One… Two… Three…
That’s how long you’ve got.
3 seconds and their mind is made up. Are you in the maybe pile or the bin?
On average it takes someone just three seconds to have formed an opinion about you that will decide every action they take from then on. When your headshot crosses a Casting Directors desk, when your letter or CV comes to the top of the pile, when an agent looks at your spotlight, your website, your twitter.
What do they see when they look at your material?
Are you informing them or reinforcing their idea of your castability? Do they see a professional who takes care of their business, who takes themselves and their career seriously, who has invested in their success enough that they are likely to persevere when the going gets tough and stick around for the long haul.
Or do they see a wannabe? Someone who can’t even handle a word document, let alone a script. Someone who got their housemate to do their headshots so they could save a few pennies. Someone who, not only doesn’t have lots of great credits but who doesn’t even attempt to make up for that by putting in hard work?
It might sound intense but that’s what someone sees when they look at the profile in front of them. Before they look at your showreel or your credits, they either see the professional behind the branding, or they see the amateur.
Which are you showing?
Why Is Branding Important
Your branding as an actor is a representation of what you are trying to sell to the casting director about yourself. Your castability is one of the most important aspects of the idea you want to give out about you but also that you are a visible and credible example of that castability and that’s the bit that you are missing.
You need to communicate that you match the castability and the profile of the actor that they are looking to find.
Think about it from a casting directors perspective. When they need to cast something they have an idea of what they are looking to find and are going down through hundreds of submissions trying to match actors to that idea. They want to match the casting type to what they are looking for yes, but also the credibility of that actor to the magnitude of the role and the visibility of that actor to the magnitude of the production.
In the simplest way possible casting directors are walking around trying to find round pegs to fit into to a round hole. If you are not sure what you are – what your castability is – or if you don’t communicate that effectively in your branding then you are a wishy-washy peg and don’t really fit anywhere. If you are a square peg then you just don’t fit this time but at least when they are looking for a square peg you will be perfect.
Branding is particularly important for actors just starting out as you will not have the credibility of good credits or work with well known creatives to back you up so having congruent and solid branding sets you apart from the droves of other actors that casting creatives will have flashing across their desks.
Once you know what your castability is you need to use your branding to tell creatives what you are without actually using the words. If you are not absolutely sure what your castability is then stop reading this right now and read this instead.
So how do you as an actor communicate your castability and come across as a credible artist even if you don’t have the credits to back you up.
Your bio is the first place to start when working on your branding. This might not be the most obvious of your marketing materials as an actor but writing your bio allows you to craft the story of your art and career which will then inform decisions you make about all of your other materials.
You want to come up with two versions of your bio: one short punchy version of about three sentences in length. This version needs to answer two big questions with as much credibility as you can manage – Who are you, and What are you?
“Jason is a young, Irish actor who graduated from Central School Of Speech And Drama. He has played at the Royal Exchange, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Royal Opera House, Royal Albert Hall as well as featured in Doctors on the BBC.”
This says I am a credibly trained, Irish, actor with mostly theatre credits at some of the UK’s most credible venues but I have some TV under my belt too.
To craft that into a longer, fuller version, all you have to do is go into a little more detail about each piece of the puzzle:
“Jason is a vibrant young theatre and screen actor from the south of Ireland based in London. Having graduated from Central School of Speech and Drama he was chosen as The Stage’s “Experts Choice Actor” from his year and had his first BBC appearance in My Fair Lady at The Proms. In autumn of that year he joined the company of Sweeney Todd including David Birrell, Gillian Beven and Don Gallagher at the West Yorkshire Playhouse which transferred to the Royal Exchange Manchester – their first Musical in 40 years and on the same day had his first featured screen role broadcast in Doctors on the BBC. Jason has gone on to play at the Royal Opera House, returned to the Royal Albert Hall and toured some of the UK’s largest venues with Godspell.”
Your headshot is the single most important asset you have to communicate your branding as an actor and the one that is most frequently misused. Your headshot is supposed to say everything you want it to say about yourself to the person who is looking at it – not just be a pretty picture of you.
