NYCDA Tips on Acting Resumes, Headshots and Portfolios

Be Honest!

Just like any other job resume, your acting resume should reflect your talents and highlight your skills. When putting together your acting resume, only include truthful information. While the industry is big, it isn’t that big. People talk and network, so there’s a very good chance that someone with whom you have an audition knows someone who knows someone who you say you worked with – so it better be true! No one expects a young actor to have a stellar resume. A small, credible resume is much more effective than a large one padded with lies; eventually, you’re bound to get caught! It’s better to earn your credits the hard way. In the end it will pay off.

The Resume Rules

Want to land an acting job? Follow these basic resume rules:

  1. Your resume should never be more than one page long.
  2. Never make the font on your resume smaller than 10pt. It is difficult to read in any situation, whether it’s in a well-lit office or a darkened theater.
  3. Staple and trim your resume to fit the headshot, or even better, print it directly to the back of your headshot.
  4. Don’t staple clippings or reviews to your resume; they will just get in the way.
  5. Make sure you put your email on your resume. The best, and easiest to remember, is your first and last name, whenever possible (i.e.
  6. Put your education and special skills on your resume. Useful skills besides acting count, such as foreign languages, driver’s license and valid passport. Make sure that you can do what you say you can do – and do it well. You don’t want to promise you can ski if you won’t be able to make it down the Bunny Slope on set.

Selecting a Headshot Photographer

When selecting a photographer, use one who specializes in headshots. Portrait artists may be great to make you look nice for Mom and Dad’s album, but not to sell you as an actor. Research several different photographers, and ask your contacts in the industry for recommendations. Ask to see a portfolio of the photographer’s work. Negotiate rates beforehand and get an agreement in writing before shooting begins.

Also find out if a make-up artist will be available to you. If so, pay the extra money and hire them. It’s well worth the cost to have someone making sure you look your best you during the entire shoot.

The Headshot and Resume Combination

Since you’ll be handing your resume over with your headshot, you need to have the resume attached to the back of your photo. Many photo reproduction houses offer the service of printing your resume directly to the back of your photo. If this option is in your budget, take it. If not, neatly staple your resume to your photo. Be sure to staple each corner to the photo. Never use paper clips — the last thing you want is for your photo and resume to be separated; one without the other is useless! And above all, make sure the resume size matches the photo! Nothing says amateur like a big 8 ½ x 11 resume flapping over the edges of your 8 x 10 photo.

Many reproduction houses also offer the option of your photo on disc. Be sure to take the option; it’s an important tool. Whether submitting yourself for student or independent films, or contacting agents and casting directors, you’ll need to be able to send your headshot electronically if that’s what they want. So be sure you can!

Types of Headshots

There are two basic types of headshots: commercial and theatrical.

Commercial: These should be attractive, warm, and open. Always smile for these shots, with teeth showing, if possible. (You never know if you’re going to be up for a toothpaste ad.)

Theatrical: These can be more “natural,” and should try to represent your characteristics as a person.

The general rule is to use your commercial shot for television and commercial work and your theatrical shot for theater and film. If you’re in a showcase, you can use either, depending on which industry professionals may be there.

The format for headshots varies throughout the country – from close-ups to 3/4 shots, from bordered to borderless. Make sure you use the preferred format for your area. It’s often best to wait until you get there so you can find a photographer who knows the market. In other words, do your New York shots in New York and your L.A. shots in L.A.

You and Your Headshot

Casting directors use headshots to get a feel for an actor’s type. The headshot should show off  your best qualities. Don’t dress or use make-up that covers your true nature; let the shot be true to you. Most people need some retouching, but don’t go overboard. And by all means, get new headshots if your look changes drastically and/or after a few years have passed. Misrepresenting yourself will only lead to trouble later in auditions. Remember, headshots aren’t glamour shots. The casting director is calling in the person he saw in the photo. Make sure the “you” in the shot is the “you” who walks through the door. Often you will be judged by your headshot even before you are called in to have an audition. Let your photo speak for you by being professional, compelling, approachable and, above all, you!

Sending Your Headshot and Resume

If you’re sending your headshot and resume electronically, you will need to send separate attachments for the resume and the headshot.  Be sure the file with your headshot is small enough to attach to an email.

If you’re sending them by mail, enclose your headshot with resume attached in a regular 8 ½ x 11 manila envelope that is easy to open.

In either case, send a small note (or email) with your headshot saying who you are, why you’re writing and how you can be reached. Keep the note short, professional, friendly and to the point. If you have a connection to the person you’re contacting, be sure to mention it in the first sentence; you want them to keep reading!

About Portfolios

No doubt you’ve noticed the title of this tip includes “portfolios”. You may have heard about “acting portfolios,” but the truth is there is no such thing. Portfolios are used by designers and models to show off a range of photos. So if you’re planning on doing some modeling, you’ll need one. But if you’re an actor, all you’ll need are a headshot, resume and a demo of your work, and you’re ready to go!