I really enjoyed having a seminar there! Great group of people! THANK YOU!
There are some distinct advantages to being in this business for 40 years. One is simply experience. The other is an awareness of evolutionary changes in marketing. In other words – the way head shots have changed over the years and what is current.
One simple fact is that very few actors really understand their chosen art form is a business. Very few actors are able to look in the mirror and OBJECTIVELY figure out how to market their product because their product is themselves. For all of us, seeing ourselves objectively is difficult at best.
Also, this marketing has evolved over the years.
The internet has hugely influenced the way head shots are done nowadays. Since your image will be relatively small and on a page full of other head shots, it is important to make you photo stand out.
Remember: This is the size of your pic Casting Directors would see when they are looking at submissions:
This is Cute – but it would get “lost” in the pile:
One way to do that is wear very colorful clothing and have colorful backgrounds in your image.
Another way is to be as high profile as possible and have a Twitter account, Facebook, a personal web site, and any other social media.
My friend, Jim Beaver, is great example.
Another GREAT example is a great stage actor Bill Oberst Jr. (Google him!) His Website is VERY ENTERTAINING.
The internet is a wonderful thing but it also requires actors to put time into their careers more than ever.
Look at lots of other head shots. Make sure what you are about to shoot isn’t dated but is current.
Your photographer should also know what is current, how to shoot your head shot so it looks professional and marketable, and give you at least 3 “looks” to work with.
Be aware… all things evolve… even head shots!
This would be exciting.
On Monday, April 29th, Michael Helms will be in Vegas to help his good friend, Charlie Schlatter’s on-camera class, so their students will have great lookin’ footage!
Come meet us – and Squicken “may be” there.
This is the first time for us to be teaching in Las Vegas.
I suppose it’s a good thing that after 37 years of shooting head shots for actors, that I still enjoy it. I attribute this to the fact that I find people endlessly fascinating and what better place to be a head shot photographer than in Los Angeles! I get all sorts of fascinating characters through my photo studio and I sometimes think it should be a sit com.
In the past, an actor would get a recommendation from his Agent or manager for what head shot photographer to go visit. Usually an actor would meet with four or five photographers, look at their portfolios, check out the studio, and choose who they felt would be the best for the images they needed. This decision making process was good for everyone, actor and photographer alike although it required the photographer to sit through hours of seemingly endless and unnecessary recitations of resumes.
While I understand the concept that an actor wants the photographer to capture a certain essence, it has little bearing on whether or not that actor will actually book a job. The reason for this is that very very few actors see their casting. Every actor has an idea of the roles they want to play in film, commercials, or on stage but very few actors understand that it is a business and they will be cast according to how they look to a casting office.
An example of this would be a girl who came to my studio for head shots and she handed me photos of fashion models and proclaimed,”I want photos like these!”. What amused me was that MY idea of her casting was that she would be prefect in a role as a midwest farmers wife…perhaps pulling a plow. Suffice it to say she was NOT in shape for Victoria’s Secret.
Agents in Los Angeles have lists of head shot photographers that they recommend and I am fortunate to be on almost all of those lists. So, it presented me with a challenge, because, knowing her agent, if I shot images the agent liked, she would be unhappy but if I shot images she liked, the agent would be displeased.
I suggested to her that she show her agent what wonderful versatility she had as an actress. I told her she should shoot some rather plain images, then we could add more makeup and fluff her hair for more sexy images. She reluctantly agreed.
A week went by and I got a call from her and I winced as I asked her how she liked her photos. This was in the days of film so it would take a few days to process. She told me she was really happy with “some of them but some of the others she liked less”. I asked her if she had shown them to her agent and she frustratingly replied,”YES…and you won’t believe what he said to me. He said he liked the plain ones and could use those but the pretty shots he didn’t like. He said to me, these are pretty but I can’t use them because you aren’t pretty!”
“Yikes!” I responded,”What did you do!?”
“Well, I’m looking for another agent!” she growled.
I have had actors in my studio who did their best to imitate Robert DeNiro, sexy women who wanted to play “smart” roles, nerdy looking guys who wanted to be James Bond, and the aforementioned chubette who wanted to be Cindy Crawford.
When an actor walks through my doors, I know in the first minute how I am going to light him. I already know what roles he will get. I already know, after years doing head shots in Los Angeles, how an actor will be marketed. But it is not my job to make those decisions but rather to provide and actor with what type of photos HE/SHE wants. I make suggestions, I talk it over with all my clients, I can tell them what wardrobe I think will work, and I can let each individual know what the trends in head shots are current, but ultimately every actor needs to do their homework and see this as a business and realize they are a product and how best to market that product.
The idea is to have a head shot that gets you called in to a casting that, when you arrive and look around the casting office, you see actors who are in the same category. You don’t want to look around and see people who are 40 years older.
If an actor looks at TV, film, and commercials and identifies characters that “look like” him, he will know how to dress for a photo shoot. Basically an actor needs a smiling head shot for commercials and a more serious shot for theatrical purposes. Nothing more.
