I just earlier caught Louis Theroux Off-Off Broadway on Netflix – a BBC documentary exploring the harsh and often uncertain reality of the looking-for-work actor in New York.
Theroux – ever the mighty fine sport – took on the (mock) challenge of being that very out of work actor; trawling Manhattan with little more than a few goofy headshots and even less singing talent, in a faux desperate bid to land some auditions.
What struck me were both the headshots taken of Theroux, and the headshots of actor (and Theroux’s personal trainer for the ride) James. Both shoots very denotatively showcased various different facets of each performers characteristics and moods etc.
That’s all fine, you might argue; since what else are actors headshots meant for if not to showcase said actors presence and performance range through still imagery? Well, there’s a little hitch there. With these kind of headshots there was, anyway. First off, they were heavily cliched. Second, they left nothing to anyone’s imagination.
Casting directors are not stupid. It’s their job to look into a still face and draw up possible conclusions as to what variety of roles an actor can pull out of the bag. Much like a casting director of a modelling agency. In fact, I still like to perceive models as actors in silent movies. I digress.
It’s more the subtleties that sell a good headshot; those in-between moments between subject and photographer. Not the in-yer-face cliched blatancies, which can perhaps be a tad patronising to some.
David Fincher would make a good headshot photographer, naturally, since he likes to always shoot a hundred takes on every single dam scene to (his words) “get the ‘actor’ out of the performance” – as in leave any trace of deliberate acting aside to make way for the real person underneath having embodied the role, come take 98.
Another adage to all this – from no small part due to me previously learning screenwriting – is that audiences want to work for their entertainment rather than everything be thrown down denotatively in front of them. Same for casting directors. Think of them as the first audience of any actor. They want to be able to fill in those elusive blanks for themselves too. People like mystery; hold back a little here and there.
Take a look at the headshot of Garon, the guy to the left. His firmly stoic face could evoke a number of things: ‘Don’t mess with me’ being perhaps the first. Commanding leadership, second. Maybe an inner feeling that all is not right; that trouble lies not far ahead. This is what I’m getting – in one single frame shot.
Mr Theroux, on the other hand, has already proven to be very good at simply playing himself. For which he may only ever require one headshot – and possibly without him knowing he’s being photographed.