Getting Through the Door: Knowing Your Casting

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Do you know, really, candidly know, how you are most likely to be cast? Today. Tomorrow. Right now. Not your fantasy role, the lead in everything, but have you done your homework on your casting in today’s media, and do you fully own it?

If you haven’t dedicated some real time to watching the shows you would like to be on, the kind of films you want to be part of, and discerned your most likely place within them, before you shoot headshots, or new headshots, this is a crucial time to do this work.

If you are looking for an agent, or have an agent that isn’t getting you in the room (enough), knowing your own casting, and getting it embedded into your headshots will be tremendously empowering for you, and them.

To get through the casting door, you must know, and present, a clear understanding of who and what you are. As an actor, and as an artist. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are you ready to play today, what are you working on for the future? What is the core essence of what you uniquely bring to the table as a performer? What are you marketing and selling here? If you don’t know, how can your Agent, Manager, Casting Director, know? How can they buy what you’re selling if you don’t know what it is?

For those that haven’t dialed this in just yet, here’s the straightforward process. Watch television and films critically, and find your place within them. Your role. Be brutally honest, while also being confident and laser specific. Find “your gal,” or “your guy,” the supporting player or lead whose’ got the role(s) you’re going for. Make a list, collect a few of them, then refine that until you have your realistic range, and your sweet spot, nailed. And bring that not only to your auditions, your agent, but to your headshot session!

Have you ever looked at Breakdowns? The casting sheets an agent looks through every day, and decides whom to submit for each role? Have you looked at them critically, as an actor, and put yourself in your agent’s shoes? What roles should you be submitted for? Why, exactly? Can you cruise through the pages with a highlighter, and mark the parts you should be submitted for? Does your Agent or Manager agree with you? Make sure you know the answer to this, and your representation does too!

Okay, here goes. You’re the nice guy/woman next door. Great, but general, refine it. “Who’s kinda sexy”? Okay, what kind of sexy? Confident, vulnerable, rugged, refined? Blue collar, or white collar? Are they a little neurotic, quirky? Harmless, or also the person with 18 bodies buried in the backyard?

You’re a detective. Okay, what kind? Rookie, just out of a squad car, polishing your shield at home and dreaming of making a difference? Or grizzled veteran, who finally put away the bottle you’ve been nipping off of in the restroom since your partner was killed in the line of duty four years ago? Are you honest, or on the take? On the take, okay, why? Because you’re greedy, or because you have a special needs child at home, and $60K doesn’t begin to cover the bills?

When I shoot with actors, I have this kind of discussion with them before our session, and then work with the results in specific detail, while we’re shooting. I offer clear, simple direction with the intention of achieving shots that cover a range of character choices and intentions, getting them into the moment, reacting then and there, to different scenarios.

This specificity shows. It makes an impression. Casting Director’s respond to this kind of detailed professionalism. They’re pouring through submissions and your shot pops, it jumps up and waves it’s little arms, saying “THIS is the person!”

Look at some of my shots. There is always something going on, something behind the eyes. A thought, an emotion, vulnerable, strong, whatever it is, it’s real

It gets you in the room. And on the set.

Confident, Stunning, Hired!: Wardrobe Guide for Headshots and Auditions

costume-1What’s good for your headshot session is good for your auditions, almost without exception. The same basics apply. What wardrobe is most flattering on you, (and your skin tones) isn’t distracting, and conveys to the casting team your clear understanding of how they should hire you.

To that end, I always offer a wardrobe consultation before any shoot. I recommend bringing more options, rather than less to your shoot, as we’ll go though all your selections, and some things you might have thought were great, don’t make the cut. Having “plan B’s” is a good thing.

I suggest using clothing in rich, solid colors such as deep forest or olive green, as well as sky and royal blues, lavenders can look great on men and women. Oranges, if they ‘re the “right” kind, can be very flattering, particularly the “burnt” or deeper oranges. Even red can work, if it’s not a fluorescent fire engine red.

When coming to your shoot, or going to an audition, have clothing clean, and as wrinkle free as possible. Use a lint brush if you have animals.

For women, shooting a business look, a dark navy jacket looks fantastic with a cream, lavender or sky blue top. I recommend jackets in navy, browns, creams and tweeds, as long as the tweed pattern isn’t super strong. Velvets, satins, textures are all great.

20140930143522-television-film-productionIf you plan to use jewelry, it needs to be absolutely minimal, simple, and non-distracting from what we’re here to show off, which is you.

If you want to shoot a look in glasses, please bring a lensless pair. Even with careful lighting, the glass or more likely plastic dulls your eyes, and can create distracting reflections. Many optometry shops will loan or rent you a pair very inexpensively. Glasses can be a great character enhancer, and it pays to get frames that look great on you and have no lenses.

Everyone should avoid turtlenecks, they do a great job of turning you into a floating head with no neck. Not the look we’re shooting for.