If anyone ever tells you that your headshot should be a “blank canvas” for a casting director to imagine what they want to on top please, for the love of god, ignore them.
Nobody casts blank canvas actors. Nobody wants to work with blank canvas actors. Blank canvases are boring and worthless without the creativity layered on top. They certainly have no place informing how you should construct your headshot.
Instead, your headshot should be a representation of your Castability. It should be a picture that tells the casting director something about you. If you are using the same headshot to submit for everything that tells me that it’s to general and you either need to be clearer on what it is you are portraying or more specific in the way you are portraying that in your headshot.
A good rule of thumb is to take your castability statement and imagine what a character like that would look like if they were going to a party with their peers, for a job interview and sitting at home watching the TV. What would they be wearing, would their hair be up or down, styled or not, would they be wearing makeup. Aiming for each of these scenarios gives you a good variation of styles that represent formal and casual ‘looks’ for your castability.
Because your headshot is the most frequently viewed of all your marketing materials it also says a lot about your credibility. If you get your best mate to take your headshots with an iPhone that is telling the casting director that you are a joke and shouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist.
It pays to invest in a good set of headshots taken by a recognised, specialist headshot photographer. A bad headshot tells the casting team that you are likely a bad actor, certainly a bad business person.
Your resume is the document that represents a snapshot of your business as an actor. I like to differentiate between a work CV that you might hand in to the local pub and a acting resume to reinforce the importance of this living breathing document.
The most obvious aspect that jumps to your mind will probably be the credits you have listed but if you don’t have lots of glowing work behind you or maybe some work you would rather avoid putting on there then the document itself becomes even more important.
An important note about credits – just like your past experience on a work CV – if it’s not adding credibility to your CV then it needs to be a list of work that you want to do more of, not a list of work you have done. If you want to get out of musical theatre then don’t list the 10 musicals you have done around the 3 straight theatre jobs and 2 bits on the tellie. Only add the most credible example and get rid of the rest, otherwise when a casting director is considering you for a TV job they have to wade through loads of examples that tell them you’re not what they’re looking for.
Before the casting director reads the credits they get an impression about who you are and how you do business by how the document itself actually looks. If it looks like you can barely handle microsoft word how do you expect them to believe you can handle a script or a rehearsal or a shoot?
Your acting resume needs to look as professional as you are. Here is a before and after of a resume that I did a bit of a makeover on. This will give you an idea of what a professionally designed resume should look like:
After your headshot, your showreel is an absolutely vital tool for marketing your ‘brand’ as an actor. Your showreel is like an advert for the type of artist that you are and, like headshot, needs to say something about you not just be a collection of some lovely scenes.
When you are more established and have some broadcast screen material under your belt then your showreel moves more towards being a tool that demonstrates your credibility from the previous work you have done but when you don’t have much work to show then it won’t help much with your credibility.
To craft the perfect showreel you need to come up with a number of scenes that show your ability as an actor, obviously, but that show you in your castability in a range of scenarios.
Is your castability a middle aged, working class male? Then maybe scenes showing you as a dad, you in your job, a relationship with a spouse or partner.
Is your castability a young, middle class, professional female? Then maybe scenes showing your drive at work, your lifestyle and relationships with friends, or an argument with a boyfriend.
To inspire you and help you gather material take your castability statement go to IMDB Advanced Name Search and type in the criteria that matches you – height, gender, age range – and then make a list of the top 20 actors that you could in theory play the same parts as. Now you can go and watch some of the screen work that these actors are known for and as you watch make notes of scenes and monologues that do a good job of capturing the essence of that character in a situation that you can then either use the exact script of – if it’s something relatively unknown and ideally stands alone without referencing things that obviously tie it into the plot of the film or episode – or you can use that scene as inspiration to write or have someone write a bespoke scene for you to shoot.
Remember to keep the showreel under 3 minutes long. 90 seconds to two minutes is about right. Don’t put a montage at the start – get right into the scene, with your best scene at the start and limit yourself to 3 distinct scenes out of the 5 or so you may have shot.
How you ‘brand’ yourself as an artist on social media is getting more and more crucial as time goes on. It’s no longer good enough not to ‘do’ social media as an artist so I’m not going to waste my words convincing you of that.
