Is a headshot and a resume necessary? – Close Up with David H. Stevens

Written by | The Craft of Acting

When you first embark on your acting journey, you need to prepare your toolbox: your headshot and resume are two of the most important tools.

Do I really need a headshot and resume?

Does a plumber need a pipe wrench? Does a surgeon need a scalpel? For an actor, the headshot and resume are simply tools of the trade. A good agent or coach can guide you in the finer points, but the basic parameters are an 8×10 color photo that really looks like you and an honest resume, also 8×10, with your name and your agent’s contact information stapled back-to-back. I’ll get into how to build a solid resume and how to get a quality headshot another time.

Many casting directors still use the hard copy while others prefer the digital version. Either way, you must have them available.

So, here you are, relatively new to the film business, but have learned from a capable coach how to act for film and have secured a reliable, capable, professional agent (just like bad actors, bad agents abound, but that’s another topic as well) and a casting director sends out a breakdown of the roles available for a film coming to town and your agent determines that you are perfect for one of the roles. However, you have not yet gone to your photoshoot and have no headshot… it is very likely you will not even be informed of the opportunity by the agent because you are not ready to go. “But wait,” you say, “my acting teacher says I have real talent and most people from my audition class told me I was the best. How is it possible I am not ready?” Simple. An actor must be both talented and behave like a professional, and professionals have a headshot and resume at the ready at all times.

So, let’s say you have been to a photoshoot and have a headshot, but you don’t have a resume… are you ready to go? NO. You are not. You say, “But I’m a beginner, this is my first audition. I don’t have a resume. I guess I should just quit.” Let me ask you a question: before Benedict Cumberbatch acted in his first film, how many movies did he have on his resume? Before Quentin Tarantino directed his first film, how many director credits did he have on his resume? Just like you, the answer is zero, but they both still had a resume. Have you studied? Put it on your resume. Have you been in any plays or commercials? Put them on your resume. Do you have any special skills? Put them on your resume. You get the idea here, right?

Now your agent has informed you of the audition and you have been rehearsing the sides (selected scenes from the script) diligently and are prepared to be excellent in the audition. You go into the audition room and, for whatever reason, you have not brought your headshot and resume… it’s usually, “DUH, I forgot,” or worse: “I didn’t know I needed to bring them.” What happens now? Do they still let you audition? Maybe yes, maybe no, depends on the casting director or their mood, but here is one of TWO critical consequences:  YOU ARE IMMEDIATELY LABELED AS AN UNPROFESSIONAL AMATEUR. Your chances of getting the role, even if your read is exemplary, become drastically reduced. Casting beginners is risky enough, but an unprofessional amateur is almost never going to happen.

Here is the second critical consequence: let’s say the casting director decides to let you read anyway and you rock! You are still in danger of both being quickly forgotten and not getting the role, as casting directors often use headshots to create two piles, be it hard copy or electronic. The short stack contains actors being called back or cast, and the large stack is also known as the round file (as trash cans are generally round) and contains the actors who either didn’t audition well or are not right for the part.

At the end of a long day, or several days, of casting, the casting director will call the agents for the actors in the short stack, and even though YOU ROCKED the audition and were going to be called back, yours is not there. They may even try to remember you or ask their associates something like “that girl in blue that rocked, what was her name?” No one remembers and you lose an opportunity to book your first professional role.

After over 20 years in the business, I still never leave home without a hard copy of my headshot and resume either in my bag or in my car. The hard copy may eventually become obsolete, but until it is, I will never leave home without it. It has paid off on numerous occasions as opportunities arose at unexpected times in unexpected places. It is true I have been cast and seen others cast without a headshot and resume, but it is the exception and not the rule.

– David H. Stevens

Do you have a question for David? Submit it here!

David H. Stevens has been a professional actor and producer for over 15 years and has a been a student for nearly 30. He has appeared in more than fifty films and television shows, produced countless short films, commercials and stage plays and has been the owner and operator of two production studios.

Most recently he starred in Robert Redford’s The American West as Jesse James on AMC. He is currently the owner and operator of Stevens Brothers Media, a film and commercial production company based in Salt Lake City, UT and is also the co-owner of Dalton/Stevens Enterprises, a television and motion picture company specializing in the process of business and creative development.

Stevens attended college at Southern Utah University. While there he became a national power with the speech and debate team winning over 100 awards across the United States. Since then he has been seen working along such notable actors as Philip Seymore Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Glenn Close, Scott Glenn and Anthony Hopkins. He has also worked with Academy Award winning directors Paul Thomas Anderson and Cameron Crowe as well as the legendary producer James L. Brooks.

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Last modified: January 7, 2018

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