Hoo, boy! What a topic! I thought Bad Headshots, Good Headshots was a hot one. Ooh, there are some serious issues surrounding actor websites… and everyone takes critiques of their “babies” very personally. Wow! So, we’re about to dive into a very long, very detailed column about actor websites. I have some examples of great ones, a whole bunch of mediocre samples, and — unfortunately — some flat-out bad ones (and only a couple are intentionally bad). Before we get to the examples, let me first offer a huge thank you to everyone who was willing to put a website up for critique! Sure, I could describe each of the deadly website sins, but without real-life examples available to the readers of this column, the descriptions would fall short. So, THANKS! I hope you benefit from having been reviewed, here.
Next, huge thanks to “Showfax Bob” (Brody) for hosting some screen caps of the best and worst sites right here at the Showfax website. Since the very nature of web design dictates that there will be changes to the websites that I’m going to use as examples in this week’s column, it’s important that those of you reading this column (in the archives) still get the gist. So, while I’m linking to live websites in order to illustrate my points, please also consult the link at the bottom of this week’s column in order to see screen captured versions in case live sites have been changed, moved, or shut down. (Screen caps correspond to parenthetical numbers.)
I remember including this must in the first edition of Self-Management for Actors after having posted this very same must on the BackStage.com message board years ago… still, it’s probably one of the most-frequently ignored musts in website design. Check everything on every browser in every platform. Just because it looks great on your computer doesn’t mean anyone else is getting the intended experience. And what good does all of your hard work do if the end-user isn’t seeing it?
Provide both a PDF download and HTML version of your resumé. If your only resumé version is an HTML page, don’t count on it being formatted correctly on everyone’s printer. And if your only version of your resumé is a download, don’t count on anyone bothering to download it! (How can we know that we’d want to, without a preview?) Even though a Word DOC may be okay for most users, it’s also a potential virus-delivery-system, so always offer a PDF.
Offer thumbnails for every large image on your site. (This does not mean “just change image proportions.” (1 & 2) You actually have to size-down images for the web.) You can’t know everyone’s connection speed. Err on the side of overly-courteous by offering clickable thumbnails. Further, offer up the option of links to your demo reels and voiceover clips. Automatic-launching media clips are never a good idea (and most users have such auto-launchers blocked anyway). Just listen to what might happen to us, if we don’t have such media blocked! Too risky.
Click to enter (3). Dude. I came to your website. I want to be there. Otherwise I wouldn’t have clicked on the link or typed in the URL. So why, oh, why do you want to give me an extra page of, “Are you sure?” before I go in? When most people see a “click to enter” page, they simply go elsewhere. So, your hit count may show that we went to your site, but if we didn’t bother to see your site’s content beyond the splash page, does it matter? Further, if you have a link within your site to “home” and “home” is the “click to enter” screen, you’re going to really piss us off.
Wrong page title (4, 5). It’s so simple, yet so frequently overlooked. There’s a nice little tag in your HTML for the page’s title (how it will show up in the browser or bookmark). If you don’t take the time to change it, it can be something as boring as “page one,” something as blah as “untitled page,” or something as obviously template-based as “actor resumé template page.” Take the extra ten seconds to name your page.
Dead blog. If you’re going to include a blog on your professional actor site, don’t get too personal (see Unprofessional Content, below) and don’t let it die. There is nothing less exciting than thinking, “Ooh, let me see what auditions this actor has been on this week,” only to click and find no updates in six months. Honestly, industry pros who visit a professional actor website don’t need to see a blog. And if you’re not updating it weekly, you don’t need to include one on your site either.
Flash-only content (6, 7, 8). News flash (no pun intended): Most folks in the industry use Firefox with the lovely Flash Block extension. And those whose computers are on studio lots have even more content blocks. So, if you’re offering Flash-only content, your site is not getting seen. Now, I understand the warped logic behind the choice of a Flash site, Flash headshot slideshow, Flash demo reel. You want to prevent people from “stealing” your content. Um. Please tell me where it is that anyone is going to cost you work, cost you money, or derail your professional reputation by saving a copy of your headshot or demo reel. Oh, and in case you’re still absolutely positive that you’re doing the right thing by limiting access to your content with the “protection” of Flash, let me introduce you to my friends Download Helper, Video Downloader, and Media Pirate. So, skip the frou-frou Flash and give us a QuickTime reel and plain ol’ JPGs of your headshot. Thank you.
Too much scrolling (9-12, 13-21). Okay, sadly, one of the examples I have of “too much scrolling” was so tediously long that after TEN screen captures (when I was still only HALFWAY down the page), I stopped taking screen captures. (Actually, that’s not true. I did take another dozen screen caps to get all the way to the bottom of the page, but I didn’t bother coding them and uploading them here, because I trust you’ll get the point after seeing ten “pages” of scroll.) Seriously, no one needs to see that much content on one page. It’s annoying.
