Acting : Demo Reels - Creating a reel that can get you work by Lawrence Charles Benedict

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Demo Reels - Creating a reel that can get you work

There have been some excellent posts regarding demo reels. I posted the following as a comment but, as a published author on reels, and an editor in the heart of Hollywood, these few tips may be helpful: A reel is created to convince agents, casting directors and producers that you are the best person for the part. A reel has no other function. Casting directors these days will tell you a minute is the maximum they are likely to watch. Your agents will tell you to post individual clips on Actors Access and other sites so that they can discuss your performance with casting while they are watching the clip that best represents the role you have been submitted for. Therefore it is counter-productive to put dissolves or other effects between clips other than "dips to black or white." This allows you to quickly and cheaply reshuffle your reel for a specific purpose, pull out a scene that is not relevant for this submission, essentially revise your reel ad-infinitum. There are actors, who are at the level of series regular or starring roles whose reels need to be longer since producers will want to see the scope of their abilities, but even they will be asked to submit individual clips more often than not. I have two young stars, that are in this category and I will post their 5 minute reels. Tips: (Almost) no-one should be on your reel but you, When in doubt throw it out. Casting wants to see your performance, they are not interested in story. Don't repeat a character or situation. If you have two tirade scenes, choose the best one. In fact don't repeat anything. Eliminate all extraneous footage, no coming through doors, running across fields, walking down long hallways with your back to the camera any thing that does not promote you as the star. If the star of the series boosts your performance with a comment or throws focus to you, this is okay. Use whatever makes you look good. Bad video quality reduces the effectiveness of your performance. Enhance, color correct, brighten if you need to. All work on your reel should be as current as possible. If you were famous for a scene shot 20 years ago and must use it. Restore the video technically. If you don't love your reel, you won't promote it as religiously as you should. I've never seen anything, reel, trailer or feature film, that didn't benefit from being shorter. But then, I am an editor.

Andrew Bee

Thank you for the tips, Lawrence.

Giuseppe Lentini

Great post Lawrence. Thank you!

Rebecca Caldwell

Great advice, cuts through the bull!

Rex Baker

Great Advice which I will use. Thank you for your wisdom.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Thanks so much all of you. If you have any specific questions, I'll be glad to answer them. Her's a tip: Have your reel ready before you need it!

Lhisa Ungelis Mrklon

Good to know

William Pereira Rubel

Thanks Lawrence! Great advice! I was wondering, could a monologue could be used in a reel?

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Hi William! Good question. If you have recent broadcast or other paid gig, don't mix a monologue with that. If your reel is not current you will want people to see what you look like now. I would separate the two and post the monologue on its own. If a monologue is all you have, by all means use it. If you decide to use a monologue make sure whoever you submit it to knows up front what it is. I uploaded a "self-tape" audition right here, just click on my videos to have a look. You will want to use the best sound (make sure the mic is as close to you as you can get it). and best lighting you can muster. Get some light behind you to separate you from the background and shoot a loose close up. The wall behind you doesn't matter as long as it's neutral and not white. Don't look into the lens unless it's a commercial and don't move too much. If you would like more information get back to me. :)

Elisabeth Meier

May I ask as a screenwriter what kind of texts would be perfect for a reel? So far I just wrote scenes with maximum 2 characters and different emotions to give the actor the chance to show what he can. Sometimes what actors had done so far was nothing they wanted to show in their reel and sometimes it was not enough to use it for a reel. Hence, they or a cameraman asked me to write something. So, what would be a great script for a reel if you haven't anything to show yet?

William Pereira Rubel

Thanks Lawrence! That was very helpful.

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Thanks William! Elizabeth, this is a great question, I'll get back to you this afternoon with some suggestions

