Headshots 101

By Darryl Green

  • (Originally published on the web as, “But This Is My Good Side”)

    A lot of actors ask me to look at their headshots.

    Then they ask my opinion.

    Usually my answer goes something like this: “Try again.”

    Why? Because, while many actors complain that they don’t get very good results from their mailings to casting directors and agents, they seldom connect those results to their headshot. 92.6% of the time, the headshot is the problem. (I make up statistics, so you can’t trust me. But that’s my guess.)

    You must follow the Bob Fraser Headshot ROI Rule: (ROI = Rate Of Interest) People who do direct mail advertising expect at least a 4% return. If they don’t get a 4% return, they change the ad. Your headshot and resume is a direct mail promotion. If you are not getting at least a 4% rate of return on your mailings … you need a new picture.

    Keep track. If you send out 100 pictures and don’t get 4 calls – you probably need a new picture.

    Most successful actors get hundreds of headshots over the course of their career. The reason? The picture must ‘work’ — it must get you called in for an audition or a meeting. If it doesn’t get you called — then it’s not ‘working.’

    Even if you think it’s the best darn picture that’s ever been taken of you, don’t keep trying to ride a dead horse. If your headshot doesn’t ‘work’ (get you called in) … welcome to reality. You need a new headshot.

    It amazes me how many actors keep flogging the same old picture. Even though it hasn’t gotten them called in for a meeting or audition – they continue to insist that it’s a great headshot. And they send out hundreds.

    Please. Keep track. If you’re not getting called in … move on.

    Now you are probably thinking about how much this is going to cost you – this constant need of new pictures (until you get one that really really works).

    Excellent! You have begun to think about your business. And the cost of doing business. (And by the way, whining about it won’t change anything.)

    The headshot is your professional direct mail promotional tool.

    The headshot is one of the only parts of this process that you have any control over.

    The headshot is your most crucial tool.

    The headshot is the only way in the door.

    If you spend your resources on other ‘methods’ and continue to believe that your headshot is fine – you are generally wasting your resources.

    That’s a fact of life in show BUSINESS. Don’t argue.

    Well, you can argue, if you want, and try to “get by” with the picture you’ve got – essentially ignoring this most basic tool of your business – but I guarantee you a full ration of disappointment in the end result.

    I have seen people with very small talents (and so have you) who, because they DO the business part, get so much further than those who think that somehow their talent will be recognized from any old headshot.

    Is it worth it to keep getting new headshots, until you find one that works? Only you can decide that.

    Now, to cover a few more points: If you are not getting good results with your mailings, here are four hints that might make your response rate more to your liking.

    1. Don’t submit for things you are not right for.

    Don’t kid yourself. If they’re looking for a tall, lithe, athletic Argentinean flamenco dancer and you’re a corn-fed baton twirler from Iowa … don’t waste the postage.


    You must understand that the folks who work in the casting side of the business are very very very busy trying to get their jobs done to the satisfaction of the director, the producers and more often than not, some huge studio that doles out most of the work. CD’s are under pressure to deliver. If they don’t deliver, things may not be too pleasant for them on the employment front.

    Be nice to Casting directors, they have a hard job.

    The opposite of this, of course, is: You must ALWAYS submit for EVERY role you are right for. Don’t get lazy.

    2. Don’t seal your envelope.

    This is easy to remember and very important. 94.9% (another fake statistic) of casting people complain about having to open the manila envelopes — hundreds, and sometimes thousands a day. If you want to be a ‘friend’ to these people, don’t seal your envelope. Tuck the flap in and ship it. Don’t worry about your stuff falling out, that rarely happens. And even if it does happen — it is better to take a 90 cent loss than to get on the wrong side of a Casting director.

    Another good idea is to try these new “see through” mailers. I bet Casting directors love those. Easy, peasy. (You can find them online at several places – the one I’m aware of is actorTips.com – a terrific site run by Chad Garcia.)

    3. Make sure that your contact phone number is answered at all hours.

    If they cannot get in touch with you, you will not get the work. Again, CD’s are very busy and usually working under a barely possible deadline. They don’t have time to keep calling and calling in hopes of finding you. They won’t do it. Unless you’re Harrison Ford. Then they’ll keep calling and calling. Wouldn’t you?

    Good idea: Get a cell phone. Pay the bill. This is a business.

    4. (… and it should probably be first, because it is of utmost importance)

    Your headshot must look exactly like you.

    If you send a picture to a Casting director and you get called in, and you don’t look like your headshot — you automatically lose the audition. Casting directors don’t like surprises very much. If your picture looks like Matt Damon and you look like Steve Buscemi … you will find yourself in a ‘lose-lose’ situation.

    However, if your picture looks exactly like you and they call you in — well, then, YOU are exactly who they are interested in. And, now that you’re in the door, all you have to do is ‘blow them away’ with your audition.

    You know how to do that, right?

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