Okay, so I wrote a column here a couple of years ago called Headshots I Keep. I had been casting for about a year and a half at that point and I had only ever put out breakdowns requesting hardcopy headshot submissions. Cut to today: I’m closing in on four years as a casting director (Four? Already? How is that possible?!?), I’ve switched to accepting electronic submissions ONLY, and I’ve totally redesigned my home office (and electronic record-keeping system) to accommodate my ever-expanding library of casting records. So what does that mean to my headshot files? Has the criteria changed — regarding Headshots I Keep — now that I’ve more than tripled the number of roles I’ve cast? Yeah. It has.
Now, I’d like to think that I’ve simply refined the criteria I was using from the beginning (hanging onto headshots of actors whose work I know, whose credits click with me, or of whose type I have too few actors in my existing files), but it turns out that I’ve also come up with a whole new way of looking at the POINT of having headshots in my home office at all. The reason for revisiting this topic today is that I am almost finished with the initial setup of my Casting Wiki. (And holy cow, if you’re looking for a way to organize information using a way customizable MySQL database that you can run from your own website, I totally recommend installing some free wiki software… it’ll rock your geek world.) As my rockstar intern can tell you, this six-month process of getting my headshot files into the Casting Wiki has caused a major shift in the way my hardcopy headshots are organized. And what’s the point of reading about what goes on in a casting office if you can’t take advantage of learning how certain systems fell into place to begin with? If, in just under four years, I’ve gotten much more selective in deciding what makes a headshot a “keeper,” you can only imagine the scrutiny with which a CD of twenty years considers a submission. Hopefully, by reading about my journey as a beginner, you can extrapolate the information and apply it (when appropriate) to your submissions to the other 600 CDs in town.
The beginning of the major redesign of my casting office came around January 2006. I began checking in with casting mentors in my life to find out what sort of filing system they used for the enormous volume of headshots a casting office sees and stores (because my files had gotten out of control). The consensus was CUBBIES. And so, cubbies we got! At first, I had headshots separated into two main categories: females and males. And the headshots were alphabetized by first name within those two main categories. (Why first name? Because actors change their last names far more frequently than they change their first names, I’ve learned.) That was it! Nice and simple. (In previous versions of my headshot filing system, I had tried to organize headshots by TYPE, but quickly learned that actors are sneaky and will have headshots that make them look like teenagers when they are actually 42. So, as much as I would’ve loved to have an “18 to play younger” file and a “creepy neighbor” file, I got burned too many times, early on, believing that an actor would actually show up to an audition looking exactly like he or she did in the headshot I happened to have on file.)
What started happening about a year ago, though, is that I would need to pull the headshots of actors I had previously cast (or who had “come close” on a role or two) far more frequently than I would ever need to put my hands on the headshot of that “unique type I’ve never needed yet, but whose headshot I’m keeping just in case I ever get such an oddball request and we don’t mind flying the actor in from Outer Whereveristan in order to have the exact right type.” I needed a better system. So, I created subcategories within each gender set: Actors I’ve Cast and Everybody Else. Problem is, I started going to my Actors I’ve Cast cubbies when I would want to pull the headshot of an actor who came very, very close (so close, in fact, that I would always somehow believe I had cast the actor, since I had such positive associations with that actor in my mind). So, I soon realized I needed yet another subcategory.
Uh-oh. What does that mean for all of the actors whose work I don’t know but whose headshots (about 4700 of them) I had been holding onto based on my previously outlined criteria? This is where it gets brutal. After years of trying to hang onto headshots just because I might, someday want to cast someone of that type or with those credits, I finally did it. I embraced the risk that I might not ever be able to locate that actor (and later kick myself for having tossed the only record I had of how to do so) and let ’em hit the landfill. Ack! I know! It breaks my heart to even admit it. Having been an actor for so many years, I totally know how much you hope your submission doesn’t just get tossed out. Well, there is a wee bit of sunshine to this major paper-purge. Because before I chucked ’em I put ’em into the Casting Wiki.
