July 10, 2011

CBS Diversity Workshop & Headshot Advice

So, a few weeks ago, I attended a workshop for actors of color with the VP of CBS casting, Fern Orenstein. It was a free workshop that I found out about through my SAG email alerts. It was through submissions only, so the day I found out about it, I dropped my headshot off at the SAG offices here in NYC.

I got a call a few days later saying that I'd been selected to attend. Basically, Fern would be discussing what it takes to get cast in TV and she also helped each actor determine their "type". On top of that, she'd be critiquing our headshots.

I arrived about 15 minutes late because I took too long getting ready, lol. She had already started and I walked in on her telling an actor that he "Looks crazy as hell" in is headshot. Ha! This lady was ON FIRE. She was brutally honest when talking about how casting works and how casting directors have no imagination. She dropped many F bombs and was absolutely hilarious. She said that they have very specific ideas about what a "type" looks like when casting a role and if you don't fit the description, you don't get called in.

She had a copy of every actor's headshot and went one by one, showing it off to the entire room and asking the others to weigh in on what kinds of characters we thought the person could play. She also asked each actor to tell her what they thought their type was. Nine times out of ten, the actor's thoughts did NOT align with her perception of the actor's headshot. I was shocked at how terrible most of the headshots were. She was not shy about telling actors exactly what was wrong either!

Here are some of my favorite pieces of advice that she gave:

  • Think of it as "I just got hired to play...." when dressing for headshots. How would you be dressed on set? (Don't take this literally when thinking of a nurse/doctor role, but your outfit needs to have the essence of it, such as a v-neck shirt) Think of the photoshoot as a performance. All of the elements need to contribute to the performance.
  • You need to have separate shots for each 'character'. Don't try to marry multiple characters into one shot.
  • Pay careful attention to the background! Make sure it matches the character. (Many actors had headshots that were done against brick walls, giving the shot a grittier feel when the actor's type may have been 'girl next door' or 'sensitive artist'.)
Out of all of the actors (around 30), she only said that she liked about 5 photos. When she got to me, she said that she really liked my headshot (yay!) but that it reads a bit girlish/young compared to how I looked in person. I was dressed in a tight tank top, skinny jeans, and platform heels. I also had a full face of makeup. This was in prep for Geoff Soffer's class that I was taking afterward. Plus, I wanted to look hot. :)

I told her that I'd be re-shooting in a month and she said she wants me to get photos that show me as more sophisticated and womanly. She wants more attitude and a 'take charge' personality. I think she pegged me pretty well considering she'd never met me before. Also, when I look at the acting gigs that I've booked in recent months, she's DEFINITELY spot on because I've been playing women with attitude and a take no prisoners approach. She also said to make sure I get photos done with my hair straight.

All in all, it was a great works shop and I'm glad that I read that email from SAG. Fern was such a nice woman and she gave all of the actors her email address so that we can keep in touch with her and ask for advice on new headshots.


  1. I recently came across your blog and I'm hooked! I've read every entry lol. Thanks so much for sharing your journey. May I ask if Fern said why you should get your headshots done with straight hair? Would that mean in addition to your natural look?

  2. As always, I enjoy reading your posts. Keep them comming.

  3. What great article. It was so specific and you really took the time to relay the information you got in the workshop. I'm sure you saw the straight hair comment coming, lol. I've never seen you in person, but what I've gotten from everything I've seen from you is more cute, girly - kinda like Gabrielle Union circa "She's All That" (did you know she was in that?). She was still playing a teen into her 30s and I don't think that's a bad thing. Whereas someone like Jayne Kennedy, to go old school on ya - she's womanly to me. IDK, just perception. It could change in a second if I met you in person.


  4. Hey I just came across your blog, awesome stuff and what a seminar that was. At least you got good advice from a high place person. I am also an NYC actor so I surely look forward to reading more :)

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone!!

    @Eva: I'm sure she suggested straight hair because, let's face it, natural hair isn't revered in American media.

    For my type, straight hair is really the direction that I need to go if I want to play the kinds of roles that I'm best for. I've been fighting it for a while, but I'd like to see if I get a different response with straight hair.

  6. Hey, a friend of mine saw you in the 'staremaster' and told me about you - found my way to your blog. We were so excited to see an actress with great hair! Now I see that that you've decided to straighten it.

    Now you'll look just like everyone else, it's a shame. I'm sure this woman meant well, but keep in mind that you can hear advice without having to take it!

    oh well . . . . . . moving on

  7. I think that woman is wrong. your small chin, button nose, and apple cheeks read sweet and innocent. Especially your eyes. But you definitely convey a grown and sexy element in pictures and on camera.

    I see you as the sweet sexy love interest. Maybe even playing the part of a girl who comes on sweet at first but has underlying motives. I think that your hair since it's grown out gives you extra sex appeal and makes you stand out. You would be a major contender for the usual celebrated Hollywood beauties if they would just be fair and balanced. I have seen the stern, take charge, attitudinal role from black women time and time again, and you just don't have that look. :(

    But anyway, I wish you much success very soon, and a long career. Good luck.

  8. For the last two anonymous comments, I'm working on a blog post that will address/respond to your comments.


  9. Hello Andrea, i ll be relocating to ny soon. I was wondering what can one do to receive SAG emails, audition info.

  10. @Jazmen, are you a member of SAG? Because I'm a member I get automatic emails and updates from them. SAG doesn't normally send out audition information.

    Go to the SAG website (sag.org) and create an account. You should be able to request updates that way.

    For audition notices, check out the two major casting sites backstage.com and actorsaccess.com. NYCastings.com is another decent casting site.

  11. Hi any jobs come out of meeting with Fern Other than that awesoem invaluable advice on your look and shots?