[Note from Answers for Actors: Paul Russell invites actor reel editor Cynthia Granville to share 6 vital improvements for actors owning a stand-out demo reel.]
There are so many lame reels out there!
Full disclosure: I edit reels. Before I made my first film, I learned to edit my own reels. I am not expecting or trying to pick up anyone’s business via the tips below; I just hate to see lousy actor reels.
– An Actor’s Reel Length
1. It’s too long.
Remember when you learned that people really do decide whether or not to call you back after only seeing a portion of your monologue? A 3 1/2 minute monologue is not needed. Same with an actor’s reel.
Think of yourself as being on the other side of the casting / representation desk. You’ll get hundreds of reels per week. Do you have time to watch 5-7 minutes from everyone? No. And casting and representation don’t need to, because in most cases they’re not casting or signing from the reel, they’re deciding whether or not to call you in for an audition or meeting. Once the decision’s been made they move on—generally after about two minutes if interested…less, if they’re not.
– Who Edits?
2. Have an editor edit.
If an editor like myself is editing your reel, our job isn’t just to cut out your scenes from a pile of DVDs. Our goal is to create a new story, yours, out of the puzzle pieces of each original scene.
- The scene shouldn’t start on other actors, nor end on talent other than you.
- Your scenes shouldn’t show more of other actors other than of you; even if the other guy is George Clooney (or maybe, especially if….).
- Nobody cares about the backstory, just what you’re doing. Again think of your monologue. You don’t need to explain what’s happened in the whole play: if you’ve presented a character who is going after something with passion and originality, you’ve done your job. Your reel should create compelling moments and short stories. Backstory just wastes precious screen time.
- An editor can manipulate scenes to make the scene(s) look better. An editor can slightly steady the camerawork if needed. We can tweak color. If the sound is awful, we can clean it or underscore a bit. The volume level must be consistent throughout the reel. An editor can’t spin straw into gold but we can make your scenes better, and more about you.
– Stills: Yea or Nay?
3. Don’t do a photo montage.
This is your reel showing your screen work. If the viewer wants to know what you look like in still photos, s/he will look at your photo gallery on Breakdown Services / Actors Access or your website. If you cannot restrain yourself from adding pointless stills, stick them at the end where casting and talent representation stop watching.
– Target Your Reel(s) to Genre & Type
4. Segue…know what you are selling.
Acting class is the place to explore roles that you don’t match in type, like a 60-year-old Juliet, or genres where you’re not yet strong. On your reel, counter-intuitive casting is confusing.
If you have footage of you playing Brad Pitt’s twin brother but you look like Santa, put that creative casting online as an individual clip, not in your reel.
If you’re seeking film and TV dramatic roles, don’t include your McDonald’s commercial; know what job you’re applying for, and show yourself doing that job.
On your reel, you have a short time to introduce yourself and what you do best. On your reel, you are nailing the roles you were born to play.
– Keep It Simple
5. While you are not doing a montage, don’t do crazy graphics and a verse of your favorite song playing under a 30 second still of your headshot. The viewer of your reel might say, “Hey it’s cool how her name spun around and shot sparks while we heard the Gone with the Wind theme.” Better the viewer remembers your name, and not how annoyed they were by your graphic pyrotechnics when they wanted to watch another actor’s reel before a desperately needed cigarette break.
– Experience Informs
6. Do your homework…view the reels of other actors (the bad & the good).
The great Paul Russell says, “Everything I say is right. Everything I say is wrong.” One of the equally great Jeffrey Sweet’s characters says, “My opinion. You don’t have to share it. But if you don’t, you’re wrong.”
You may not agree with much or all of the above. But if you watch reels…a bunch of them…pretending you’re casting, I bet you’ll agree with a whole lot of it. We’ve all got to have video. Get good video!
Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors
Love the Best-Selling Book for Actors
ACTING: Make It Your Business!
Actors everywhere who are trying to succeed in the business, young or old, on stage or on camera, anywhere in the world, take note:
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Cynthia Granville is an actor, director, and filmmaker. She is the Onion News Network’s daycare-outsourcing mom (CBS News Sunday Morning) and Damaged Women’s Spokeswoman (IFC). Her production company disOrienting Stage and Film produces festival award-winning short films (and many actors’ reels). Cynthia has acted and directed Off-Off B’way and regionally. She’s the Artistic Director of The Supporting Characters, a writers’ lab-based theatre company. Cynthia is currently editing her first feature film, in which she stars. Youtube.com/user/cynthiagranville
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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