How to Make An Actor Demo Reel

Making an actor demo reel

In the long line of confounding acting advice, casting directors demand that actors have a demo reel if they are to take you seriously. However, in the same breath they will also say, “no reel is better than a bad reel.” Being bad is worse than being considered an amateur, but in either case the chances you are going to get cast are very low.

The truth is a demo reel is quickly becoming the most important part of professional casting submissions, even more important than headshots and resumes. Through online casting services, CD’s can quickly view demo reels and, in some cases, they won’t even consider actors who do not have reels. Reel-less actors are considered unready for the demands of a professional gig, so, by that logic, having some sort of reel is preferable to nothing at all.

Gathering Footage for a Reel

Ideally, all content on a demo reel is professionally produced, but for a beginner with little experience that is impossible. Luckily, in the last couple of years, casting pros have become more accepting of reels that aren’t professional, as long as the quality is acceptable. This means that student films, independent films, web series, and privately produced scenes are widely used on actors first demo reels.

When the project starts, know that you probably won’t receive any footage for at least a few months. With that in mind, focus on giving the best performance you can during production and the film will take care of itself.

Make sure to stay in good standing with the director, producer, and editor. Get their contact information before you wrap your scenes. Mention that you are assembling a demo reel and would love to include a scene from the film. Down the road, after the project is cut, send an e-mail requesting your footage.

If the footage is local, you can meet up with the team and download the video file to a jump drive. If not, have the editor, or director, send your scenes over Dropbox.

Once the files are in your possession, hire an editor or recruit a knowledgeable friend and get to work.

Rules for Reels

All CD’s want to see is what you look like, what you sound like, and if you can act. They are always pressed for time and they want this information immediately.

  1. Show Only Your Best Work – If the production quality is bad or the acting isn’t your best, wait until you have better footage.
  2. Keep It Short: 60 to 90 seconds total – Casting directors don’t need much to glean the information they need to make a decision.
  3. Slate screen at the beginning and end (Name, E-mail, Website).
  4. Include 3-4 different scenes – Mix up the comedy and drama, be sure to show casting your best types.
  5. Lead with your best credits.
  6. DO NOT repeat footage – Use each project only once, otherwise you look like you don’t have anything else.
  7. Make it focus on you – If other actors are in the scene, avoid covering them too much. At least 75% of the reel should be you.
  8. Post Online – On your personal website, on video sites (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.), and embed on your casting website profiles.
  9. Update the reel as you gain experience – Start with what you have, but as you advance, replace the old footage with newer, better clips.

A great demo reel, like a great headshot, will not get you a role, but it can help you get an audition. Once you have secured the audition, the reel no longer matters, it’s all about your performance in the room.

No reel might be better than a bad reel, but there is no reason that an actor cannot put together an acceptable reel to show off their current skill level. It makes a great self-motivator for any actor who wants to improve.

Learn more about the School of Acting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
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