I’ve gone through several rounds of headshots. A couple rounds in Chicago. Three previous rounds in LA. This was my fourth in Hollywood. Now that I have a couple shoots under my belt, I knew what I wanted to accomplish. Here’s how I set this round of headshots up for success.
Do you know what colors send focus to your face and your eyes – both in clothes and background? Watch Heidi Dean, Marketing4Actors, interview Jill Kirsh, Hollywood’s Guru of Hue. Blew my mind. Here’s the video:
I purchased Jill’s Swatch Book for Deep Brunettes. Based on your hair color, Jill’s color swatches offer the ideal colors for wardrobe choices to make your face pop in the headshot. The closer the wardrobe color matches the swatch color, the better.
Example – I ordered a burgundy sweater online. I loved the color. When I put Jill’s swatch against it though, it didn’t match. I wanted to know how closely they needed to match, so I sent Jill a direct message via Instagram. Jill asked me to give her a call, so I did.
Jill graciously chatted for 20 minutes (she normally charges a consulting fee). She said the closer the match, the better. She also reviewed my old headshots and offered some tips. She also told me my colors were royal blue, dark blue, forest green, purple, grey, etc. Her insight was invaluable.
I researched actors that look like me and all the aspirational characters I’d like to play to see what color schemes wardrobe selected for their characters. Here’s a sampling of what I found:
Like Jill said, purples and blues. Simple patterns at most.
Armed with potential looks and the correct color scheme, I went into stores like Nordtrom Rack, Target, Kohls, Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, etc. and held up Jill’s swatches against each t-shirt, button down and sweater I considered for wardrobe. If it didn’t match, I didn’t buy it. Anything I bought online, I vetted using the swatches.
Rob Mainord took my headshots. My commercial agent recommended him. Before I went into the session, I also sent my agent the looks I planned to shoot. He offered feedback (in bold):
dad/outdoorsy (pattern shirt over t-shirt, beard)
blue collar (grey t-shirt, navy Dickies shirt without name tag, beard)
business professional (suit, shirt, tie, clean shave) also do just shirt & tie shot, sleeves rolled-up
teacher/coach/entrepreneur/IT guy (button up, sweater, glasses, clean shave) Short sleeve shirt.
detective/bad dude (leather jacket, button down, beard) I don’t need this look, for theatrical
Because my agent requested the short sleeve shirt look, I split IT guy and added another look to the session – retail guy/coach in short sleeve polo.
Separately, I researched what type of polos Best Buy and Walmart employees wear and found the same material and purchased them from a corporate apparel provider. I wanted to really make it as easy as possible for the decision maker to see me in that role.
I created character playlists in Spotify and listened to them leading up to the headshot session. Regardless of Rob’s direction, the playlist and its songs were already a part of my characters.
I did more prep work for this headshot than I have for any previous shoot. As a result, I felt extremely prepared. Here are the final looks:
I first met John Walski at Act One Studios, a small actor training studio in Chicago. John had just moved from Milwaukee. The studio gave their students ample opportunities to perform and I was ready to start putting my practice into purpose. The play was Robert Caisley’s “Santa Fe“, one of six one act plays performed in collaboration with Appetite Theater’s Bruchetta Festival. Santa Fe was the only drama. It was the second or third play of my acting career. In contrast, John was a working actor having toured all over and interned with Milwaukee Rep. I knew the moment we sat down at the table for the cold read that we were going to be cast together. Santa Fe is about two brothers, one who travels the world living adventures, and my character, a small town mall security guard who thought his life would turn out differently.
John was such a treat to work with. He was intense and focused, but playful. He’d throw salsa chips at me at the top of the scene. Always listening. Present. Dynamic. Engaging. Always with a twinkle in his eye. I learned so much from John through that show. He was a giver. A teacher. A mentor. A brother.
One night, after rehearsal, John and I were chatting. I told him I wanted to experience more of the world. He told me he was finally ready to plant roots. The exact opposite of our characters.
