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How to build your actor website for cheap – Part 3



Photo by Mr Allan Amato

Photo by Mr Allan Amato

Hello actor and creative types. I’ve just returned from Comic*Con 2013 where I had a fantabulous time watching indie films at the SDCC IFF, buying wee Chihuahua action figures, and partying with nerds of all kinds. It was pretty fun. On the train down I received an email from an actress who was interested in getting some help with her website and I decided that in addition to talking about WordPress Plugins in this part of the “Website series”, I would add a bonus How-To PDF AND a video that goes along with it where I do everything in the PDF.

So this last installment is pretty great and if you don’t all have amazing websites after this there is literally no hope for any of you.  To be honest I have so much to talk about in this last installment that I don’t really have time to be terribly flippant so you’ll forgive my lack of self-deprecating introduction, I’m all business today.

Let’s start with WordPress PLUGINS. Plugins are little pods of code that add functionality to your wordpress site so you don’t have to learn anything complex, like the Twitter API just to get your tweets to appear on your page. There’s thousands of plugins available for free and you can find nearly everything you need in a FREE plugin, although there are some very specific cases where you might get an easier, more customisable experience with a premium (aka paid) plugin.

Free plugins are easily searched for through your wordpress dashboard under the PLUGINS tab, while premium plugins can be googled, and are often part of one of those stupid “Top 10 XXX that you will literally die without” types of articles.

There are 2 main types of plugins. General functionality and “sidebar” widgets. Some plugins will add a new content type (a gallery) or full site functionality like a button to easily embed youtube in a post, stuff that just works when you activate it, others have to be placed to be seen. Twitter feeds, newsletter sign ups and other “interactive” plugins usually need to be called somehow – typically by going into Appearances > Widgets and dragging the widget into the area where it should appear. Some have set up screens under Tools or Settings, other have the setup within the widget itself. You will discover this upon install. Eventually it will become self evident.

The kinds of plugins you will likely need for your actress website are straightforward, so let’s talk about the free plugins you should learn to use.

Contact Form 7
If you haven’t figured out by the name this plugin adds a contact form to your site.

To add it to a page you use a shortcode (see installment 2) and just drop it on a page. The form will appear. Settings are minimal and mostly have to do with where to send forms that are submitted. This is the easiest way to add a contact form, for free. It’s not terribly flexible with which fields you can add, and you can’t make it an order form, nor add payment methods but for your run of the mill “get in touch with me” form it’s perfect.

NextGen Gallery
Oh NextGen how I love thee. I don’t know why but there’s a severe lack of user-friendliness when it comes to most gallery programs and plugins. The way the developers define what a Gallery is vs. and Image or an Album is frustrating and confusing. Next Gen simplifies the user experience offers and has an easy to understand interface. Albums are the only place I’ve ever become a little stuck but now that I get them it’s easy.  If you use facebook you’ll understand Next Gen Gallery. The interface is slightly different but the functionality is basically the same. You create a gallery, you add images to it, you add names and description, you order the images how you want them to appear. (On Facebook the “gallery” is called an “album”, where as in NextGen an album is a group of galleries – so you can put all your different On-set photos into separate galleries by project and then group all those galleries under the umbrella of “on set” )

Cool Video Gallery

This plugin is awesome, but also kind of limited. Without some CSS knowledge you don’t have a lot of control over the look and feel of this plugin, but at the same time, it does some pretty powerful stuff so it’s worth the trade off. You can always hire someone to style it for you if you’re going crazy because you hate how it looks.

What CVG does is create a GALLERY of VIDEOS. Iknowright? Shocking. It’s based on the same format as NextGen Gallery (above) and allows you to create galleries, upload media to your hosting ***OR*** import Youtube Videos (which is fucking awwwwwwwwwwsome). If you go the Youtube route (recommended! Youtube is created to stream video, it will be faster and nicer if you create a youtube channel and just link to the videos) it will automagically grab the thumbnail, name, and description and dump them into the gallery.

You can create multiple galleries, choose how they display, and drop them into pages with a widget or a shortcode. It’s SUPER easy to use and is pretty much the only Video Gallery plugin out there that is free, with all these features.

