Making a Reel? You need to read this.
After 25 years as a Demo Reel Editor, I can tell you that there are more misconceptions about Demo Reels than about any other format in the film business. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it comes down to two things for actors: not really understanding what a Demo should be – and not being willing to make any investment in one as a result.
If your Demo Reel isn’t speaking the language of BREAKDOWN – you’re not serving your audience. That’s the bottom line in all the nasty Reels I see: the editor didn’t understand the language of Casting. A Reel is not simply a sequential compilation of your scenes – it’s a trailer of Casting Hits. Hits are the language of Casting Breakdowns and Hits are the language of Casting Directors (CDs). And they should be the language of your Demo Reel as well. If they’re not, then you are not playing to your audience – and you’ll miss.
Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game, The Social Network, The West Wing) said my Demo for Kari Matchett was the best acting Demo he had ever seen. And it’s because her Reel spoke his language. My Demo for Matchett respected her audience, in this case Sorken, and he booked her on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip after seeing it.
You can’t just expect to book jobs as an actor with a nasty Reel. Make no mistake – like most kinds of editing – Reels are a highly specialized field and most editors can’t do it. Just like I can’t cut a feature film or an episode of Stranger Things, most editors don’t understand what a Demo is – or how it is used. They think they do, but they don’t. And I’m not being harsh! I see the very same mistakes – over and over again – from actors and editors alike. Most actors, when they see their scenes cut together by someone, are thrilled with the result. I get it – it’s great to see all our best work put together. But would you even know if it sucked or not? There aren’t very many great Demo Reel Editors out there and thousands of performers who think there are. And I hate to say it, but cheap Reels are the standard in this industry. Which is exactly why if your Reel kicks ass – you’ll stand out from the crowd.
If you could actually watch a CD using Reels you would understand why predictable, sequential Reels that don’t speak ‘Casting Director’ work against you. Casting has dozens or hundreds of Reels to watch for a role, and you have to seize the very moment you appear in front of them. This is the skill in cutting a Reel – you have to know exactly who your audience is – and editors don’t. I have yet to come across another editor who speaks the language of Casting – the language of Breakdowns. In a Reel – it’s about nothing else. So here’s your Tip of the Day: it’s not about simply showing off your scenes – it’s about making you as easy to cast as possible.
One of the things performers have to get used to is the idea that your Reel is not for you – it’s for Casting Directors. If you cut your Reel to please yourself then you are not connecting with Casting. Reels speak a foreign language that has to be learned. In the same way you rely on your agent, manager or publicist for their expertise about the industry, you need to work with someone who is fluent in Reels before you let a CD click on your Demo. Like every niche in every business, there’s a lot going on under the surface you need to know.
A slick, professional, objective eye is critical in making a Reel. So if you’re still floundering thinking it should be pretty cheap to do one of these things and hire anybody you like – think again. You only get a few seconds in front of a CD – and you need to be as castable as possible. Isn’t that worth a small investment?
The reluctance or inability of performers to understand their career as a business is one of the reasons why many actors default to simply waiting for the industry to come to them. Of course it doesn’t. Acting professionally is every bit a business as it is an art, and actors would do well to understand what this means.
Invest in your career! Hire the best photographer you can find to shoot your Headshot – and book me to produce your Reel. Do everything you can to stand out from the crowd. It’s what professionals do. And what Casting expects from you.
I’ve been here for 25 years because I know the business and I build relationships with clients that last as long as their careers. I manage every aspect of Demo Reel maintenance for any client that wants it. It’s great for my business and it’s great for yours. Think about what it would mean to have a partner out there – to consult on every move you make in front of a CD – before you make it.