The most important aspect of branding yourself as an actor on social media is to demonstrate as much credibility as you can and keep all of your profiles congruent with the brand you are trying to establish.
You want to choose a primary headshot to represent your brand and use the same headshot as your profile image across all social accounts you have. When someone goes looking for you, you want them to feel a sense of familiarity, like they’ve seen that face before.
You should use the short Bio that you wrote earlier as the description of your profile, for example on twitter, so that when someone falls on your profile you tel them immediately what you are and who you are.
On most social profiles now, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, you are allowed to upload a header image. This is a great opportunity to further demonstrate your credibility. If you have some stills from a screen job or your showreel then use one of those. If not then play your showreel on your PC and take a screenshot. If you want to look really professional you can create a custom header using Picmonkey online and use that across each of your profiles:
Here is an example of a header image I created for a client which we then used across his Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube Channel etc.
Casting Profile websites are a dime a dozen at the minute. Casting Call Pro, Star now, Casting Networks etc… Each of them has their pros and cons but having a profile that exists on either or all of them does give you another place that you can become visible to creatives that are out to cast work. Setting up profiles on all of these sites might seem tempting but it’s not as good an idea as it might seem at first.
It’s expensive. Most of these sites have a trial period or free account option of some kind but to really see the full benefit of any of them you are going to have to pay to play to get around their restrictions. It also gives you an awful lot of work to do, managing accounts and submissions through all of these channels can quickly become an admin nightmare and by not focusing your attention on one you’re not giving yourself a real chance to see the full benefit of any of them.
The best approach is to pick one, sign up as a full paying member for one month and during that month give yourself a really good opportunity to get to know the site. Send lots of submissions and importantly, document the types of casting breakdowns that come through that match your castability and the type of work you are looking for. When the month is up, cancel your subscription, or downgrade to a free membership and turn off notifications. And move on to the next one. Rinse, repeat.
After 4 or 5 months you will have tried all the major players and you will be able to spend a bit of time considering the merits of each one, weighing them up against each other. See how many breakdowns you got through that were right for you. Then you can choose the one or maybe two that suit you best. You will find that a lot of the middle to lower end castings are often duplicated across all of these sites
The important thing here is that which ever one you decide to go for, you give it the attention it deserves.
Use your primary headshot as your profile photo, same as before. Use your short Bio as your description or your longer one if you have space. Selectively add photos and videos that add to your credibility and credits that show you doing the work you want to do more of not just the work you have done! Use template submission letters and personalise sections that make it relevant to the particular casting, this will save you precious time and allow you to submit more volume – which is the only guaranteed way to hear back more often.
The beauty of a website, and why investing in one is such a good move for you if you are serious about your brand, is that you get all the benefits of all of the other platforms your brand lives on, but you control how it looks.
A website is a central hub of information and activity that brings together everything you represent and want to present to casting directors, creatives and an audience of your own.
You can have images that show you in work, in rehearsal, videos that house your showreel or specific versions or clips for specific types of castings, voicereels, your resume in digital form, you can even embed your Spotlight page and you can wrap that all up in a package that describes the exact type of actor you are; your castability.
There is no excuse not to have a website of some description. But please, please if you decide to make the leap don’t waste your time slaving over Wix or Weebly. The simple reason is this:
Would you send a selfie as a headshot to a casting director? I hope not?
Well Wix is the website equivalent of using a selfie as your headshot. You just wouldn’t do it. You would spend a bit of time researching the options and find a professional who specialises in taking strong headshots and you would invest in the results. A website is no different.
If you don’t have lots of money to invest in a complete custom website for your acting then there are cost effective ways to get some skin in the game. You could check out Squarespace who offer much more of a step up than Wix or Weebly or you could get a bit more serious and get started with a free WordPress website.
Go give yourself a brand audit. Armed with your castability statement take each one of these marketing tools one by one and spend some time going through each and re-branding. Will it start an avalanche of auditions – no. You still have to put in the time getting your brand out into the world. But it does mean that when a casting director is looking for a square peg you are poised to present them with exactly what they are looking for.