CBS and CBS Diversity recently offered a workshop focused on marketing for actors. Fern Orenstein, Vice President of CBS Casting, and Bárbara S. Matos, Manager of CBS Diversity, presented a forum to share important tips on casting for TV and a critique of individual materials. Members of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), American Indian Artists, Inc. (AMERINDA, Inc.), the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA) were also invited to participate.
The majority of the workshop was spent on the impact of headshots. Fern showed examples of headshots and then went on to critique individual headshots. She took the time to review each participants’s headshot and ask them about their goals. It was apparent people weren’t aware of their own goals by their inability to answer her questions. One of those questions was, “What kind of work are you looking to book?” I admit to being one of those who stumbled when asked the question.
As the critiques went on, Fern’s comments were equally funny but brutal. Her piercing honesty was an indication of how harsh the casting process can be. In the end, it’s a reflection of how fast-paced the industry is. As a result, there’s no time for nonsense. People submitting for roles in TV need to be prepared, focused and professional. Anything less will most likely bring about a very unpleasant experience. Fern’s overall message was to focus on the reality of who you are and what types you can play to help redirect a floundering career. She warned not to let ego or self-esteem issues get in the way of what you can actually do. In the end, you need to remember the business end of acting. Be professional, know your market, know your goals and target your efforts towards that which will bring about the most success.
One of the most insightful pieces of information provided by Fern was how the TV casting process works. The difference in TV casting is that you ARE the role you’re auditioning for. You need to be the character as you walk into the audition room. Consider it “condensed casting” due to the extremely fast pace at which casting directors work. This is where your headshot can be an effective tool. Your headshot should represent your type and any other important aspects of yourself (i.e. height, weight and even whether you have an accent) so there are no surprises for casting directors when they meet you.
Regarding headshots, most people are given the tip to “be yourself” or “show your personality.” It’s not so much showing “who you are” in the headshot but showing the types of characters you can play (realistically and honestly). Keep in mind this is specific to casting for episodic TV shows and doesn’t really apply to other genres such as theatre or commercials. This is the importance of knowing your target market. I never knew this aspect of TV casting before the workshop and cannot thank Fern enough for sharing this invaluable information.
Some other tips from the workshop are below.
Keynotes on targeting work:
- Know who you are! Know your type!
- Be aware of patterns in casting
- Watch shows on networks to research roles (and types of roles) that are available
- Submit for things you are truly right for
Keynotes on what to know BEFORE you get your headshots:
- Know what kind of work you’re looking to do
- Think about the performance in the headshot, what character(s) are you portraying?
- Plan for 2-3 different shots that represent different characters you can portray
TIPS ON PHOTO SHOOTS:
- Use location shots to keep headshots from looking flat. Make sure background is appropriate for “character”
- Be very aware of color choices
- Make sure angles on poses are not awkward
- Women: avoid spaghetti strap style shirts
Keynotes on headshots that will get you seen:
- Full color!
- Make sure your materials reflect what the casting notice is asking for
- Be aware most shots are first viewed by casting director at thumbnail size. Make sure your headshots translate well at a reduced size.
In closing, I want to thank CBS for this workshop. It was key in shedding light to some of the stumbling blocks towards a successful career in TV. Whatever your path, be professional, stay focused and dare to reach for the stars. Wishing you all success!