Planet Video, Los Angeles (www.planet-video.com)
Doing too much in their montages. Even having a montage. Directors and casting directors really want to cut to the chase with you, not see little bits of everything you've ever done.
When it comes to making the reel, it's really important to come in prepared and know what you want to use and have it time-coded, ready to load in. That saves a lot of time and money.
As for the reel itself, I'd say it's a huge mistake to use any kind of theater stuff, unless it was really done professionally, with the full three cameras for close-ups and all. A lot of it is basic common sense, but as you advance, you should update your reel regularly, especially as the things you perform in are better quality. Try to get in as much work as you can, but be really picky and know who you are and what's going to sell. Pick the films you're going to use accordingly, especially if you're mainly doing student films and independent things.
You want to show variety and quality. It's your résumé and your calling card. You're saying, "This is why you should hire me." Casting has plenty of options—people who look just like you and want a role just as much if not more—so put your best foot forward.
QuickNickel Video, Los Angeles (www.quicknickel.com)
At the heart of it, actors mistake the purpose of the demo reel. They think it should be designed to get them a job, but that's wrong. Its purpose is to make people less terrified to hire you, because they get fired for picking the wrong actor. Before they're going to risk their careers on you, they have to know that you can do the job. So you want it to demonstrate that you can play the jealous boyfriend or the bitchy best friend. It's not about looks or motives or close-ups. It's about letting them know you can show up, do the job the first time, and go home.
EditPlus, Los Angeles (www.editplus.tv)
Though assembling video clips together in sequence is somewhat easy today with editing software on most computers, the difference an editing professional brings to the material can be like night and day. Since this business is competitive and only one actor will get the part, you should use any advantage you can get.
It's like you and your friends playing basketball against the Lakers. You and your buddies can play ball, but can you compete against the skills of those who have years of experience and play all the time? A self-edited demo may suffice for work in nonunion and unpaid projects, but if you're submitting for paid work in broadcast television or feature films, you need a professionally edited demo reel.
Some actors believe that any demo is better than no demo at all. I disagree. You should only present your best work, and if you have only one good clip, that's enough to use as a sample of your ability and a place to start. The temptation many actors have is to include variety—quantity over quality. Let me tell you: Quality will stand out every time. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.
When I review reels edited by actors or their friends, I find there are useless "favorites" included that don't help the actor present him- or herself in the best way. The agent or casting director doesn't know that the scene was included because it has your favorite look, or it's your favorite part, or you wanted to show an action scene. They're watching to see your acting, to determine whether you're worth considering for representation or a project.
Reel Spiel Productions, New York (www.reelspiel.com)
Reels that are too long are a bad idea. You want to let the viewers know why you're unique but leave them wanting more. A great reel should be like an entertaining, informative trailer that makes the viewer yearn to see the feature attraction, which is you.
On a technical note, another one of the biggest industry pet peeves is when the volume varies from clip to clip. This can be very annoying for the viewer, not to mention that his or her attention is now focused on adjusting the volume instead of on your performance. Therefore, the volume levels throughout the reel should be equalized, so the volume is consistent and the viewer can concentrate on you.
Edge Studio, New York, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut (www.edgestudio.com)
Probably 99 percent of actors who put together reels don't consider it from the recipient's end. I work more in voiceover, and what typically happens is the demo is loaded with commercials. But only about 3 percent of the work out there is commercial, so only about 3 percent of what we cast is commercial work. It's a bit ridiculous. They end up waiting tables because they're marketing something for which there doesn't exist much work.
There's also a lack of appropriate packaging. If you buy a CD at a store, along the spine it has the name, so if you're sending one out, you ought to have your name there. Don't skip that and save the couple cents. If I like it and put it on my shelf, make it so I can actually find it.
Pick a strength and market to it. You're only going to be really good at a few things; don't try to be a jack-of-all-trades. You'll be a lot more successful if you pick only the things you're really great at. Think about where you belong and take it seriously.
Last, people don't appropriately follow up. You have to follow up if you want work. I don't know why people don't do that in this industry. They do it in almost every other one. Send a follow-up letter. You can call or email, but a letter goes a long way these days. If you don't, then why even bother?