It’s the question that every actor and every parent wants a straight answer for. How much “potential” is there for me to book professional work? The full answer goes something like this. Being “marketable” in film and television requires four things:
Part 1: A marketable look.
Every actor’s face, voice, body and presentation tells a specific story to the camera independent of their acting ability. This story is often called an actor’s “type” or their “hit” and is used to refer to the characters that are immediately available to an actor based on the way they occur on camera. What makes an actor’s look “marketable” is whether it visually tells a story that producers and directors need to tell their own stories. Filmmakers use look and type as a visual storytelling tool to influence the audience’s expectations about a character. In the age of modern storytelling, the character who looks evil is not always the villain… but they might be. Or the villain might be the character who looks sweet and innocent. And it’s that aspect of storytelling that directors want to take advantage of when they’re deciding which actor to cast for a role.
“I have to believe that you could be the person. Not just channeling the performance, but also from some visual reference.” -Casting Director Stuart Aikins video
Which looks are most in demand (i.e. marketable) depends heavily on the tone and style of the projects being cast (i.e. drama, sitcom, action, science fiction, gritty true life, cops & lawyers, art house, historical, British, etc.). The basic requirement is that the look tells a story. Leading lady, leading man, innocent bystander, girl next door, hero, villain, survivor, mean, nervous, intelligent, stupid, there are as many “looks” as there are stories to tell. The more clearly an actor tells the story of their type, the more “the most [ ______ ]” they are, the easier it is for a filmmaker to use that visual story to their advantage.
Being marketable is different from being attractive. While there’s no denying that an actor who falls within this year’s mainstream version of beautiful/handsome has some great opportunities open up to them, it’s worth noting that beautiful/handsome is the single most competitive type category. It’s also worth noting that a mainstream “beauty standard” can be extremely damaging to young people, in particular to young women. Actors should keep coming back to the idea that look is a visual storytelling tool, and that creative actors, agents, casting directors, and filmmakers are interested in telling good stories.
For adult actors in a saturated and extremely competitive market like Los Angeles, identifying your type (or “branding”) becomes an important competitive advantage. I recommend reading LA based casting director Bonnie Gillespie’s posts on type and branding, starting with Your Type is a Shortcut, Type Me, Please and Authenticity vs. Type. For actors under eighteen, and actors in a less competitive market like Vancouver, look or type is one concern, but should not be the primary concern.
Marketability will always be part guesswork, because it is constantly changing. Filmmakers want to re-create successful stories, or tell new stories, or find unique variations on stories that we’ve seen a million times. The only person who has anything like a real grasp of what’s marketable is a professional talent agent, someone who spends all day every day marketing actors to casting directors, seeing who gets called in for auditions and who books the job. So if you want to know how “marketable” your look is, ask an agent. Everybody else will have opinions, but only the talent agents can back up their opinions with a range of experience. Talent agents only sign actors who they believe are marketable, so if you have a talent agent then it’s a safe bet that you have a marketable look. If you’re having trouble getting a talent agent, figuring out your type and choosing an appropriate photo to send can help show an agent that you are marketable.
The more money a production has, the more specific they can be about finding an actor who has a look that makes their story more interesting and has the skill to tell that story well. The idea of “look” breaks down on the logical but deeply flawed idea that all-other-things-being-equal, filmmakers will cast based on a visual type. In the real, messy, organic, creative world of acting all-other-things are never equal. Each actor makes different choices, and tells the story in their own way. Your look may get you in the door, the only way you get the job is by having the skill to tell a good story. That’s the true art of the actor, and the focus of next week’s post.
I’m right there with you.
Michael Bean, Owner+Head Coach, Biz Studio
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