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Writing the Demo Scene: Here are some thoughts on writing audition scenes. It is a tricky subject. A lot of what I said about demo reels is applicable to non-broadcast demo scenes. Define your actor. The cliché in Hollywood these days, is "branding." It has made "type casting" honorable, lol, and put that phenomenon in the hands of the individual performer. Interview your actor and watch any monologues or scenes they happen to have, should they have any. Cast them in your mind for what they might actually be cast as. Is the person in front of you most likely to be cast as a cop, a lawyer, a carjacker or a young dad? Versatility is for the stage. Movies and television are a business. If producers want an Egyptian cab driver for a New York scene, they will have a ton of the real thing to choose from. I knew a disrespectful casting agent who used to begin every audition with the phrase "Send in the clones." it was no secret, we actors found it funny too. On Bank of America day, there we all sat in three piece suits. On Coors day, there we all sat in lumberjack shirts and talking with abnormally low voices. As you observed, Elizabeth, I agree, scenes should always be two person scenes. However, scenes are best created from the one actor's point of view. Sometimes, if two people want to work together, write the scene two ways. As you point out, showing a range of emotion is desirable, but pushing the envelope of their experience is not. If they can't hit the high note, write what it is guaranteed that they can. If they are comfortable breaking down in tears, write it in. If they can believably transition through a range of emotions, give them the opportunity. In short, writing to present their best talents, this is not the place to stretch, this is the place to get signed or get work. I edited a scene from an episodic that stuck with me. It was "her scene" but good for him too. She is anticipating her live-in lover's arrival after work, expecting to celebrate their "anniversary" and plan their future. While his intention is to break up with her and get himself free. Two characters with opposing objectives create drama. The scene went from joy to tears, to manipulation, to lies, to anger, to physical violence (by her) and, if this were a scene that was still in the writing process, it could have ended either happily or tragically. As a writer, (as with an actor) always make the strongest choice. You, the writer, are faced with some problems when attempting to convince agents or casting to watch a non-broadcast scene. The rule has always been to use such a scene to land an agent, casting will probably not watch it unless and agent says "Trust me, you've got to see what this person can do." Therefore, in my experience, trying to pretend that the scene is from an actual show, or at least at that level, is counter-productive. You can never duplicate what it took a line of trucks parked up and down a whole city block to produce. There are people producing scenes for actors that get very close to the real thing, and actors are lucky to find them. The people who produce these already do what I suggest below. The writing must be as brilliant as you can achieve, however, regardless of the production value. Agents will forget everything else and just and watch the acting. The writer is the first person to start this ball rolling. This is evolving and should be looked at very carefully. The companies that shoot actors scenes with great production values are improving their product all the time. Its pretty impressive and definitely helps the actor to acheive a network performance level. Look at their demos and interview them for attitude. I had an actor complain to me just recently that the person they hired to shoot their scene insisted on directing their acting with very stressful results. If an actor requests an adjustment, fine. As with doctors, first do no harm. I have shot many scenes for experienced actors either for a specific submission or to show an ability thatis not on their reel. I shot for one actor who wo wanted his agent to submit him for an auctioneer. i shot for another who wanted to demonstrate his Farsi accent to get submitted for "Homeland." The actors reel production company is perfect for this. There are two problems that can be overcome. Television screenwriters are very experienced and the structure, cadence and even vocabulary of a scene has been developed to the level of art. Study their work and replicate it. A scene that does not fit the expected can make the viewer, agent or casting agent, uneasy and they stop thinking about the actor. Hollywood has a lot of cardinal rules; one is "Give me the same but different." :) The other problem is harder to address. Casting wants to see "real" broadcast because they need to know that the talent can repeat, under the pressure of the shoot, what they did in the audition. The bottom line here is, hire the best reel production company you can find, until you have broadcast work and don't mix the two. I completely agree with you about not shooting a scene from a show. I wrote a book a long time ago entitled "The Video Demo Tape" published by Focal Press. In the chapters on shooting a scene I began it by pointing out the bad idea of replicating the scene from "Lawrence of Arabia" where he strides around on top of a railroad car. Notwithstanding everything else, why compare yourself to Peter O'Toole? Keep it simple! You're doing a scene to demonstrate your acting to casting; anything else will be distracting. There is only one reason to shoot a scene (other than practice in class), that is to convince someone that you are talented enough to be signed by them. It is also inadvisable to shoot a scene that you find on actors' scene sites on the internet. The good ones have been done to death. These scenes are great to work on in class, however, and are a great resource. If you go that route, select with great care. If you can't afford the higher level scene production companies, make sure that whatever crew does show up, can handle lighting and sound. The actor must look and sound good, good acting can be ruined by bad lighting and bad sound. If you have any control over the crew, use three-point lighting (key, back, and fill), a remote mic, and the best possible camera you can obtain. (That could be an iPhone, but that is for another discussion). No matter how you do it, keep the camera still, tripods work very well for this lol. Shaky hand-held shots are passé and detract from the acting. The scene should be between one and three minutes. (I think three minutes is pushing it). Casting believes they can make a decision in the first ten seconds. There are actors talented enough to grab you from the first frame. (In fact, they'd better). One of my favorite phrases comes from the British theatre. "Acting is making an entrance, making an exit, and filling in the time in between." As a writer, you want to write something that allows the actor to grab the audience on their entrance. Think back to my example. She is clearly ecstatic from frame one. She may be dancing, she may be comically fixing dinner, she maybe practicing being super sexy. That's her entrance. He opens the door and just stands there, or peeks around it, clearly dreading what's he has planned to say. She hits him like a freight train smothering him with kisses. We have all that going on from frame one. "Filling in the time: This is the emotional gamut part of the scene. it is a duet, a pas de deux, and extreme fighting rolled into one. He doesn't back down and tries his best to convince her he's the wrong guy for the job. Making an exit: He gets to the door manages to get through it, just as the entire dinner slams into the closing door. (or something less messy, given the fact that's there is probably no crew to clean up for take two). Alternative ending: She overwhelms him with love, reason and passion. They have been fighting because they are so much in love. The scene ends with her passionately slamming him down on the kitchen table, right in the middle of all the food - fade out or cut. All you need is a door, a kitchen table and something that represents a stove. if you have a real kitchen, fine, Always have all the elements under your control: What's wrong with using that scene? Too much movement. We want to see acting not stunts. Too many props. Impossible clean-up. if it's a set, the door will shake when he leaves. Solution: Tone it down. The drama is in the relationship. Tips: For an actor's scene you will get the most mileage out of over-the-shoulder shots. Keep close ups loose. Avoid the zoom. A jiggly zoom will ruin their best take. If the actors have a tendency to overact, tone down the arguing and the comedy. As in all screenwriting, write what actors can't wait to say. Write scenes that you might see on TV: Interrogation scenes work well (but are done a lot). High school or college dating Principal/teacher (or student) altercation A drug deal Doctor/patient scene A first date Two people, recently divorced, having lunch Two cops, with differing points of view on a subject Etc. Don't do anything that takes place on a theatre stage. Agents get the willies when they see acting on a stage. Don't mix these non-broadcast scenes with broadcast clips. Post them separately.

