Upon my completion of last week’s column, I came across a video post from an aspiring actor on Facebook. The feelings I felt were of dismay, amusement and more. #SMH This in turn has inspired this week’s subject of Demo Reel. Also known as Reel, Show Reel and others. Now this particular actor on FB was feeling the “I can’t virus” I can’t do this because I do not have a demo reel. I can’t do that because I do not have a demo reel. I should be SAG now if only I had a demo reel…. etc. I am not sure how the SAG comes into play, but we shall leave that aside for now. Part of my dismay was that this actor was spreading the “I can’t” to many others who are in the beginning of their acting career and basically feeding them incorrect information. A negative or defeatist attitude will get you nowhere in this business. The actor also went on to complain how he/she works on projects for free to receive his/her reel clips and film credit. Yet he/she does not receive them form the productions. I understand that. However, I do not find complaining openly to be a good practice for aspiring actors. I also believe it is not good practice to complain about it on a public platform as it may be offensive to past filmmakers the actor has worked with as well as future. I will tell you now that you will very rarely get a clip. Most will be had by clipping it yourself when the film project is released. More on that later. Also keep in mind that even as a SAG actor, and receiving a clip is written in your contract. Yet it will still be very seldom that you receive your clips from production. I also feel that you should never work for free. You are or should be better than that.
Let us get real about Demo Reel. As always these are my opinions from my personal experience and perhaps some of others that I shall leave nameless. It will be up to you to take from this what you wish. I will begin by telling you now that your career as a beginning actor does not rely on your demo reel. When I began, all I had was headshots. They were my priority as I feel that is your first step in the door. You are starting out as a bit actor so your headshot character looks will be of more importance at this stage of the game. As time goes by, your resume of released projects will grow, as well as your popularity. Heavy notice on “released projects”. Something with the quality to warrant a festival or theatrical release. Not someones hobby project. Lord knows that there are many out there. Be selective! As you move forward, your headshots will become less important and a demo reel more so. I found that as a beginning actor your reel is seldom reviewed until the headshot is looked over and agreed on. It will be your headshot as well as an industry standard, professionally written resume that will open those early doors. Concentrate on those first, and the rest shall come. Do not ask acting friends, local agents and local photographers what is needed as far as a correct headshot and resume. I advise you to do an internet search of what the most preferred and current headshot style, and resume is. Do not stop at one article, find many. This is very subjective in the industry so find the answers directly yourself.
The making of a Demo Reel can be performed in many ways. Some I advise and some I do not. Soooo, let us see if I can give you a clear picture here. There are many who are of the belief that it will be good to get together with friends and make a demo reel for the bunch. Hey, we have access to all the needed equipment through friends, and friends that need demo reel. We can do this! Keep in mind you need to get the script written and all these striving actors on a schedule when I am sure that many have regular jobs. There are also groups/companies that will charge you to make some demo reel for you. I do not recommend this as well. I too considered these types of homemade reels in the beginning until I saw some of them. A friend who talked me into jumping into this crazy wonderful business had one done. While watching his, it really did nothing for me. My thoughts were that it looked amateurish and unchallenging. Much of the time these forms of put together demo reels do not accent you in the best light. They are very fake and contrived and I honestly have not seen any actor get anywhere from these. Also, you are still at the mercy of waiting for someone to edit and get the reel completed. Meanwhile you could already be moving and shaking. I once received great advice from a known director, Rich Sichler. He is known for movies such as “Heat”, “Castaway” and series like “Better Call Saul” and Hawaii Five O”. He informed me that a great way to get started is with a Student Film for demo reel. The college film student has the equipment, and a deadline for the project as it is part of a final grade. Also, the student is usually taught by professors who have worked in the film industry. You may end up being seen by some connected and experienced people. You see my acting friends with the test deadline you get your reel rather quickly. I did one of these when I started. The first and last time I worked for free…lol It turned out wonderful. The student short film won an award at the college. I received all kinds of kudo’s when the professors saw me walking the campus, and I had a demo reel clip. It was quite well done and today is still in my portfolio. I highly recommend this to you wonderful future A listers! Most colleges have a film program. There are usually casting calls listed at the college and you can also turn your headshots and resume into the film program. The film students are able to review you, and have you audition. I would also recommend a taped monologue as a reel. This will highlight only you and I feel gives the Director a better idea of your acting ability. It is all about you, and there is nothing taking the attention away from your skills. Perform various takes with different emotions. It will also show your ability to perform a well put together audition. This will show your drive and fortitude to be an actor. If the acting is quality, then I actually prefer it to a scene clip. Some food for thought of reality to send your way though. Most productions really want a demo reel to be clips that derive from a professionally released film production. How do you get there?
There are many productions that will audition off your headshot and resume. Many of these types are reenactment series. You will be familiar with many names of these on the ID (Investigation Discovery) channel on cable TV. Titles such as “Your Worst Nightmare”, “Dead Silent”, Homicide Hunter”, and many others. This is where I would recommend you get some fast production quality reel. The shows are usually quite dramatic as well. They will give you a wonderful test of your acting skills. Please do refer to my first Master Class column on auditions. That will help you greatly with what they are looking for. Hmmm, where was I? Oh yes, these types of shows have an extremely fast turnaround. They will usually air within a few months after principal photography. The production will also send you a personal link to the entire show. From there you can catch a video screen capture for your scene clips. Most computers have this screen capture capability. For Windows, the screen capture is the Windows logo and the key G together. Doing that will open the video program needed. Use that please. Do not use a camera taping it off the TV. So tacky looking when that is done. It shows that you do not take the craft serious enough to find a better way. There is always a way!
Getting to the series. No, not the World Series but these TV shows. #giigle Ok, so I am not a comedian. Not yet that is! You may think that you will now need an agent to get the breakdowns to these TV show. To get an agent you will need experience and what else? A Demo Reel! Agents may like to make you think that but noooo. Over 90% of my work is procured by me and not one of my Agencies. You are better at selling yourself so why rely on someone else? Most of these series are cast on AA (Actor’s Access) and a few more on Backstage Magazine. Set up a profile on those two breakdown services. Add some of those great character headshots and that professional resume. Begin submitting right away! Why wait? While you are submitting, you can also work on those monologues and student films as discussed.
In closing, if you feel that you are the actor I spoke of in this column please do not take this critique in a negative manner. Instead, turn it to a positive and learn from the criticism. This is a practice you will need to do constantly in the career. All criticism is constructive and beneficial. Go out there now and persevere my wonderful acting folks. Do not wait, do not waver and do not use the word can’t in this crazy wonderful business of entertainment.
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