Monday, June 10, 2013

The Flip: a lesson about casting.

So I read an article about "Perfect Technologies" a while back.

The gist of the thesis is that some things, once invented, can't really be improved upon. As I remember it, the purest example of a Perfect Technology is the hammer: one day, eons ago, some caveman tied a rock to the end of a stick, and voila. It's been refined, sure, but the essential design of the hammer is unchanged. Humans will always need a thing to bang on other things, and that thing-banger will always be the hammer. Years from now, there will be hammers in space.

I would add the book.

Now, no-- I'm not about to launch into a misty Lament For the Old Days. But here's the thing: by design, a book needs to be held-- so, by design, a book engages a second sense. While adding one's sense of touch to the experience of reading my seem like a small thing, I'd suggest the opposite. There's a specific feeling to being on page eight of a novel-- the heft of the book is in one's right hand, and that heft communicates that your journey has just begun. And as every book-lover knows, there are few experiences as exhilarating as being pages from the end of an epic novel, when your hands urge you: keep going. The end of the journey is close.

I could go on: about the durability of a thing that can be dropped, stepped on, lost in the sand, drenched in coffee (or wine...) and still fulfill its function; about the unique tactile memory contained in each book, how the feel and weight and typeface and scent of a college textbook brings one back to the classroom-- or, in some magical cases, the dorm room of one's first love.

And in each case the point's the same: swiping one's finger along a pane of glass ain't the same thing and never will be. To Kids These Days, I say: your loss.

Why am I telling you this, and what does it have to do with your acting career? Here's what: the same is true of an old-school printed headshot with a resume attached to the back. Looking at an actor's "pic and res" used to be the same visual-tactile experience as reading a book, and I can tell you now that the shift away from them, while streamlining the submission process for all concerned, is for the most part a decidedly unfortunate development for an actor.

Back in my picture-pulling days, my personal technique was to start with a stack of headshots on my lap. I could work with a stack four or five inches high, quickly flipping each headshot up into a vertical position against my chest, until one caught my eye-- at which point I'd effortlessly do The Flip, flipping it over with my left hand to peruse the "Res" on the back.

 I've done it countless times: no, no, no, no, no, no, no-- oh-whats-this??? Flip.

The design of the headshot/resume -- the Perfect Technology of it-- encouraged the flip. As with a book, the technology of the pic-and-res brought the users' hands into the process, so that "the flip" was as much a part of the process as "the glance." The Flip's revelation of who you were as an actor was a natural interaction with the what-you-look-like first impression of the headshot. No more.

Here's a sad truth: after glancing at, say, one's five thousandth headshot, one gets jaded, and the temptation to power through submissions and just get on with it grows strong. With an old-school pic-and-res, there is a physical limit to how quickly one can browse; with electronic submissions I'm not sure such a limit even exists, for the eye scans these "thumbnail photos" at a breathtaking clip. I cannot imagine being a young casting associate whose only experience of with submissions is electronic. (Again, to the young casting associates I say: you mean you've never spent an evening tearing open envelope after envelope, sorting each one, filling an office floor with stacks of submission "types?" Your loss.)

 I know this because I've taken myself out of mothballs and have been doing just this for the past week. And I can tell you that no matter how well-designed the website, "click to view resume", followed by "scroll-to-view", then another "click to return to thumbnails", is a pain in the ass.

I am a fan of actors. And not surprisingly, I'm a particular fan of training. Still, after days of looking at over a thousand submissions, I have a confession to make: in some cases, I made a decision on an actor without "clicking to view resume."

 Back in the day I would never, ever have skipped The Flip on any actor I was marginally interested in considering. In most cases, that decision was to pass.

But as time wore on, in a few cases... yes. I called an actor in based on their headshot alone. That's entirely new for me. And one of those actors was cast. (For the record, that person was wonderful. He was cast for his talent IN ADDITION to his look.)

Takeaway: your headshot needs to be SPECIFIC.

My pal Fern Orenstein at ABC always says "I don't want to see pictures of actors," and I'm starting to agree. Your picture should say one thing, and one thing only, and that thing needs to be specific to YOU (not simply "…hey! I'm another actor in a blue v-neck t-shirt!"), and where you best fit in that discouragingly large ocean of actors you swim in.

Good news: that guy I called in, the one who was cast? Yes, it ended up he had a good amount of talent (and TRAINING!) (ahem), and he'd done some stuff. But but but… I didn't know that when I called him in. For all I knew, he could have had no resume at all. To you beginning actors, the dreaded "white space" on a resume isn't the Scarlet A it used to be.

Provided your shot is wonderful. And specific. And you.