Odd links. If you’re going to link to sites like Actors Access, LA Casting, IMDb, etc., then please link to your profile page at these sites (22). Providing a link to the Academy Players Directory and then telling me what page you’re on does me no good. If you’re on a web-based directory, link to your profile page. I know how to find IMDb all by myself. I don’t need a link to its main page from your actor website. A link to your page there might be useful. Further, long links send your page into pan-and-scan mode (23). If you can’t shorten the URL, hide it behind linked text in your code, so that your otherwise cleanly-formatted page doesn’t become amateurish in tone.
Font chaos (24). Oh, dear me! I needed Ritalin after viewing this page. Look, I think it’s great to know how to change fonts, use bold and italics, pick different colors, and increase the size of the font you’ve chosen. These are all really fun things to do on a website you’re creating for your own pleasure. But if you’ve created a professional website for the industry to use as a source of information about you, keep the attention on your brand, your work, your contact information. Save the other stuff for your family tree site. Another font sin, though nowhere near as egregious as “font chaos,” is non-linked text that looks like linked text (25). It’s common Internet form that underlined text is linked text. If you’re using underlining as an accent, be prepared to cause frustration among your site’s visitors.
Frame congestion (26, 27, 28). There are some who would advise against frames at all costs. I’m not one of those people. When used correctly (and sparingly), frames can keep a website’s theme intact and present a clean, focused display area at the same time. However, congested frames are a bad, bad thing. No one wants to scroll both horizontally and vertically in order to read your latest news or your resumé! Ack! Stop the madness!
Launching new windows without notice. It’s fine to have links that launch new browser windows, but if the links are to pages within your site (like a link to your headshot gallery from your resumé page), these links should not be coded to open new windows. By the time I visited each page in one actor’s otherwise simple, straightforward site, I had six windows open. Nobody needs that, when they’re just trying to get info on one site.
Inconsistent navigation menus (29-36). There’s actually quite a bit wrong with this site. The fact that the menus (navigation links to all other pages within the website) jump all over the place is the most annoying; but huge, scrolling background images that stop mid-page and text on top of images in nearly-identical colors is bad stuff too. Honestly, the best page on this site is here (37).
Your actor website is your company’s profile. It’s your way of getting business, keeping clients, answering questions about your services. So, while you may really enjoy sharing “funnies,” posting blurbs about your ten best friends (38), tossing in the random inside joke, linking to your favorite Jessica Simpson pictorial site (39), or including a banner that tells visitors what the current weather conditions are in Orlando, no one who shows up at your website looking for information on you as an actor gives a poop about those things. Yes. I said poop.
Other stuff to leave off your site: cliché images (the Hollywood sign, marquee lights, film reels, clapper boards), cliché phrases (“wanted to be an actor since the tender age of five,” “a natural,” “girl next door with an edge”), captions for your headshots (40) (“me as a bad guy,” “me as a good guy,” “me as a nerd,” “me as a blue-collar type”), and any mention whatsoever that your site is “under construction” (41). Look, the very nature of websites dictates that they are always under construction. Step away from the animated GIF of the guy in a hardhat, shoveling HTML codes.
I cannot stress enough the fact that your website is your professional online presence. It is how we will think of you as a performer, until we know you personally. Almost everything that causes you to doubt the professionalism of a company (when you are the consumer, perusing websites) “counts” for actor websites too. A clean, simple site is plenty. Check your spelling, check your formatting, leave MySpace-like photos off your actor website (42), and if you offer a page for a demo reel, HAVE a reel (43)!
You never need to say that you’re “seeking representation” on your site (or your resumé for that matter). If you don’t have an agency logo on your page, it’s assumed you’d like to have one. (Heck, even if you do have an agent, it’s assumed you’d like to have a better one.) Make sure your links actually work (not link to nowhere (44) or to your hard drive), and clear your cache to check your site’s load time. Seriously, check out the lightning-fast load on Thor Knai’s galleries. Awesome!
Now, let me get a rant out of the way. I had many volunteers for this week’s column (and for that I am truly grateful). Of those volunteers, quite a few said things like, “Oh, I wish I still had my old, first actor website! It was awful! You could use it as a great example of what not to do.” So, whenever an actor said that he or she would be eager to offer up that “bad” version, “if only it hadn’t died with my last hard drive” or whatever, I used the handy dandy Internet Archive to bring up (gasp!) actors’ first websites. Being the conscientious person that I am, I didn’t want to assume it was okay for me to use these early “bad” examples (even though actors had already told me they’d be eager to have me use those “bad” examples, if only they could find them). So, I emailed links to the actors, asking if it would be okay for me to link to these archived sites. Guess what. Only one wonderful actor was okay with it.
So, here’s my rant. Y’know the advertising slogan: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” right? Well, look at the Internet the same way. What you put out there online stays online. Forever. Period. If I can, in two minutes, find your first-ever actor website from a decade ago, so can anyone else who wants to do so. And when you’re famous, don’t be shocked when Star Magazine and Entertainment Tonight unearth your earliest entries. If what you put out there was “too personal” for me to share in this column, how will you feel when it’s splattered all over the tabloids? The Internet is not the little journal you keep by your bed, into which you scribble your innermost thoughts, insecurities, and dreams. And if you go to the Internet to look up agents and casting directors before you have meetings with them, why should you be surprised to learn that you’re Googled before meetings too? Rant over. (Man, I sound much more angry in my head about this issue.)
