Critiques: Your Websites

The following example demo reels accompany "The Actors Voice" column by Bonnie Gillespie posted here:

"Critiques: Your Websites"

Click on any still to view a larger version of the website screen cap.
My biggest issue with Annie's site is that the menus are jumbled up all over the place. On one page, they're grouped up top, and on another, they're on the side. Visual consistency is a good thing. (Also, watch out using punctuation marks in file names. Some servers won't like annie'slinks.html and will return a 404 error. The site, overall, is good, simple and seems to be age-appropriate while offering good information. We need a printable resumé on the resumé page, but I like the links to casting profiles at other sites as an option 'til you get a PDF printable resumé up on the site. And someday, set up a URL like and have it point to Annie's Google page or casting profile. And this is another page where the file name (aboutme!.html) could be problematic. Ideally, choose a file name with no punctuation and all lower case letters for the least amount of stress, no matter who hosts your pages.
Valerie's site is so on-brand! Everything feels like you and that's a great use of this marketing tool. I'd code the <title> differently (right now, it's called contact and that's easily changed within the <title>HERE</title> tag to something more specific. Your photo gallery is great! You're using Picasa to serve up the thumbnails, rather than having to recode the website every time you want to add photos to the gallery. You could do this with Flickr as well. Even a non-private Facebook photo album would do the trick. Another very on-brand page is your resumé page. The problem is, there's no PDF printable version available. Sure, I can right-click and print out the image, but how many would go to that trouble (or know that option exists)? Offer a PDF just to be sure everyone is served.
Finally, your use of a Twitter feed is very well-done here. Also, links to your Facebook page, YouTube, MySpace, IMDb, etc., are all right here. Again wish you'd recode the <title> to the page so it's not so generic (that's also very helpful for Google spiders). Overall, great site! I really like Matthew's use of stills from projects you've worked on as backdrops for the text on your pages. You've done a good job of balancing out where the text will land without having the background color fight for attention. A problem I had with your site is that you don't offer a printable version of your resumé, meaning this "toner dump" of black is what we get when we try to print from your site. Bonus: Your name isn't on it! Sure, we could figure that out, but just offer a printable PDF from your site and that solves it.
Three issues with Kalimba's otherwise stunning site (seriously, it's wonderful). One: I couldn't get the music to turn off. I tried. I clicked all over that little control panel. Nope. Couldn't stop the music. That was annoying. Two: I couldn't get any of the thumbnails to expand into full-sized photos. I was so bummed! Every time I'd mouse-over the thumbnails, the gallery would minimize. Boo! Third: When I went to click on one of your badass demo reels, I was met with this 404 error. So, this is a reminder to everyone to always spot-check your external links and--ideally--host everything locally, so your media isn't at the mercy of someone else's server issues or choice to restructure storage or rename files. Christine's site raises more questions than it should. A news section that hasn't been updated in seven months is not a good thing--especially when its last update was that you're waiting for the phone to ring! Also, it looks like the resumé highlights in the right margin are all extra work, right? So, if your site is advertising your services as an extra, awesome. If you're looking to do principal work, that extra work has to go! Also, this looks very template-y and doesn't give me a sense of you at all.
So much to love about Ben's site! This is a good jumping-off page for your reel, headshots, contact info, a mini-bio, and much more below the "fold." Love, love, love it all! Well-branded, not too much clutter, and what's here is fun to read. I especially love the bio with one sentence for each year of your life. It's hilarious and makes me get you before we've met (I say that because I did read that page before we met and then met you and found the vibe to be exactly the same). It's so much cooler than the usual ho-hum stuff! My favorite is your blog, though, filtered here "by author" at a group blog hosted on another site. Many actor blogs miss the mark. They're narcissistic, rambling, or--worse--just dumping grounds of info copied and pasted from other sites. Not only do those other "actor blogs" that recycle casting notices, articles, interviews, and booking blasts without attribution become a wasteland for copyright infringement, they do nothing to brand the actor copying and pasting 'em all. *shudder* Your blog is awesome! Well-researched tips, interviews, and full-on articles that demystify the process for your peers. Such a great give-back that bookmarks your own resources while displaying that you're a smart actor! Awesome!
Zelika, you asked whether your site is aligned with your type. Well, I don't know you in person, but I critiqued your reel last week and the colors of your site, the font, the layout all feel a little generic and don't really give me a sense of you. Are these the colors of your favorite room in your home? Do you dress in these colors? I'm willing to bet you could organically develop something more you if you looked at your website that way. Tara's site is generally good. The problem with her resumé page is that it's not printable. Of course, you know I recommend offering a PDF printable version of the resumé for download, because the above is how the resumé looks on screen (of course, you can scroll to see the rest of it, when you're actually at the site)... ...but the current "printable" version of the resumé (the above--a PDF taken from the site, so if you click on it, you'll launch a two-page PDF download) doesn't hold up well. The bulk of the text is bumped to page two, with a huge run of blank space on page one.
