A Good Headshot: Holy Grail of 'The Biz'

"Er....which headshot should I use?"

It  is my season for headshots  and online profiles. Between mid-March and the end of April I reviewed close to 3000 headshots  and resumes for Sy Fy's  Z Nation Season 2.

What makes a good headshot for the Film/TV Casting Director?

There is no definitive answer but all answers will point to the same thing.  The  theatrical headshot  captures the essence of you and the  ‘type’ of role you would best portray on screen. The industry standard is colour, matte, (not glossy), on quality photographic paper measuring 8 x 10 inches.  (Borders or not, name-on-front, or not  is a personal preference.  My focus here is the image.)

Theatrical  headshots (as opposed to Commercial headshots) are not meant to be stylized, ultra-posed or glossy images that you wish to portray to the world. They are not modelling shots, nor are they cute 'pics' to make your mum go “awww” or your partner to go “!wow!”  They might have that effect, but that is not the purpose of the headshot.

TV like any occupation or business, wants the best person for the job. The best person for the job is the person who probably already inhabits and is that role emotionally and/or psychologically. Someone who has, at the very least, experienced some emotional aspect of the role and can identify and will empathise with the character.  When I coach actors, on-set or in studio, the coaching is often based on what, how, and why the actor can identify with the character emotionally or psychologically; as opposed to what they would be good at doing.  I will 'mine' the actor's depths to find pathways that lead him to a deeper emotional understanding of the character, and we will do this until he 'feels' a connection. Without an authentic connection the actor  will quickly fall into 'deadly acting'.  While acknowledging that theatre actors can and do  play a range of  roles, the camera does not embrace that range in the way that theatre does. On camera, versatility is less engaging than a distinct authentic 'type' portrayed brilliantly.

When I cast a  movie or an episode of Z Nation, the headshot is the first round of auditions.  Even if I am casting a 'named' actor, their iconic look (in a headshot) will show me what roles they tend to play and if they are the right 'flavour' for a specific role. The headshot is  all that  I have at the outset to fulfill my role as a match maker. Pouring over  98 online profiles for one 4-line role on Z Nation felt like on-line dating! I had a role to cast and I had 98 online headshots to choose from. Which headshot will be a perfect match for this role? If the headshot fits, then I  go to the next step and look at the resume. (Gasp) No Resume?!? Oh. (Pout) How disappointing. (Over It) Next!

Years ago, whilst studying in France, I came across the  term 'jolie laide' in reference to actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (above).  It means  ‘beautiful ugly’.  It is  used to describe someone who is unconventionally beautiful. A gap tooth, a bump in the nose, closely set eyes are just a few examples of unconventional physical traits, which some might view as “unattractive”, that are embraced under the notion of jolie laide.  Wikipedia explains it thus:

Jolie laide also recognizes that behind the visceral image lies an internal life. it is a triumph of personality over physiognomy, the imposition of substance over surface.” Celebrities commonly thought to encapsulate this notion include: Anjelica Huston whose regal asymmetry defies the norms of magazine pretty.  Sofia Coppola with her introspective, girl-in-a-Vermeer-painting aura rather than the paint-by-numbers cheerleader vibe of Lindsay Lohan. Charlotte Gainsbourg with her melancholic air and the vaguely awkward way she inhabits her lanky body.”

Now insert your headshot  at the X and say:

X “I recognise that behind my visceral image lies an internal life.  I am a triumph of personality over physiognomy, I am the imposition of substance over surface

(Images from top:) Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Academy-award winning actresses:  Lupita Nyong'o, Angelica Houston, Charlotte Gainsbourg

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