Ethics in Journalism

Okay, so I have this great topic for tomorrow’s column about mistakes actors make in choosing their headshots. Believe me: they make LOTS of mistakes.


But this week’s column idea troubles me for a few reasons. Identifiability: Do I want to do the black bar over the eyes thing like they do in “Fashion Don’ts” in the back of Cosmo? Yes, sure… but part of what MAKES a headshot work, even if it breaks ALL of the rules, is that it captures SOMETHING (and usually that’s all about the eyes).


How about a big blur or pixilated dot like they use on COPS or Cheaters when someone doesn’t sign the release? Okay, that works, but then no one is going to be looking at the POINT I’m making (about obnoxious cropping, odd character poses, overall BAD composition) if they’re looking at something right out of The X-files, right?


There’s the scorned ex-girlfriend technique, wherein I “cut” the face out, but if I’m doing that in examples of ALL headshots (the ones that WORK and the ones that DON’T WORK), can you really tell what it is that I’m saying WORKS about one and what doens’t about another? Ugh! I’m so frustrated over this!


I already know I’m going in with a big couple of paragraphs about how effin’ frustrating this topic is to begin with, as I’d much rather NOT write it, do a column on something “safe,” and not risk having actors pissed that their headshot — even if only THEY recognize themselves — was used for something other than the reason it was submitted to me in the first place.

I totally get that. And I also know that I write a lot about my experiences in casting and never does a producer contact me and say, “Hey, I want to hire you to cast this movie, but I don’t want you to write about anything that you observe about actors or how they can better their chances of making it in Hollywood during the process of casting this film.” It is a part of hiring ME to do a job: I’m going to glean information from the work *I* do and turn it into a column or book or topic at a speaking engagement and help actors with it. It’s just how I roll.


Do I go “balls out” and just write the column, use the photos unretouched (except by the photographer, of course) and explain my reasoning, knowing that more people will LEARN from this than will be BURNED by this? Or do I edit the photos (which will be presented at the exact size as the samples you see, above) to protect (or at least somewhat mask) the identity of the subjects and explain my reasoning for that? Those are my two least-icky options. The ick-filled option is to write about something else altogether… and that’s a way wussy move.

I guess yet another option is to write about the issues without having the visual examples. I know I can write up a storm, but can I really explain well enough what I’m talking about when saying that a headshot in which the actor’s forehead is cropped down to her eyebrows AND the tip of her chin is cropped out does NOT serve the actor AT ALL? I mean, I can bitch about it… but until you see the absurdity of it, will you really GET what a bad headshot choice it is?


My job is hard today.

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

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  1. Lori May 14, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    Why not just show the part of the headshot that is questionable in a way that it doesn’t give away the identity of the person in it (i.e. cropped forehead acne, etc.). Just like I don’t want my dentist to use my phone number for a purpose other than a professional one, I wouldn’t want my casting agent to be using my headshot for something other than getting me a job. Not that I have a casting agent, but you know what I mean. Could you make the column a two-parter? Lead in with your few paragraphs already in mind, and ask for “before and after” submissions from “recovering head shot ‘don’ts’?” Or ask people to submit questionable headshots with the understanding that it could be published as a “don’t”? That could be kind of funny, and everyone wins.
    Good luck!

  2. drc May 14, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    I would use headshots of really famous people. They are the least sensitive to this issue and most of them have corrected whatever was wrong with the headshot. You could even do a before and after. Show a headshot that is bad, then show the after one corrected. Does that make sense?

  3. boom boom May 14, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Can you contact the people with the bad headshots and let them know you want to use their headshot and for what purpose. Maybe they would be happy that a casting director gives them a heads up on why their shot is bad? Heads up. Ha.

  4. Erik May 14, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    THe way I see it is, all publicity is good publicity, if you’re an actor. Even if their headshot is featured in a “What Not To Do With Your Headshot” article, people are still seeing their headshot and actors need exposure. Maybe this is simple-minded thinking on my part, but I feel like you should present the photos warts and all. Hopefully the people who are featured will learn from it and get new headshots, and if they’re miffed, well, hopefully they can get over that and realize they need new headshots!

