A Casting Director on How To Make Your First Reel

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One of the most important promotional tools in your actor arsenal is a demo reel and it’s critically important to have a properly produced one. Since actors regularly ask me how to put theirs together, I thought I’d compile some guidelines for creating a quality reel.

Why do I need a reel?
Your demo reel should be an accurate representation of yourself, your personality, experience, and abilities. A good demo reel can give you an advantage on getting called into auditions. It gives the casting director, producers, and director a look at your talent and abilities.

How long should my reel be?
A reel should be no more than 2–3 minutes at most. The first few scenes are often more than enough for us to get what we need to know about your look, style, and acting ability. We scan through reels quickly and once we get the essence of who you are, we stop watching so reels absolutely do not need to be any longer than three minutes, max.

What type of scenes should be on my reel?
Focus on showcasing your range: the types of roles and characters you can play. Don’t include four scenes from the same project, playing the same character. Pick the best one or two scenes from that project and then diversify. We want to see a variety of roles and scenes across drama, comedy, action, etc., showcasing your range of looks and skills.

Another option is to use scenes from past auditions that show your acting ability. This can be a good source for a wide range of scene content. On one movie I recently cast, I read an actor for a small role. The part didn’t have a lot of lines but her manager sent me clips of her previous auditions that really showed her talent. When I sent her audition to the producers, I also included the audition link and she booked the job, largely because of the audition footage.

When selecting scenes for your reel, do not include anything you are not proud of or is not the best representation of you. If you don’t feel it is your best acting, it probably isn’t—leave it off.

Other things to leave off your reel? Filmed theater acting from a distance that doesn’t allow us to see your acting close up. Anything with bad sound or lighting is also a negative. Your acting may be great, but it won’t matter if we can’t see or hear you.

How should I put my reel together?
A demo reel should show your most marketable qualities. First impressions matter, so always put your best footage first. If you have scenes with well-known actors, definitely put those first as they’ll grab our attention.

Make sure that your reel includes your name and contact info, or your agent or manager’s contact information. Then get straight into the scenes! It is not necessary to do a collage of pictures or a montage of quick moments of projects you have done. Keep it simple!

Reels should look as professional as possible. If you know how to edit, go for it! Otherwise, spend the money to have it professionally edited. It’s critically important that your demo reel looks and sounds great, and that it’s the best representation of you. An unprofessional demo reel makes you look like an amateur and can easily kill your chance for an audition.

How do you create a reel if you do not have a number of credits?
If you don’t have a lot of scenes from movies or television, you should create scenes to be filmed. Get a couple of actors together and write a short scene. Get a good director and/or a cinematographer who knows how to light it, film it, and make sure the sound is great.

Student films can also be a good place to get some footage. Just make sure when you book one that they give you the footage for your reel.

A demo reel is an important part of an actor’s toolbox. Have fun and enjoy putting something together that you’re excited for others to watch and that could open the door to your next job!

Looking for remote work? Backstage has got you covered! Click here for auditions you can do from home!

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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Lisa London
Lisa London has been a casting director for more than 60 films and television shows. Over the last 25 years, she has cast projects for Sony, Disney Channel, HBO, Nickelodeon, Screen Gems, Universal, Columbia Pictures, and ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Amazon.
See full bio and articles here!

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