Developing Your Type and Creating Your Niche: An Interview with Mark Atteberry

October 3, 2020 by Cat Elliott

Mark Atteberry is an actor with a number of big film credits to his name, such as David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Ang Lee’s Hulk. You can find him in popular series, as well, like in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and For the People, the latter of which put him in contention for an Emmy nomination. Besides his 30 years of experience in front of the camera, though, Atteberry also brings extensive knowledge from working behind it, too. He was deemed “Best Headshot Photographer” by Backstage Magazine early on in his photography career, one that helped him develop his current status as an image expert. Atteberry recently gave a workshop through The Greenhouse that shared his industry knowledge on how actors can best market themselves, and he spoke with us afterward to recap its main points. Keep reading if you want to better understand how to brand yourself as an actor, including how to define your niche.

There is so much terminology that comes with branding and marketing oneself as an actor. Can you start by defining the main terms? 

Definitely. “Type” is the category you fall into. “Image” is the general snapshot people have of you. “Essence” goes deeper. It’s who you are to the people who meet or see you. It taps into your personality, your driving force, and your story. There can be certain things about your upbringing or the way you approach life that plays into that term, as well. And “branding” is the other phrase that’s important to know. It is selling yourself in a single or short phrase. It deals with how people perceive you, not how you perceive yourself. There are a lot of branding teachers who tell students to do self-assessments to determine their brands, but that doesn’t work. We can’t be objective with ourselves. 

That makes sense. So how would an actor go about figuring out their brand? 

Well, your brand is essentially a combination of your type, image, and essence. So there are a number of approaches to figure it out, which can speak to all those aspects. The first, most pronounced way is to take note of the general types you book if you regularly work as an actor. Another way to dive into it is to actually petition the public, which excludes friends or family members. You want someone’s unbiased first impression of you, and people who are close to you won’t be able to give that. If you’re able to get a stranger’s objective opinion on your general type, it’s a really great way to grasp how you’re perceived. A third way to determine your brand is to go to an expert in that field, like myself, who’s known as an image expert. A person in casting would be able to do the same thing since it’s automatically part of their job. Either of those professionals would be able to help delineate your brand by those terms we talked about: type, image, and essence. And there’s one we still need to discuss, which is an actor’s niche.

Yes! You call it “the secret to achieving your career dreams.” What advice can you share on this important aspect of branding oneself as an actor?

To find your niche, you combine your types – the industry-standard categories you generally fit into – with your unique qualities. Those are what make you unique, compared to everyone else in your category. And then you add your passions, which reflect your purpose and your driving force in life. Whittle that down to a simple phrase or package that you can present to the world. The purpose is to be the go-to actor for your niche. For example, Brad Pitt’s the go-to actor for a character who’s really good looking but also a little laidback and quirky. With him, you can tell that there’s a story deep down below, as well as a particular passion. So niche is kind of your own little thing that you put out in the entertainment world.

Can you have more than one?

You can have up to three, and I’ll tell you why. As actors, we’re selling a product, and that product is us. We’re a business, and every business can only be known for three aspects at most. Marketing shows us that, and it’s true in terms of casting, as well. I like to use McDonald’s and In-N-Out as an example. Which has longer lines out front? The answer is clearly In-N-Out, which may be surprising because they have much more limited menu options. It’s pretty much just burgers, fries, and drinks. McDonald’s offers breakfast foods, bakery items, salads, chicken sandwiches, burgers, kids meals, parfaits, etc. But as human beings, we’re just naturally drawn to three or fewer things. And actors should apply the same concept to their niches. It’s like, “Hey, just think of me for one to three things.” It’s a great way to get yourself out there and get yourself known. It’s the opposite of presenting yourself as an actor who can do everything. We want to think that about ourselves and it may very well be true, but you can’t really market yourself well with that.

That sounds like a really pivotal change that actors can make in how they define their niches. Any last branding tips for them?

Yes, the aspect I find really important in my own work, as well as the one that many actors neglect, has to do with the purpose of life. Your purpose will help you define your niche or brand better than anything. And it’s good to separate your life’s purpose from your purpose as an artist. The former has to do with the reason you believe you’re alive, what you’re here to do. I know what my beliefs and values are because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through them, which started way back in seminary. Defining my life’s purpose is very valuable because having a driving force behind everything I do allows people to see me much more viscerally. And then it’s also important to understand the “why” behind your purpose as an actor. I mean, if I can use my art to make people’s lives better, that grounds me and drives me incredibly. And people see that. We’re drawn to passionate people more than those who aren’t passionate.

More information on branding and marketing yourself as an actor can be found at the Be a Working Actor Studios site. Atteberry founded the studios that has “helped countless actors to find their unique strengths, develop their niche, and become some of the top actors in Hollywood.” And those wondering how the image expert brands himself can visit his personal site. The three phrases used to describe him there include: the nice guy with an edge, the driven intellect, and the vulnerable rock. When asked about them, Atteberry clarified the last type. “It’s deeper than just being vulnerable,” he noted. “It’s like the character who goes through really tough times but stays strong and gets through it.” Actors pursuing a career in Hollywood may relate to the sentiment – it can feel like an uphill battle at times. But with Atteberry’s tips on how to best market themselves and his encouragement to define the purpose behind their work, actors can feel well-equipped for it. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Cat Elliott

Cat Elliott is a writer for The Greenhouse Journal. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism, Elliott moved to L.A. to work as both an entertainment news writer and a SAG-AFTRA actor. Her industry knowledge and TV/film experience lend themselves to both positions. Two of her favorite on-set moments include “giving birth” during a period piece entitled The Mistress and laughing her way through a fun Honda spot. Elliott’s on-camera work also includes a stint as a reporter and anchor for an NBC-affiliate news station. In an example of art mimicking life, the actor is often solicited to play reporter roles. She additionally has some casting and directing credits under her name and draws from this unique mix of entertainment experience to craft articles for The Greenhouse Journal.

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