Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Demo Reels

Demo reels are quickly becoming a must-have for actors at all levels, especially now that casting has moved almost entirely online. Production moves faster than ever and casting directors want to see immediately what you look like, sound like, and feel like. Having a solid demo reel that showcases your talent can be integral in getting you the job.

If you don’t have any tape on yourself, doing student and independent short films are a great way to get scenes for your reel. No, you won’t make any money – you’re getting paid in footage. Look for roles that you’re likely to be cast in. If you think you’re a shoo-in for a medical examiner on CSI, try to book a student film in which you play a doctor.

To ensure you’ll get the footage in a timely manner, have the director or producer sign and date a simple contract that states you’re working for free in exchange for a copy of your work and expect to receive it within 60 days. Once he signs it, you’re owed your footage in the time allotted or else you can take him to small claims court.

But if you’ve done the submission game for student and independent films for a while without any significant result, then shoot something yourself. Use a scene from the TV show you’re perfect for or find a scene from a film that fits your energy. Make sure it showcases you in a role that you’d be cast in. Shoot it in the highest quality HD you can find, keep it under 3 minutes, and you’re golden.

But do it right. Crappy tape is NOT better than no tape at all. Your demo reel is a professional tool for your career – make sure you present something that looks professional. Find people who know what they’re doing to shoot and edit your reel. It’s worth the investment.

Finally, avoid the Actor Slate service offered by Breakdown Services for creating a one-minute general interview that shows off your personality. What it really shows casting directors is that you’re a beginner who’s not ready for on-camera work.

I just updated my own demo reel and present it here as an example. Professional editing done by the talented and handsome Ian at Bubba’s Chop Shop. If you have a demo reel to share, post it in the comments!

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