5 Tips For an Awesome Acting Demo Reel.
1. Make your reel about YOU.
The point of a professional actor reel is to showcase you, your skills/ experience, and your character range/ type. An awesome reel starts with you acting RIGHT AWAY. It also shows you in a character type that is definitely you, while spelling out your range and caliber.
Unfortunately, our biggest feedback from agents and CDs is that they see many actor reels that fail to showcase the actual actor. Even if you don’t have much footage, it’s still not a good idea to use a scene where, for example, you are in the background selling ice cream. That doesn’t serve you. Another common pitfall is a reel that inadvertently showcases another actor more than you, even if that actor is famous.
Although it’s nice to bolster your street cred by including that scene with a well-known celebrity, you are selling YOU, not someone else - Don’t start your reel with anyone but YOU. Showcase YOURSELF, and do it quickly and effectively.
2. Keep the viewer engaged.
Want in on a secret? Whenever I’m casting a project, I skip watching demo reels. I’ll play a few seconds, scrub the playhead up another 15 seconds, and if I don’t see anything interesting, I’m closing the video. And that’s the general practice in the industry. It’s not because we don’t care, it’s because most of the reels out there are crap. Who wants to watch crap? A reel is your “first look,” and the best chance you have of selling yourself to the people that matter. So keep it sharp. Keep it tight. And keep it engaging.
So how long should a reel be, and how do we make it engaging? Although there’s a general guideline to keep in mind for length and pacing, it’s important to remember to calibrate your reel to work for you. Aim for 1 minute to 90 seconds in total length with roughly 15-20 seconds per scene. If you’ve got a few short 5 second scenes to spice the reel up and support a longer 30 second scene, that’s great too. Keep the pacing snappy and don’t linger too long on any one scene - you want to establish a character and show the environment, then move on.
3. Impress with quality.
Include the projects that make you look like you’re a valuable asset to a winning production. Keep the production quality high - It serves two purposes: one, it impresses and engages the viewer and two, it shows that you have the experience to thrive on professional sets without being a liability to the production. Let’s face it, filmmakers and producers are busy, big sets are spending well over a thousand bucks an hour and are on a tight schedule - no one is going to risk bringing an inexperienced actor on a set like that. Focus on highlighting clips with great production value in your reel, or invest in producing high quality content that will serve you throughout your career. This is the core mission at LA REELS - to produce high quality content that will last throughout an actor’s career.
4. Skip the fluff.
Let go. Don’t cling to crap that isn’t going to make you shine. You’re going to change, you’re going to grow, and you’re going to land meatier roles on killer projects. You’ll also probably land roles that don’t serve you. Every few months or so, go back and reflect on your work and get rid of the stuff that isn’t working for you. Treat your reel as an experiment. Go bold, go exciting, go different. Sharpen and polish your reel, expand your reel and make it something really outstanding. Keep it fresh and wipe off the dust. Your reel is not a storage unit for all your past work. It’s a slick presentation to sell you as a product. If you think you need to have your whole career on your reel, be sure to only submit to casting directors and producers with tons of free time and nothing better to do than watch long boring showreels.
5. Use it.
Show it. The best reel is a reel that is watched. Maybe you’ve spent a couple months gathering footage and you’ve just put together a sloppy cut and you don’t get your next footage for another 2 weeks. Who cares? Show the reel you’ve got. Put it on YouTube, Facebook, send a link in emails to your network. Treat it as an experiment. Show it and ask for feedback. If someone doesn’t like your reel, ask them why. Get it out there. Show it. And
then take that criticism back to your batcave and fix it. Keep honing your stuff until it’s a badass tool that works like a charm. Then go back to the people who gave you advice and show them your new reel, and thank them for the advice. They’ll respect you for taking their advice and showing the initiative to improve your reel. Don’t be shy, a shy actor isn’t going far. Get out there and take some risks, consistently. Consistency is the key to greatness.
Author: Noah Edward Scott - LA REELS
Thanks: Amanda Glassman - LA REELS