1) TALK TO YOUR REPS!
Before you even think about getting new headshots, activate your team! Managers absolutely want to be on the same page with you before you even consider new shots because a big part of their job is to guide you in your marketing efforts. Agents aren’t typically as involved as your manager will be, but they’ll still appreciate being in the loop on your plans as well.
Giving your team an opportunity to collaborate on this [expensive and time-consuming] project and listening to what they have to say will prove invaluable. Is it pilot season? If so, they’ll probably ask you to wait until they can have more time to be a part of this process. My advice? If they ask you to wait for them, WAIT. Managers and agents don’t want to sift through a photo-session that only provides them with a handful of so-so choices. Be considerate of their time by waiting to do it with their vision in mind.
2) PRE-LIM: MEETING THE PHOTOGRAPHERS
Next, meet with at least 3 headshot photographers who have consistently high quality images that grab your (and your reps’) attention for their vibrancy, vulnerability and versatility. Automatically eliminate any photographer who won't meet with actors and won’t give you all your hi-res image files from your session (without watermarks) as part of their session fee (exception: price of disc from the photo lab).
A productive shoot is going to be a very intimate & vulnerable experience that absolutely requires a comfortable and supportive rapport with the photographer. You might also consider working with someone who has a great sense of play and a laid back attitude about any weird thing you might say or do in the moment to stay loosey goosey. By the way, David Muller is a favorite of mine for all of these reasons.
3) BOOKING IT: TAKE PLENTY OF TIME TO PLAN
Book your session so that you’ll have a little over a month to prepare. I know, that sounds crazy to some people! Here's what you do with that time...
Right away, schedule any color, cut & manicure appointments you’ll need for one week before the photo shoot. If you go the extra mile, book a pampering massage for the night before the shoot. (I'm sure everyone has their own version of this.)
4) WEEK 1 OF PREP: DETERMINE UP TO 5 STEREOTYPES
This is a tough one for most of us because who wants to think of oneself in terms of a "type!?" We don’t want to end up acting a stereotype but yet we still need to be easily cast in certain "types" of roles... So look into hiring a “type-ing pro” like Buckley Sampson to come over for a few hours to cut through the clutter and get right to the heart of your marketing matter. You’ll find that it’s actually pretty basic and fun.
With Buckley, you’ll spend about an hour discussing your favorite roles to play, actor prototypes, what genres you love and which characters on TV/film right now would be a natural fit for you. If you’ve been fortunate enough to do "archetype work" with Sam Christensen already -- or have any other outside feedback on your work, marketability & personality – plan to discuss that too.
You’ll write all this down and come up with 5 distinct character stereotypes that seem effortless for you based upon all of this information, and what Buckley sees in you herself. You’ll note what each character would wear & how they'd do makeup and hair on a regular day. Also jot down some ideas about a few typical scenarios for each character on a typical day, for situational context. Consider specific examples of these characters on a current TV show, in a film or in theater for further reference in regard to the use background colors and lighting in your photos.
For your fifth look, perhaps consider making this one just for you. Throw out all the types your “supposed” to play and do something a little crazy and totally personal to who you are and dress him/her in your favorite colors. Keep in mind you still need to create a full character for this look complete with active thoughts, a bio chock-full of the details per the above suggestions and the suggestions below.
5) WHAT'S YOUR THROUGH-LINE?
This part of the process is all about figuring out what unique perspective you bring to each of these types that make them real people with real thoughts... What "version" of these types would you actually play from your unique POV? Maybe it's the comedic, oddball, off-beat, kinda crazy version if that's your POV! Or maybe it’s the deadpan, direct and super dry version if that's your thing. Or maybe something more subtle that falls in between? Create a comedy version and a dramatic version of each type. We all have a side that doesn't get seen often but is surely hiding in our toolbox.
These are your "through-lines" for each type that makes you unique in each one. This will continue developing throughout the month-long prep process ahead of you, so it's important to start thinking about it from the very beginning. Chances are, everything covered in #1 will line up perfectly with your through-line. It just helps to know it inside & out by the time you get to the shoot so you can use this information actively. More on that later.