There are other plugins that help you embed YouTube videos normally but not ones that create a Gallery.

Websimon Tables
If you used to code HTML”back in the day” you probably remember tables. Well, we still use them sometimes to display tabular data, and your resume is tabular data. In my example I use WebSimon Tables to create a table for each type of credit (film, tv, internet, netc) and then drop the shortcodes onto my resume page to display it. This is the easiest way to get the resume format you want, without code. Hopefully whatever theme you choose has some nice table styles built in.

For those of you not initiated to tables, think spreadsheet. Tables create a grid of cells in HTML. You define the number of columns and rows and can add info to the cells, creating a perfect 3 column resume.


Viper’s Video Tags

This plugin is great if you want to add a lot of videos into a website from several different sources (youtube, vimeo, daily motion, etc) but don’t want to copy embed code every time. Vipers Quicktags adds extra buttons to your WYSIWYG bar at the top of the text area on a post or page so that you can easily drop in videos. It offers some formatting options in the pop up too.

Social Media Widget
Link to all your different social media profiles very easily, choose from about 4 different icon styles (and sizes) and place the widget using your sidebar widget area. Includes the standard Facebook/Twitter/email/GooglePlus/Pinterest/Youtube/Tumblr and allows you to add custom links too (hello Actors Access)

To use just install, drag to a widget area (Appearances > Widgets), expand the widget, enter the full urls for the profiles you want to link, drag the icons into the order you want to appear and click save.

Really Simple Twitter Feed Widget
This displays your twitter feed on your website. It needs to be placed into a sidebar/widget area and due to new Twitter API changes you have to authorise your widget with your twitter account (this means you can no longer display MysteryExecs tweets on your page).

Styling out of the box is fine, it’s a drag and drop type of setup and the way to authorize your site is easy.

1) Register at and create a new app. (make sure you’re logged in to your account)

2) After registering, fill in App name, e.g. “myusername_app”, description, e.g “Your name or whatever Twitter Feed”, and write the address of the website. Check “I agree” next to their terms of service and click “create your Twitter application”

3) After this you app will be created. Click “Create my access token” and you should see at the bottom “access token” and “access token secret”. Refresh the page if you don’t see them.

4) Copy “Consumer key”, “Consumer secret”, “Access token” and “Access secret” into the fields of your widget.


If you need a shopping cart just install WooCommerce. It’s free and EXTREMELY well documented. The out of the box styles are great, and if you start doing some heavy sales it has many premium extensions that give you more flexibility for shipping, and other junk like that. Many e-commerce themes are built to support WooCommerce inherently, that’s how great it is.

Simple Google Analytics

Track your users. Sign up at The UA- code is all you need to make this plugin work. (just the UA-XXXXX code not the whole javascript snippet)

Google XML Sitemaps

This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and to better index your blog. With such a sitemap, it’s much easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently. (description stolen from the plugin because it’s more succinct than me)

A quick note about documentation:
Most paid/premium plugins have excellent documentation, a private support forum and a customer service ticketing system. You’ve paid for something so they at least owe you a little help if something goes to shit.

Free plugins on the other hand can be hit or miss. In the age of Google you can almost always find someone who’s run into the same problem as you, although it may take a few searches to figure out exactly what words you need to learn to identify it. This can be frustrating but it’s rare that you can’t at least diagnose a problem and commiserate, even if the fix is out of your abilities.

Having said that supplies a support forum for every plugin in the repository. Look at it. If something has suddenly gone crazy on an update it’s likely that you are not the only person who’s experiencing trouble.

When it comes to documentation for free plugins you will occasionally run into a mystery. Developers are weird people. Some of them are INCREDIBLY smart and can build things that are just mind blowing, but at the same time they do not have a logical, linear brain like the rest of us, so while it seems obvious to them how to set something up, it may not be to anyone else. When this happens you get a wicked plugin that has instructions that could not be less helpful. Install plugin, insert shortcode… what’s the shortcode? Who knows. This is frustrating as hell for everyone, even people like me who do this shit every day. REALLY YOU CANT TAKE 10 MINUTES TO WRITE OUT SOME SIMPLE INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO USE YOUR INCREDIBLY COMPLEX CALENDAR SYSTEM? Thanks.

