Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Importance of Good Headshots - Part One

It is so incredibly important to have good headshots. I have horror stories, so please learn from my mistakes so you don't waste money and make the same ones.

I was living in St. Louis right before I moved to L.A. There was one headshot photographer in town and all of the headshots she took looked the same. I talked to her on the phone and I didn't like her. I wanted to move to L.A. with a headshot under my arm so I could hit the ground running. We found an ad in the newpaper looking for models for stock photography for greeting cards, soap ads, etc. We showed up at the studio, met the photographer, and she said it would cost us $30 or $50 each to cover postage until someone wanted to buy our photos. She said she'd shoot a couple headshots for me and for Andrew as part of it. So we did it. When we saw the proofs, I picked out the least terrible photo of myself and paid $20 or so to have it enlarged to 8 x 10. It was a real turd of a photo. I think it would've been more flattering for me to use a photo of me rolling out of bed after a long night of drinking. The whole thing was a scam. She had photo books in the lobby with ads torn out of magazines. Did she really shoot those photos or was that false advertising? I mailed her a postcard a year later asking what happened with the photos she was going to send out. I never heard back from her.

When I arrived in L.A., I went to a retoucher in hopes he could spin my turd into gold. He laughed at me and said he couldn't retouch it because it wasn't even on photographic paper (Kodak print-it-yourself paper was more like it). I asked where I could find a photographer for pretty cheap. (Mind you, Andrew and I lived in an $800 a month studio apartment about the size of a roadside motel room with two grown dogs, neither of us with employment yet that guaranteed enough money to even cover the rent.) He gave me the name of this gal, and we set an appointment to see her. (If you ask me personally, I'll give you her name. I just don't want to permanently sully her name on the internet, especially if she improves her skills.)

We looked at her photo books and they all looked like headshots. She did mostly men, but she shot women from time to time. She had a studio in back of her house where she did the work. She didn't do hair or makeup, and she didn't help narrow down clothing selections. I think I got four changes on one roll of film for $125. She might've cut us a deal -- both of us for $200 total.

I was really excited to go for my first real Hollywood headshot session. I packed my suitcase with clothing and I brought makeup and hair stuff. Wow! This was going to be fun! In truth, it was weird. She wanted me to meditate before my photos, so she left me on the floor in her oddball studio in the dark for about fifteen minutes. I don't meditate on command, so I fell asleep. When she came back and asked me how my meditation was, I lied and said it was fine. When we did the pictures, she kept making noises at me like I was a baby or a puppy so I'd laugh or smile. The smiles were nervous smiles, the laughter scared laughter. When I got back the proof sheet, I looked like a dork (dorkier than in life) in most of the pictures. I had to order my 8 x 10 through her, so I picked the least turdlike photo. It was a real Hollywood headshot, or so I continued to convince myself. And she cut us such a great deal, so I couldn't say, "Wow, these pictures really suck and I guess I'm now out a couple hundred bucks with nothing to show for it as rent day creeps closer and closer."

So what did I do? I got lithographs of turd photo #2 and sent them out. (This is back when most submissions were done through the mail -- less than a handful of years ago.) While I was sending out my turds, I was on this radical diet of no sugar, no white flour, no pasta, no corn syrup. I think I was consuming about 500 calories a day because I had some false data on what it takes to make it in Hollywood. I needed to lose a few pounds, but I got down to about 93 pounds and my boobs started to shrink so I started eating cookies and coffee cake and sandwiches again. I was called in for ONE audition off about 200 mailings, and the role was for a fat girl. My photo made me look like a fat girl to them. (Granted, I had a few extra pounds on me, but I was by no means a FAT girl.) When I lost the weight, I couldn't quite afford to buy new clothes as I shrank (remember my rent was $800 a month). I showed up for the audition, all hair and bones, and my pants were too big. The auditioners read me and thanked me and sent me on my way.

That's when I realized it was time for new headshots, and I might have to pay a little more money to get something decent.

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