All About Actor Demo Reels

What is included in an actor's demo reel?

Typically, an actor will assemble footage (clips) from produced work into a short video that demonstrates their talent and range.

Commercial clips and Theatrical (film, TV, web series) clips are not typically included in the same demo, with actors tending to have a Commercial Reel and a Theatrical Reel. Divisions can go deeper if the actor has a lot of material: Commercial Reel, Dramatic Reel, Comedic Reel, Stunt Reel, Hosting Reel, etc.

Below is my Commercial reel (it probably needs to be tightened up – it’s about 5 minutes!)

What if I don't have any footage from produced work yet?

It seems like every casting call nowadays asks for “a link to your reel,” even if the production is helmed by a student filmmaker. Student filmmakers are usually casting from talent pools consisting of amateur actors or beginners, and it’s likely that these actors have had limited bookings. And it’s very likely that these actors have had problems getting their hands on footage from previous gigs (more on that later). Therefore, they won’t have a demo reel. It’s kind of a Catch 22: You need a reel to be considered, but you have not booked yet so you don’t have a reel… What’s an actor to do?

Can I create my own demo reel?

Absolutely.

  1. Publish your best couple of self-tapes or a stellar monologue or two brimming with emotion.
  2. Pay a company to shoot an original scene for you.

Option 1 is much more affordable, but it might look and sound a bit… well, bad. However, a student filmmaker or first time director might overlook the self-tape/homemade look of it all. With option 2, you might be able to fool the viewer into thinking that they are watching a clip from a film or TV show if the original scene was produced well. But, that nice production value does come with a price tag. And, of course, some casting directors are looking for “broadcast quality” clips, which is impossible with option 1.

Hint: As you book more jobs and acquire more footage, replace your self-tapes and monologues with professional clips.  

If you decide to publish a self-tape or monologue to your YouTube, Vimeo, or online casting site like Current Casting, don’t call it a reel. Call it like it is: David’s Dramatic Monologue as Joe from Killer Joe; David Hogan’s Comedic Self-Tape, etc. Caution: Some audition sides are under NDA, so be careful when publishing self-tapes or any work that has not been produced/published or is part of the public domain.

What should be on my demo reel?

I will get a bit more specific here. Your reel should include your best work in bite sized samples. Everyone is busy, so leave the viewer wanting more by crafting a demo that’s under 2 minutes. 

If you have a lot of footage, you can certainly craft a Full Demo Reel and a Speed Reel (under 2 minutes). Once you have a bit of footage, you can start to categorize your videos: Drama Reel, Comedy Reel, etc. Also, it’s very standard, especially on ActorsAccess.com, to produce single clip demos – “David S. Hogan as Smarmy Politician,” etc. The idea behind all this organization is to make it very easy for casting to see what they need without wasting time. It makes it easier for you, too, and improves your odds at securing that audition appointment. If I see a breakdown for an antagonistic mayor, I am sending my “Smarmy Politician” clip.

The Reel’s Opening: Lead with strength! Make sure all your best stuff comes first in case the viewer only has 30 seconds of time to watch, and start your video whenever possible featuring a clip of you in a tight frame (Medium Shot or tighter).

What about title cards?

Open with your name over black: David S. Hogan, for example. After that, go straight into your first clip featuring you speaking dialogue in a medium shot or closer. It’s standard to place the name of the show/movie in the lower left of the screen. I usually drop it in at the top of the clip, and fade it out after a few beats. You can also leave the project title up the whole time. It does not really matter all that much, in my opinion.

At the very end of your reel, use another title card to reiterate your name, and also add your contact information or agency info. You can also pop a headshot at the end, but I don’t think it’s necessary (they probably have your headshot and they have been looking at you for the whole demo).

Now, speaking of headshots, if you host your reel on Vimeo or YouTube, I do suggest creating a custom thumbnail (1280 x 720 should do) for you reel that has your name and a photo. That tends to look nice and clean. The image below is a screenshot not a headshot, but you get the idea.

Do I need a demo reel?

Considering almost every casting call that I see asks for one, well… Yes. BUT, a professional headshot is a more powerful marketing tool, especially at the early stages of an actor’s journey. And, a bad reel (or bad clip, monologue, etc.), really, really… really stands out. “I’d rather see nothing than see a bad demo reel,” says Marci Liroff. And, honestly, she might be onto something.

I booked it! How do I get my clips???

Welcome to one of the most frustrating aspects of actor marketing. Getting your footage can be challenging, indeed, but you are certainly entitled to it, especially when working on no-budget projects that are compensating you with “Copy, Credit, and Crafty.”

It typically takes at least 6 months to get clips from projects, and sometimes longer. And, of course, sometimes you never get the clips because the project never was completed, you did not make the cut, etc. I suggest being a bit of a squeaky wheel when it comes to checking in and trying to acquire your clips, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. If you’re represented, ask your agent to follow up and check in with the production from time to time.

If you get booked on a big project and you end up in the cinema, on streaming, etc., then you might be able to get an “Aircheck” of your broadcasted work from Archetype DVD or ActorsAccess.

In closing, I will leave you with a reel I crafted a few years back. I like it because it short and it clips along (pun intended). There are a lot of charaters featured, and I wanted to showcase my range a bit. I have been fortunate as an actor to book quality work over the past 10+ years, and since I like to edit and have a passion for marketing, it’s always a treat going back to the “editing bay” to craft a new demo.

If you need your demo reel edited, your headshot taken, or want to talk about taking your career to the next phase, I am only a phone call away.

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