When agents make bad headshot decisions

June 29, 2015

Recently, I had an actor (an incredibly nice guy) come in for headshots who was aiming to play the persona of villain. After our pre-session discussion we came to an understanding that he would have the most success by getting casted as a villain vs other types of roles. With a history of being cast as a villain in many productions he understands the value of pursuing more roles as the bad guy.

Wouldn’t you agree that if he is being casted as a villain we should illustrate it in his headshots? My client and I understood this so we spoke about his persona as though he were in a play. He became a psychopath during the session and it was incredibly powerful to see his transformation. I love how his headshot turned out, certainly he could be cast in 50% of all movies being played right now. We didn’t need to use our imagination to know how he would look like in the big screen, his headshots reflected this already.

His agent on the other hand, didn’t understand it herself. She wanted a re-shoot where he would look “nicer”. Against by better judgement, I obliged and photographed him smiling, with caky pants, a blue shirt, and a red tie. I went ahead and touched up his villain headshot and asked my client try an experiment: hand out both types of headshots and keeping track of the results.

It turned out that the nice guy headshot by myself and another photographer landed him no new roles, whereas his new villain headshot landed him numerous new roles.

Why would agents not value their talent? This is like taking a working race car off road, buying a boat and expecting it to drive. My client will soon be a household recognized actor and can still choose to play nice guy roles if he wants, but he never would have been recognized had he tried it the other way around and auditioned for villain roles with a nice guy headshot.

In another instance a few years ago, an actress asked me if she could go for a session and deliberately take advantage of my discretionary guarantee. Her agent had asked her to dye her hair blonde to improve casting calls. This actress wasn’t sure about her agent’s theory and wanted headshots with her natural hair too. I agreed and photographed her with red hair and scheduled a future appointment.

She called me a few weeks later, before she could come in for a second session, to tell me that her new headshot (with red hair) landed her a role in television production! She would not be dying her hair but would be firing the agent instead.

No one is perfect, and even agents can make bad decisions for the actors/actresses they are representing. Sometimes, trusting your gut and going against your agent’s instructions for headshots can pay off. While we can’t tell you whether or not your agent is making the right calls for you, we can and will take risks when it comes to capturing a persona in your headshots so that you get noticed for the right reasons.

Enjoy this video with Mark Wahlberg and Jimmy Fallon taking another kind of headshots!

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