What Agents Want to See on Your Demo Reel

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Let’s cut to the chase: Yes, there are right and wrong ways to put together your reel. If yours isn’t up to snuff, good luck getting it to land anywhere other than the bottom of the slush pile. But, hey, clearly you’re proactive since after all you’re right here reading this article. We want to help you and your reel land a pair of eyes, which is why we’ve rounded up advice from five experts on how to actually get it seen by agents. 

Short and sweet FTW. 
“When you submit your material to an agent, keep it short and sweet. Go with no more than two contrasting reels. And by ‘contrasting’ I mean comedy and drama or film and television. If you don’t have enough footage for that, it’s perfectly fine to send just one. Most importantly, you want every reel to open with your best work. Don’t hide the gold. You’ll be halfway to a meeting if you capture my attention during the first 30 seconds of your reel. And speaking of length, no matter how you choose to do it, each reel should be three minutes long or less. Again: Who has time to watch more than that?” —Secret Agent Man 

Be comprehensive, be concise. 
“It’s that wonderful, 2–3-minute sizzle reel of all of the amazing on-camera work you have done, in nice, short, exciting snippets, complete with high production value, your headshot, your contact information, and an easily email-able link that you can send at a moment’s notice to an agent or casting director. It’s an essential piece of your marketing tools, and one you must take very seriously. Nothing is worse than an agent asking for your demo reel, and you saying, ‘Uh, I don’t really have one.’ Consider that a missed opportunity.” —Matt Newton, on-camera acting coach and Backstage Expert

Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage!

Stop providing reel roadblocks.
“Agents and casting directors looking at a reel only want to know what your heat level is as a performer—something they are very good at discerning if they have decent material to judge by. The less they have to wade through any roadblocks a reel presents, the better. These roadblocks are shoddy production values (the kind you inevitably get with guerrilla film school style projects), too much time spent on other actors, and too much ‘production’ (music, graphics, etc.).” —Brad Holbrook, founder of ActorIntro.com and Backstage Expert

High-quality matters to agents. A lot. 
“I know you’re probably on a tight budget and it’s tempting to just grab your phone and start shooting clips in your basement. Please don’t. This looks unprofessional and will not impress agents. You want the quality of the footage to look as professional as you do, so think about investing in a reasonably-priced production crew to help you (though be wary of companies trying to rip you off. Depending on the length of the reel, how many clips you prefer, how many locations you want to shoot, whether you want a coach on set, edit time, etc., the price will vary. You can expect to spend roughly $1,000–$2,000 depending on these factors. But if you’re getting a quote hovering around the $5,000 or above mark, best to keep looking.” —Nicole Sellars, media coach and Backstage Expert

Get some experience, create your reel, submit to agents—IN THAT ORDER.
“You should have some kind of acting experience before approaching an agent. How do you get experience without an agent? Create your own acting opportunities by self-submitting for projects through sites like Backstage. Do student films or create your own web series. If you are pursuing work on-camera, use the footage from the opportunities you create to put together a reel. Many agents won’t see you without one. Check out casting director sites on social media. Follow them for updates about open calls or self-submission opportunities. Agents do take on ‘development’ clients (talent with limited experience), but the number is low and many of them are straight out of acting school. Agents know that clients with good training can often quickly make up for what they lack in experience.” —Philip Hernández, audition coach, working actor, and Backstage Expert

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