What is it about a headshot that grabs your attention?
Paul Russell: There is no definitive answer that will be the silver bullet actors seek. Each talent rep, director, producer, and casting person has his or her own preferences for an actor’s headshot.
But there are 4 universal agreements that are a must for an actor’s headshot:
1.The headshot looks exactly like the actor who walks into the audition room. As I wrote in ACTING: Make It Your Business I once received a headshot from an actress with short hair who penned a line across her neck. Atop the line she wrote, “My hair is now this long.” Hair takes quite a bit of time to grow. The actress could have invested in new headshots during that period instead of being lazy, and presenting herself foolishly.
2. No glamour shots. No posed shots. No selfies. No backyard “friend took my headshot on his camera” headshots.
Your headshot must reflect your personality, which is your “brand.” If an actor comes across a photographer who “poses” the actor, that actor has wasted money on a photographer who is better suited for staid family portraits shot at Sears Photography Studios.
3. An actor must find a headshot photographer who the actor can relate to personally. And the actor must invest money. When actors go cheap hiring photographers with Walmart prices the photos reflect the cheapness.
4. Headshots are never to be printed at home on an actor’s home printer. Headshots are never to be printed at Staples, a drug store or alike. To meet LA & NY standards headshots must be reproduced by facilities such as Reproductions, which are qualified and experienced in printing headshots.
What do you look for on a resume (what do you look at first and why)?
Paul Russell: Firstly that the resume format is industry-standard formatting (page 86 in ACTING: Make It Your Business). This formatting is what has developed over the years. It’s how agencies format their clients’ resumes, and what casting expects. When actors do not follow the formatting a stranger’s eyes to the resume cannot find the information sought. Beyond formatting, I look for what the actor’s past has in common with my present casting needs.
On a side note: Background (Extras) credits do not belong on a Legit resume. The only film credits that merit being on a Legit resume are credits of Under 5 and above. Extra credits lessen the actor’s history. Plus, Extra work equals the actor being hired for ‘look’ not talent.
What’s the most common mistake you see actors make in the audition room?
Paul Russell: Lack of confidence. Lack of being relaxed and themselves. Placing too much importance of “do or die” on the audition.
At my auditions I have a sign for how the audition procedure will be handled for that project. For every project on each sign I always include: “Most importantly, have fun!” Only actors who have been around the business for a while, and have a sense of ease and self-confidence, “have fun.” Actors relatively new to the business never understand that auditioning is performing. Performing is that actor’s love and fun. So why not bring that love and fun into the audition room? Not having fun will always kill an actor’s audition.
What in an actor’s work makes you sit up and take notice?
Paul Russell: Actor is prepared (that includes being off book, so that the actor is free to explore the role.)
Not-self aware. Takes control of the audition. Does something with the material (i.e. discovering subtext leading to action or emotion) that the previous 500 actors didn’t discover.
How do you find new talent?
Paul Russell: Mail. Most actors have given up on land-mail. Actors who solely rely on email are fools!
There was a time in which three to four inches of actor mail would daily land on my desk, or the desks of talent representatives. Now, in a three month period, three inches is the total of mail accumulated. WTF?!!
I collect actor mail from talent agencies to see if there are actors I’m missing (because actors have gone cheap in not marketing via land mail). I visit one office every three months to pick-up their discards. This pile should be over a foot tall. Nope. In one period between May to September there was less than three inches of actor mail. Disappointing.
As actors dismiss land mailings they don’t understand that the desks of talent agents and casting are now barren landscapes. Valuable real estate on which their headshot and resume should occupy.
Do not believe actors, or self-important industry people who say, “I never look at actor submissions.” In one of my classes, talent agent Alex Butler of Henderson/Hogan said to the actors, “I read every piece of mail from actors that lands on my desk. The intern opens our email and deletes all the actor inquiries.”
How can actors utilize social media to build their brand?
Paul Russell: Engage personally with the people they follow. Stop the “Look at my reel” bullshit tweets. Treat us as people not as faceless consumers. Offer us insight into your life, not just your work. Communication is a two-way street. Stop the one-way alley in which the actor is a truck barreling down on us to run us over with endless, “Look at me” announcements.
In your book, you said “Every actor needs a website.” Are there any crucial elements or pieces of information you see actors leaving off their websites?
Paul Russell: From my knowledge of building websites and how search engine algorithms rank websites I see actors making a serious flaw: no content on the home (index) page. Too often just a headshot, and an “Enter” link.
Search engines rank higher a website that has content on the landing (index) page. What’s that content? A brief bio including highlights of your career, along with a single headshot that clearly defines your personality (i.e. your brand).
What’s the best way for an actor to follow-up with you? Letter? Postcard? Email? Social Media? Home address? 🙂
Paul Russell: Hand-written notes are deeply appreciated by all on my side of the audition table despite the disagreeing, bitchy upstart casting directors or agents who are insecure and spout otherwise.
What to write? Something personal about the experience or exchange between the actor and the person they are writing to. A dreary, “Thanks for seeing me” only note is pedestrian. Every actor does that. What do you have more to offer?
Email ‘thank yous’ are welcomed as long as they’re not long and rambling but zero in on why the actor is grateful. What moved the actor to send the email beyond protocol?
A ‘thank you’ is only sincere if the actor is truly moved beyond “being business savvy” to express their gratitude.
What current projects are you working on?
Paul Russell: My Winter / Spring overfloweth….
CASTING: I recently finished casting Barter Theatre’s 2016 season in which over 700 actors were seen. I have other casting projects looming that will be announced soon.
DIRECTING: I’m in pre-production to direct the U.S. regional premiere of MAMMA MIA. This will be the first post Broadway production, and my production contractually must not look like its Broadway predecessor. This MAMMA MIA is one of only four allowed to be produced presently in the U.S. regionals.
AUTHOR: I’m about to begin final edits on my novel WICKED JOURNEYS which has been bought by a publisher. WICKED JOURNEYS is a comic, road adventure in which sex, scandal, and backstage drama swirl around a troupe of touring actors who shadow the national tour of WICKED. The novel is to be released in this year.
TEACHER: I finish up my university master class tour for the spring visiting several more universities. Plus, I’m about to hold the last of my NYC master classes which is Access to Agents. My master classes focus on actor marketing, and improving actor audition technique, plus scene study presented for a panel of talent agents.
Information on all my projects is found at http://www.PaulRussell.net
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned over thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
Thank you Paul Russell for such an informative interview!
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