  5. Bon May 14, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Could you make the column a two-parter?
    I’m definitely going to do this. I think I’m going to use line drawings (thank you, PhotoShop) of the headshots I want to feature in this week’s column–only when doing so can help disguise the age, race, type, even gender (in some cases) of the actor pictured, since the real issue is the crazy cropping.
    Great idea! Thank you!
    I would use headshots of really famous people.
    I think this is a great idea, except that readers will say that famous people aren’t actors (like them) who submit their headshots for roles (like these were).
    It’s like I once did a column about something that happened on one of those “The It Factor” or “Showbiz Moms and Dads” shows and got mail saying, “It doesn’t count! That actor was being followed by a camera crew and that’s why she booked the job. It’s not because she left it all behind after the audition, like you tried to say in your column.” So, I have to be careful in using “famous folks” for examples, since those can also be the exceptions that prove the rule (that was for you, Babes).
    One friend on an email group suggested I use politicians’ photos. I might try that. Also, ask for volunteers who want to pose for the photos like I’m looking for. The point is, though, readers will be able to say I’m exaggerating, in such “trumped up” versions. The way I’m visualizing the column right now, it’s REAL: these are photos that people THOUGHT would HELP them get jobs. And they’re AWFUL.
    Can you contact the people with the bad headshots and let them know you want to use their headshot and for what purpose.
    I’ll definitely do that for the “good example” headshots, but I don’t know about the “bad.” As soon as I make contact with an actor, I’m going to be either on the phone or emailed relentlessly with, “Ooooh, tell me! Tell me how to fix it!” Which I don’t mind doing IN PUBLIC, so that everyone learns from it. But past experience tells me I’ll instead NOT get the OKAY to use the material AND I’ll be hit up for free career consultation sessions, which I do NOT have the time to do.
    I am so OVER this column already and I haven’t even written it. Ugh.
    What do y’all think of this: Lemmeknow.

  6. Bon May 14, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    Okay, I just sent this out to the Hollywood Happy Hour group:
    Hi HHH-ers,
    This is a QUICK request! Super quick! Like… it’s 3:45pm and I need to have your headshots in by 9pm at the LATEST.
    Here’s the deal:
    I’m doing a column on GOOD and BAD headshots (cropping, poses, wild character shots, costumes, props, etc.).
    This will NOT be a “bash a certain photographer” column. Nor will it be a “look at how silly that actor is for thinking this was a good headshot” column. This is JUST to help actors see what makes a GREAT and a not-so-great headshot.
    I have plenty of examples that I can use–but they’re examples that haven’t been given to me for the purpose of doing this column (they’ve been submitted to me for the purpose of getting auditions for films I’m casting). So, I’m going to mask the identies of those who are in the “what not to do” photos, out of respect for their privacy.
    But it would be sooooooooo much better if I didn’t have to “mask identities.” Meaning, if there are HHH-ers out there who had BAD HEADSHOTS from a couple of years ago and who wanted me to show the BAD and a current GOOD headshot to show the difference a good headshot could make, this would be a MUCH better column.
    Of course, I have the option of putting this request for material “out there” in the column this week and getting the material over the course of the week and posting the results in NEXT WEEK’S column, but I’d also like to move forward with a FEW examples this week.
    And that means I need headshots like… now.
    If you’d like to participate, I need you to email me an attachment of your headshot to the following email address ONLY: showfaxbon@ (that is the ONLY email address to use for this project).
    Thank you in advance, those of you who see this email within the next few hours and who are able to help me help the masses who read my columns! This is the best example of a “toy share.” So, you had BAD headshots a few years ago? GREAT! Help someone else avoid the traps!

  7. Ed R May 14, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    I’d have asked an actor you are close with to pose for the bad headshots and the good headshots, this eliminates any bad feeling.

  8. David May 14, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    You can, as Bob Fraser has done in his book on headshots, get permission for use from the actors/image owners. Then you’ll be all good.

  9. Bon May 15, 2006 at 4:56 am

    Okay, it’s done. Turned it in only five hours late and after a serious few panic attacks, but it’s in now. Let the chips fall where they may.
    I need bed.

  10. babes May 15, 2006 at 10:00 am

    did i make the cut??
    *tee hee*

  11. Bon May 15, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    Technically, yes, Babes. It’s gonna be next week’s column where I use “recreations” of the most offensive headshots. I decided to set the stage for that this week, and use real headshots for this first column.
    So, if you want to do some more recreations, lemmeknow! 😉 Hee!!!!!!