How to Create An Actor Demo Reel
So you have your video footage and you’re ready to make your acting reel. But how do you do it?
You can hire someone to make it or you can do it yourself. Either way, you or the person you hired will need to know how to format your reel.
While interning with the Emmy-award winning Fincannon and Associates casting agency, I learned firsthand what Casting Directors and Talent Agents are looking for when they watch a demo reel. This is how you can give a great first impression with your demo reel.
Keep It Short
Just like you probably get bored quickly watching videos or advertisements online, Casting Directors and Talent Agents get bored very quickly when watching demo reels, especially when they are watching so many reels and audition videos each day.
You should have around three scenes, and they all should be around 30 seconds each. Most Casting Directors know if they like an actor within the first 30 seconds, which brings me to my next point.
Place your best footage and credits first
The first impression is always the most important one in an acting reel. Thus, include your best footage first. If you have a good scene with a notable actor, place that first, but don’t let them dominate the scene in your reel.
Don’t add different scenes of the same character. It feels weird to change scenes only to see that same character appear again in your reel later.
Keep it about you
Your reel is about you and thus should showcase you more than anyone else. The subtext and backstory of a scene does not matter, just your performance.
You don’t have to show the other character’s long monologue that spurred your reaction, just show your reaction! The person viewing your reel needs to understand who YOU are as an actor. So show them more of you than anyone else.
Additionally, if you have a character type, a few examples being the gay best friend, comedic relief, or hardened cop, highlight those scenes in your reel as they best represent what you do best. You should also be establishing your personal acting brand around your most common character types.
Quality of Your Reel
It is perfectly acceptable to use footage from student films, independent films, and web series. However, it is important that the video quality be of a high standard.
Your reel should at least be 720p High Definition Video. Otherwise it will look outdated. Only include video that has good lighting and sound. If either is bad, your reel might be taken out of consideration no matter how great your performance was.
Slate screens are tricky. There is no standard for how to do them, but they should be quick, sleek, and professional. Keep them no longer than 5 seconds. Seems like a short time, but when you’re watching reels it feels like forever.
You can include your name, talent agency, website or email address, and a great headshot photo.
If you include music, keep it related to the overall vibe of your reel. Is it comedic, dramatic, etc? Then choose very subtle music that infers that feeling. Some actors prefer dramatic undertones and not music. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be distracting and should only be instrumentation with no singing. It is recommended to place a slate at the beginning and end of your reel.
Every time a new scene is introduced, include a caption that states the name of the project and the network (if applicable).
If you were showcasing a scene from AMC’s the Walking Dead, you would include it as such: The Walking Dead (AMC). It’s best to place them in the lower left or right corners of the screen.
Do not add dates/years to the captions in your reel. I made that mistake with my first reel and I quickly realized it makes the footage feel outdated and you’ll have to spend more time updating your reels. I would only keep each caption on the screen for 3-5 seconds and then fade them out.
How Many reels Should You have?
When you’re submitting to a talent agent, you really only need one reel, around 90 seconds long. However, many of the important websites actors used to get cast allow you to upload multiple videos to your profile.
Thus, I recommend having your general 90-second reel, and then multiple mini-reels that highlight different character types.
The mini reels should be 30-60 seconds and contain a scene, or scenes, of similar character types. If you have multiple scenes of being a thug, an over controlling parent, sassy gay friend, etc, then name and market those mini reels as such.
It allows Casting Directors to categorize you as an actor, which is a GREAT THING. Read about that here.
I hope you have found this information to very helpful. If you want a quick download of these tips to keep with you, see below!
Rules for Your Reel
Keep it Short
Your reel should be 60-90 seconds, no longer.
chose 3 of your best scenes and limit them to 30 seconds each.
Place Your best footage/credits first.
Agents and Casting Directors may not even watch past the first 30 seconds of your reel, so place the best up front to keep them interested.
Don’t Repeat Scenes or Same Credits
Do not use the same scene more than once in your reel, and avoid using two different scenes from the same film project because the casting director or agent watching it will notice.
Keep It About You
Edit your reel to focus on your best moments, not other actors
Include captions on reels with videos from more than 1 production.
Include the Name of the Production and Production Company: Stranger Things (NETFLIX)
You can include your role & billing if you want: Billy | Recurring
Include a Simple Slate Screen
Keep it up around 5 seconds
Place at beginning and end on a general reel, and don’t include with single scene reels ( as the info will be on the video title).
If you include music, keep it at a moderate volume. But music is not necessary.
Include your name, agency (if you have one), and your website or email.