It’s hard to imagine in this social media-saturated world that there was a time before Facebook, before Twitter, even before MySpace.
But that’s the ancient past of course. These days if you want to make a splash and grab some online eyeballs, you’re looking to Instagram, especially if you’re a performer. While platforms like Twitter and Facebook do have the capability for you to post your videos and photos, Instagram is practically tailor-made for actors, dancers, and singers to show off their stuff.
Not only that, Instagram has a proven track record when it comes to launching the careers of actors.
And while we’re all at least vaguely aware of celebrities of dubious ‘talents’ who are Instagram-famous or who clawed their way to larger fame via judicious and relentless use of Twitter and Facebook, let’s take a closer look at one gifted actor whose Instagram profile was directly responsible for her fame.
If you’re not familiar with writer-director Sean Baker’s 2017 film “The Florida Project,” well, shame on you, first of all. It’s a touching, funny, honest, gorgeously-shot depiction of the hardscrabble existence of the denizens of a run-down residential motel in Orlando. The film has been rightly praised for depicting the hard reality faced by more and more Americans in this era, told through the lenses of a mother and her 7-year-old daughter living on the margins, where a few short miles to the Magic Kingdom might as well be a trip to Jupiter.
But what a lot of people don’t know about the film is that breakout star Bria Vinaite would never have landed her lead role without Instagram.
Vinaite was a clothing designer based in New York when Baker, coming off the success of his film “Tangerine” began the search for someone to play the mother, Halley.
Baker has said he started off looking at all the big names among 20 to 24-year-old Hollywood actresses, but eventually decided to go against the usual route of booking a marquee name.
“I was concerned that the audience was going to be taken out of it every time they saw a recognizable face in this role, because of her struggles,” he said in a Wired interview.
His search took him to social media, where he came across some of Vinaite’s Instagram videos, fearlessly singing a capella cover songs, jumping around in her backyard (“… which made me laugh, ” said Baker) and smoking weed while addressing the camera directly.
Baker said it was Vinaite’s lack of a filter and blunt honesty that led to him set up a meeting, and eventually landed her the role.
Now, while Vinaite didn’t have much history as an actor prior to her critically-acclaimed work in “The Florida Project,” we actors who are out there grinding every day can can still learn a great deal from her example about how to leverage Instagram into something much bigger than we ever dreamed.
1. You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play
The first takeaway Vinaite’s success is that you have to put yourself out there in order to get noticed. Along with the fact that recording high-quality videos or taking good photos had never been easier, the simple truth is that it’s also never been easier to put that material in front of the public. That’s why it’s always so disconcerting to see actors whose Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds are graveyards stocked with nothing but the Ghosts of Performances Past. You can practically hear the tumbleweeds blowing through. That’s not to say that you have to spend all day recording and uploading video after video to Insta, but look, the time commitment to record and trim a short video sharing a thought, a song or showing a piece of your latest work-in-progress is negligible. (If you’re on set or in rehearsals make SURE you run this by someone in authority. Often recording little off-camera or backstage clips or photos is fine, but don’t run the risk of violating your contract by sharing something if you aren’t certain.) This is a habit of numerous celebrities, and it really serves to keep your fans or potential fans connected. Check out Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman’s Instagram for a great example.
2. Show Them Who You Are
As practiced, trained performers it’s often easy for actors to get caught up in perfectionism when it comes to social media. Do you have any actor friends whose every post shows them in full, perfect make-up, dressed to the nines, and reciting obviously over-rehearsed lines? It just reeks of trying too hard. Take a page from Bria Vinaite’s playbook and don’t be afraid to show the world your silly, off-the-cuff side. We talk constantly about how personality, quirkiness, and a unique take on the material almost always trumps letter-perfect, rigid recitals in the casting room. And while of course there are some areas that you should consider off-limits – emulating Vinaite’s blatant weed-smoking is probably not the best marketing strategy for everyone – Instagram is an incredible opportunity to show directors, CDs, and producers the unique spin on life that you bring to the table as an actor. Have fun! And don’t be afraid to look a little ridiculous.
3. Tell Them Who You Are Too
Don’t forget to get the basics out there on your profile. Use your latest headshot or a high-quality photo as your profile picture. Much as with hard-copy headshots, you have about a second to grab someone’s attention and imagination with your Instagram profile pic. A profile photo of a group selfie from your trip to Cancun with your and your friends where you’re all sticking out your tongues isn’t going to do you any favors. And make sure you take a moment to fill out your bio as well. It shouldn’t read like your resume, and of course space is limited. But don’t succumb to the fear of perfection. Take the time to craft a thoughtful little something that illuminates not only your background, but also who you are and your personality, what moves you, what gets you out of bed in the morning.
4. Filter and Curate
While you should definitely work toward fearlessness in letting your true self out on your Instagram feed, this doesn’t mean that every single photo or video you’ve ever taken belongs there. You can easily run into the opposite problem from tumbleweeds blowing through your online presence: overkill. Be somewhat judicious when posting. Make sure you’re showing your audience something that will be interesting to the general public, not just a rehashing of you and your friends’ inside jokes and so forth. Think in terms of giving your audience a series of gifts over time, little nuggets of your life as an actor and as a person, interesting backstage or off-camera moments, funny thoughts – or like Bria Vinaite, video of you letting your weird side out and jumping around like a maniac in your backyard!
The great thing about social media and especially Instagram is that as long as your profile is public, you never know who might see it! Make sure that if and when someone with the power to give your career a boost crosses your online path you have material up there that will grab their attention. Show ’em what you got!