Brant's resumé page is good--I especially like the IMDb link and printable PDF resumé option--but you should update your <title> HTML tag to be much more specific. Right now, it just says resumé. You could have it include your name. This is what our browsers use when we bookmark your site! You were concerned about how it looks to list too many auditions with no bookings in a NEWS section. First, we aren't likely to read as much as you think we might, in a NEWS section of your site. Second, we know you're building relationships and these things take time. Take a look at Stephon Fuller's long-ass bio for a great example of how to feature your everything (classes, networking events, new ideas), not just auditions and bookings. Tansy's contact page is so cluttered it gives me a headache! It just seems like there's too much rep, here. And then a bonus: You say you're seeking rep in an area where you already have rep (LA commercial rep; the first one you have listed is LA commercial and theatrical, no)? I'm confused. And really, you never have to say you're seeking rep. Everyone assumes you'd always be open to an upgrade, in this biz! Just seems cluttered, to me. Is there a way to streamline?
A cool thing on Tansy's site is her side-by-side reels, neither of which auto-launches. Good stills showing us what we're gonna get when we hit "play" on either--and we could watch on YouTube or embedded in your site. The resumé page (not linked) is also very nice! Well-labeled and easy to navigate. I like the blog but I have to wonder about the chat room. Do people take advantage of that? Do you offer regularly-scheduled chats? It seems like a cool concept; I'm just wondering how frequently it's used. Finally, I'm a little confused by "Tansy's Favorites." At least give us a blurb about why you're sharing a list of products for hair and nails. I mean, are you regularly asked what products you use? If so, say so! Otherwise, this seems a little out of place for an actor/host site.
Liam's site is generally good, but it's heavy on template and light on personality. I think we're at the point now where folks know enough about web design (or can find a friend who does) to have sites that feel more like them than like the template designer. The "occupation" section on this page is odd to me. And on the main page, you're dealing with--at least in my case--an issue on laptops. I can't see your whole face! And then there's the photos page. The slideshow starts right away, goes fast, and leads off with... ...a very old photo, not so much on-brand. I'd rather a bank of thumbnails so I can choose which shots to view, and that's not an option here. Also, I'd relegate the band photos to another area of the site. They're interesting, but they're not selling the actor brand.
Nate is a hyphenate--and you know I love that--but I want his actor pages to be distinctive. Maybe the director pages could be a different color or font or format, but still on-brand. Think of how Diet Coke and Coke look alike, but they're not identical. That would help me feel I'd traveled out of one area of your page and into another, which might be nice. There's got to be a way to create a still on-brand site that gives us a shift in feel for each career, because if you think about the visitor to your site, he or she is probably not coming to find "the total package." It's for one thing or the other. Also, while the food trucks site may be fun, it doesn't feel like "news" to me. I'd consider putting it "below the fold" or in "fun facts."
If you do end up breaking out your site somewhat--like making the filmmaker page look somewhat different from the actor page--also tweak the <title> tag in your HTML so you don't have the big, long list there. Yes, you're a hyphenate and that's awesome (and more and more common), but when you ask yourself who's visiting your site, you get better design answers.
Finally, I love the store at your site! It's a great way to keep all projects you've been a part of just a click away. I do something similar with a poster gallery on the Cricket Feet Casting site, but this is really fantastic! Very nice touch. Kimo told me he was hoping having some website was better than having nothing. Yes. But it should feel like you. Make sure your brand, your type, your vibe shines through. This grey on grey is just a bit too generic for how I bet you are in real life! Jessica has a lovely gallery of headshots and stills on her website. Same with her clip gallery. Nicely laid out and well-labeled. I like it!
I like the way Scott approaches his hyphenate status. There's a tip of the hat to it, sure, but it's not overpowering and he knows why most people are visiting his site. Also, I really like the use of the Facebook fan page feed, here. Nice way to keep the page updated without having to edit and upload it. Tommy is Annie's brother (see Annie's site, up top) and his menu placement is much better than hers, simply because it's always in the left margin. That visual anchor lets us know, when we visit other pages, where to look to navigate, when we're ready to move on. Very important! What I'd recommend, in terms of changes to your site, though, is the use of consistently-sized thumbnails rather than photos in a variety of sizes on the "photos" page. Let us enlarge the ones we want to see, rather than having shapes that don't fit together and loads of scrolling required to get around that page.
I threw lots of love Jen's way during the resumé critiques. Gonna do it again now too. Love, love, love the colors, the on-brand notes, the use of a different photo on each page in the same place... ...and how clean the whole site is. So easy to navigate. Not boring. Enough of your youness coming through.
