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An Editor Shares 5 Tips for a Reel That Books Work

An Editor Shares 5 Tips for a Reel That Books Work
Photo Source: @chesterkkm1208 via Twenty20

In this day and age, your first audition takes place digitally so consider your reel to be your best and possibly only chance to get in the room. If you want to be called in for film and television work, the reel better be great and editing is a big part of that.

To help you figure out how to cut a reel that will turn heads in Hollywood, I chatted with master actor reel editor, Suzanne LaChasse. Here’s what she had to say.

1.Keep the reel close to one minute.
“Or even better, 59 seconds! Casting directors are busy. It’s not unusual for them to view hundreds of reels in a single day, so you have to grab their attention and keep it. Powerful and fast cuts. Cuts that land. The four-minute reel is a punchline behind closed doors. It makes CDs sad. Casting will know in less than a minute anyway. Think about your reel like it is a promo for a new TV show that is focused on one actor: you!”

2. Don’t use negatively-phrased dialogue.
“Don’t be a downer in your footage. Any dialogue that is unnecessarily upsetting is garbage for promotional purposes. Go PG-13. It is jarring to hear certain things in the context-free zone of a reel. The negativity piles up and makes the viewer dislike the actor without knowing why.

“I work with my actors to chose lines very carefully for this reason. We want to reveal a full range of emotions and even imply some edge when appropriate. However, it’s best to avoid overwrought lines like: ‘I hate you,’ ‘I can’t do this,’ and ‘I’m nothing!’ We want to make choices that get them to love and trust you as quickly as possible.”

READ: How to Create a Demo Reel

3. Avoid long title cards with a still of your headshot.
“What is it,1995? They already have your headshot, now it’s time to see you in action.”  

4. Use cinematic trailer techniques.
“Casting directors are not just the general viewing public but they will respond to the same uptempo cuts and sound design elements that excite audiences. Simply slapping together clips from a few projects that are slow and focused on other actors won’t work wonders the way B-rolling footage of you looking your best can. This is a preview for you as an actor; it should cook! You can always post and send full scenes that reveal more. This is the initial hook, the sizzle reel, and it should…well, sizzle.”

5. Make bad footage look better.
“Most network footage has to be cleverly cut to focus on just one actor. And not all reel footage is created equal. Often times the clips actors hand me are from indie projects and leave something to be desired. The sound re-recording mix and color correction tools I deploy can really salvage a performance that may go unrecognized due to technical flaws. It takes a fairly seasoned pro to deliver these enhancements. But they are out there. Just be ready to pay a bit extra when you find the editor who is right for you. It will be money well spent. Don’t just give your roommate who edits wedding videos a twelve pack and ask them to produce one of the most important tools you will ever use to forward your career goals.”

Don’t despair if you feel that your current reel misses the mark. Correct forward. Get it handled. If you haven’t been getting called in as much as you’d like, a vastly improved reel could be the game changer you’re looking for. Many thanks to Suzanne LaChasse for her tips!

Ryan R. Williams is a Los Angeles based on-camera acting teacher, founder of Screen Actors System, and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Williams’ full bio

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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