How to Get Your Demo Reel to the Top of an Agent’s Slush Pile

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

I just did the math, and there are 348 ways to edit and post your reels. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration—but it sure feels that way, doesn’t it? Let’s see if we can shed some light on this issue, because reels are more important now than they’ve ever been.

Demo reels serve two purposes: They can be used to attract representation, and once you have an agent, your agent can use them to attract casting directors. These are two different goals, which means your material has to be directed at each one.

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If you’re looking for representation, the worst thing you can do is overwhelm me with material. I often have actors submit a comedy reel, a drama reel, a commercial reel, and then a multitude of shorter clips labeled “businessman,” “tough guy,” “dad,” and more. Who has time to watch all that? What exactly do you think I do all day?

There’s a smarter way. 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?

READ: How to Create Your Demo Reel

Keep in mind that from my perspective, a reel shows just what you have done, not what you’re going to do. The clips give me a sense of the roles you’ve played and how your choices come across on camera. After that, my imagination kicks in as I consider the possibility of working together.

Once you have representation, your agent will help you decide how to best present your material. This is a decision you should make as a team, not on your own. That’s because your agent is the one who’s going to be using those reels now, not you.

Casting directors are busy people, so I like to have choices when one of them wants to see my client’s work. In some cases, I might send the entire reel, because that gives them a broader view of the actor’s ability. In other cases, I might have my client break up a reel with five scenes into five individual clips that spotlight five types of characters. So, if the role is a doctor, I’ve got it. And if the role is a thug, I’ve got that, too.

Reels are in a constant state of change. Sometimes, I’ll sign an actor because I like their reel, and then, a year later, we end up throwing that material out. Why? Because the actor has booked enough work to cut a new and improved reel.

And as I said earlier, less is more. There’s no need to keep clips on your reel from every single job you’ve booked since the day you disappointed your parents by telling them you wanted to be an actor. (I kid!) Reels are ultimately a means to an end and should consistently grow and improve as you grow and improve. They are not a full-blown career retrospective.

Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s Los Angeles audition listings!

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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