My mother once got Aaron Spelling to agree to look at my acting reel just by calling him over and over and asking real nice. True story. Did he watch it? What did he think? I’ll never know. But I learned one thing. Be ready with a kick-ass reel if someone DOES ask for it. And be up to date on how to present it.
Ultimately when you are starting out, agents want to see what you look like on tape…. & hopefully see you have some talent as well. If they haven’t met you before, casting directors are looking to see if you fit a certain role, or they may use the tape to pitch you to a director or producer.
So their needs are different, and that means you need to present the reel in several different ways.
BELOW ARE SUGGESTIONS FOR BEST PRACTICES to Create a Reel that Will Get You Noticed!
If you are looking for representation and will be going out for co-stars (very small supporting roles that can be filmed in 1 day) have a 1:30-2 min reel ready.
If you start going out for recurring guest stars and especially series regulars, have a 5 min reel ready.
In both cases, put the BEST stuff FIRST. Odds are the whole thing won’t get watched anyway, so definitely open with your strongest work.
Also in both cases, the focus needs to be on YOU; if another actor has a big chunk of dialogue, cut it if you can; it’s YOUR reel, so we want to see as much of you as possible – not some other rando actor! (or the series regular you had your scene with).
I was told by a casting person that one of their clients sent a reel where he didn’t even speak until 18 seconds into it.
It’s important that you are TALKING at the top of the reel; no need to open with some long, artsy fartsy, slow-motion shot, panning the skyline.
A reel is not the place for that; you just want to show what you look and sound like on camera, so they get a sense of YOU.
Of course, the quality needs to be excellent and professional- well-lit, good quality sound, writing, etc. If you aren’t sure what industry standards are like, ask someone you trust (a casting director or your agent) BEFORE you post it for all the world to see. Ask other actors that you know to look at their showreels so you can compare quality. If you don’t have professional footage to start with, you should consider investing in a videographer to get some decent quality footage of you that sounds good.
Once you have enough material you can do a comedy and drama reel, some people like it, I suggest it.
If it is a theatrical reel I shy away from putting a commercial in it at all or at least not the first bit at the top of the reel.
I actually have a completely separate reel for commercials as well as for comedy and drama.
Most importantly for casting directors, you want to have each scene or example posted separately NOT as a full-length reel. These can be just 5-20 seconds long and the point is to just show you as one particular character. For each scene label it with the genre and the character. For example: “DRAMA- Criminal Minds- Serial Killer.”
This way, when you/your agent is submitting you, they can select the clip that is most appropriate for the specific role. i.e., if it’s the role of a killer, and you have a clip where you’re a killer, it’s much more effective to just submit that clip, rather than your whole reel, where the killer clip may not be until the end. It streamlines the process for casting.
Don’t give the casting director a DVD or a thumb drive of your reel. Put in online and give them access to it. There are a number of ways you can do this; an unlisted YouTube or Vimeo link, a link to your Dropbox, with everything filed in there. Make sure you have a compressed and easy to send video file for those who for ask it, with a full file and download for the high res stuff available. Don’t let Casting Directors get frustrated by trying to access your reel.
When you do post your reels (and clips) make sure the thumbnail of the reel is also a clear shot of YOU (maybe even your headshot); but not a wide shot of you and someone else, or something else altogether. If it’s a clip for a particular character, make the headshot the one that matches!
Good luck with getting your reel together!