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Tanya Vital's Blog

Saturday, 25 February 2012


I reckon this is a great shot
Sorry to the actorPhotographer,
but in my opinion this is a bad shot
So here we go – the dreaded headshot. There are so many do’s, don’ts, if’s maybe’s and it goes on and on until we’re dizzy and lost as to what the hell it is we should actually be looking for.

I’ve spent a lot on headshots and I’m talking over a grand in a year and a bit – pricey? You’re not bloody wrong! But (cheese on toast or not) I can actually say I have learnt lots of lessons. Lots of costly lessons that will now hopefully help you to save your cash and only spend it where needed, (it’s ok you can thank me in red wine later).

I don’t think I actually have a copy of every headshot of mine since I started over a decade ago (I will dig them out), but I’ve had at least 10 or more sets of shots done over the years. All from different photographers at costs from £30-£500 and I can honestly say the bottom line is – “you get what you pay for”.
When first starting out, I made the mistake of going to a general Photographer. By general Photographer I mean that it was a Photographer who generally took portrait photos, did weddings, christenings etc but he was not in any shape or from clued up on the acting business or had ever produced a headshot. So what I was left with was a cute, reasonably priced picture that my mum could stick on the wall but it would NOT get me work or even called in by a Casting Director.
As I gained more knowledge about the industry and signed with an Agent I then found out how to look for other Actors headshots and how they might look. This was very difficult back then because although we had internet, (I mean it wasn’t the dark ages) but back then many of the Actors Agencies out there a). didn’t have a website and b). never revealed who was on their books. So through the old Spotlight book and after having a HEADSHOT Photographer recommended by my Agent, I managed to eventually get myself a decent shot.
What I realised as I changed Agencies, was that they all wanted their own new set of headshots when I joined. Regardless if I’d just had new ones done the day before I joined – no matter how much they cost – no matter if I thought they were great – they all wanted new ones and they ALL have their own preferred HEADSHOT Photographer that they go to.

None of us want to piss off our Agent and even though MANY forget that this is a partnership and they are actually our client, somehow we feel completely obliged to do everything they say, well they’re the experts right? Usually right.

I’ve made the other mistake of looking at Actors headshots and thinking ‘they are sh*t hot I need some like them’, going AGAINST my Agents suggested Photographer and choosing another because I liked their style. How did this work out for me? Not well. Not only did I have a day from hell and on every picture I looked like I wanted to cry, not only were they fairly expensive, but then my Agent absolutely hated them – I knew he was right and so then had to re-book with the Photographer he had first suggested anyway.

Like it or not (and many will say it aint so) but the whole HEADSHOT Photographer is another ‘big boys club’. There are known, trusted and traditional Photographers who have been used by the more established Agencies for ever and then there are these new ‘up an coming’ (whatever that means) Photographers (who are mostly clever out of work Actors) who are producing the new US style stuff that’s colourful and vibrant and dare I say edgy? (Edgy being that maybe half of your hair is cut off or half your ear – but its good!). The top Agencies all have their favourite new ‘up and comer’  and send all of their clients to them, word gets out, the style is the new fashion and then every other good Agency send their clients to that same Photographer. The Casting Directors then get an eye for the style and in turn want to see that style or that Photographer themselves when considering casting.

You will still sometimes hear from the more traditional corners that black and white shots are still the best type of shot but that’s not what Producers, Directors, Casting Directors or Agents want to see anymore, not at all. Perhaps if your business is Musical Theatre, you may get away with it but if you work in TV, Film, Commercials, you have no business still having a black and white headshot in 2012.

Another mistake I’ve made (on the ill-explained suggestion of Agents) was characterising my shots. So, going for a ‘street’ look, a ‘young mum’ look, a ‘corporate’ look. It’s all balls! Again there will be those who disagree, but from my experience the Casting Director wants to see what YOU are like in the shot. Your personality, your style, your hair, your skin, your journey/smize in the eyes. Your headshot should be an exact representation on what you will be/look like when you enter the room to audition. Not you as a ‘Policewoman’ and that’s not to say you shouldn’t have extra pictures that have a look of a character but your main shot should be you. (This is where it gets tricky for even me with regards to hair – see below).

So is there a set list of criteria that we can all read from and use to plan our headshots? Sadly NO! Every Producer, Director or Casting Director or Agent all has their own preference and they all have different ideas of what makes a great headshot. All I can give you is the advice I’ve learnt from the mistakes I’ve made. Ultimately we have to heed our Agent’s advice (or get a 2nd set of shots for our own use).