6) SOURCING A WARDROBE FOR THOSE TYPES
Next, you and Buckley will raid your closet! You guys will find great colors for you in there and put together some really cool outfit combinations as possibilities for each character. This is really fun and should be done with a pop-culture obsessed and color-savvy friend if you don't hire a pro like Buckley. You’ll probably pull together about 40 different outfits that reflect at least one aspect of your 5 characters.
From there, you’ll narrow down to about 20 outfits. You’ll weed out the colors that don't pop on you, patterns that are just too busy for no good reason and textures that aren’t ideal. You’ll likely keep items that have some interesting features that support who you are as a person and an artist.
After determining any gaps in your wardrobe, you’ll go shopping! Perhaps you need an accessory or need better options for one of your looks that wasn’t already in your closet. Buckley will be on the ready via FaceTime or photo-texts to help you make decisions as you shop so you aren’t out there alone picking things willy-nilly.
7) WEEK 2: TAKE TEST PICTURES
It’s now only 3 weeks before the shoot! At this point, you’re probably left with about 25 strong possibilities that you’ll have to narrow down to 5 foundation looks. This is the time that your agents and managers will want to weigh in thoughtfully on your possible looks before you narrow down to the final selects. Plus, Buckley will weigh in as well. Take full advantage of these resources right away by doing your hair & makeup the best you can and “model” every one of the 25 outfits as your very patient friend/spouse/mom/grandaddy takes quick iPhone photos of each option.
After you review the 25 iPhone photos, you’ll very likely eliminate another 8-10 of the outfits on your own. It’ll be clear to you that those just don't look the way your team intended for this character, or they feel flat or you see your other options are obviously much better choices. After you pull out those duds, send the final 15 or so looks to your agents, manager and to Buckley. Keep in mind HOW they like to receive these files. Do they prefer you use dropbox links, a file transfer service, rather then sending attachments via email?
FYI – You may have strong favorites on your own but hold back your opinion at first, to see what your team tells you. Hopefully they all respond with very similar selects but if they don’t, it’s a fabulous opportunity to check in about their vision for you or perhaps their industry insight which leads them to their choices.
It’s also possible that a couple of the final choices will prove so versatile that they’ll parlay into other character ideas that you hadn't initially considered, and may offer you more to play with during your shoot… And, ideally, more options from your finished session!
This is also the time for you and your team to discuss tweaks to the looks based upon everyone's feedback. Sometimes a simple color fix will make a big impact (see my yellow dress test shot with the white cardi – it became a green cardi in the final version and looks so much better). Additionally, this is the time for you to identify one or two “freebie looks” you can create from your final selects. A freebie look comes from a super quick change, like taking off a sweater, adding a scarf, unbuttoning a top, adding eyeglasses, or throwing on a blazer. Photographers will typically give you that tweaked look for free since it takes no time at all to switch (photographers may charge by look because it takes extra time to change clothes, readjust hair/makeup, etc.).
For a quick reference of what my final selections looked like as their original test shots, see "Maitely Headshot Looks." Later you can see what I did with them and also how the final photos turned out.
8) DREAMING, VISUALIZING, DIARY-WRITING, WHATEVER WORKS!
A few weeks before the shoot, begin to intensely work on the inner lives of these characters. Pull together all the phrases, words, songs, poems, things, shows or people that have been repeatedly associated with you or your work and match them up with each character that fits best with those ideas & prototypes. Dream and visualize what these characters would be like if they were in your everyday situations. Write about them in a diary and create as much of a life as you can for each one, as if you were preparing for a role. When you hear songs on the radio that makes you think of one of your characters, write down the title and artist. If you don't know the title or artist, find that out. Add these songs to a playlist that you can play during that “look” in your session. Do whatever you can to get closer to knowing them as real people rather than the stereotypes they originated from 3 weeks ago.
9) WEEK 3: SHARPEN THE SAW
About 2 weeks before the shoot, send all of your selected outfits to the cleaners… Get them clean & pressed for the big day. When they come back, leave them hanging in their plastic cleaning bags so they won't accidentally get mussed up. Find a way to live without these outfits for a couple weeks!
Put aside a kit of items that might be needed during the shoot. For instance, a small scissor for pesky threads, Hollywood tape for wardrobe mishaps, clips for your hair, clips/pins for your clothes in case they look too baggy that day or pop a button, a few favorite makeup products for color reference that your makeup artist can consider, stain remover, etc. If it sets your mind at ease to have anything that day “just in case,” then pack that thing in the kit. It's all about peace of mind, really! My kit is a little mesh bag with a handle, so I hung it on a hanger with my wardrobe options so they'd all be ready together in one place when it came time.