There’s another, somewhat sinister, bullshitty side to this which is that some developers will develop a great free plugin, but only supply the documentation if you pay for the premium version. This is fucking idiotic and a terrible business model. You know what I’m not going to pay for? Something I don’t know how to use and can’t figure out if it works for me. Asshole.  If you run into this problem I HIGHLY recommend you find Google reviews on the plugin to find out whether or not 1) You can find documentation for the free version, and 2) Whether or not it’s worth paying for. I have paid for more than one craptastic plugin on the promise of awesome, only to be delivered with shitty code that breaks and non existent documentation.

Basically what I’m saying is use common sense and use Google. DO NOT PANIC if you run into trouble. This isn’t your job, you aren’t expected to know everything, but try and be resourceful. Worst case scenario email the plugin developer and tell them that you are a novice, and describe the problem, make sure to include what you were doing, or trying to do when you encountered it. Simply emailing someone with “I got your plugin but it doesn’t work” is like, the least fucking informative email you can send. What are they supposed to do with that?

They may ask you for a login/password to your site so they can investigate. This is pretty normal. I would create a new user for them so you can easily delete it after they are done. (Login > Users > Add New). Oh also many incredible developers are in Asia or Eastern Europe so cut them a break if their English isn’t perfect.

Common WordPress problems:

White Screen of Death
A million things can cause this, and in my experience it’s usually a javascript clash. This typically happens after a plugin upgrade or install. To fix it you should FTP into your host and change the name of the plugins folder (i just change it to pluginsx). This will deactivate all of your plugins. If you just installed a new one, delete it/rename it, rename your plugins folder back to normal and see what happens. Hopefully that fixed it. If it’s still busted do the plugins one by one until you figure out who the culprit is. If this doesn’t help try switching back to the default theme. If you can’t access your admin screen just change the name of your chosen theme’s folder (same as with plugins) This should default to the TwentyTwelve theme. From there you can re-try adding plugins and themes again, one by one. Sometimes you just have to turn everything off and then back on again.

Can’t delete a file/plugin
This is major pain in the ass. If you can’t delete them through the WordPress interface, try through your FTP/host. If this also doesn’t work you could have some malware or  virus. Contact your host and ask them for help.

MalWare  & Viruses

I’ll be honest with you, WordPress can get hacked pretty badly by bastard, email sending viruses. The first line of defense is your username and password. Don’t choose Admin!

If you get infected with a virus but you can still login to your Dashboard install the Threatscan plugin and hopefully it will help you find the culprit. You can also run a scan via Google if you have your site added via Analytics. There’s a HEALTH section when you log in and it will show if there’s anything funny going on, and where.

Using a database and file backup can be a good way to protect yourself and restore in the case of virus infection but try not to reply on back ups and restores. They are no substitution for keeping your WordPress core files and plugins UP TO DATE! (Login at least once a month to update all your stuff, please!)

So, I think that’s it. I mean… I could go hyper advanced but this will get you up and running. So now the bonus…

STEP BY STEP PDF of how to build a site for FREE (you need to pay for hosting and a domain, but no theme purchase required):
VIDEO of my following the instructions in the PDF – Confused by something?
Watch the video and copy what I do:

Ok leeches, I hope you feel empowered! PLEASE let me know if I need to clarify anything in this post, or if there’s something you feel I left out. I can always amend it.

Go to Part 1 (general overview of your website)
Go to Part 2 (installing wordpress & themes)


About Verona Blue

Actress & Web Developer - Verona Blue is originally from Toronto but arrived in Los Angeles by way of London where she received classical conservatory training in voice, movement and text. She excels at weapons and combat, and is extremely easy to find at an airport. Realising her niche was strong, but limited, she grabbed the bull by the horns and started creating her own opportunities with a group of new, creative friends and colleagues. Her first film (and reel!) "Elizabeth" won Best Editing and was nominated for Best Actress at the Indie Horror Film Festival in Chicago. With a professional background in web development and extensive experience working on film related websites, she has a lot going on. It's exhausting.