Ten years ago I started pursuing a career/new venture in doing voice-over work. As a part of that process I looked at lots of web sites and listened to dozens of voice artists. I realized that as a consumer I wouldn’t spend any time on the web pages where they just had links to the “demo” files but no picture of the person. Didn’t matter if they were ugly or not, I wanted to put a face with the voice. That’s not a rational thing, after all you’re hiring them for how they sound on radio or television and you’ll never see them. Blind links are less subjective and a better predictor of how the end user will perceive the voice. But humans like faces.
I didn’t want to do what some had obviously done and just get a snapshot and put it on the websites. I sought out counsel from Google and different actors and other wannabees I’d met in acting classes regarding good photographers. After much searching and thought I selected Jennifer Bong of Minneapolis.
The reviews I had read about her were marvelous. Actors were thrilled with their pictures, the low cost, the great treatment, and the “vibe” they got while doing the shoot. She was very popular in the dying days of film photography head shots. And she’s still in vogue because she’s gone digital and color for modern needs.
I booked an appointment with her for a set of photos and made my plans. I needed a couple of pictures in a dress shirt, perhaps with tie, definitely with a jacket of some sort. I would take some with my glasses on and some with them off (this was before Lasik had changed my life.)
On the day of the appointment I went to her studio and waited in the lobby while she set up. She had the most incredible sepia toned photographs of children on display. It turns out she did the headshots as a sideline and the stylish photographs that harkened back to a bygone era were her true specialty.
After an hour of taking pictures with glasses, without glasses, with jacket, without, etc., I asked her to wait while I ran to have my head shaved at the barbershop across the street. I’d never had very long hair in my adult life (I still regret the highschool graduation photo with the mandatory 1977 Elvis sideburns and Leisure Suit but that was the end of longer hair for me) and I was definitely losing what was left. I’d decided that was the day to get it gone.
I came back to her studio and donned a tight black shirt that said “Security” across the front. I’d been working out at the gym for months and my arms and chest were ripped. I simply wanted a silly picture to frame and send to my mom. Nothing more. She obliged and got a series of shots before I headed home.
A week later I came back to get my proofs and select the “winner” for my web site headshot. (I was sure that if I had a good picture it would make it into an agency’s lineup. Yeah, sure. Little did I know how tough the market was.) Jennifer brought out the sheets and we looked at the photos she’d taken. They were all good but some were great. I was able to select two or three that were truly stellar. The we looked at the “Mom” photos. They were really cool. I knew my dear mother would be aghast at the image.
Jennifer was surprised that the picture was just a joke. She said, “You really should use that one. You’ll get some work out of that character.” I was more than a little skeptical but did ask that she get me a copy of it with the other head-shots for production.
I got the pictures from her and had fifty copies made of each. That was fiendishly expensive but seemed like part of the whole “paying your dues” process. To say that my phone calls were greeted with polite disdain would be an understatement. To be accurate, there wasn’t an agency in town that needed one more unproven voice over talent (or, no talent) darkening their doorway with a badly produced CD and a headshot. I would soon discover that voice work is the hardest kind of acting to get a job on a regular basis. And I never had any illusions about being an on camera talent. Not in my list of things to do, never aspired to it.
One morning I called one of the local agencies to find out how to submit my package. The owner (who later turned out to be a great advocate for me) responded, “You could throw it away yourself and save the postage.”
I sat down and wrote a letter of introduction and enclosed the CD of my demo work, two headshots, and a resume. In the letter I suggested that the pictures would make a great dartboard, or if you laminated them a large coaster for beverages. I wasn’t going to just throw in the towel because rejection was at every turn in the road.
I mailed off the package and proceeded to forget all about it. I figured I was tilting at that windmill, but what the heck. Three days later the agency called me with a delightfully lucrative on camera roll. They needed a “thug” and I was perfect. Me, the egghead voice guy.
Well, that proved the power of the photo. I got a lot of work over the next few years based on that one photo. I’ve been a bouncer in a major movie, done a fair amount of modeling, shown up in magazines, brochures, television commercials, and lined a few birdcages based on that one photo. The photo I’d taken as a joke for my mom. But Jennifer saw the potential in the image and encouraged me to use it as a part of my package.
This year I’m gearing up for book covers. I know (based on the comments I get) that some of you who come here figure I don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of getting published. That I’m a dreamer with no shot. Just like that guy who wanted to break into voice over work ten years ago.
Since I’ve earned enough with acting to pay for a very nice car in the interim, I am quite confident that if you push hard enough you can achieve almost any dream. Being a published author is my dream. I am an author. Two books complete and parts of a third, fourth, and fifth on the hard drive. If I have the pictures and the plan, they’ll bear fruit for me. I’m getting ready just like I did for voice work.
And Jennifer Bong is part of that plan. I spent a great morning with her this week taking new headshots. I’m older, grayer, fatter, and more seasoned than ever before. We did shots with both the “Author” look and the “Biker” look. I’m dying to see the finished product. I have no doubt, based on her skill and eye for images, that one of these photos will grace the back cover of a novel in the next 18 months. Besides, I needed a new photo for the agents. I hate it when I see another actor’s photo at an audition and it was taken during the Reagan era. Mind you they are still handsome/beautiful, but when you have a hard time associating the picture with the person it’s time to cough up some cash and get a new photo. I hate to deceive anyone about my looks and the photos I had were getting dated.
Why this post? I just wanted to give Jennifer the Kudos she deserves. In the past decade I’ve been photographed tens of thousands of times, mostly as Santa, but by quite a few professionals. None have had the ability to get the best out of me that she has. So if you need a new headshot and want to walk out of the studio a winner, give her a call. She’ll put you at ease and get the best image possible from your time with her. She’s also a fun person to spend time with, and she’s a top-notch artist.
When I get the new files from her I’ll post some side-by-side comparisons. I know they’ll be magnificent. Thanks, Jennifer, for making me a success with your photos. I literally couldn’t have done it without you. And I’m counting on that same level of grace going forward!