A tough thing for many actors is the whole branding thing. It is a big part of an actor getting representation, being called in to audition, and the industry getting to know you as you work your way in. It was really tough for me for many years. I've read books, went to casting director workshops, and had so many exercises in classes inside and outside of college on this exact topic. As an actor that prides myself on performing a variety of genres and styles with a variety of characters, I mostly resisted it. The last thing I wanted was to be pigeon-holed. The feedback I would get from what others thought of me would be very varied too which confused me. Each outfit I wore to class or headshot or video I posted online asking for opinions for would receive completely different descriptions. I ended up deciding it was a load of crap, just shallow first impressions or pre-conceived notions that were super limiting to my broad range of capabilities I could feel inside me, each as a huge potential excitedly waiting to be birthed. I could be all the characters I wanted to be and I didn't need a stupid brand like I was some disgusting commercialized product and not my own person of deep enigmatic human complexity. What comes to mind that I've thought to myself in the past are things like: "I don't want to be seen as just that! I can do so much more than that!" & "I want to remain a mysterious chameleon - that's my talent!" & also "You don't know me! Stop acting like you have me all figured out cuz you dont'!" or "Branding is so fake and not genuine." Interestingly, once I relaxed my crazy hamster-wheel efforting and started to clear my creative blockages, uncovering the real reasons why I am even drawn to be an actor, I realized that my branding is a gift I had been hiding from showing to the world. I was not consciously aware I was hiding something valuable, though, for all those years. I was hiding it due to limiting beliefs, fear, and ...tons of anger. Here below is my story of uncovering this gold. It's not just something that hopefully will help other actors to do be able to find their own shining and shimmering gem of their brand, but was a challenging emotional journey into the the aspects of my inner self that everyone can somewhat identify with and hopefully feel a rewarding catharsis as well as they follow along.
SO WHAT IS BRANDING ANYWAY?
I'll start by debunking what everyone assumes and tell you what it's not. IT IS NOT WHAT EVERYONE THINKS YOU ARE. Repeat: IT IS NOT WHAT EVERYONE THINKS YOU ARE. (Doesn't matter how much clout they have in the industry.) It's also not how many followers your have. It's not how famous or well-known you are in certain circles. It's not to be confused with typecasting, which is when you get stuck being cast as the same types of characters over and over. It's also not to be confused with type, which is the basic info in a breakdown character description - Gender, Age, Physicality, Job Title, & Personality Traits. There can be crossover with type and brand, but types already exist in the industry, and your personal brand is unique to only you. For example, you can fit a "Geek" or "Aubrey Plaza" type (and yes, some breakdowns actually use famous actors' names as types), but your branding is going to be the unique essence of what kind of "Geek" or "Aubrey Plaza-esque" character you play. It's not about being some generic "Geek" or a boring carbon copy of "Aubrey Plaza" (She is her whole special self and you are yours!) It's the energy behind those descriptions. It's the part that makes you stand out - the part of you that is there with the character when you perform and brings the character to life. Think of your brand as a big umbrella which basically all of your castable types rest under. You don't have a ton of control of your types. But you have full control of your brand! YOUR BRAND IS YOU. Branding is essentially expressing you. Your brand = your unique qualities. You can try and hide them, but they will still always be there and shine through. And I know, as actors, we want to fully immerse ourselves in characters, not express ourselves with no characters, so this can be challenging (at least, it was very challenging for me.) But trust me, it's so worth it! It also makes sense from a business standpoint that the more specific and clear that your brand is, the more success you will have as an actor. In my opinion, it is a hindrance to try to "live on brand" or "brandprov." Just be free to be genuinely you at all times because you are your brand. Have a conscious awareness of your brand and the main types that go under it. Then your career can start moving with that as a starting place and then in the future, you can always change it or branch out of it and expand it. Taking control of your brand is you being smart and empowered, taking the driver's seat in your acting career, to market yourself in an easily castable and authentic, naturally enjoyable way.
WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?
This is the question that under many layers one will find the answer to what their bullseye target of their branding is. It's like that saying: finding out who you are is not something you need to seek outside of yourself; it is about unbecoming everything you are not. You don't need to have strangers survey you and tell you what they think you are or are not; you need to release everything anyone has ever told you were were or were not. What will be left will be what you truly know yourself to be, and with that knowledge, also what you know yourself not to be. Saying yes to an opportunity and knowing why is just as important as saying no to an opportunity and knowing why. You don't have to be everything for everyone. You just have to be true to you. To quote some Socrates and begin to get all deep, "Know thyself."