And great use of wonderful reviews. It's just a really super site. No clutter. No distractions. Well done! While I love almost everything about Bryan's site, you've misspelled principal, as in "principal photography" (it's an adjective, so you can remember to use the A spelling). This is a great layout and there's lots of info in not much space! Mariana is loving her blog. "It has a sense of purpose... some sense of brand," she told me. And that's when an actor blog is a good thing. It's focused and interesting to read, not just a bunch of disjointed ramblings. Yay!
Clark's got some good stuff on his site--like, on this page, the IMDb, Facebook, and Twitter links, plus links to casting profiles. I'd probably group those together, rather than splitting them across two spots on the page. Also, the PDF icon is non-standard and didn't immediately give me the visual I needed to know what it was. Finally, you never need to put your union ID number on your resumé. :) This page is called a blog, but it's absolutely not a blog. It's a Twitter feed. And that's fine! But relabel it so we know what we're getting, here. A blog would include photos and links and comments and categories and tags. While Twitter does some of that on a much smaller scale, it's not what you'd call "blogging" going on, there. Really like your use of testimonials and news on your site. Especially the news, because it includes images, which are nice on a site (breaks up the monotony of all text). I also like that you've used no dates on any of this. Some might say that's a bad idea, but I like that it keeps your career from looking stagnant, if we have no idea when something happened. Of course, the goal is to always have something happening!
Kyle's "about me" page is great. Not too cliché heavy, but it's close. Watch out for phrases like "glowing reviews" and "passion for theatre." A little bit goes a long way with those gems. See if you can find phrases that are more you when you edit next time. Here's where we run into a problem on your site, though. You have no printable version of your resumé. So, when I print this page, I get a "toner dump" experience at my printer and your name isn't even on the resumé! That PDF option can make all the difference. Linda wants to be sure her site has personality. The wood paneling look of the background is odd, but I think the peach on white with yellow flowers is probably you. I like the testimonials and Facebook widget in the margins, but wonder if you're also selling DVDs or promoting something that worked for you. Maybe create a separate "inspiration" page or "sales" page, to be clear? Also, just not a fan of the "being interviewed" voice of the bio, nor the cliché Asian driver joke. Give us something more you, here.
Paul's site is another that is heavy on the template for my taste. There's very little actor personality in the site itself, which is the challenge with prefab web options. The middle photo on the main page, here, seems a little off-brand. Oh, and why single-quotes for Grace and double-quotes for all other titles? Be consistent. Use double-quotes or italicize titles. I'd say there are too many thumbnails to choose from, in your gallery. Get specific and targeted and your site will be easier to navigate. Remember the whole issue of talking us out of it, with too many shots that don't serve your brand. Focus like a laser rather than scattershooting like shotgun. Be certain your site is smart enough to read visitors' browsers if you include pop-ups of your headshots. When I selected a shot from your gallery, the pop-up was far too large for my laptop's monitor. Further, how is this on an iPhone or BlackBerry? Just some design elements to think about!
Arielle's site is clean and efficient. I'm in love with the fact that your resumé is offered in a printable PDF but the HTML version is easy to read. It's awesome. Even more awesome: You don't offer too many headshot thumbnails (only six. That's ideal) and when we pop one up, it's not too large for my laptop monitor. Yay! While Scott has some good things on his site (contact form, testimonials page, bio, blog), I wonder if these are really "your colors." They don't seem to compliment one another, nor go with any of your photos.
I really like the use of the ghosted photo behind the text, here. The blog pages look nice. Scott asked me specifically whether "simple" might be overrated. Nah. Even though people are getting more web-savvy, a good, clean site is always appreciated! I love that there are links to your IMDb page, Actors Access profile, and a printable PDF of your resumé all from your resumé page. Very nice! But the more I look at these colors together--this olive green and brick red--the more I'm certain you need a color overhaul. Probably my favorite part of your site: The jumping off point. You get us started on your welcome page by letting us know how best to navigate your site, based on what our needs are and how much time we have to get to what we need. Very well done!
I really like the embedded vid, still from the set, and latest news panels on Larry's main page. This is a good, clean, straightforward site. Melanie's tools are all so great. All of them. You're one of those actors who has absolutely figured out your brand, your vibe, and how to communicate that effectively and without clutter. Clean, pretty, simple, with news right up top on page one of your website. And your contact info on a page with a ghosted photo that's just lovely. Everyone, poke around Mel's site. It's really simple and effective, and never jarringly off-brand. Maybe goal number one in creating a site is knowing yourself, then how to communicate that becomes clear.

Look at your website like you look at your home. Its decorations should feel like you. Its vibe should make us feel "at home" in your space. We should get you by visiting. Sounds that won't shut off, pop-ups we can't control, and disjointed or off-brand offerings make us feel uncomfortable visiting and we won't spend much time getting to know you (or worse, we'll be sure we get you, but not the way you intended, perhaps). Simplify. Have fun with it. Be professional but not so stiff that you forget to show us your personality. On the flip side, don't have a site so overrun with personality that we don't get to experience your info which is a big part of why we visited in the first place.