After being clear of mind on all of that, check in with the photographer and the makeup/hair stylist about your various looks to see if they needed anything from you to be ready. Let them know about the specific changes you’ll want to make as you go, the TV shows you want to emulate (for lighting/background choices), give them the option to look at test photos that your reps approved and also remember to double-check about the technology available for playing your own music that day.
But you’re STILL not ready yet! I told you this’d take a month or so, right?
10) WHAT GETS YOU IN THE MOOD?
Invest an hour or two a night picking juuuuust the right songs for your playlists. Yes, that's “playlists” plural! If your characters are truly unique, you’ll have one playlist for each look and in each playlist there’ll be perhaps a dozen songs just in case one look takes longer than expected. That's about 45 minutes of music per look and every song chosen specifically because it’s either something that the character would love listening to or because it makes you think something that the character would be thinking. Refer to your characters' diary and all the chicken-scratched lists of song titles and artists you’ve been collecting when creating your playlists.
Keep in mind that the first few songs in each playlist are just warmup songs to play while changing between looks. The money songs are 4th, 5th & 6th in the cue of each playlist. Those are the songs worth purchasing on iTunes if you don’t already own them.
11) WEEK 4: CLIFFS NOTES FOR THE SESSION!
OK, this is where we get really crazy. About a week before the shoot, compile all of the information you have into a 5 page document. Each page represents one character & will have a ton of references to help you stay on track during the photo shoot.
To check it out for yourself, visit "Headshot Character Profiles."
For every look, paste the original test photo showing the outfit choice followed by several photos of prototypes for the character just to remind you visually of the energy associated with this look. This is a very personal choice based on your unique perspective so don't worry about what anyone else thinks about these prototypes as long as they somehow work for you.
Then list any wardrobe notes and the initial stereotypical elements of the character. After that, add any prototype notes and then words or partial phrases that you relate to this character followed by phrases you could hear your character saying or thinking. This area can be highly personal and sourced from your life, since this character is already a part of you anyway. Then list makeup & hair notes followed by music cues by track number and song title.
After finishing a page for each look, print the 5 color pages & tape a photocopy of your favorite diary entry for each look to the back, so that it's basically a double-sided page chock-full of information for each character. Finally, to keep them all in great condition for shoot-day, consider laminating the pages. I found great laminating sheets at Staples that did the trick quickly and cheaply without any machinery. Then, tape each laminated sheet to the bottom of a wire hanger and nestle each of those hangers in front of the corresponding look to make a tidy package ready to hang together at the studio.
Be ready to shock the photographer a little with your A+ organization too. There's no better way to start a shoot than to let your photographer see you show up ready to go with all of your tools in order. It ups everyone's game.
For visual reference of this whole package, see "Headshot Wardrobe Profiles."
12) THE DAY OF!
This starts the night before, actually. Before your evening massage or other pre-bed relaxing activity, put your kit and wardrobe into your car so you won't have to think about it in the morning. Because you've worked so hard, tomorrow can be about letting go of all this preparation and simply focusing on the thoughts of your characters... And having FUN doing it. So tonight is the time to do all of the little things that will allow you to walk out the door carefree in the morning.
Because everything is done by morning except for, well, eating, showering, blowdrying and moisturizing before heading out the door, you’ll have very little on your mind other than arriving to your shoot a little early and reviewing your characters a bit beforehand. You’ll be ready for anything and excited to play! As a result, this session will be a ton of fun, you’ll try a bunch of ideas you wouldn't have otherwise considered, you’ll get freebie looks in and even have all of your looks lensed earlier than anticipated -- all while feeling completely satisfied with an abundance of great images to peruse with your team later.
To see a selection of final results from my photo shoot, visit my website's photo page. This will give you a quick idea of the variety that comes from doing loads of prep work. It's also interesting to see that not all my characters ended up being a literal translation of my preparation. Instead, it turned out to be a road map to unexpected places within my wheelhouse.
NOW GO HAVE FUN!!!
Thrilled to be going back in for G. Charles Wright and his producers/writers/director today. I feel awesome in that room every time.