CREATING AN ONLINE PORTFOLIO might feel like a daunting task, a necessary chore you continue to push down your to-do list behind studying, prepping for rehearsals, and college research. After all, it takes a lot of time to deliberate over which photos to use, clips to post, and résumé to submit. However, if you break down portfolio-building into a few key steps, then the fog begins to lift, allowing you to see the path ahead.

CEO of Brand “You”

Before we talk about what you should post online, you need to come to terms with one exciting reality: You are a brand. What exactly is a brand? The idea of labeling an actor a brand can be confusing, because it certainly wasn’t a brand that fell in love with the stage or a brand that earned a role in the high school musical. It was simply you, as a passionate Thespian, who decided that dramatic storytelling is your future. However, the moment you cross over from an amateur to professional, you’re a brand in the eyes of the entertainment industry.

Over the past decade, social media and digital connectivity has shrunk the globe to whatever device we carry in our pocket. No longer is there a mystique about an actor before they enter the casting room. Images and video clips of you exist online. If you are an actor, you must recognize that those images will likely make the first impression of you to the industry and potential employers.

Your social media presence must reflect what you want to portray to the entertainment industry about yourself as an artist. Not long ago, an actor’s audition was allowed to stand on its isolated merit without the tint of preconceived notions — take it from a Gen-Xer. No longer do up-and-coming performers have the luxury of anonymity walking into the room.

These days, you are the CEO of your brand at all times. You must make the final decision on what the world sees about you on all your online platforms. This doesn’t mean that you can’t present yourself as an individual living life to the fullest, but you may want to think about comments you make or photos you post, as they will be around, somewhere in the ether, for quite some time.

With this in mind, and as chief of your brand, you should review past and current postings on your social media and amend accordingly. Going forward, be mindful of your interactions online. If someone Googles you, what do you want them to see?

Photo camera

HEADSHOTS: THE BASICS

When it comes to headshots, the photo ultimately needs to represent you and the brand you are portraying to the industry. When a casting director scrolls through your pictures, they take interest if your look matches the need of the available part. When you walk into their office, you need to deliver that same appearance. It doesn’t serve you to completely doctor your photo in the interest of constructing the most flattering image if that cannot be replicated in reality.

There are different types of casting, and each requires a slightly different approach to headshots. Here are some rules of thumb.

Commercials. Commercial agents often want you to have the widest array of headshot looks. Why? Because in a 15- or 30-second spot, the actor’s role must be instantly recognizable to the viewer. For a commercial shoot, looks may range from casual attire to formal or business wear, even to uniforms like first responder or military garb.

Comedies. Situation comedies and single-camera comedies, like Parks and Recreation, often seek to cast more casual looks with lighter expressions. Comedy is warm, inviting, and accessible. Bright smiles, playful looks, and alluring expressions will serve you well here.

Dramas. It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. The same can be said for strong dramatic headshots. They usually capture something wondrous about the subject’s eyes, like power, humility, honesty, or mischief. A strong dramatic headshot lives and dies with the eyes.

There are several practical headshot considerations as well.

Hire a pro, or no? While the most cost-effective solution is to have a friend snap a few photos, this is a time when you should spend the money and hire a professional. Search online and ask for referrals from fellow actors, representation, or even photo labs.

After reviewing a photographer’s work, reach out and begin a dialogue. Ask any questions you have and go over the general parameters of the shoot so that expectations are fulfilled on both sides.

Studio or environmental? There is really no wrong way to go here. Shooting in a studio allows you to control the elements, while shooting outside might provide a freedom and inspiration that you couldn’t find within the confines of four walls. Some photographers only work in one locale while others do both.

Posed or journalistic? Posed shots often find the subject in a stock position. Journalistic or observational headshots go for a candid effect, making the subject appear unaware of the camera.

Face-only or three-quarter shots? A shot that focuses on your face is more intimate than a shot that captures three-quarters of your body. If you can only have one, make sure you have a close-up of your face. However, if you have purchased multiple looks with your photographer, play around and get some wider photos. This allows casting to see more of your body and presence.