The Casting Wiki
Every casting director has some sort of record-keeping system for her or his office as well as a mechanism for finding the right actors for every project. We each have our favorite service that we use to turn out breakdowns (and we’re never actively looking for NEW! EXCITING! REVOLUTIONARY! systems that actors are constantly asked to pay for with such promises that CDs are rushing to make their hot new service THE source for their casting needs… yeah, no… that’s just not true). We know where to go to search out actors online (or we have on speed dial the numbers to our most trusted agents and managers). And most casting offices also have electronic organizing systems for their casting sessions and actor files (ranging from the sophisticated — SQL — to the archaic — Microsoft Word). Since I’ve always scored pretty high on the geek-meter, I chose a free installation of some excellent wiki software to run on MySQL at one of the non-Googleable websites I own. (I’ve actually been working with the software all year on another online industry database that will launch publicly in 2007, but that’s an announcement for another time. Hee!)
The Casting Wiki is private (only my rockstar intern, super-geek hubby, and I can see it) and it holds the names of every actor whose headshot is in The Cubbies, every actor who was scheduled for an audition with me on any of the 30 projects I’ve cast (and, oh yes, that includes the no-show/no call actors and, um, other types), every actor I’ve scouted at a showcase, every actor that’s been pitched by an agent I respect, and every name actor offer I’ve made. Each is cross-posted to category (Actors I’ve Cast, Actors Who Rock, Actors Whose Work I Know) as well as listed by project (or by acting class I visited, TiVoed show I saw, showcase I scouted, etc.) and, eventually, all of the notes I’ve made on the resumés of actors I’ve seen (“Looks nothing like this headshot,” “Showed up an hour late to the audition and was rude to my staff,” “Agent screwed the deal and didn’t tell the actor we had even made an offer,” “Superstar! Awesome! Can’t wait to cast this actor!”) will also make it into The Casting Wiki.
And just like in Wikipedia, there will eventually be photos, links to official sites, and career history with my office put on each actor’s page. And it’ll be a pretty amazing database. (Heck, it already is… but I’m just getting started as a casting director, so I can only imagine how this sucker will look — as a master list of my casting business’ top actors — when I have a decade or two behind me.)
The thing is, every casting office keeps lists. The level of sophistication (and geekiness) of those lists varies significantly. Seriously, some CDs have stacks of yellow legal pads with pages and pages of lists of actors’ names. And that works for them. But the point remains: We all have our lists. The focus for actors, of course, is: How do I get on that list?
My Updated Criteria
Just as I eventually threw out my Yellow Pages (and the half-dozen other directories that show up on my doorstep each year) because I trust that I will be able to hop online and look up the current phone number of whatever person or service I need to find, I wholeheartedly believe that there will be a time when I am able to toss physical headshots. It may take another five years before my casting office is “paperless” in this regard (and, quite honestly, I don’t know that I believe we will ever not need your hardcopy headshot–we all love the “flipping through” process), but if I know I can pull up an actor’s current credits, current headshot, current representation, and even a current demo reel either online or through my very own Casting Wiki, I can see the need for tens of thousands of headshot files becoming smaller. I believe I will always keep the headshots of actors I have cast. That stack (my “A-List”) is the first one I grab when a producer asks me to find someone quickly. But as for the rest? Eh, I don’t know how much longer I’ll need to keep them physically on hand.
See, sometimes actors quit. They leave town and choose a different path. And they don’t notify everyone who has their headshot on file before they pick up and start a new life elsewhere. So, I could be holding onto headshots submitted to me on projects I cast several years ago and then learn, when I contact an actor using information on that headshot and resumé, that he or she has long since left the biz. I sort of have to expect that — if you’re still in this town pursuing this career and you want to work on projects that I cast — you’re going to submit pretty regularly just to stay on my radar.
So what makes me keep a headshot when I don’t know the actor’s work, these days? A great, personalized cover letter (not one of those copy-and-paste, one-size-fits all deals); a resumé that includes credits I value (and every CD is going to have a different set of values, from the names of directors you’ve worked with to the type of training you’ve had); an industry referral; or that “special something” that just keeps me from tossing the dang thing out. I can’t explain that last one. It’s the same thing that makes you go back and buy something that you decided you didn’t need. You just can’t stop thinking about how you might need it, so you go back and buy it. It’s like that.
And if it’s been a year since that headshot landed in my hands and I haven’t seen you submit on projects I’m casting, haven’t gotten a postcard from you with an update about career advances you’re making on your own, and haven’t seen your work out there, I may be tossing your headshot come next spring cleaning. Don’t worry. You don’t have to get into a CD’s files right away in order to stay there. What you have to do is keep doing good work, get on the radar (by targeting your direct marketing to those who are most likely to cast you), and network whenever possible. We’re always looking to “find” that amazing actor that has somehow gone unnoticed. It’s part of what makes casting such an adventure!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000469.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.