There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to branding for actors: the first being, “forget about branding, focus on being a great actor” and the second; “we live in the 21st century people! We are hit with branded messages every single day, and actor’s should be no different.” At the end of the day, an actor’s digital ‘image’ – and by that I mean their social media presence, as well as how they come across on screen – is definitely a part of the casting conversation. Here are some top tips for defining your brand as an actor.
What inspired this article? I recently sat in on a discussion with George Konstand, a branding expert who works specifically with artists and creatives. George spoke specifically about branding for actors, and how to use it to your advantage. The following is going to be an amalgamation of my thoughts on branding and social media presence for actors, as well as some gems of gold from George. Let’s get into it.
What is an actor’s brand?
‘An idea made tangible by a human being (instead of a product)’
Your brand should encompass who you truly are – not a ‘cooler’ version of you, but your authentic self. As an actor, the golden word is authenticity – not only in your work, but also in your life. Developing your brand doesn’t mean coming up with a personality, or pushing yourself to extremes, mimicking someone else who has a cool brand, or putting on a mask. In fact it’s the opposite.
Your brand is how other humans experience you, not how you experience yourself.
Homework: ask others how they ‘experience’ you, ask them what they think your brand is. Take notes, and then compare. What is the general consensus? What sits right with you? What words do you feel truly encapsulate your vibe? There is no right or wrong way to define your brand, you might use adjectives, nouns, places, emotions, archetypes, art, music – anything.
Indifference is death!
The goal is to be loved or hated, and nothing in between. Obviously no one wants to be hated, but every now and then, you just won’t be someone’s cup of tea. And that is OKAY! Actors often feel the need to please everyone, to be liked and admired. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a lovely feeling, it makes us feel secure, and also you would think you’d get more jobs that way, right? Nope.
Any actor who is striving to be liked, is confused. And confusion is indifference, and indifference is death in branding! And casting directors, directors, producers and agents can smell it from a mile away. The actors who consistently book jobs are the ones who don’t care who likes them or who doesn’t like them, they’re just doing their job.
We all have gut feelings towards foods, people, products, activities and places. And the same goes for brands. No one feels indifferent about McDonald’s, either you love it, or you hate it. Either you eat it every time you get drunk on a Saturday night at 2 am, or you never go near the place and hold your breath when you walk past on the street.
This applies to your acting toolkit – your headshot and showreel. Both need to work in harmony. When you walk into an audition room, or a meeting, you don’t want anyone to be confused about your brand. If your headshot is sending one message, and your showreel another, and both aren’t authentically you, then you’re actually making the casting director’s job harder. They want someone who is not confused by themselves, so simplify your assets and present a unified, authentic image. Click for more on headshots and showreels.
So don’t allow people to feel indifferent about you. Forget about what they think altogether, and let them come up with their own ideas about you. Ironically, the less you care, the more people will gravitate to you.
e.g. Jennifer Lawrence. That is all.
Use the system
Welcome to 2018, where we send more messages over Facebook than we do in person, have verbal punch-ups on Twitter, and live our best lives through Instagram stories. Social media hinges on obsession, jealousy and narcissism. It wouldn’t work otherwise. We’re addicted to receiving validation through ‘likes’ and ‘reactions’ and we can digitally scrapbook the best version of ourselves together in posts, images and statuses. It’s incredible! But it comes at a price. Good news spreads fast, but bad news spreads even faster.
The important thing: don’t try to re-invent the system. It is what it is, and besides you’re way too busy being an artist.
Choose your platforms, and use them wisely. Instagram is a visual platform, Twitter is a place for celebrities, politics and opinions and Facebook is a place for stories, advertising and news. There’s also LinkedIn, Tumblr, other blogs. You don’t have to be on all of them, just find what works for you. For me, I use Facebook purely for Messenger, and to find out what plays are on in Independent Theatre in Sydney. Instagram is where my brand lives, I am a visual person, and I dabble in photography – it is the perfect place for me to express myself through images and cute, witty captions.
Don’t like social media or the online world? That’s fine! In fact, I respect you. Stick to your guns. BUT, if you had to have some presence, how would you go about it? You’re creative, I’m sure you have some desire to express that creativity. Pick a medium, and express yourself.
No Blank Canvas bullsh*t
There is a belief that an actor should be a blank canvas, a clean slate, ready to take on and inhabit any character, in any situation. I’d like to challenge this notion, backed up by pure facts. Name ONE actor, a famous one, who you think is truly a blank canvas…
Think of anyone? I certainly can’t. The blank canvas doesn’t exist. The best actors, and certainly the highest paid actors out there, all have a brand, and they bring that to every role they play. And that is why they keep getting hired, and why they get paid so much to do what they do. Because we love watching them on screen. We know they’re not really that character up there, slaying Zombies or raiding tombs. It’s Cillian Murphy fighting to survive, and Alicia Vikander kicking ass. Each actor brings a part of themselves to the role they’re portraying, and the film is all the better for it.
Drama school is a wonderful place to learn, and grow and understand more about yourself and the craft. However, graduates often walk out wearing all black, with perfect posture, a resonate voice, intense eye contact, and an over compensated sense of self-confidence, when really, they’re terrified on the inside. For whatever archaic reason, drama school breeds likeness. And what is going to book you roles? Your individuality, your brand.
Go to drama school, have the best time of your life (I did). But own your beliefs, your values and own yourself.
Your beliefs and your values = your signature. What do you bring to the role? To the words? To the film/series as a whole? This is the conversation Casting directors will have over and over again in the casting process – what does this actor bring to this role?
The point is not to make yourself irreplaceable, but just to find out what inherently makes you irreplaceable.
Homework: If you could cast someone in a movie to play you, who would it be? Then ask yourself, why?
This will help you define the qualities that make up your brand, and how you are perceived on screen or stage. Don’t get too bogged down in likeness, ethnicity or age – think personality traits, vibe, essence, values, emotional quality.
Cold, hard facts
“What’s her social media following?”
This is now the burning question in casting rooms. Not, “can she act” or “is she Asian enough”, but “how many Instagram followers does she have”. It sucks, it really does. Because acting has nothing to do with Instagram. And yet, it has EVERYTHING to do with Instagram. With streaming, VOD and the online content revolution, it is becoming harder and harder to gets bums on seats, and then keep their attention once you’ve finally got their bums on the seats. Social proof mitigates risk for producers, it is guaranteed money, and this is why you’re losing out to Instagram models and influencers without an ounce of acting talent, but a huge following.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN BECOME AN INFLUENCER AND GO AFTER THOUSANDS OF FOLLOWERS.
This paragraph is to sober you up, to give you the cold hard facts about the industry which you’re working in. So what does this mean? It means you do need a social media presence, you really do. Like I said before, choose your medium, and don’t do it in vain. People who represent themselves online because of vanity, are simply afraid of how good they could be, and so would prefer to hide behind a perfected, projected, image. So build your social media presence organically, enjoy it, there is a place for everyone.
You’re allowed to change
Character’s have arcs, and so can you.
Essentially everything is impermanent, things change, people change, and so can an actors brand. As you get older, you learn, you develop new habits, you fall in love, you fall out of love – all of these things affect your personality and how you hold yourself. Character’s have arcs, and so can you. Don’t feel you need to determine your brand right this moment, and stick to it religiously until you’re 81. Just figure out where you are, and who you are at this moment in time. Whatever happens next, is unknown.
Don’t take this advice, and then limit yourself to it. Be expansive, be creative, and find what sits right for you. Take the time to figure out who you are, what you stand for and therefore what your brand is.