Eight months later, we were cast together again. This time it was for Sideshow Theater‘s one act play, “Fugitive Motel”, a play inspired by Elbow’s song of the same name (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJDf1atIuBc), written by Walt McGough. My character – a townie restaurant owner booked a room at a local hotel to have an affair. John’s character – a restless banker traveling from Philadelphia in the adjoining room.
The first table read mirrored our conversation eight months prior. I was thrilled to work with him again.
After one rehearsal, John told me I had the chops to be a working actor. I was flattered. And humbled. High praise from someone I admired so much.
The show was only three performances at the now defunct Bailiwick. On the third night, John was rolling around on the floor backstage 20 minutes before places to get more soot on his suit. That’s the kind of actor John was. Always digging a little bit deeper, pushing a little bit further, rounding out the character a little bit more.
The attached photos were during the climax of the show. My character is determined to leave his wife and his restaurant to experience the world. His character is determined to not shoulder the blame for me running out and romanticizing him. John gave me a stage combat tutorial. And his knee pad for the fall.
The last time I saw John was right before I moved to LA. My father’s stage pistol had a broken plastic handle. I asked if anyone wanted it. John drove 30 minutes to pick it up. And said he would fix it up and hold it for me until we met again. We talked in front of my mother’s condo for 20 minutes or so about my trip. We joked and laughed. He was excited. For me. Talking with John for 20 minutes was like talking for hours. I felt his warmth. He seemed proud. Like a brother.
John took his own life three years ago. I miss him. I wish I could hug him.
To get a feel for John, watch this. I think he’d be proud of where I am and what I’m doing.
In late 2017, I was in AdlerImprov Acting Studio‘s Pilot Season Prep Class when the very talented actor and studio friend Leonard Roberts said to a fellow classmate, “I loved how you took ownership of the room. ” The word, “ownership” struck me like a lightning bolt and quickly became my theme for 2018.
Ownership for me meant taking a hard look at my personal and professional life and making more decisions about what was serving me and what wasn’t and taking actions to address them. One thing I’ve always struggled with is putting other’s needs in front of my own. This year, I needed to put my oxygen mask on first before I could help anyone else. In practical terms, it meant cutting off projects/PR clients that weren’t serving me and saying no to things that didn’t excite, inspire or motivate me. Taking ownership truly empowered me and I look forward to feeling the ripples in 2019.
To help with accountability, I worked with my good friend and integrative nutritionist Kristina Nikols for six months. Highly recommend!
I had a productive 2018 on many fronts. I felt like I grew a lot and a person and an actor and I have a newfound optimism for 2019.
If you read my post about being in debt, you know I spent the last two years carrying a pretty hefty level of stress as a result of my financial situation. On December 27th, I received my IRS refund for 2017 and immediately paid off the balance on one of my credit cards. I landed three new PR clients at the end of the month, which effectively doubled my income. I should be debt free by February 1, 2019.
I wanted to spend more quality time with quality people. I went to game nights. I attended friend’s shows. I went to last minute pumpkin painting parties and July 4th gatherings. I started doing Figaro Fridays. I went apple picking. I saw Witches of Eastwick and La La Land at the Montalban. I went to the Frogtown Art Walk. I went to a Spam Food fest. I remembered how important it is to fill your soul while pursuing this path.
I wanted to drop weight. When I’m overweight, I feel sluggish and tired all the time. I was 195 pounds at the beginning of the year. Now I’m 183 and counting.
I haven’t gone for a run in four years. A lingering hallux limitus problem kept me on the shelf. A visit to Road Runner Sports in Studio City in late November lead to me purchasing a pair of insoles and a pair of Altra Torin 3.5’s. I’ve been happily running virtually pain free for the past month and change. I’m currently running about 30 minutes a day.
I wanted better sleep. I bought black out curtains, incorporated a seven minute yoga for bed routine, and bought CBD oil. I cut my morning coffee intake from three cups to two. There’s more work to do here, but I’m happy with my progress.
I practiced self care. I hiked a lot. I did space walks to alleviate stress, frustration and anger. I ate healthier. I read a bunch of books about confidence, boundaries, and growth.
