When I started teaching actors about the business and how they can empower themselves, it was common to see demo reels that ran between 5-10 minutes long! Now it's more common to see 30/60/90 second reels.
My, how times have changed! I imagine the next time I write about this topic it'll have changed again.
Here's the skinny on what you need to know about making your demo reel.
1. Front-load your reel with your strongest and newest footage. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see actors make with their demo reels. Use the footage that features YOU. If you're in a scene with Will Smith, but it's really his scene and it barely features you, you're going to look like a background player and aren't going to impress anyone. Don’t use scenes where the other person is out-shining you. You want the viewer to be riveted to YOU. Yes, I'm very impressed that you actually got cast in a scene opposite Will Smith, but if you come off looking like an extra in the scene, I'm not going to be so impressed. Unfortunately, when I play demos for producers, directors, and executives, they usually have the attention span of a gnat and will only watch the first few moments, unless you’ve really caught their attention. So make your opening great. Don’t go on and on in those photo montages with music in the background in your opening. If you're going to do that, I suggest it be no longer than 7 seconds. Or better yet, do that montage at the end. Also, don't go too far back into your repertoire. If you’re pushing 50, the scene when you were 20 will only confuse people and, sorry honey, you're not that guy anymore!
2. It's quality, not quantity. At the very least, make sure it is of broadcast quality in both picture and sound. Don't put poor quality footage on your reel, it only makes you look bad, really bad! With so many actors self-producing content these days, remember it has to look just as good as the footage we're seeing on television and in the theaters. If the quality is "less than," it reflects on you. Have someone with an objective eye (i.e. not a family member or good friend) go through your reel to help you edit. Be discerning. Imagine you're the buyer. You don't need to put something on your reel just because you were in it. It needs to be great footage. If it doesn't show you in the best of light, don't use it. If it looks homemade, like so much of the self-produced content I see, don't use it! I'd rather see no footage than bad footage. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube!
3. Make separate reels for comedy and drama. If I'm casting a comedy, I want to view and show just your comedy footage and vice-versa. If we want to see your range, we can always view the other reel, but I find that most of the filmmakers I work with want to see just your comedy footage if we're doing a comedy and don't want to wade through all the drama footage on your reel.
4. Label your clips. I really appreciate it when the clips are labeled at the top of the clip so that I know what show/movie this clip is from. Also, make sure your contact information is easily viewable on the video. I can't tell you how many times I receive reels from actors and their contact information is nowhere to be found!
5. Try clips instead of demos. These are very useful as well. Each clip is self-contained and runs about 30-60 seconds. This way, there's a large variety of clips to choose from and I can pick and choose what I want to see (and send to my team). This seems to be the norm these days.
6. Upload your demo reel/clips to your profile page on the various online sites. This allows for easy viewing of your reel/clips along with your resumé and photos. You should also upload your reel/clips to your IMDb profile page. If you have a website, then you should make your demo reel/clips available there as well. If you're going to upload your reel to a site like YouTube or Vimeo, please make sure you have your contact info easily viewable, either on the video itself or in the description area. (Or you could post it in both places!) These days, a lot of casting directors and comedy talent scouts are combing the web for new faces. Don't forget to include your website, Twitter handle, and Facebook Page (if you have one). This helps to market yourself across many different social media platforms.
7. Make it easy for people. I really don't like receiving large files to my email from You Send It when I'm working on a project. I just don't have the time to download these files. Remember, it's not just your video file; I receive hundreds of them. You want to make it really easy for people to view your reel. Send an easily clickable link.
Known for her work in film and television, Casting Director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned a DVD, which features the highlights of the Audition Bootcamp classes.