Casting offices generally know what type they are going to choose for any given role, so if you got a call, you have a shot!
The rest is up to you!
Today’s Odd Journey
I flew hang gliders for about 34 years but officially retired about 6 years ago. It was a sad day and I miss flying terribly. Today I drove over to the place where all the hang gliders land.
Soon as we exchanged greetings my friend Joe offered,”Hey wanna fly this glider?” and I said “Nah, I don’t have a harness” then another pilot/friend, Fred volunteered,”I’ve got a harness”. Me,”I don’t have a helmet”. Fred,”I have a helmet, too!”
Next thing I knew, I was headed up the mountain with a truck load of fellow flyers. We quickly set up our flying machines then ran off the mountain into the beautiful sky. I visited places a few miles away that I hadn’t seen in a long time and watched as a Red Tailed Hawk circled in an updraft hundreds of feet below me.
So many memories from hundreds of hours floating thousands of feet above the Earth were flooding my brain.
One particular memory was meeting my dear friend, Wayne Yentis. I met Wayne 25 years ago in the hang gliding landing zone (LZ). He was a tall lanky man with a twinkle in his eye and was most probably the brightest individual I have ever met. Truly a renaissance man… he was an artist, a photographer, an electrical engineer, a musician, a computer genius, an inventor (of the Clavitar) and a host of other things. He knew more about more than anyone I have ever known. Wayne had a recording studio in his house and was constantly sending me files of music he had written, played, and produced. Beautiful music.
One particular day I was in his studio and we were having a beer…or two…or many… and I got this goofy idea to take Karaoke music and substitute hang gliding lyrics. It was utterly silly stuff that made no sense to anyone other than another hang glider pilot but in our compromised condition, it seemed a marvelous plan.
I said to Wayne “How about “I got VG?” as I sang the tune of “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. He beer giggled.
For non-hanglider pilots, VG stands for “Variable Geometry” and refers to a string a hang glider pilot can pull that changes the shape of the wing in flight.
Then I started singing “On the Road Again” just like Willie Nelson, except I sang “In the Air Again.”
More beer giggles as Wayne recorded and mixed it.
The following week, I played one of our recordings for a fellow pilot who unwittingly believed we were serious and asked for a copy of it! Nothing feeds a gag like having an audience so I drove back to Wayne’s house with more beer, more Karaoke, and more silly lyrics. We recorded 15 songs, 12 of which made our cut onto the “Pelican Tunes” CD. When word got out, the local pilots bought them like hotcakes, then the Editor of Hang Gliding Magazine somehow got his paws on a CD and gave it a rave review in the international magazine! We were amused that pilots enjoyed the absurdity and got the jokes. Orders started coming in and we sold this CD all over the world. That was over 7 years ago.
Today after about an hour of flight, I touched down and chatted with the guys in the LZ, when one of them mentioned “Pelican Tunes” had been used in a video of the European Hang Gliding Championships. I was shocked to say the least. SO…I did what any irresponsible gag writer would do, I Googled it…and wow….there it was…
I seriously considered doing “Pelican Tunes 2” but Wayne Yentis passed away this Wednesday January 23rd, and with the passing of my partner in crime, my motivation is gone. The lyrics in my desk drawer will have to collect dust as the ink fades.
But have a beer and enjoy our goofy time together on YouTube.
Here’s to Wayne.
I have been a professional photographer in Los Angeles for 35 years. The thing I hear most when actors come to my studio is, “I just want a photo that really captures ME and who I really am!”
While this may sound good, it tells me there is a very basic lack of understanding of how this business works and how to carry out a strong marketing strategy. As harsh as it may sound, not ONE casting director in all of LA concerns themselves with who you really are. It is their job to CAST you not analyze you.
If you are a 30 year old female, you will get “Mom” roles, business women, nurses, a wife, or a host of other characters seen on TV and in movies. It doesn’t matter if you REALLY ARE a Mom or not…that’s why it’s called ACTING. If you are a curvy girl, don’t shoot sexy photos because you’ll get called in for an audition and find yourself in a room full of skinny models. Conversely, if you are a lovely young woman and you have a nice figure, understand that this is a business driven by money. What sells on TV and in movies is sex and violence. So make sure you have a sexy head shot.
Danny DeVito is a sexy leading man to Rhea Perlman because she is married to him, but it is not his casting. While “type casting” may not be right or fair, it is what it is. Get used to it.
Research, research, research to find the right photographer. The guy in your acting class who has a camera and will do your headshots for free or for fifty bucks is NOT a working professional. An actor who does head shots on the side is NOT a working professional photographer and if he has an audition the day of your shoot – you will be out of luck.
If you want this to be your career – invest in it. Go to a professional photographer. Look for someone with a studio (who can shoot natural light OR studio light), who has been in business for 10 years or more, who has a GOOD web site.
GO SEE THEM! Don’t go to someone who shoots out of their apartment. Simply put, go to a pro. Beware of Agents or managers who INSIST you go to their photographer. An Agent should give you a list of known working pro photographers that you can choose from.Get plenty of sleep the night before your shoot. Don’t get involved in an argument with your significant other.