For my whole life up until a couple years ago, I had no strong sense of who I was and was not. My personality was so empathic, flexible, and malleable, that when I wasn't in a character acting, I was blind to myself and how others saw me. I felt lost, vulnerable, and angry when people would ask me these branding and typing questions; naked in a fog of confusion and full of rage that apparently to be successful in this industry, you needed to restrict yourself and put yourself in a box. More than anything with my insecure and rebellious need to prove myself in my chosen profession that almost everyone told me was too hard and not to pursue, I craved success and recognition with a ravenous hunger. I would put myself in a box if it meant I could attain the success I desired. But I couldn't even figure out what my box was. I didn't even know who I was underneath the surface info or why I was pursuing this career with such intense fervor and determination. I couldn't really explain it. When people asked me my dream role or big goal, I just said I wanted to do it all - and I did! I wanted to do it all and be successful at it all. I am a person who loves variety and differing experiences. That was one of the only clear things I knew about myself. I had been acting my whole life and loved performing. Performing was a way for me to come out of my shy shell when I was young, and when I was older, to express my emotions and different aspects of my personality under the safety of merging with characters. By the time I was in classes where I sat quietly as other classmates eyed me up and down and wrote their judgy notes of what surface impression they got of me, I tried to be hopeful and thankful, but honestly, I was skeptical at best. And guess what? I'm glad I was.
Okay, so yeah, it might strike you as odd that I am glad I didn't take anyone else's impressions to heart because I was too independent and stubborn. See it this way - it could have gotten me even more lost trying to constantly be something I wasn't, squeezing into a box that I didn't actually fit in, but these strangers thought I did. So I avoided an ugly possibility, for sure. Looking back now, sometimes my weaknesses actually turned out to be my greatest strengths in certain situations.
Unfortunately I then chose to remain an artist with so many colors that none stood out. One of the biggest things that showcase your brand as an actor are your headshots. I was advised by multiple sources to have more "me" not "type-ey" headshots, and at the time I couldn't afford tons of different type headshots anyway. So, I got more neutral ones that I thought must scream my essence and all the casting directors must be able to see my range of all the different characters I could play that lived all within one photo. Well...that didn't happen. Yes, I got cast in a few small things by self-submitting and got my first rep, but didn't get any auditions at all from my first agent or manager, and I wasn't auditioning at all for the projects I longed to audition for. Then in one class, the teacher picked me apart in front of all of my other classmates, showing my casting site profiles and headshots as a prime example of "what not to do." I was humiliated and crushed. In Hollywood, I have learned over many years, the teachings vary greatly and different things work for different people. Also, there are always changing trends in the industry. The latest, according to this teacher, was to be as specific as possible in each shot. She works as an actual casting director, so even though I was angry with her, I felt deep down she knew what she was talking about and was right. I decided to start from square one again. I humbled myself and took her advice.
One of my sweet close friends is a great photographer and I tested out specific looks with her. With these, I got a new agent that saw my potential and said I needed new specific shots taken by "pro" photographers. I planned out each one carefully and boldly once again, keeping a lot of variety of looks, but each one very specific. I got a few taken by one skilled photographer, and my primary main theatrical headshot by a very expensive other skilled photographer. I was happy with the main one, though it was a bit glamorous, and a few from the other photographer that had a great professional quality. I ended up discarding a few that I didn't feel met the standard I needed and didn't feel like me. I was out of money and frustrated. I decided to take matters into my own hands - I would use the bokeh effect on the iphone, use Dollar Tree colored construction paper backgrounds, and my self-tape box lights. I would take the rest myself.
Years and years of having TONS of experience of headshots taken helped me in this moment; trying out different poses, expressions, lighting, and music without any photographer judging me or telling me what worked when I disagreed. (Don't get me wrong - I have worked with some awesome photographers that have given me some kick-ass shots, but I have definitely had the opposite experience as well.) I was able to focus confidently. It was never about vanity like some people may think; it was about becoming successful with headshots that really started working for me and bringing me breakthrough roles. I had to have the constant ability to step back and discern what was working and what wasn't. I did it and was super proud of the outcome! Yeah, the quality was not near as high, but they were more of what I was going for. I edited new strong reels for myself with my strongest work. Not too long after, I booked through self-submitting a supporting role in a powerful play called Constantinople and was the lead in a fun dark comedy web series my friend Jill Tenney of Jetflix Films made called Mercredi's Monde, which ended up winning festival awards and getting us in the Sag-Aftra union that I wrote my last blog post about. Things were looking up!
Right when I was taking my new headshots, me and that agent had left working with each other due to them only wanting to sign me commercially, not theatrically, and them not budging. These new shots were to also help me attain really good representation, and I did attain a new agent, but unfortunately, there were no auditions and most importantly poor communication with that agent. So after a bit, I ended up leaving them too. I didn't want to settle for rep that didn't care enough to communicate with me. A good self-worth standard and a big moment for me after putting rep on pedestals for so many years and being meek and desperate to sign with any of them.
