So you’re thinking about undertaking the task of shooting your own footage for your reel. You’ve done your research, nailed down your casting, and you know what you’re selling. Now the hard part: playing producer and pulling it all together. How do you connect the dots to get from here to there?
As actors, we really want to tell the story. We want the beginning, middle, and end of a scene so that we can really show our range. A few years ago, my reel was much too long with way too much coverage of other actors. It was just so tough for me to edit my footage down. But alas, the industry is evolving. Casting can make a decision about whether you’re right for a role in just a few seconds.
But how can you show them everything you can do and still accomplish that in a fairly limited amount of time? Here are three tips on how to navigate through pre-production for shooting your own created reel footage.
1. The writing must be true to your casting. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but don’t underestimate this important step. You’ve gone through the trouble of getting your specific casting down. Now bring that character to life with spot-on, compelling writing that supports that. You have very little time to show them what you’ve got so don’t focus on telling a story; focus on showing them you can play the role. Are you the whip-smart medical intern? Or maybe you’re the corrupt detective, the stern lawyer, or the awkward high school nerd. Within the first ten seconds, the viewer should understand the premise of the scene: who you are, to whom you’re speaking, and a basic understanding of the situation. If you’re not comfortable writing something like this for yourself, you may find that going to friends or other creatives in your network will give you the best chance at hitting your casting on the mark.
2. Maintain a high speaking ratio in a limited amount of screen time. Get the most bang for your buck! It’s your reel. Every second counts. Share as little screen time as possible. Imagine your dream scene—written specifically for you to show off your strengths—and convince the viewer you can believably play that role.
3. Quality over quantity. Production value counts. This isn’t an audition video that you can shoot against a blank wall or a curtain. It should look like a real clip from network TV or film. Do not attempt this on your own if you don’t know the basics of lighting, sound, and filmmaking. Again, reach out to your network of friends with equipment and the know-how to use it, and then keep it simple. It’s not about a lot of action or the set or the props. It’s about you and your talent.
Remember you’re likely competing against actors who have footage from TV or film, and ultimately, you want your reel to be on the same level as those reels. It should stand out for all the right reasons—your acting chops, great writing, and excellent production quality. If it stands out because it looks and sounds like a home movie or like you shot it with your smart phone, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Retta Putignano is partner and head writer of Create Your Reel (CYR), the Los Angeles-based demo reel production company, which writes, shoots, and edits custom footage for actor demo reels. Since launching in 2009, CYR has created reels for more than 800 clients. CYR was voted “Best Demo Reel Producer” by the Backstage Readers Choice Awards, and is happy to continue serving Los Angeles talent and the many actors who have flown in from all over the globe to shoot with them. Follow Create Your Reel on Facebook, Twitter @CreateYourReel, and at www.createyourreel.com.
Originally from Chicago, Retta is also an actor, producer, and graduate of the Second City Chicago Conservatory. She has appeared in more than 20 short films and three features. One film earned the Best Drama Award from the Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences. She has been a writing mentor for nine years with the Los Angeles-based non-profit www.WriteGirl.org, and her work has been published for as many years in their award-winning anthologies. Follow Retta on Twitter @RettaPutignano.