A demo reel or a theatrical reel is a collection of short scenes that showcases your best work as an actor. It lets the viewer know what you’ve done, but more importantly, it shows them the kind of characters you can play. A reel can also be used in the voiceover world, the music world, the directing world, the producing world, etc.
The following are tips I have learned and applied for myself and have shared with others in my artistic community.
**Your reel should be concise and to the point for maximum impact. Your scenes should be 30-35 seconds max. Nobody will sit through a 5-minute, 7-minute, and in some cases I’ve seen, a 10-minute reel! Too freaking long! Trust that people are actually smart and intuitive. They get your casting and your ability to play the part in seconds. Each scene on a reel should give the person watching it just enough to leave them wanting more. Find the “heart” of the scene where you’re shining as your character, where we see the height of what’s going on, hook your viewer with that section and then move on to the next scene.
**Don’t use multiple scenes from the same episode or film in your reel. We already saw you as the U.S. Senator in “House of Cards” or “Scandal” in the beginning of your reel, so we don’t need to see you again as that same U.S. Senator later on in your reel. Similarly, if we already saw a clip of you as a detective from one show, we don’t need to see you playing five other detectives from five other shows on your reel. We got it the first time! You’re a detective! Are the other five detectives going to be vastly different from the first detective we saw? Don’t be redundant. Get to the point. Show us other castings. I think people do that to show off the number of credits they have. They want to show that they have been on numerous network shows or feature films. Remember: Quality vs. Quantity. Things will all look and sound the same if you put five detective scenes on your reel. Pick your best detective scene and let people go to your IMDB page to see the rest of your credits.
**Production value! If you’re just starting out and want to create your reel or if you’ve been in the business for a while and want to update your reel, you can generate your own material and shoot it yourself. Shoot it with high production value so that it can stand up to things that were professionally shot. And for me, production value includes:
- Utilizing a great camera.
- Utilizing great sound equipment.
- Utilizing great lighting equipment.
- Having a small crew of people who are proficient with 1, 2 and 3. Also, having a small crew that can assist in other areas such as production assistance, script supervision, a first AD, etc.
- Writing a scene that puts you in your best, strongest light. A scene that brings out your great acting work. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, the rule of thumb is that one full page of text usually equates to one minute of screen time. So write a half page scene for your reel and keep the scene focused on you since it’s for your reel.
- Rehearsing with your scene partner to carve out the performance.
- Creating a simple, yet effective, shot list. Because this scene is for your reel and it’s to showcase you, a medium, dirty over-the-shoulder shot will do the trick! A dirty shot is a shot that contains some physical intrusion, usually in the form of a body part from another actor, like their shoulder, head, hand, leg or waist. The director may want to make the shot dirty to simply give a sense of distance between the two actors.–actinganswers.com
Here are two examples of a dirty over-the shoulder-shot:
This particular shot keeps us focused on you. It’s your reel. You’re the star. If you want to keep the shot static (where we don’t cut back to the other actor) then make the scene shorter. In this way, you lessen the risk of people losing interest in your scene since it has no one to cut back to. And because of the way the above shots are framed, you can set up a nice and simple production design in the background that gives us a sense of where we are.
**When you edit your reel, find the musical rhythm and flow of it. Is your first scene light and fun and then the rest of your reel alternates between dark and light scenes? Do you start your reel with something light and end it with something light? Do you have three procedural scenes next to each other that need to be broken up by a scene from a different genre? Depending on the scenes you’ve shot, you will arrange them on your editing timeline in a way that creates a musical rhythm and flow.
**As you play the scenes on your editing timeline, make cuts as needed. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, when you look at an entire scene you’ve shot, find the heart of the scene. Feel where the in and out points are in your 30-35 second clip. I’m really good at feeling the in and out points of a scene. As a dancer and as someone who loves music, I can feel where the scene should begin and where it should end. My body does this physical motion of when it feels the scene should begin and where it should end. I hope that makes sense LOL.
When I look at someone’s reel, I’m good at saying, “End the scene right there. Don’t go past that moment.”
Hope these tips help you!