After you receive your cache of digital files, consult with your photographer, friends, family, and associates to help you select the five to 10 best shots. After that, you might decide to ask for photo editing or light retouching, such as adjusting the contrast ratios, shading, and removing minor blemishes.

Film camera

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Your online portfolio should also include clips of your acting work. At minimum, you need one comedic and one dramatic piece, each one to two minutes in length. Select pieces no more than two years old to reflect recent work.

If you don’t have any clips yet, film some yourself. In decades past, this was a legitimate obstacle. Video cameras were expensive, and transferring clips to a VHS or DVD was a nightmare. Today, there is no excuse not to have several pieces of your work available at all times. Between the nominal cost of low-end video cameras, phones, and taping services, there are many ways to get film clips. After all, they are your most effective calling cards. Having professional grade still photos is certainly nice, but people need to see you act.

There are millions of scenes available to you as the actor. Deciding what scenes to film comes back to branding. How do you want the industry to see you as an artist? What are your strengths? Where are you most castable? Will you shine best as comic relief, ingénue, or outcast? Have an honest conversation with yourself, acting coaches, and representatives about where your work is strongest and target those scenes.

For just a few dollars, you can view almost any film or TV project that has been released and transcribe a scene. Then book an appointment with a professional taping service or invite a few friends over to set up a camera and all film scenes for each other. The purest form of acting is when the camera never leaves you. Keep the camera on you the entire time and don’t worry about editing together multiple angles or shots — the marketplace is interested in you, not in your editing.

Tape each scene several times, then select the best takes. Invite your acting teachers and representatives to weigh in on your strongest takes. Perform a simple edit at the beginning and end of those takes, using a free video editing software such as OpenShot or iMovie for Mac. Voila! In an afternoon, you now have an acting clip ready to go live across the globe.

Resume

“SO … DO YOU HAVE A RÉSUMÉ?”

Unlike preparing a résumé for the business world, the industry standard for acting résumés privileges simplicity. List your name and representation or personal contact info at the top, then create sections for film, television, and theatre credits. List your credits in chronological order, with your most recent work topping each section. After project name, create a column for the character you played, one column for the studio, network, or theatre where the work was performed, and if you wish, one for the director.

Toward the bottom, list any union affiliations. For film and television, that would be SAG-AFTRA, and for theatre, Equity. Don’t sweat it if you’re not union yet. Producers realize people starting out might not be. Additionally, extracurricular training, acting classes, and any special skills you might have are helpful to notate. Special skills might include speaking a foreign language, being gifted at a sport, playing an instrument, or experience as a stunt person.

When giving a hard copy, your résumé should be stapled to the back of your headshot. And save the document as a PDF, so you can list or submit it to various websites hosting your work.

BUILD A ONE-STOP SHOP

You need a website that hosts your photos, videos, and résumé together, because it is imperative that you make a lasting impression in less than 60 seconds.

While there is no set rule, if someone spends more than one minute on a website, it probably means they have discovered content of interest. You should aim to engage users for at least a minute with your online content: photos, clips, etc.

My work is hosted on a page I built on demoreel.com. There, you can see recent headshots, click on one of my 15 selected videos, and view my acting résumé. This sort of access and convenience is exactly what you want for a hosting site. Casting directors, directors, and producers receive countless pitches for various roles. If they have to work to find your content, they will just move on.

KEEP IT CURRENT AND HAVE FUN

I often hear actors say, “I really should update my page” or “I should probably take new headshots.” My reaction is, “Yes, you should!” As an actor — and a brand — it is crucial that the industry is familiar with the most recent version of you. Casting directors are not interested in hiring you from five years ago. They need to cast you today for a role that usually shoots in a few weeks. Keep your materials fresh. Also, the more active you are with your online presence, the more interested people will be in checking out the latest media you post.

Creating an online portfolio doesn’t have to be laborious. You can approach it as a fun task that compiles the best version of you. Going through your reel and choosing photos for your online portfolio can re-energize you as you think about your experience, what you want to highlight, and ultimately, what you want your brand to be. After all, your authentic self is the best brand you have. 

This story appeared in the June/July 2018 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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