Secrets of the perfect Actor Reel

Have you ever wondered what makes the perfect actor reel?
Read below what the casting directors I interviewed want to see in your demo reel.

Start strong!

Make sure we know WHO you are… your NAME should be the first thing we see. Your demo is a professional tool. It can be artistic but it must never be confusing. Your name must appear in clear type within the first 3 seconds and be clearly visible long enough for the casting director to write it down. This is not the time for dazzling video effects. Billboard the name first, then a quick montage is usually OK. If you want to include a longer fabulous, fancy, slow-motion, music-video-style, effect-laden montage you usually are safer to keep it for the end of the reel.

Make sure we see YOUR FACE first, featuring you at your very best…

You can open your video demo with your great professional resume shot as a title screen. We need to see you clearly right away. You should also be the first face, voice and motion shots that we see. If you want to re-use a bit of the opening later as part of longer scene or set-up that’s OK, but start hot, start strong, and start with putting your face right in the casting director’s face!

Put your “best acting bit” and your “most cast-able type” first on the reel.

Don’t save anything for later… grab our attention now. We don’t need to see elements that set-up or explain the scene. Don’t worry about context. Just cut to the good actor bits.
Once you’ve established yourself, your look, voice, and your most cast-able type, move on! It is great to see you doing something “light” or comic and something heavier and more emotional, or vice versa. Strong contrast in characters is good but it’s not life and death. Usually most good demo’s don’t feature really unusual stuff, strong make-up or odd characters or accents right away, although you can go to them after a minute or so.

Be selfish!

Cut out that other actor when and if you can. BUT don’t cut out your reaction shots. We don’t just want to watch you talk, we want see you react.

Keep it tight, sharp and short

Most of the bad demo’s we’ve seen are simply too long and linger too long on weak work. We would rather see a tight 90 seconds than a bad 5 minutes. A good rule of thumb: Total running length over never MORE than three minutes. Leave them wanting more. This is a movie-trailer advertising the feature length movie that is YOU! Don’t overstay your welcome.
Why not steal those million dollar set-ups when you had 3 lines on a big feature or 6 lines on a series? Even a commercial sometimes can show you at your best. Use the shot! Even 5-10 seconds where you’re looking good is useful. Always remember that you are selling to a sophisticated audience that’s highly visual and technically demanding.

It should be ALL REAL WORK!

Be aware that most casting directors expect to see MOSTLY professional work on your reel. But the reality is that most actor’s demos will include some non-professional content. Add to your “reel” work with a less-than-professional clip ONLY when it’s really good. A clip from a decent on-camera class, a very short monologue you’ve shot with a good video camera, good cuts from student films are all OK but shouldn’t be the only stuff we see on a working actor’s reel.

Go for great quality first…

But don’t always reject a clip just because you only have a poor dub of it. [A good video editor can sometimes help “beef” up a technically weak bit of tape.] Still you must try to get professional level copies of all your work, every time… that takes persistence! Start the process on the day you do the shoot. Your personal reel is at the very bottom of the list of priorities for any producer but they often respond to courtesy, warmth, persistence and puppy-dog eyes! Always offer to pay for the cost of the dub.

We need to see your eyes!

Medium and close-up shots are the essential shots for your reel. Long or wide shots are good for film-making but weak for demo-making.

No long monologues!

Don’t try and do a long 3+ minute monologue straight to camera [unless you have been specifically asked to do that for something like a theatre school video audition.] Even the greatest actors in the world don’t try to carry more than 90 seconds straight to camera without editing, cutaways, or a change in shot. You are better to do 2 or 3 short contrasting monologues rather than one long one. You might shoot for 3 minutes and edit it down to one.


Be alert to the audio quality. Bad audio, mixed-up levels or weird music will distract more quickly than even a bad image will on video. Spend time on mastering and mixing audio levels. Use music but keep the music under, not over, the top of your performance and your voice.

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