Demo Reels: The Basics
Your reel is so, SO important.
Often times, it’s the very first taste we have of your abilities as an actor. Sometimes, it serves as a reminder of who you are, and occasionally, it proves that you’re capable of handling a specific role. Your reel is meant to sell you; to agents, to casting directors, to producers, execs, etc.
While there are about a billion things we can say about reels, these four points are what I consider to be the absolute basics, when compiling your demo reel:
1. Less is More: keep it short and sweet.
ONLY put your best quality (acting and technical,) and most current clips on your reel.
- If you work often, you should update your reel with new (HIGH QUALITY) stuff as frequently as you can. (And even though you loved the work you did on CHEERS or SEINFELD, those clips are too old for us to see what you look/sound like now. Keep the credit on your resume, but take the material off of your reel.)
- Two-three minutes worth of material is about all we need. Only have 45 seconds or one minute worth of clips? That’s ok, too.
HINT: Leaving us wanting more will often result in an audition…
2. Open with your BEST scene.
It might be the only thing we see, so start with your strongest work.
- This also means that you should skip the opening video or photo montage. Open with a title card of your name or just jump right into the first clip. Either way, we should be seeing a scene within the first five seconds of your reel.
- Try not to start with a scene where you are doing an accent, or are in crazy make-up or period costume. We want to see and hear YOU. Save that work for a little later in your reel, if you can. (However, if it’s truly your best scene, then put it first.)
3. Seriously, skip the fancy editing tricks.
Your reel is meant to show off your acting chops, not your Final Cut skills.
- Sometimes, casting will need to edit your reel to pull out a specific scene, or even reorder your material. Want to know the first things that get dumped in the trash? All your cool-looking edits and fades.
- Two basic, helpful edit tools: A title card with your name and contact (either at the beginning or the end,) and a chyron of the project name in the corner of each clip. Everything else is extraneous.
4. It doesn’t matter if your reel is one big clip, or separated out into individual scenes/clips.
Since there is no “industry standard” for this, it should be decided by you and your reps (and your bank account – these uploads/clips cost money, after all):
- If you DO have all your material in one big clip, make sure your reps have access to the individual scenes (in a shared folder, through your website, etc.) It may help when they’re pitching you for a specific role.
- Some people have separate reels for their comedy and drama work. Some have a separate reel for commercials or stunts. If you have enough material to fill different kinds of reels, go for it. If not, put it all together in one. Simple as that.
Remember, your reel is meant to SELL YOU.
If you’re not completely proud of a clip, don’t use it on your demo. It’s better to have no reel than one that will harm your chances of getting in the room or booking the job.