One of the major complaints I hear regarding self-tapes, is that actors often feel like they’re acting in a vacuum. Endless questions plague you… “This character should clearly have a Southern accent, right?” “Should I show the action in this scene? Do they want to see me fall?” “This scene could totally be ironic and […]
If you will all indulge me in a non-advice-related blogpost… last night, my partner-in-crime, Cara and I were awarded an Artios from the CSA for our work in Los Angeles theatre. It was a moment I had dreamed about since the beginning of my career. And frankly, when I stepped up to the podium to […]
Happy New Year! Here’s hoping you’ve rung in 2018 in a happy, healthy fashion. Now that we’re decently into the new year, let me state for the record (and for the sanity of every Casting Director who is about to start on a pilot,) THERE IS STILL A “PILOT SEASON.” “But Erica, pilots are cast […]
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:
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…
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.
Casting Directors don’t love receiving unsolicited self-tapes.
My first instinct when I receive an unsolicited self-tape is to sigh and shake my head in frustration. I value an actor’s time and effort, ESPECIALLY the effort involved in self-taping. And to receive a tape from someone who is often not right, (which is why I didn’t request them in the first place,) bums me out HARD.
Here are a few ways an unsolicited self-tape could backfire:
- The material is super secret. Anyone who reads has to sign an NDA and have watermarked sides. Therefore if you just get a copy of the material and send in an unrequested tape, we’re wondering who the schmuck was who broke the rules… another actor? A coach? An agent? Hard for us to appreciate your read if we have to figure out how wide-spread the leak is.
- While YOU might think you are absolutely PERFECT for a role… that may not actually be the case. Either we had to leave something out of the breakdown description (due to secrecy) that makes you not quite right, or the role has evolved and the characteristics you think you fit, no longer apply.
- The role might already be cast. Or worse, it’s been cut.
- You miss out on critical information, such as: when we need your tape, backstory information, which scenes to read, whether or not an accent is needed, any direction, etc. When we request self-tapes, we give out a lot of intel. Without that, you’re kind of shooting in the dark.
- If we’re not expecting it, it could easily get buried in our emails and never opened. Truthfully, Casting will PROBABLY watch any tape that comes in, whether or not we asked for it. But you will be much more set up for success if the request originates from us.
Actors will get material from their reps, from a class, from a coach, from a friend who urges them to tape even though Casting hasn’t requested them. Your best course of action when this happens is to have your reps ask Casting if it’s ok for you to tape. If we think it’ll be a waste of your time, we’ll say so. If we’re open to it, we’ll say yes and give you ALL of the information you need. Win-win.
Think of it this way: Casting would be incredibly annoyed and/or turn you away if you crashed one of their live auditions. However, if we’ve invited you to our session, we’re looking forward to your read.
Treat self-taping the way you would an in-person appointment.
Show up when asked.
Auditions: When Excuses Take Over Your Read…
- “I just got the material.”
- “My reps didn’t send me the full script.”
- “I have three auditions today, so I’m not off-book.”
- “Normally I coach, but this appointment was too last minute, so…”
- “I was camping and didn’t have internet, so I just looked at this for the first time this morning. What exactly is this project, anyway?”
Casting Directors have heard every excuse imaginable when it comes to why an actor isn’t prepared for their audition. Actors will use it to preface what we are about to see, which makes us assume a combination of the following:
- “This read will be subpar.”
- “I’m going to have to give them a crapload of backstory before we can even start.”
- “I will likely not get them to the performance I want, no matter what, since they don’t know the lines well enough.”
- “This will likely be a waste of both of our time.”
When you start your read with an excuse, not only are you putting the CD on edge, but you’re also saying to yourself, “This isn’t going to be very good.”
Truthfully, we KNOW that there are extenuating circumstances as to why you may not be FULLY prepared for this read. We know you’re human beings, with lives and families and jobs/classes/auditions. (And 2020 update: we know there’s a global pandemic and everything changes by the moment.)
We also know when your appointment went out, so unless we sent you that audition within the last 12 hours (or less,) we DO expect you to have figured out a way to become prepared. And if it was so utterly impossible to do so, did your reps try to move your appointment? (Sometimes we can’t allow you to change your day/time, but we are always aware of when the request has come in… or if it hasn’t.)
On the reverse, when we knowingly give an actor very little time to prepare and they come in, bounding with energy and ready to play without a word of how much time they had with the sides, we are utterly delighted. Inevitably, those actors will get the callbacks/jobs, even if they’re up against people who have twice the resume. They come in open-minded, ready to do the best they absolutely can without fear or hesitation, and guess what… IT WORKS.
So the next time you’re sensing the urge to preface your read with an excuse, curb the feeling… trust Casting to guide you, and focus on being there in the moment, listening and having fun.
Not every audition goes perfectly. Actors have good days and bad days, (you are human, after all.) How often do you find yourself thinking, “That was crap. I KNOW I could’ve done better. I can’t believe I…”
Far too regularly, we see actors dwelling on what they consider a “bad read.” While it’s ok to (briefly) rehash and learn from mistakes, this cycle of shame can too easily affect your confidence and be carried from one audition to another.
Casting Directors often see self-doubt follow actors into the audition rooms. It looks like this:
- An actor comes in, a little sheepishly because they’re not sure why they’re reading for a role, (either they feel they’re not good enough/never going to get it, or based on the sides or other people in the waiting room, feel that they aren’t right.) They walk in, literally questioning us as to why they’re there. Those actors AUTOMATICALLY give a sub-par read. Their heart isn’t in it.
- We don’t give the actor a note, and they assume it’s because they did a terrible job on their first take. They walk out of our office with their head down, sulking, no matter how much we tell them that they did a good job.
- We DO give the actor a note, but they’re so in their head about screwing up that they’ve stopped trusting themselves (and us,) and are unable to take the direction. Those actors get so frustrated with themselves that they leave looking utterly disgusted.
Casting Directors know the difference between someone who is having a bad day, someone who just isn’t this character, and someone who is green and not yet ready for that kind of role. We also know that if someone walks into our office with a crappy attitude, it doesn’t matter how good they are or how long their resume is, we’re never going to get the read we want from them. There’s an emotional wall standing between the actor and success at that point, and we can’t break it down in the five minutes we have together.
But as I said, you ARE human. Inevitably, you will fall into a negative mindset at certain points in your career. If the self-doubt monster gets the better of you, acknowledge it. BREATHE. Toss your sides in the recycle bin and MOVE ON. Dwelling will only keep the cycle going and it will absolutely affect your future auditions.
So in the words of a particular ice princess, LET IT GO. Trust your abilities and your Casting Directors, keep working on your craft, and look ahead to the next one.