Scoop necks, V-neck and button down collars are all good choices. For guys, layers can really work for you: a T-shirt with collared shirt or hoodie over it; a light sweater layered with a bomber jacket can be killer looks. If wearing a necktie in some looks, please bring several options, coordinated with shirt and jacket.

Blacks and off whites in wardrobe can work as well on camera. A general notion for everyone is that the vibrant, rich colors work best. Then again, any color that you have been complimented on before, or feel good wearing would certainly be worth considering.

Colors that match and as a result, pop your eyes are excellent. Refrain from choosing clothing with strong patterns or logos, as this is distracting. Subtle stripes are fine, particularly if they’re going under a blazer, or for a business shirt-and-tie- look. Keep your casting first and foremost in mind, and the character range you are intending to covey.

Stand apart from the crowd by wearing rich and/or warmer colors. If you’re having trouble deciding what colors go best with your skin tone – consider which clothes have garnered you the most compliments.  If you’re unsure, hold up a shirt or jacket in front of a mirror, to see it against your skin.

B1EvnZ9CAAA9VZt.jpg_largeIf you’re a woman with blonde or light brown hair, it’s a good idea to bring at least one shirt or jacket that isn’t black, particularly for commercial looks. A large amount of black can wash your skin tones out and completely overpower you.

I’m specifically addressing shirts and jackets here, as that’s what’s most prominent in both a headshot, and an on-camera audition. Strong colors will stand out on camera, so choose them carefully, considering your skin tones, eye and hair color, and use them to your advantage!

If you’re uncertain about your choices, an excellent guide is to watch the current shows and films you want to be cast in. What are the actor’s wearing? Detective or psychologist, casual mom or career professional, a great deal of time and expertise goes into most wardrobe choices on screen. Get specific about your casting from a wardrobe perspective, the time invested will serve you well. If you have current representation, be sure to discuss your choices with them, make them earn their nickel!

Above all, wear clothing that both fits you, and is comfortable. New or old, bought for the shoot, or your old favorite that looks fantastic, everything you wear, right down to shoes we’ll never see, should be comfortable. Believe me, it shows in your shots.

Do I really need professional hair and makeup for my shoot? I’m really good at my own makeup, or I’m a guy.

Pistola-Studios-Makeup-Station-SettingEveryone should seriously consider having professional makeup services provided. When you walk on set, you have been in the make-up chair, always, men included. The camera sees everything. Sweating equals retouching. Under eyes frequently want a little help. Light color correction, evening of skin tone is often needed.  Look through my site, most, but not everyone chose professional makeup, and I’m confident you can spot those who did not.  I do my best to correct what I can, but heavy eyeliner, or uneven application, non-professional products that cover unevenly, exaggerated mascara, powder that shows in close up, all avoidable with professional application.

Our professional make-up artist also touches you up between looks, a valuable, often under appreciated service. This helps reduce the need for more extensive retouching. You’re investing in the highest quality photographs; invest the small additional amount to look your best.

The goal here isn’t to make you look different, or all glammed up, unless we’re doing a glamorous look. Our makeup artists work on set in film and television, bring a kit that costs several thousand dollars, and have the experience to help you look your best, specifically on camera.

Ladies, being skilled at daily makeup is not the same as makeup for shooting. Because you can do a great job before an audition, or create killer smoky eyes for a dinner party, does not equate to the years of experience our camera trained makeup artist will bring to your shoot. Your makeup products, base and powder are likely not designed for High Definition photography.

lThe application of eyeliner and mascara are particularly critical, since our work is focused on your eyes. We’re not going to make you look different; we’re going to work with you to make you look your natural best for camera.

The same goes for hair. If you’re uncertain if you need that service, you almost certainly do. If you were to see the difference between doing your own hair, and what our stylist does, you wouldn’t give it a second thought.

Candidly, I have had shoots where the person opted out of makeup and or hair. If I was even a little bit cruel, I’d post examples, but I’m not, and I won’t. I assure you, those folks did not look their best, despite my greatest efforts. And they required extensive retouching after the shoot.

A couple of tips:

Avoid sunburn, particularly before your shoot. If you show up with red skin, we may have to reschedule your shoot, and there is a fee associated. Make sure that your face is clean when you arrive for your shoot, so that the makeup artist can make the best use of time. If there is anything the makeup artist should know about, such as sensitive skin or allergies to certain products, please be sure to let them know.

Gentlemen, if you’re planning to shave during the shoot, please have a fresh blade for your razor, and aftershave/moisturizer to calm skin down. Razor burn equals retouching.

If you use eye-whitening drops, please do so, and bring them with you. Red eyes equals, you guessed it, retouching.

Male or female, if you opt not to have professional makeup as part of your shoot, you must speak with the photographer before your shoot day. We are dedicated to providing you the very best results, which is why we’re so passionate about this.

