Demo Reel Tips: Take 2

We’ve done a lot of stories recently about how to effectively record and send audition videos. Keeping in line with this, another important video tool to have in your acting arsenal is a demo reel. We already covered some of the basics on how to properly construct a demo reel in the article Demo Reel Tips but with all the latest advancements in video technology and the ever-evolving landscape of the entertainment industry, it’s good to stay current on the latest video trends, and exactly what types of demo reels casting offices are really responding to these days.

Keep it short and sweet

This rule is a staple and a must for all demo reels. Casting directors, producers, and other creative types simply do not have the time to watch 10 minute demo reels for every actor they are interested in. A demo reel isn’t a short film – it’s a short compendium of your best work. Keep your reel to about 5-6 minutes, although even 6 minutes is pushing it.

Front load your material

However, even if you are able to keep your demo reel to about 5 minutes, there’s no guarantee that it will be watched in its entirety. Casting offices watch dozens upon dozens of demo reels each day, so they, understandably, tend to quickly skim through demo reels. Because of this, always have your BEST material at the front of your demo reel. I’ll get into what constitutes the “best” material a little later, but think of the first minute of your reel as your chance to hook your viewers. The better the hook, the greater the chances that your entire demo reel will be watched. Even if your viewer stops watching your demo reel after the first few minutes, at least they will have already seen the “better” part of your work.

Montages?

Demo reel montages are still quite popular and common. Although they are unnecessary on the whole, if you have a lot of action-centric video clips, and or smaller roles on notable projects, it’s fine to edit them all together to make a fun, quick montage. Your montage, if you choose to include one, should be at the very end of your demo reel. Once again, only use a montage if you actually have worthwhile and entertaining footage that can be spliced together. Don’t view it as a way to cram all of your other video clips together. Your montage is totally optional, and if you do choose to use one, it should enhance your overall reel, not detract.

I don’t have any good footage. Can I include self-recorded auditions?

Short answer: NO. A demo reel should always be a compendium of your official acting work (i.e. television and film). Including auditions that you recorded yourself or any other self-made production almost never looks good in a reel, and will immediately flag you as a “green” actor by those that view your video. Note: it’s totally fine to have really good self-recorded auditions for your files as there are occasions when someone may want to see any kind of video of you, but, once again, these auditions should be kept separate and not included in your official demo reel.

The technical stuff

Technologically, casting offices like to keep things simple and streamlined. When sending your demo reel to a casting office, you should treat it like you’re sending a self-recorded audition. Just like recorded auditions, casting offices prefer the actual video file of your demo reel, as opposed to a streaming link on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Like all your other videos, Cast It Talent is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to manage and send your demo reel. When a major casting office requests a demo reel, they almost always upload that reel to their Cast It account, which means that sending your reel to them via Cast It Talent is by far the best. Just like a recorded audition, the format of your demo reel is also important – try and keep your videos in mp4, mov, or avi formats. Of course, if you’re using Cast It Talent to send your demo reel you don’t have to worry about video formats since your video will be auto-formatted into a universal standard. It is also important to note that casting offices also immensely prefer demo reels that are in a single, self-contained file.

There are several websites and services on the market that “specialize” in hosting actor demo reels, but, besides for being significantly more expensive (they tend to charge you per clip, minute, or by how much data you use), many of these services display all of your video clips separately, and, when downloaded, all come in separate files. This obviously aggravates casting offices because it entails more work for them since they have to download multiple files for one actor, and then find a way to edit them all together (if possible). For more details on the various “technical” aspects of actor videos, check out our article Self Recording Auditions: Advanced Tips.

One reel vs. multiple reels vs. no reels

Although every actor should have (or eventually have) a single, go-to demo reel, it is not uncommon to need separate, specialized reels. Some actors find it particularly useful to separate their demo reels into categories – the most common being dramatic, comedic, and commercial.  Making separate reels is especially useful for actors that are often pigeon-holed into a specific type, i.e. a casting office may think of someone as mainly a “comedic” or “character” actor, thus not open to seeing that person for more serious, dramatic roles. In this case, a well-done dramatic reel could be just what this actor needs to change people’s thinking! If you’re an actor that is often typecast a certain way, having a demo reel that shows you in a completely different light can be very useful.

Although having a good demo reel(s) should be part of every actor’s package (headshot, resume, press); a common assumption about having a reel is that it’s, “Better to have something, rather than nothing.” This mindset is absolutely false, as a poorly done demo reel can actually do more harm than good. Simply put, if you have good footage of your work, make a demo reel. If you don’t have anything good, DON’T make a reel – simple as that. If someone is hard pressing you for some kind of footage, send them a high quality self-recorded audition as mentioned above.

What people are really looking for in your reel

When it comes down to it, all other notes aside, the people viewing your demo reel are always looking for two key elements: What you’re in and How you look. Not to nullify everything previously mentioned, but if you absolutely nail these two traits in your demo reel, all other flaws will probably be easily overlooked.

What you’re in. Simply put, the show/film you are in and who your scenes are with are crucial factors that determine the attractiveness of your demo reel. Casting directors and executives tend to always respond favorably to actors that have footage from current, critically acclaimed shows, or feature films – even more so if your scenes are with any A-list actors. For example, a casting office recently requested a demo reel for one of my clients. This actor is relatively unknown, and his demo reel is sparse, but his reel did contain footage of him in a recent film where he played opposite Nicole Kidman. Although his role was a modest supporting character in the film, the fact that his demo was frontloaded with scenes between him and Nicole really made his video pop in the eyes of the casting director.

Conversely, if your demo reel begins with a TV clip of you doing an episode of Friends, you might receive the opposite effect. Although Friends was a huge hit back in the day, the show is definitely dated by today’s standards. Because of this, if someone views a demo reel where all of the TV footage is from a show in the 90s, the viewer will immediately think, “Was that really the last TV show that actor was in?” “What have they been doing since then?” Even if said actor went on to book work in other, more current shows, if that footage isn’t prominently displayed in the demo reel, its viewers will easily develop false assumptions and judgments about the actor.

How you look is the second big factor since much of the reason why people want to see your demo reel is so that they can get a better idea of how you look on camera. Because of this, production value really does matter, and clips that are of poor video/audio quality will speak volumes against the actor. Your demo reel is meant to showcase not just your acting ability, but also your “look”.  Assuming that you are the one putting together your demo reel (or at least in charge of it), you should obviously choose footage that portraits you in the manner you want to be portrayed.

Cutting together a top notch demo reel can be a long and tricky process. Hopefully everything we’ve mentioned above will give you a better idea of what the Hollywood higher ups are looking for when they watch your reel!

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Kyle

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