Don’t bring “a friend” to your photo shoot. Don’t bring your family or Mother or your dog. This is YOUR day. Most of all… ENJOY your photo shoot. I often hear actors say how much they “hate having their photos taken”. This is your career…learn to love it. ALL of it. Taking headshots is an acting job just like any other acting job.
If someone tries to tell you “film is better than digital”, just walk away. You should expect to shoot, look at the photos on a computer, get them retouched, and have them burned onto a CD, and walk out with them done all in the same day.
Basically, it is a business. If you treat your acting career like a business, you will have a much greater chance of success!
For one day only – Sign Up today – CLICK HERE
For LA Actors-
Actors Headshot special!
How many actors can you name in this photo?
Thirty five years of photographing actors, models, celebrities, corporate folk, and anyone else who’d pay me, gives me a certain bag of stories that seem “normal” to me until I start telling my friends “what happened in my studio today.”
Take, for instance, the case of Sonny Stiletto. I’d be comfortable wagering that wasn’t his birth name but that’s who he was when he walked into my studio. He actually didn’t “walk” into my studio – he swaggered in. Webster defines “swagger”, when used as an adjective, as “denoting a coat or jacket with a loose flare from the shoulders” and that’s a good description of Sonny. Starting at the top, his hair was lubricated to the point of one molecule away from dripping and it was jet black like shiny plastic. His cheeks remained sucked in the entire visit so I feel confident he had super glued them to his molars. He nose was Roman straight (geometrically speaking) and his lips pursed permanently in duck fashion.
“Yo, Michael, how you doin?” he nodded.
“Great Sonny, pleased to meet you. What are we shooting today?” I smiled.
“I need some pichas. Some good pichas, ya know, to like, get some work or sumthin, ya know?” he pursed.
“OK…pictures you want, pictures you got. Let’s go through your wardrobe” I interpreted.
So we pulled two wadded up shirts out of a grocery store plastic bag and chatted about which one brought out his eyes best. Were we going to settle on the shiny dark black cotton shirt (shiny from being ironed too hot), the charcoal black, or the shiny black silk? Sonny preferred the shiny black silk because it “looked good” and showed off his gold chains nestled in his chest hair. Since that was what he wore in, I figured it was a favorite anyway.
I have learned over the years when someone asks me what I think that they really aren’t interested in what I truly think. The REAL question is,”Try to guess what I think and then agree with me!”. I have also become fairly proficient at reading the air, so I felt rather confident in choosing shiny black silk. He nodded approval when I said I thought that shirt would bring out his hair also.
After twenty minutes of rearranging his hair to EXACTLY the same position it was when he walked in, we started our shoot.
He stood in front of my camera and proclaimed, “Yo Michael, dis here is a good picha. Shoot dis”
So I did.
He unbuttoned his skin tight jeans and hung his thumbs from the waist band, gave his lips and extra purse and then swaggered,”Den how ’bout I give ya one of deez!”
So I took that photo also.
What I need to interject at this point is that during our entire session he was perseverating about the recent demise of a relationship with a girl in New York. I’d shoot a few frames and Sonny would say something about that puzzling breakup, then he would return to “Shoot dis”, and off we’d go for a few more frames. I will condense the two hour conversation to my favorite passages.
Sonny,”I don’t know what her problem is, ya know. What is her problem?”
Me,”You got me, Sonny”
Sonny,”I mean…I got a normal penis, ya know. So what is her problem?”
Me,”Don’t know, man, that’s truly a mystery”
Sonny,”What does she want anyway, ya know? I got a normal penis!?”
Sonny,”You know what’s wrong with women dees days, Michael?”
Me,”Not a clue, Sonny, do tell”
Sonny,”Their minds are fuckin degenerated. Dat’s it, ya know. I think it must be the smog or sumthin, ya know!”
Me,”Ah…it’s the smog… got it.”
Sonny,”You know what, Michael, I got an idea”
Sonny,”You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna tell ya what I’m gonna do. Here’s what I’m gonna do!”
(Why Sonny felt compelled to let me know in three different ways that he was called to action, I have no idea, but I was on the edge of my seat.)
Sonny,”I’m gonna get me a couple of dikes. Yea – I’m gonna get me a couple of dikes. Den they can move in wif me, and I can watch them, and they can watch me, den they can do my laundry!”
I must say I was stunned. Even for the likes of Sonny Stiletto, this “idea”, left me absolutely speechless.
I stammered,”Wow…well, I’ll be anxious to hear how that works out for ya there, Sonny!”
Somewhere deep (admittedly not that deep) inside me I wanted him to attempt to implement this boneheaded plan. I could just see the headlines in the newspaper:
“Disenchanted Lesbian Couple Hangs Stiletto”
“Gay Couple Throws Stiletto Out Window”
“Dead Stiletto Found Sonny Side Up”
What disturbed me most I have to say, is knowing that somewhere in the world, Sonny has most likely, reproduced and little Stilettos are running around saying,”Shoot dis!”