Sep 30

Casting Director Survey 2014 Pt 1: What future for Headshots?

Does the headshot have a future? After my recent The Stage piece, here I take apart the Casting Directors Guild survey stats, to understand the headshot’s place in 2014 and beyond.


Survey of CDG Casting Directors ©Michael Wharley 2014 (graphic courtesy of The Stage)

Last week, my The Stage Insight feature explored the changing the way actors are presenting themselves and being assessed online, prior to audition and during the casting process.

By comparing and contrasting the results of two surveys of Casting Directors Guild (CDG) members I ran – the first in July 2010, the second in July 2014 – and with the help of some stats from Casting Call Pro (CCP), I discovered some fascinating things about how casting professionals are using and consuming actors self-promotional tools.

If you’re interested, you can read the entirety of part 1, dealing with headshots, below. Next week, I’ll put up the section looking at the evolving casting environment and how casting professionals are using showreels, voicereels and auditions on tape.

The Headshot Headlines

If you’re pressed for time, here are the main takeaways, with some reflections on taking advantage:


Graphic courtesy of The Stage

  • COLOUR. Firstly: it’s all about colour: while the industry has been relatively slow to adopt, the balance is now shifting. There’s nothing wrong with having B&W in the portfolio, but colour offers a far better preview of skintone, eye colour and hair colour.
  • LONGEVITY. Secondly – despite the increasing significance of video, casting directors were unanimous – the headshot is going to remain important to the casting process. (See the full piece below for a detailed analysis of how and why)

Graphic courtesy of The Stage

  • WORKING THE PORTFOLIO. The modern online headshot portfolio on Spotlight or CCP has changed the classic ‘one-shot-that-is-all-things-to-all-people’ version of the headshot. BUT these portfolios should be used subtly, making each photo really count to show range, rather than deluge casting directors with 10-20 shots
  • PROMO PHOTOS. There’s an increasing need on personal websites, and for broader self-promotion, or US-focused work,  for actors to have more ‘modelly’ 3/4 length or fashion-like shots in the portfolio, but the survey suggests these are best kept off sites like Spotlight. Perhaps this will evolve further over time… (See the full piece below for a detailed analysis of how and why)

The Full Article: part 1

Hope that’s an interesting dive into the survey results and article; you can read part 1 of the full piece below.

30/09/2014 MW

 Still in the Picture? (from the Stage , Thurs 18th Sept 2014)

©Michael Wharley 2014

The headshot has been a fulcrum of the casting process for nearly 100 years, but for how much longer? In a new survey of casting directors, photographer Michael Wharley explores how online casting tools are changing the way actors are assessed, and asks if the Youtube era spells an end for still imagery in casting.

michael-wharley-ccp-headshot-banner-dec-2013In July 2010, I ran a survey of Casting Director’s Guild (CDG) members for a The Stage piece exploring how the industry’s move online, via tools like Spotlight Link or Casting Call Pro (CCP), was affecting the way actors presented themselves, and were assessed, prior to audition and during the casting process.

The results painted a fascinating picture of how the evolving online casting environment was both using and reshaping the self-promotional tools of the analogue era for the new digital paradigm.

But that was then. Four years of web-development down the line – and with a range of new services online, from The Stage Castings to Star Now to Casting Networks to Zappshot – it seemed timely to ask CDG members those questions again.

In 2010, casting was only just beginning to accept colour photography: after nearly 100 years of expecting to see headshots in B&W alone, and despite the long-time availability of reliable colour film/digital, the survey showed 48% of casting directors preferring B&W shots, against 17% for colour, and 35% citing either as acceptable.

The 2014 survey reveals the extent to which colour is now accepted, with only 9% of casting directors believing the industry prefers B&W, even if the vast majority – 73% – still see either as equally acceptable.

That’s a fairly dramatic change to a fundamental casting tool. But back in 2010, Casting Call Pro reported a weighty 78% of employers actively wanted to see actors shots in colour, so clearly the industry remains relatively slow to embrace change in this area. Indeed, of the 40,000+ actors on Casting Call Pro, today still ‘only’ 47% have colour shots, against 53% B&W.

Given that the US market has used colour for years, and other UK resources like Spotlight’s presenter directors are full colour, this relatively ‘drip-fed’ acceptance must reflect a combination of factors including a slow filtering through of change to drama schools, and the throttling-back effect of Spotlight’s actor directories continuing to be published in B&W only.

Colour vs B&W: what makes the best preview for casting purposes? (ft. Sophie La Porta ©Michael Wharley 2014)

Colour vs B&W: what makes the best preview for casting purposes? (ft. Sophie La Porta ©Michael Wharley 2014)

Whatever the relative merits of B&W and Colour in portraiture terms – and as a photographer, I could argue either way – it’s hard to foresee anything other than the increasing predominance of colour in casting portraiture, already anecdotally the default choice of agents and actors in many photographers’ studios. Indeed, 2014 saw several drama schools – including Arts Ed and Rose Bruford – distribute their third year student headshots to the industry in full colour for the first time.

While colour has arrived slowly, the evolution of an actor’s headshot portfolio online has been more rapid. The average Casting Call Pro user has 4 photos on his or her profile and on The Stage Castings 2.3. Fulfilling the flexible promise of online CVs, using these portfolios effectively has allowed actors to showcase subtly different facets of their playing range to casting directors and employers alike.

True, alternate shots to the ‘main’ headshot (still a resilient concept in the industry) have long existed, but the functionality of Spotlight Link or CCP software has made them both genuinely useful, and readily used, allowing the most appropriate photo for a role to be submitted.

Importantly, that range is being used and appreciated by casting directors. In a new question for 2014, 82% reported they find it helpful to see 2-4 photos on an actor’s online profile, with only 7% preferring to view a single shot.

But if range of shots has grown, the industry is still resistant to other photographic changes. Despite an increasing appetite among actors and agents for promotional photos outside traditional headshot parameters, the survey found little of same hunger among casting professionals. A majority of 58% said they prefer not to see full or ¾ length photos on an actor’s online profile, with 28% only wanting see such photos as production or on-set stills.

Interestingly, in a period in which video content carries ever-increasing cultural and technological significance, the clearest result from the survey underlined the enduring importance of the still image.

100% of casting professionals said they believed headshots will remain important to the casting process in the future, up from 96% in 2010.

The functionality of mainstream casting software, with the headshot serving as a static point of quick, visual reference throughout a casting process, coupled with the increased flexibility of actors’ photo portfolios, must account for much of this certainty.

And while CCP and Spotlight have added new standalone features to streamline or aid users, the fundamental casting software model has remained largely unchanged in the last four years.

So, while a paradigm shift in casting software design might change things, it does seem a safe bet that the headshot will endure.

But perhaps where it sits in the balance of pre- and post-audition assessment will further evolve….

Part 2 will be up on the blog next week, looking at the evolving casting environment and how casting professionals are using showreels, voicereels and auditions on tape.

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  1. Casting Director Survey 2014 Pt 2: Is Video King? » WharleyWords

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