I painted my apartment wall Iced Purple and Spring Leaf. Thanks Glidden!
The biggest takeaway from this year is I feel like an artist, not just an actor. I’m much more confident in my process and approach. And I’m less attached to results. I don’t take auditions personally. I walk in the room, give my performance and walk out the door to finish out the rest of my day.
I knew I needed more footage to build my reel, so I submitted for a bunch of Backstage projects. I shot five projects this year. More importantly, I learned how to work with different directors and their personalities, how to make stronger choices, and take adjustments with ease on set.
I continued studying with Ric Murphy (John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson, Judy Greer, etc.) at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio. Ric is like Gandalf – he knows the right thing to say at the right time to create magic. I also studied with Amie Farrell and Brian Kimmet at the studio, which helped refine my technique and encouraged me to look at scenes with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Eternally grateful for their training.
I took a scene study class with Jeremy O’Keefe and finally crystallized intention and objective in a way I haven’t before.
I got new headshots.
I co-taught the Teen Summer Intensive with Amie Farrell at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio. Teaching is really the best of all worlds. You have to know what’s happening with the script and figure out how to inspire students to unlock their own creativity without telling them how you’d do it. It’s an exercise in patience and problem solving and the results often blow you away. And I got to work with some very talented, very vulnerable and very playful students who continue to inspire me to act and pursue this craft. And the final benefit – I reinforced what I already learned.
I attended eight casting director workshops this year.
I created. I shot Rob’s Garage, a series of quick, behind the scenes videos of a Chicago mechanic in 1997 trying to drum up business with his home video commercials for Instagram. I shot short video inspired by a news item suggesting Chicago accents were the least desirable in America.
2018 was challenging on many levels, but I came out the other end a stronger person. I took ownership of my life and it empowered me in very unexpected ways. I’m proud of what I achieved this year, personally and professionally.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my goal was to make just enough money doing freelance public relations until I “caught my break.” In 2017, one of my existing clients asked me if I wanted to go from a 1099 employee to a W-2 employee. Having my taxes directly taken out of my check seemed like a no brainer, so I signed up. What I didn’t realize at the time was I wouldn’t be able to pay my 2016 taxes because I wasn’t anticipating how much money was coming out of my checks. And I didn’t have enough freelance PR business to back fill the deficit. By the time April rolled around, I owed a nice chunk of change to the IRS. I explored my options – payment plan, extension or bite the bullet and put it on my credit card. I opted for the credit card.
Now $5,000 in debt, I started exploring other options to limit the damage. Side note – I realize $5,000 in debt doesn’t seem like a lot, but having spent a considerable amount of time paying off a gold card I carried through college and a student loan, I prefer being in the black than the red. I looked at taking a loan from my 401k, a life insurance policy, or a balance transfer credit card. I opted for a Discover card with an 18 month, 0% balance transfer. I thought, “I’ll file my taxes as soon as I possibly can in 2018 and I should be in the clear.”
Being in debt sucks. There was a period of time where I ate potatoes and peanut butter for lunch to cut costs. I didn’t go out on weekends. I drank Carlo Rossi Paisano wine ($9.99 for a 5 gallon jug at Rite Aid). I didn’t date. Debt more or less forced me to live a hermit lifestyle, which is particularly tough in Los Angeles because it’s easy to feel isolated if you don’t make the effort to see and spend time with your friends. And it’s particularly challenging to pursue an acting career when you’re living thin.
I filed my 2017 taxes on February 22, 2018. I looked forward to getting my refund and significantly reducing my stress. If only. In March, I received a letter from the IRS saying they were looking into my return. I called and spoke with an agent to get a sense of what was happening. They said call back in 60 days. I did. I called in early June. They put my return out for referral, which basically means someone has to review the return and make a decision to release the funds or determine what’s wrong with the return. No movement. I called back in mid-July. I found out the money my client reported did not match up with the social security number on my return. My client had made a clerical error on my W-2. My employee identification number, which I use for my 1099s, was in the W-2 box where my social security number should have been. F*ck.