SEGUE TO THE PAST
I can't even tell you how much having representation used to mean to me and how stressed I would be, thinking that any rep was the key to my dreams coming true and being recognized as a good actor because someone else in the industry believed in me and would help open doors for me. When I came to L.A. and Chicago for my acting showcases my last semester of college and I didn't get substantial representation interest like some of my fellow classmates had, I was so low that I shut myself in the bathroom and cried, so angry and feeling such self-pity and shocked that life could be so unfair. I had put so much love, time, effort, energy, all of my money, and hope and faith into my acting career. I was 10,000% dedicated. Why was it not happening for me? I had so much pressure to be successful right away that I put on myself, and my loved ones reflected. Each frustration brought me to new lows throughout the years. I was so run down that I was having suicidal thoughts for a brief period of time at my lowest, driven there by some intense personal trauma amidst the acting career and financial struggles. I had already started my dark night of the soul spiritual awakening journey before I moved to L.A. when my father passed away while I was in college, and it just got darker and darker, so I intensified my spiritual practices. I started therapy to help me heal my relationship with myself and others. I took action steps in my life to help create a happier life for myself. I uncovered that I had huge emotional blocks from stuffing my emotions and being a people pleaser and pushover my whole life, I had enmeshment issues with my brother who was always praised for his artistry and I was like his shadow, and that I had deep-seated dis-empowerment, scarcity mindset, and some victim mentality going on. It took many years and was a rocky road, but by the time I left that agent with the poor communication I was just talking about, I had cleared and healed most of it. I no longer sought external validation. I began to trust the universe more and more, let go of my resentment of the past, and shift my limiting beliefs and habits. I finally had started to develop a sense of self-worth through many personal trials and tribulations, newfound self-awareness, and spiritual solace and comfort in this intense world. I was finally coming out of the dark night of the soul into the light and finally starting to know who I was. By the way, this dark night of the soul lasted a little over 10 years. I started to figure out who I was with barely any external recognition of success at the same age that most people are already secured in a nice stable job, married, and have kids and a house. I now realized my goals were always different; my true top priorities were to cultivate a deep spiritual faith and inspire others through art, regardless if anyone else thought I was a success or not. Coming out of that dark night of the soul and beginning to understand who I really was was a huge accomplishment.
THE A-HA MOMENT
Armed with this strength of self, I approached the branding question once again to myself one day. I was blessed by the universe and received a magickal download. (And by download, I mean like a spiritual answer to my question, a premonition of sorts that inspired me.) I had seen myself as a woodland elf with this reddish hair, ethereal, and warrior-like, and I thought - that's me! That's my soul essence - that's my brand! I had seen myself like this before when connecting with my higher self in meditation but had never connected the dots to my acting career. Everything now made sense! No wonder my favorite films, shows, books, and games had always been fantasy, sci-fi, and magickal adventure!!!! That's what always excited me the most! Though I knew I still wanted to play different kinds of characters in different genres, I also knew that this was the bullseye of the target for my acting career. I immediately knew the three words for my brand: "Mysterious, Adventurous, & Otherworldly." I felt into my inner child's longings to be the youthful hero in a fantasy adventure film or series - that is what she really always wanted. How lost I had been my whole life prior listening to what others' opinions of me were, and hiding this truth about what I desired in my heart and soul perhaps due to embarrassment or the vulnerability of how much it meant to me. I hid it so well that I even hid it from myself. Digging it back up was so healing, and I finally had a clear groundedness in myself as an actor for the first time.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and the industry halted. I still went ahead with my plan, as I was doing it solo. I bought a high quality camera, lenses, and an LED light with a doable payment plan. I changed my hair, growing out my bangs and dying it red with a natural henna dye. I got the costumes I needed. And though I'm still getting the materials put together now and a lot has happened in my personal life, so things were not near as quick as I was hoping, this brand is now finally being expressed.
I also realized these opportunities I had been working so hard for and waiting on didn't need to come externally. I had received a different download (perhaps I'll write a blog on that sometime in the future) during my dark night of the soul that had helped me to keep going, even though it was still unclear to me for a long time, I now realize that I am to create the premonition I had. So I now am working on creating the content that I want to be in, in addition to being open to being cast in resonant projects. Great auditions have been happening, my emotional expression is becoming more and more healthily open, and I couldn't be happier and more excited for what's to come.
Here's a soap box advice moment before I end this little blog to take or leave: DEFINE YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE READY TO! Don't give your power away to listen to any other person's opinion of you more than your own. Too many times as actors we let others define us and our work, not ourselves. Take your time to find your own clarity. Give yourself love, self-care, and some time to heal and get to know yourself all over again, and when it doubt, always follow your joy. What did you dream about yourself growing up to do when you were a child? Your answer is right there. :) Thanks for reading. Wishing you the ability to recognize the amazing qualities you have that make you special and the clarity of who you really are,