How to Create a Commercial Reel

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A commercial reel is a short video compilation of all your previous commercial work. A reel is your intro to new agents or casting directors who want to understand the scope of your work. It’s your handshake, your first hello, an introduction. 

To make a great reel, however, you first need to understand what kind of actor you are at the moment. Have you filmed a commercial before or not? If you haven’t booked any work, don’t despair! I once asked my commercial agent about the importance of having a reel when first starting out and he dismissed the notion it was imperative. He said, “When I meet you, I just want to know who you are, how you deal with people, what you’ll be like in the audition room. A reel isn’t necessarily going to tell me that. Sure, a reel helps me know you’ve worked and have set experience, but we work with beginning actors with no set experience all the time. You have to start somewhere.”

If you’ve only booked one commercial, that’s not a reel. That’s a clip on your website. If you’ve booked two, that’s a reel! But how do you make a reel?

How to Become a Commercial Actor

Well, first you have to get the material. With the invention of ISpot.tv, YouTube, and Vimeo, access to the work is easier than ever. You can find your clip, download it, and get it ready to edit. You should however also get a copy of the spot. To ensure you do, I suggest you find the “shiner” when you’re on set. When you show up on set, you’ll see the video village. The video village is a small set up of monitors and director’s chairs. This is where the production team and advertising team is watching what is being shot on set. Always say hi at the top of the day and always say bye when you’re done.

There’s always going to be someone in the video village who “shines” at you a little bit when you say hi, who brightens when you’re around. Why are they shining at you? Well, they fought for you in the callback and you got booked and now they’re looking pretty good. Get a business card from them by the end of the day. You can ask them when and where the spot is going to run, and if they could get you a hard copy of the spot. Usually, they’ll bend over backward for you, or point you to someone who will. 

Once you have material it’s pretty easy. Make sure to have a slate card with your name or rep information and make sure that the card is at the top and tail of your reel. Play with the order of the spots. Add music if it helps. Find the flow and write it like a small movie. Show it to friends and your reps before releasing it out into the world, and keep it updated. Always include your last spot booked on it to keep it fresh. 

Once it’s finished, put it on every social media platform you have. Tweet, post, and Instagram the heck out of it. Let everyone know you’re working because work begets work. Your reel lets future bosses know you’re bookable and ready for more work. 

*This post was originally published on Dec. 17, 2019. It has since been updated.

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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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Bill Coelius
Bill Coelius has been in numerous television, movies, and over 50 national commercials. He also teaches acting in New York, Los Angeles, Portland, and Detroit.
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