Stuff That Truly Could Cost You Work
Bad resumé options. I know I mentioned this up top, but it bears repeating. If you only offer a PDF of your resumé, you could cost yourself work. If you only offer an HTML version of your resumé (45, 46-47), you could cost yourself work. If your only printable resumé is a Word DOC, you could cost yourself work. And if you provide no contact info on the HTML version of your resumé (48), you could cost yourself work. For an example of a perfect online resumé, visit Shon Little’s site (49). He not only includes contact info (agent, manager, and his own) on the simple, correctly-formatted HTML version of the resumé, he also includes a link to the printable version.
No contact info. Okay, I’m confused here. You went to a lot of trouble to create a website for your acting career. Um, don’t you want me to be able to contact you, if I want to cast you? I understand that people are concerned about safety, stalkers, psychos, etc., but unless you have an agent’s number to put out there, for the love of all that is holy, get a freakin’ service number and then put that number on your website! If an email address is all you give me (50) or worse, you don’t even give me that and just make me fill out a form to reach out to you (51), you could cost yourself work.
Hijacked site. Be careful about handing off the controls to your website to another party. There are plenty of tales of well-intentioned webmasters who suddenly get too busy to keep your site updated (keeping old, incorrect information out there about you) or who hijack your site altogether, keeping you from having any say over what is written about you on your “official” site. Your online presence, like your career itself, should remain in your control.
Biggest Mistake in Actor Websites
Lack of branding. It’s simple. While there are many, many avoidable sins in website design, there is none more overwhelmingly present in the actor websites I visited than a lack of branding. Just as an actor’s headshot must indicate an actor’s dominant type, an actor’s website should provide insight into an actor’s type and overall vibe. A great example in the night-and-day difference a bit of branding can make is in Anna Vocino’s old site and current site (52, 53). Holy cow, right? While I don’t have “before” examples for the rest of these, other well-branded sites are those from Martti Nelson (54), Alex Petrovitch (55), and Pia Thrasher (56) (proof that even a simple sense of branding is sufficient).
While many actors choose to use template-based designs (and I’ll get into specific pros and cons of various actor-based packages next week), that can really make for a bland actor website. You already know that no one enjoys a vanilla audition or a blah headshot. Well, a ho-hum website is boring to visit. Worse, you’re blowing an opportunity to really show people who you are. Why bother? Do it right or don’t do it at all.
Best Stuff in Actor Websites
Here are some things I really liked about a few sites I visited, in researching this week’s column.
Demo reel on main page (57). It is why we visit most actor’s site, after all. Might as well have it on the main page!
Linked resumé (58). I love the idea that actors can make their online resumés even further interactive. Link titles to their IMDb pages. Link plays’ titles to the reviews they received. (I don’t love the odd, four-column format though.)
News archive (59). When you have lots of good news to share, an archive is a brilliant idea. It keeps the news page from scrolling forever while still leaving open the option for reviewing past entries.
IMDb loading within an unobtrusive frame below (60). This is so cool, I actually begged Shon to trick out Keith’s page the same way. Sure, a link to your IMDb page is cool, but what if it’s already right there? Way cool.
Nav bar at top and bottom (61, 62). This rocks. In addition to a navigation (or menu) bar up top, there’s another at the bottom of each page. If I’ve scrolled to the bottom of a long page, it’s great to not have to scroll all the way back up in order to navigate elsewhere.
Respect for visitors (63, 64). I really like it when an actor offers options based on a visitor’s speed of connection and their preferred format of demo reel. That’s just really nice. Further, I dig the opt-in email list and guestbook stuff. It makes your visitors feel as though they are a part of your world.
First-person “about me” section (65). Most people create an “about me” section or bio in which they are “written about” by some fake biographer or publicist. That’s fine. It’s standard. But since actors often book work based on their overall personality and vibe, why not take the opportunity to show a little more of YOU?
Stills from the set (66). Since you only want to offer up a few different headshots in your gallery (remember… no need to talk me out of knowing your type like this (67)), a great way to show your range (and that you’ve been working, which we love to see) is to feature stills from the set. (Although, I’d love for Amy Crofoot’s stills to be clickable for larger versions.)
When You’re Not Yet Ready for a Website
Okay, fine, you aren’t ready to have a website because you really, really want to do it right. I respect that. So, meanwhile, go ahead and buy your domain name (Julie Inmon was smart enough to buy both the .com and .net version of her domain name), and use your Actors Access or LA Casting profile as your site for now. (68, 69, 70) Heck, even if you have a great site, you can let your online profile be your resumé page, as that means you only have to do ONE update every time you add credits.
Next week, I’ll delve into the bottom-line truth about actor websites. Since we’ve covered creative design topics, we’ll look at practical issues: Do you need a website? Do casting directors, producers, directors, agents, and managers even look at actors’ websites? If so, what are they looking for? Are actor website services worth the money or should you do it yourself? Check back next week for the answers to those questions and more. Meanwhile, happy HTMLing!
To see thumbnails of all screen captures featured in this column, click here.
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Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000645.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.