Demo Reels for Actors: Why You Need a Reel & How to Make One
You may have heard the terms “demo reel” or “sizzle reel” in the past, and wondered what that could be. Perhaps an old-fashioned movie-projector reel comes to mind. Today we’ll explain and explore what a demo reel is, and what should be included in yours to have the best chance at being seen by casting directors!
What is a Demo Reel?
A demo reel, or sizzle reel, is a short video containing multiple clips from the projects you’ve done in either theater or film. You typically choose 3-4 projects that you’ve been in for the reel.
What is the purpose of a demo reel?
A demo reel showcases your talent to casting directors. They’re able to see what you look and sound like, as well as your acting abilities and versatility. It also lets them know the quality of the productions you’ve been in so far, and tells them much more than just an acting resume and a headshot.
What should be included in a Demo Reel?
A demo reel should include your very best work, displaying as much versatility as possible. You should include at least 3 projects, but no more than 5, to include in the reel. It also needs your headshot and contact information.
How do I make a Demo Reel?
A demo reel should have clips from professional work that you’ve done, or particularly well-produced monologues and scenes you’ve filmed. You can make a beginning reel by using clips of yourself that you’ve recorded.
-Produce your own footage - if you don’t have any professional footage yet, you can film yourself performing a strong monologue, or a scene with another actor. However, you should always pull focus towards yourself - make it clear who the demo reel is about. Only include clips of you performing, and the camera directly on you. You’ll want a plain background, a well lit room, and a high quality camera. A clip-on microphone would be helpful, but not required as long as your camera has a decent-quality mic on it. This is a beginning reel, after all.
-If you have professional footage - If you’re using footage from live theater that you’ve done, take your favorite clips of yourself from the SD card or CD that the performance was recorded onto. You can insert these clips in a movie maker (such as iMovie) and edit about 30 seconds of your best performances. Try to choose a variety of different roles, to showcase versatility.
If you have roles in film, download the content that you’re in, and insert it into the movie maker - trim it down to around 30 seconds per piece of media, or two 15 second clips from each piece. You don’t want it to be too choppy, or cut off at random. Try to choose strong, complete moments.
Editing your demo reel
-Start with your best footage
When editing your reel, always begin with your strongest footage first. You’ll want to catch the attention of the casting director off the bat, not lose them before the reel becomes enticing.
Don’t include any music, transitions, or frills. Your demo reel should begin with a still image of your headshot, with your phone number, name, and email VERY clearly shown. This should remain on the screen for 4-5 seconds, before going directly into your first clip.
Each clip should go straight into the next, with the title of the project at the bottom of the screen.
After 1-2 minutes of your clips, include a screen at the end with your phone number, location, name, and email. You can also include your website, if you have one.
-Include strong character types
Don’t choose clips of you standing in the background and swaying - pick your strongest characters and moments.
-Make it two minutes or less
It should not exceed two minutes - casting directors are very busy with a LOT of people to see, and they won’t want to spend all day watching your reel.
But how do I get professional footage?
Looking for independent films and student projects is a great way to start getting clips for your demo reels. They often aren’t paid jobs, but you’ll be “paid” with access to your footage for your reel. A lot of directors keep this in mind because they know the footage is very valuable to you.
You can follow Facebook and Instagram pages for schools in your area that have film and theater programs, or sign up for websites like www.actorsaccess.com or www.projectcasting.com which will provide you access to casting calls.
Hopefully this guide will help you on your journey to creating a demo reel. As you continue in your career, you will continue to get more clips with better quality, bigger projects, and more screen time. Continue editing your reel all the time, keeping it updated with your best and more exciting work. Happy editing!
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