  • You get what you pay for. 
  • Your face is your money maker/ job clincher so expect to pay a bit more. 
  • Don’t moan about having to pay a decent amount for a good headshot that shows you off to your best. 
  • This is your first impression and we all know it counts for EVERYTHING. 
  • Having a bad headshot can actually be worse than having none at all. 
  • You can still find good HEADSHOT Photographers for a reasonable price.
  • Don’t get Uncle Pete to take some pictures of you because he has a new SLR camera for Christmas. Get a known, PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT PHOTOGRAPHER! Uncle Pete may be good, but he has NO idea of what the Casting Director/Director/Producer/Agent is looking for and unfortunately he ISN’T part of the ‘big boys club’.

If your Agent suggests a Photographer GO WITH THEM! Save yourself the money and hassle. You may like someone else’s work more but there are usually 101 reasons why your Agent sent you to this particular person – reasons that they do not have time to explain in full to you. They know how they want to represent you, so go with it. If you prefer another Photographer, discuss this with your Agent and if need be get a 2nd set of pictures some for your own records or as extras for your Spotlight page (extra pictures are free to upload on Spotlight website).

Go as yourself! All Photographer’s have their own criteria of what to wear and what to do with make-up but go feeling and looking like yourself. I have naturally curly hair and went through a stage of having to straighten it when I worked at Emmerdale. DO NOT assume that the Casting Director/Agent/Director/Producer or even MAKE-UP CREW will have any kind of understanding that your hair can do more than 1 thing! I had to have pictures with both straight and curly hair on my Spotlight.

Look at other Actors headshots, look on Agency Websites, personal websites to get an understanding of what the new ‘fashion’ is. A cheap looking headshot just screams UNPROFESSIONSAL PLAYING AT BEING AN ACTOR.

You’ll probably find that nobody like’s to suggest Photographer’s as if it’s against the law to have favourites – I on the other hand don’t give a shish so if you ever need pointing in the right direction I have a list of good/fashionable Photographer’s.
Here is a link to a video by a New York Headshot Photographer giving some tips:

Monday, 13 February 2012

Just Getting My Act On

Coming To Terms With a HELL of a Script


As Actors we are exposed to many different types of text, image and action, which we then have to bring to life. Most of the time it’s great and even if it isn’t necessarily depicting something we would do personally, we enjoy the challenge of stepping outside of our comfort zone. Whether it’s a theme or genre we have lived or not, we usually relish the thought of how we will give the bare bones some meat. This is what it’s USUALLY like for an Actor.
There are on occasion those times when we receive a script or piece of text that we know instantaneously does not suit our “type” and we will never get the part no matter how good our audition. This can be very disappointing, especially if we have invested some emotion into the piece when learning lines.

Then there are those times that when reading the script, you’re physically repulsed by every word and action and deep down inside your little pink naive hopeful heart, you want to reach your ‘Go-go Gadget’ arm right down into the script, back in time to the point of pen and b!tch slap some sense into the Writer. This is rare, but happens none the less and happened to me very recently.
I personally have had some beautiful, heart- touching scripts that have felt like the Writer secretly knew of that time when I was heartbroken or sad, or was even hiding in a bush somewhere, spying on me when that absolutely amazing thing happened and they wrote it down purposefully for me to relive for others to relate to.

But again on the other hand, I have also had some scripts that have gone against EVERYTHING I stand for. Scripts that have made an absolute mockery out of very serious social problems and injustices. Scripts that have been so utterly offensive in every way that I could no longer bare to read another word. Scripts that have been so ethically un-abiding that I have had to literally call my Agent and say a) Have you read this crap and  b) I don’t want to audition, but if I have to AND I get the part, I will berate myself mentally for the rest of my days.
I know no Writer sets out to offend and as a novice Writer myself I even worry that sometimes my words are out of date, or that I’m getting too carried away again on my proverbial Soap Box and losing my audience. I understand the difficulty of trying to get a point across, but yet keep the piece entertaining and commercial at the same time. I totally get that again even as Writers, we must sometimes try and write outside of our comfort zone and address issues that we either do not understand or have never experienced. I get it - It’s hard! I take my hat off to the many brilliant Writers I have had the pleasure to work with and meet; you all have a very frikkin difficult job and I appreciate you.