Shooting Inanimate Objects: Discovering the Spirit Within

GD0_9642-3The art of shooting inanimate objects is vastly different than photographing people, but the goal for me, is the same.  To discover the unique story treasure hidden within, and share it with my audience.  While there are voluminous writings about the technical aspects of this kind of photography, very little seems to be available about the creative process itself, without which, the technical can yield only proficient results at best.  I’m hoping to change that just a bit, with this piece, by sharing my approach which I’ve developed over years as a Director of Photography for both film and television, and as a professional photographer interested primarily in storytelling.

When first approaching a potential subject, most often I leave the camera out of the process for a few minutes, and use only my eyes.  Most objects, from cars to buildings, airplanes and ships, to dolls and toys, whatever your would-be subject is, have a story to tell.  This part of my approach is simply “listening,” but visually, kinesthetically, while quieting my mind, rather than conversing with a human subject.  It is, as portrait photographers call it, “building rapport.”

Frequently, that listening pays off, as the story emerges.  It may require walking around the subject, squatting down low, or climbing up on a step stool, to discover it in a compelling way.  It may be getting up really close to a detail, or pulling way back, across the street, to truly intuit the frame, to discover how my subject wants to be seen to best advantage.DC3 Hero1

Sometimes, a touch is most essential.

Fundamentally, it’s all about light, and how it plays, how you can utilize it to draw out the personality of your subject in revealing ways.  Where the source, natural or artificial is coming from, in relation to both subject, and camera.  The quality of that light is fundamental. The traditional photographer’s paradise, the warmth of the so called “golden hour” is frequently the element most sought after, but the “blue hour,” right before sunrise, and right after sunset, are often just as rich, if not more so.  Hard afternoon shadows may reveal essential edgy harshness, as with the  WWII DC-3 cargo plane to the right here.  Can texture or reflection play a role in deepening your subject, lending an air of mystery, strength, or timeless fragility?

Sometimes the key element is patience, walking away from a moment missed, and returning another day at a more favorable time.  Occasionally I’ll get home and review my shots before making such a decision, other times, well it’s just clear to the naked eye, or through the lens, that something’s missing, and on that day, it’s not recoverable.  Then, overnight it rains, and the shot soars to life the next morning.  This old Chrysler at the top left here, upon first glance, was noted merely as an appealing reminder of a bygone era.   Yet two days later, in bright morning light, she appeared to me as a faded Hollywood character actress.  One angle was pedestrian,  just an old car.  A few feet to the left,  a slight downward tilt of the lens to reduce the glare from the morning sun, and there she was, a venerable, weathered steed, scarred and haggard, but still proudly potent, alive.

 

1534874_623966511041366_7413216025099281032_oIt may seem strange to some, but for me there’s an aspect of the spiritual in photographing particular things… trees for instance, or a raging river, a still reflective pool in some ancient place, like the one here below.  Old creations, of man or mother nature,  things which we so often anthropomorphize.

I indulge that urge, and ask their permission for the image I seek, and listen for the answer.  Some things feel welcoming, others clearly don’t wish to be seen or revealed.  Rather like their human counterparts. I respect the reply when there is one, and have upon occasion walked away when I felt that was the right thing to do, the shot not created.  Other objects seem to whisper encouragingly, “over here, this is my good side,” and there too, I strive to listen and act accordingly.

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This 1928 Hudson Super Six Coach interior, above, beautifully restored, sat unnoticed until about 40 frames into my shooting her exterior, when I turned away from the elegant antique.  I was on my way into the resplendent Southern mansion behind her, when something beckoned me back, as though whispering “You’re missing something.  Over here… see me.”  I had been so captivated by the exterior, I hadn’t even truly noticed the interior. How very human.

In that moment which I have learned to heed, I turned back and approached the driver’s door.  There was an actor playing her care taker, in 1920’s period clothes and a perfect Georgia dialect.  He spoke to me for the first time, as I approached the window. “Like a reflection of yesterday, ain’t she” he said quietly.  I smiled in acknowledgement, taking in the richness within, beckoning warmth, the amber reflection of the brick paved driveway… and my shutter went “snap,” just once.  There wasn’t another shot to be taken, nor word to be said.  Trust.  The. Moment.

Her story was old, but echoed resoundingly through my lens.  Of a gentleman’s delight, a woman’s perfumed scarf, and a valet’s loyalty.  The engineer’s devotion to elegance and excellence, the fervent wish their creation would serve and endure… all there for those who listened, and saw.  The magic is in the capturing of what one’s heart feels, what the muse inspires, the mind’s eye discovers, so others may share in that.  This is all photography’s ambition, to connect.

I turned form the old car, thanked her quietly with a gentle hand run along her chromed door handle, and went on my way, avoiding the playback screen of my camera. I was wary to jinx what I felt had just been captured, by sneaking a peek.  It’s that patience thing again, which I’m innately so poor at.  I willed myself to wait, like a child on Christmas morning, till’ I flew back across the country, from Georgia to California, to take a real look at the resulting image.  For me, it was worth the wait.  I hope you agree.