Having been on both sides of the camera, and involved in many aspects of production for years, I’ve found an actor’s reel can be their best friend or worst enemy. Nowadays it’s as basic as a headshot. Some castings won’t even consider submissions without one. And it makes sense. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a reel is worth a million times that. I’ve personally sorted through thousands of submissions for a single role, and found myself only looking at those with reels attached. It saves time in deciding who even gets called in, and streamlines the process.
But what in a reel helps get the actor called into a casting, or an agency meeting, or even directly offered a part? What keeps the viewer watching past the five-second mark? Because that’s really all it takes. The answer I’ve found is in remembering the reason why most of the people on a project (and those who are in a position to hire) have banded together in the first place: They’re here to tell a story.
We’ve all seen how most reels go. They’re usually a string of sporadic clips mashed together, often too long, and most of the time…boring. Yes, we see what you look like, but has anything moved us or made us laugh? Were we left wanting more? How can we be when we were just caught up in a cut-and-paste whirlwind anyone with editing software can achieve, with no overall narrative or reason to invest? It is indeed possible to accomplish the kind of viewer investment you need with a well-crafted reel that has a total runtime of 30 seconds to a minute and a half. Movie studios do it all the time with their trailers, and that is exactly how an effective reel plays: like a professional trailer of you.
You are already the work of art you want your audiences and people hiring to see. So what is it that you specifically bring to the projects you’re involved in? What is your voice, and what does it have to say?
The strongest moments in any scene—no matter the genre—are those in which something is happening that truly resonates with the actors themselves. We all have certain sensibilities and things we connect to and want to express. Those things can be found parallel in a lot of our best work. If you know how to find it, there’s an underlining theme that spans throughout that quirky comedy and office drama you may have been in. And that’s what makes you unique and gives you your narrative. Properly weaved together in editing, that’s what will give you a reel someone will invest in, keep watching, and call you in over.
With all the facets of this business, it’s easy to forget the foundation of storytelling that engaged us and made us want to be part of it in the first place. Keep this important element in mind for your reel. People will be more inclined to invite someone on board to help tell a story if they’re already telling one of their own.
Jonathan Castro is a New York-born and raised actor, writer, director, and editor. He runs SizzlingReels.com, and edits reels with a cinematic edge that help his clients stand out from the rest.
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