Elisabeth Meier

Thank you very much, Lawrence! I will post a couple of reels I wrote (check The Silver Wedding and In a God's House) in my 'loglines'. Maybe anyone of you actors or acting coaches would like to read and give feedback - or you simply enjoy it. In case anyone should need scenes for reels just contact me. I love to write this. Give me an idea what you would like to show and play and I'll write something for you - and I promise it will be different each time. :)

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Very nice, Elisabeth, Can you direct me to your loglines? I had a thought. Should you like someone to edit what you have shot, I would be available. We could even do preproduction meetings and I would make sure your vision was realized. I'll post some of my reels and editing where you can see them, asap. Oh I did a second pass on what I wrote for you (hope it helped) in case you want to scan through it.

Elisabeth Meier

I'll email you. :)

Jonathan Roberts

thanks for all the information, I'm working on a demo currently mine is an audition I did. I know that's not the best of the bunch

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Thanks Jonathan. You have to use what you've got as long as they can't fault the performance. Replace it as soon as possible and often. Every time you change something, as long as it's in some way different, you get to contact the same people over again It's a plus :)

James Alexander Winick

Hey, if I have a deno reel already made, where are some places that I can submit it to?

Jonathan Roberts

James if you have a demo already, I would find some Casting Directors and get on the ball

Elisabeth Meier

James, I think you can also upload it here on stage 32 and contact each Casting Director or Film Director and Producer you find here. Just learned that you can look for them sorted by occasion or location or both under the menu point 'connect'. Good luck!

Lawrence Charles Benedict

That's good advice from Jonathan ad Elisabeth. I've been away for a couple of days but I would also suggest uploading to Actors Access before contacting casting. They charge $22 a minute with a 6 second grace (one time fee unless you make changes). Try to get it down to one minute even if you can afford an extra minute. If you would like me to review your reel and offer suggestions, I'm happy to do that, no charge. (I charge for actual editing). You can send it by any file sending program such as SendBigFiles. lawrence_benedict@yahoo.com

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Still getting caught up on the last two days. Stage 32 and social sites in general are changing the way things happen very swiftly. A year ago it would have been bad form to contact casting, unsolicited, and networking and showcases were the key. I still strongly suggest doing that, while not ignoring the suggestions above. If you have broadcast or paid film-work it's easier to get through to casting. If your reel does not include paid employment, focus on getting your reel seen by agents. If you are starting out, the best place to get clips of your work is by volunteering at film schools for acting roles. You will perform for clips of the footage for your demo reel. I will write a longer article on this subject over the next few days. It's a very good question that you have asked!

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Hi Connor, Not worried about language! I'll take a look right away and get back to you. :)

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Nice Reel Connor. I'd be proud of it the way it is. Should you wish to play around with it, I would make these suggestions: Keep the headshot since you have so many different looks. I'd save the contact info till the end. Generally, it's hard to get people to stop what they are doing and focus on a reel. For that reason, i would take the American History scene and put it first. They will forget what they were doing and watch you. Also, you do this character very well. You can probably get more work, more often, by "branding" this character. Then let them see what else you can do. I might end the reel with the Hire Me scene, for the same reason, and it will give them a laugh to go out on. Put the sensitive scene about miracles second. Dissolves are confusing and look like bad editing. Lastly, there are frames here and there that could get shaved but absolutely no big deal. This is totally nit-picking but I'd still try it, particularly if you edit yourself and are not paying for revisions. If you have any other questions let me know. Good work Connor! Make sure this work gets seen! https://youtu.be/DQO_ozdKSRM

Maria Teresa

Good luck!

Lawrence Charles Benedict

Ha! First things first! But after that, go for it! Those are all good reasons for what you did with the reel, However, there is nothing more important than making a get-down entrance. What you want is for the sub-agent to call out to the boss agent "Hey come and have a look at this!" You only get to make one first impression. Your reel is a sales reel which means they have to be sold on you or why bother? I agree about the hair, I've had to shave my head multiple times and I'm never comfortable with it. An actor has to be two people. The one who makes money and the one who does art! You don't need to trim frames, that's icing on the icing. Congratulations. Every actor should know how to edit. That's why I give seminars at SAG for actors to learn to edit their own reels.

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