I’ve been fairly comfortable in my career, but even though I have been acting professionally for over 10 years, I still haven’t yet ‘made it’ as they say.  ‘Made it’ to me means that I’m still up and coming, still striving forth to a better level. I haven’t yet ‘made it’ to the top of my game, there is still more progress to be made and I am hardly at a point where I can pick and choose parts at will. Like I’ve mentioned before in other posts, according to many in the Entertainment Industry, we have to ‘fake it until we make it’, or play our “type” until we become respected/renowned enough to have the luxury of being able to accept or decline parts. Bottom line – the rents due and if you want to act you better take the parts you’re given.
This notion seems to upset society. That somehow as Artists we live for free in some dreamlike Tree House in Middle Earth, busily contemplating our navel, being fed gold covered grapes by Tinkerbell & co. until our Agent calls with a job. NO SILLY BOY/GIRL! We have bills and shish too. Of course most of us choose this profession for the beauty, the art, but just like my mum’s 9-5, it’s a job and it better bring in the bacon! If we aren’t auditioning or acting, we are busy trying to somehow GET to audition and act. Spending money we don’t have on ways to market ourselves, re-train ourselves, and keep our tools sharp and USUALLY all of this on top of a “normal” job too. So we then have to SERIOUSLY question how much we hate said repulsive script. Is the hate enough to go without rent money or can the shame/hurt/pride be brushed off with a glass of red?  9/10 times it’s the latter.

There is no hiding from bad acting, bad directing or bad writing. Although we in society tend to think each other stupid, in actual fact even the stupid can usually tell if something crap, so how do we as creative Artists, work together to make a good piece of work that we and others will enjoy? How can we get the best out of a difficult script pr piece that tackles uncomfortable issues?
Actors, with every script we are blessed with we must somehow, some way find a glimmer of something that we can like or even begin to love about the piece. Find something, anything on which we can build some kind of a foundation, considering it isn’t too repellent. Find some area of understanding that you can cling to – to lead you forward.

Writers, forgive my boldness, I have some suggestions for you too:

·         Do not make a mockery of very serious social problems. That is not to say you shouldn't address these issues with some humour, Comedians can exhibit some of the most radical political views and often comedy is the best way to get a difficult point across, but there is a difference.

·         If you do not understand something, but want to write about it, perhaps some research would be good? We don’t want to always write about something we know – I hear ya, but we can also tell if you haven’t got a clue what you’re writing about, which in turn makes Actors look like we have no clue what we’re talking about and it continues.

·         I’m also ALL for creating awareness about cultures, races, disabilities and sexes; this sometimes involves the use of stereotype – which isn’t the devil. But please DO NOT resort to cheap offensive comedy to get a ‘half stepping’ laugh. Show us you can be clever with the comedy, shock value is overrated and shock never lasts long. Most audiences like to be stimulated intellectually (Oh no they don’t shout the Commissioners & big wigs of TV production companies everywhere). Well actually yes – yes we do.

·         Don’t try to be ‘down with the kids’, semi-using their lingo to make your piece seem cool and then in the very next breath make a mockery of the kids.

·         Don’t be bigots and try not to condescend (this note I take on board myself for my own writing). Audiences can tell when they’re being spoken down to, or force ‘educated’.

It's that simple, but you'd be amazed at how many don't follow the basics. I of course, will be taking all of my own tips into account in my own written work and will expect some other ‘up and coming’ know it all to put my ass in check too when the times right. Thanks for reading, I look forward to more collaboration and compromise in the future.


Thursday, 2 February 2012

Giving Something Back

This is just a post to remind us all that in order to achieve greatness (whatever your idea of that maybe), we always have to give something back. It’s that old wives tale of cause and effect. I have a philosophy that if I can I will always help someone. A) because you help someone – they help someone and before you know it the help has come back around to you and B) because there is NO greater feeling than when someone offers a helping hand at a time of need or when you make a change, however small in someone’s life.
As Artists we should be in the habit of helping each other as much as possible. Without sounding too hippy-ish, the more positivity and assistance we can give each other can only create more opportunities for all of us. Somehow we’ve gotten into this belief that there is scarcity, that we are fighting for each other’s job, position or place but it’s not true. Yes as an Actor you will go to a casting and see maybe 5 or more of your “type” there but at the end of the day the job will only ever go to the right person for the role. I’ve seldom heard of a role been given to somebody simply because there weren’t enough candidates. As we say up north “what’s for you won’t go by you”.  

Acting coach Mel Churcher said, “No-one is in competition with anyone else. How can they be? Each offers a different quality, a different life. Believe. Take your space”. Lyn Gardner (Guardian Theatre critic) also wrote a great piece on collaboration and communication between Theatres, please read here: Why dont theatres talk to each other?



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