July 2, 2015

Breaking it Down: Demo Reels

Why do I need a demo reel?

Casting directors do not waste time. That means calling in the best actors for the role, and only working with those who prove themselves to be the strongest overall. With thousands of actors vying for auditions and roles, it’s important to set yourself apart and use every advantage available to you. In the industry today, headshots alone aren’t enough for an actor to get cast. If you want to stand out and get noticed, having a stellar demo reel is definitely a must!

What belongs in my reel?

Ideally, a demo should consist solely of high quality clips from professional projects, such as feature films, commercials, or network television. However, if you’re a beginning actor with little to no experience and no professional credits, acting in student films is a great way to get footage. Although most of these jobs are nonpaying, they’re great for obtaining high quality film clips for your reel, as well as practical on-set experience for your resume.

Another great way for inexperienced actors to add footage to their reel is to record a short TV/Film scene in a professional studio. Many studios in NYC offer HD picture, sound and lighting quality, along with editing services and professional actors as readers. Some great options for recording a mock scene are The Actor’s Green Room and One on One NYC.

How long should my reel be?

Generally speaking, a reel should consist of two to five scenes of various lengths that show a range in acting. However, one professional scene can certainly be enough to send to a casting director as long as it markets your “type” well and showcases your best acting ability. Casting directors are very busy and constantly screening talent, so try to keep your entire reel under two and a half minutes in length.

8 Tips for a Top Notch Demo Reel

1. Make sure the clips you choose clearly identify whose reel the casting director is watching. Scenes should always start and end on a shot of you, rather than the other actors in the scene, and it’s important that the clips never show more of other actors than of you. If possible, include scenes with actors who aren’t the same age or type as you are.

2. Always begin the reel with what you feel is the strongest scene. A casting director might not have the time to watch an entire reel, so start with your best.

3. It’s a good idea to vary the style/character between scenes. Show casting directors the range of your ability and keep them engaged as they watch your reel.

4. That being said, although a little variety is good, it’s best to make separate reels for comedy and drama. If a casting director is working on a comedy, they want to view only your comedy footage, rather than wasting time looking through dramatic clips. If casting directors want to see your range, they have the option of watching the other reel.

5. Trim down your scenes as much as possible. The scene should move quickly, regardless of whether the viewer is able to understand every detail of the plot and backstory.

6. Never include a flashy opening montage, music or photos. Casting directors do not have time to wade through a long opening while looking for your clips. It’s best for your reel to start with your name and contact info and then transition directly into a scene.

7. Your reel should be compressed into a standard, easy-to-send video format. Stay away from CDs or flash drives. Instead, put your demo reel online somewhere easy to access, such as Vimeo or YouTube.

8. Make sure to label each individual clip so the casting director knows what TV show or film the scene is from. Most importantly, don’t forget to include your contact information at the beginning AND end of your reel.

Written by: Catherine Melillo