Well, you’ve made it. You’ve come to the realization that headshots only go so far when it comes to convincing casting directors. Hell, in all honesty, an audition goes so far when it comes to convincing casting directors. As an actor-turned-producer-turned-studio-exec, I have learned one thing and one thing only about how actors get cast. Now make sure you’re paying attention because the sooner you get it, the sooner we can move forward with your career.
Here it is.
You can be the most talented actor in the world. You can have years and years of acting class under your belt. You can know every Marlon Brando or Meryl Streep movie ever made. But if you can’t sell tickets, you are not the right choice.
I know that hurts to hear. We are artists! The casting director should fall in love with our performances and cast us. Nope. The CD director has already decided who they’re going to cast before your amazing audition. Trust me. The part does not go to the best audition—it was decided before you walked into the room and it wasn’t from a headshot.
It was from the actor’s résumé, fan base, look, relationships with agents and other industry reps, and most importantly, their demo reels.
Your demo reel is the first time we get a feeling from you. I’ve done many projects where I cast an actor straight from his or her demo reel. (My assistants can attest; they hear me yell, “That’s her! That’s the character. That’s the girl! She’s great! She’s a star!”) Sometimes I even think the audition is a waste of time. I mean, are you going to make Scarlette Johannson audition? Or do you know what she has to offer based on her previous performances? Exactly.
So while you build up the rest of your actor foundation listed above, let’s get down to business, something you can take care of right now: your demo reel.
1. No long performances.
We have hundreds of these to get through; we do not have time to sit through a two-minute, one-character scene. Instead, opt of three 30-second scenes. That’s what we need; anything else is a waste of both our time. I want to quickly see a variety that showcases your character work, versatility, and who you are as a person.
2. Be honest with yourself.
I came to Hollywood because I wanted to be the next Marlon Brando and so when I made my first demo reel, I put the “serious leading man” scene first despite what my real strengths were. The stuff that really made me stand out from a crowd was comedy and playing the bad guy, no matter how much I didn’t want to believe it. It was only after years of failure that I came to my senses and reworked my reel to showcase my strengths up top: bad guy, then comedy, then leading man. Shortly after, I booked two episodes of “Criminal Minds” as the bad guy.
Do like Tom Hanks: He knew he would start out as a goofy comedic actor with sentimental value. Now he has dozens of awards to his name. Be honest with yourself, at least in the beginning.
A demo reel does not have to be sequential and formal and boring. Make that $#!T pop! Add background music. Make it exciting. Make your demo reel a trailer for yourself, for the movie of you.
4. Don’t skimp.
I highly suggest using professionally-produced footage but if you know you’d make a perfect cop and haven’t had the chance to play one yet, or if you’re not the lead in any of your footage, hire someone to get that footage for you! It will pay you back tenfold with one single co-star booking.
5. Stand out.
If you’re cute, choose a scene that makes you as cute as possible. If you’re scary, choose a scene that makes you scary as possible. If your funny...you get it. Find the right coach or the right company that is going to make casting directors truly fall in love with you. Make a scene so beautiful that they’re moved or make a scene so terrifying they don’t want to keep watching but can’t look away.
This is a business. We are selling you. You need the scenes that are going to give the decision makers the best hit.
The reason that you got into acting is because this business gave you a feeling when you were a child or when you were working that 9-to-5 dreaming of a better, different life. Those feeling movies gave you? Now you have to for your audience. Present that feeling in your demo reel and they won’t be able to look away.
Charles S. Frank is an actor, writer, and CEO and founder of Lucky Frank Studios. He has been producing and acting in L.A. for five years. As roles and productions no longer started to interest him, he knew the only way to become fulfilled was to create his own production company. He has been bouncing around from couch to couch, auditioning for small roles and big roles, then one day he decided to start up his own production company. He is now a regular expert at Backstage and is enjoying every minute of his Hollywood adventure.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.