I requested a corrected W-2 from my client and submitted it to the IRS just after Labor Day. I called to confirm receipt. Sixty more days. I called back in mid-November. They said the only way to expedite the return since it already went out to referral once was to claim financial hardship. Having watched my credit score fluctuate all year along with my debt was enough to have the release sent out for referral again.
Two weeks ago, I spoke with my referral agent. Per his recommendation, I requested a letter from my company confirming what they paid me and how much was taken out for taxes and faxed it to him. I asked him about the corrected W-2 I submitted and he said the office is so far behind, they won’t even get to that for another two to three YEARS. Hopefully, within the next two weeks, my return will be cleared and I will receive my refund.
In the meantime, I landed three new PR accounts in the last month, effectively doubling my income. I can’t wait to have the weight of debt lifted off my shoulders. And I’m already thinking about a much needed vacation. What’s a cost effective place to go?
I played football my first year of high school. I was 5’8″, 125 pounds. I had one catch for seven yards, an interception, and a permanent pit of fear in my stomach I’d receive the kick off and get bent into a pretzel during the return. The daily bullying during practice from two team members didn’t improve my outlook. I soon realized football wasn’t my calling.
During the summer between my first year and sophomore year, I told my father I wanted to play golf. He said, “You’re running cross country.” His house, his rules. I joined the cross country team.
My first day of cross country practice, I wore my brand new Nikes. We did what we reverently referred to as a Zulu run. We ran a mile and a half to the Indian Boundary Forest Preserve. Then we were supposed to run three miles through the Forest Preserve and then two miles back to school. When we arrived, we saw heavy thunderstorms caused the North Branch of the Chicago River to overflow its banks. Undaunted, we walked the mile or so in thigh high water through the Forest Preserve and run back to school. I was hooked.
I ran cross country for the remaining three years of high school and all four years of college. I have several great memories from running cross country – winning conference individually my junior year of high school, finishing eighth as a team my sophomore year in high school, finishing seventh in the state my senior year of high school. And while I spent most of my collegiate running career addressing injuries, it still deeply affected my life.
To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.
Here’s how cross country changed my life:
Each year, we set goals to kick off the year, both individual and team. That’s the beauty of cross country – you’re competing individually and as a team. And you spend each week training to achieve your goals.
Your mind wants to protect you. It will tell you to slow down or stop. There’s no shortage of stop signs – muscle cramps, muscle soreness, stress fractures, side stitches, shin splints, etc. Over time, you learn to push your body and understand and surpass its perceived limits.
There’s only one way to progress. Run farther. Run faster. Run farther faster. Each day, practice is different and designed to increase your ability to run farther faster – base miles (building your mileage), tempo runs (steady pace), fartleks (speed up and slow down), intervals (speed work). Take a day off training and you suffer the next day.
My junior year of high school, I finished 15th in the sectional meet. I missed running in the state meet by one place. My junior year of college, I had a stress fracture in my left femur. My senior year of college I had plantar fasciitis. Each time you experience a setback or sustain an injury, you have to start back and square one again. And I did.
I like being in shape. After I graduated college, I packed on a bunch of weight because I was eating the same and not running. Two years ago, I started working out religiously again because I wanted to get back into shape. When I’m stressed, I go for a walk. I try to walk at least six times a week. I see the benefit. I feel the benefit.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of running cross country was the people I met along the way. Runners, like artists, tend to be a different breed. They run because they love running, not necessarily for accolades. There’s a community – they cheer the last runner as much as, if not more than, the first. There’s a sense of running into battle together.
Interestingly enough, running cross country and acting have similarities. We have our individual goals – I have my personal objective and tactics in our scene – but we’re operating as a team – actors, director, DP, lighting, sound, etc. We’re working together to tell the story. It requires ongoing, specific training – improvisation, script analysis, cold reading, on-camera techniques, audition, etc. It requires stamina. And I’ve met some really great people along the way. I love running. I love acting. Let’s run together.