them castable, I think templates should only be used if you can modify them somewhat so that they are more “you.” It’s tough to balance professionalism and personality-vibe online, but a few tweaks can make a big difference in the feel of a template-based site.
Now, once you’ve designed your pages, you’re going to need a place to store the files, online. Otherwise, they only live on your computer. In order to publish your work to the Internet, you’ll have to select and pay for a web host.
A nice table of options is at Top 10 Web Hosting (ranging in price from $4 to $10 per month). Specific favorites among actors I surveyed include GoDaddy ($5/mo.), StartLogic ($6/mo.), and BlueHost ($7/mo.). Your needs for bandwidth and storage space will vary depending on whether you host your demo reel on your own site or link to it elsewhere, etc.
“This is my BUSINESS… my PROFESSION. I want a web hosting company that I can rely on. Okay, so I pay $2 to $3 more a month than if I went with some small start-up company, but I also have peace of mind. And I also know that they maintain and backup their servers regularly.” — Jay
“I have always had a Mac and I wouldn’t know what to do with a PC, so when choosing how to set up my site, I knew I was going with .Mac for hosting. .Mac makes everything convenient. In fact, I haven’t even dealt with .Mac since I set up the account, which took no time. I am using them to host my site.” — Amy
And, because you don’t want to tell people they have to go to “companyname dot com slash personal pages slash actor slash yourname,” you should register a domain name, which is the address at which your site will be located (even if the domain name is just a “pointer” to your actual website URL, which is one of those way long and complicated ones).
“Okay. So, you are ready to get your website domain name (your URL), like www.yourURL.com. First, I highly suggest using your ACTOR NAME as your URL domain name. After all, YOU ARE the product, so your URL should be www.youractorname.com (.com is preferable to .net or something else since it is most widely known, and you might want to get both). But how do you know if the URL name you want is available? Well, there are domain registration companies that sell the domains and keep track of them. These companies also let you search for available domain names. Network Solutions is one of the most well-known. Who Is is another one. Go to either and you can enter your desired domain name in their search box. It will tell you if the domain name is available. If not, you can try another one, or try .net instead of .com. You don’t have to go to one of these companies to buy your domain name. Often times, your web hosting company will sell it to you as part of your web hosting package, and they will take care of the registration process. And, if you ever decide to change to a different web hosting company, you can still transfer it to your new web hosting company. Also, make sure that YOU own the domain name, and not the company or individual providing the web hosting service. Again, this is a good reason to go with a well-known web hosting company. I know some people that used an individual person who had a web server in their ‘place of business’ (read: spare bedroom), and they hired this person to register their domain name, and to do their website hosting, and to do their web design. They would get a monthly bill from the person that included the hosting fees and the domain registration fees. But what they didn’t realize is that the actual registration ownership belonged to the individual web designer, NOT to the client, which means you don’t really have control of your own website name. And if you ever want to change to another web hosting provider, this could make it difficult since you don’t own it!” — Jay
If all of this is just way too complicated and you can’t fathom putting this much work into your own website, have no fear! There are many just-for-actors website services out there with pricing plans that range from totally reasonable to outrageously gouging.
Actor Website Services
Website services that are geared exclusively to actors start with “set up” fees (the design of your site, registration of your domain name, hosting of your online files for some initial period of time) ranging from $40 to $250. After that, actors can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $250 per year to maintain that site with that particular company. When you compare that to the cost of managing your own site and keeping your domain name registered ($50 to $150 per year total, with no set-up fee), you’ll see that the balance is going toward those “updates” the service does on your behalf. For some people, that is absolutely “worth it.” For others, it’s not (especially since you can’t control the speed with which your updates happen). Watch out for add-on fees (like, the initial price looks great, but if you want to add a page or photo or video, the price is high) and whatever you do, make sure that YOU own your domain name. Tales of cyber-hijacking are gory (and totally avoidable).
“My site was created and is hosted by ActorWebs. They have different packages available as well as doing customized sites. I knew nothing about website design and didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for a one-of-a-kind site. I chose not to have my reel hosted by them because I have it hosted for free elsewhere, so I just have a link to it on my home page. I’ve saved money where I could do things on my own, for instance using a template instead of a custom design. What I like about this company is that while they have basic templates, you can customize them as well (different colors, graphics, etc.). I get a lot of compliments on the clean, professional look of my website (as we discussed, perhaps too clean. Gotta mess it up a bit with my personality)! It’s not the priciest or the cheapest, but I think you get what you pay for. Their pricing is listed clearly on their website so there are no surprises and they are flexible with their package deals. They have excellent customer service. I deal with Amy and she’s pleasant, creative, and responsive. She explains the technical stuff clearly and updates are done right away. For someone like me who doesn’t know her HTML from her elbow it’s been great. I explain what I’d like and she makes it happen.” — Cynthia
“I refer my web guy to everyone. I set up a website through ActorGear. The founder, Ben Miskie, is incredibly helpful. He answered a lot of my questions quickly, even calling a few times to walk me through some things (changing files to the correct format, explaining certain things). I think I paid $40 or $50 for the initial package fee and my website was up and running within two days. It costs $24/month. It would be even cheaper except I pay for extra. There are several pages, including: main page/updates, bio, resumé, photo gallery (30 photos), reel, blog, and contact page. It is very easy to maintain and affordable; I don’t really understand how up-and-coming professional actors don’t have one. ” — Tricia
Hiring a Professional Designer
And if you aren’t equipped to do your own site but you also don’t want a generic site created from a handful of templates, consider hiring a professional designer to craft your online image.
“I’m all about DIY. In fact, I just started building my own bike from the frame up and man, the confidence it’s giving me! But, there’s a time and place for DIY and it’s not when professionalism is at stake. If design is not your thing, do not attempt to do it yourself. Let’s just say the difference in cost between a pro and DIY site was about a month’s rent, but I can honestly say it has led to paid work for me. We’re out here to make a living at it, right? That’s the reason we pay the high rent! I’m proud of my site and even more proud of the woman who designed it: Maria May.” — Catherine
“My first page was a template from Microsoft Publisher 2000. Looks like crap, but it’s the closest thing I could come to what I wanted, yet still do it myself. I hated it — I was embarrassed by it and didn’t want to send it out. Now, when I send an email to someone who contacts me for work, I have my website in my signature, and nine times out of ten, I get another email back from the person saying they went to my site and loved the design, the VO demos, and/or the on-camera demo. The designer is someone I’ve known for ten years: Jackson Murphy. He’s based out of Atlanta and he’s amazing. I know there are people who will design based on templates, which is a great way to get started, but I’d say plan on spending around $500 to get the ball rolling with a unique design if you are planning on using your website to fully represent your brand. My website has resulted in ongoing clients and jobs (MONEY!!!), so I look at what I paid as an investment.” — Anna
“It was hard to say goodbye to my old (BAD) website (mainly because I was doing it myself) but the best thing I ever did was to let go and let someone do it who actually had way more knowledge in that area.” — Shea
Finally, next week: Do casting directors, producers, directors, agents, and managers even look at actors’ websites? If so, what are they looking for?
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Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000647.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.