I just watched the first 30 seconds of a demo reel posted online by an actor who asked for feedback. Even though I actually like and respect this artist & filmmaker, I didn’t get past 30 seconds. I watched it as if I am a casting director with a hundred demo reels to watch today. I don’t have time to waste, and in this case, 30 seconds seemed generous.
It doesn’t matter how much footage you have in your possession. It doesn’t matter how much time you take to make the demo. What matters is what decisions you make using what you have. Let’s look at how those decisions get made poorly by many actors.
10 Ways to Sabotage Your Demo Reel
1. You make it too long. It’s not a short film. It’s a glimpse of what you have done and what you can do potentially for the next person who hires you. Aim for a short and sweet length of 60 seconds, 90 seconds or two minutes.
2. You try to include everything. Think of your demo as top-selling items on a restaurant menu. I want to sample your amazing French Onion Soup; I don’t really need to see all the condiments in the kitchen too.
3. You edit it to tell a story. It’s not about the story of each project or your career growth. Including clips that explain plot, character, or relationships will not help. A demo should focus on an actor acting, and that’s it.
4. You give other actors on screen time. Choosing clips that shift the focus from you to other actors does not help you. If you must include other actors, minimize their appearances and avoid sharing their close-ups.
5. You select scenes with stronger actors. There’s no reason to market yourself being outshined by your peers. Use clips where you’re evenly matched by others in the scene.
6. You select scenes with weaker actors. Overpowering others in the scene can be advantageous as long as the characters are weak. If their acting is mediocre, it suggests a low quality project.
7. You select poorly written material. Mediocre writing can’t be saved by the best actors usually. The worse it is, the more it distracts someone evaluating your acting skills and choices.
8. You select clips that show editing/direction/cinematography choices. This is your reel about your work. Spotlighting brilliant choices by colleagues suggests you don’t understand the purpose of your demo.
9. You make decisions based on wardrobe. Focus on clips that showcase you as an actor, not you as a fashion statement. While you make look good in a 1970’s leisure suit, if it’s not one of your best acting clips, skip it.
10. You ask the wrong people for feedback. You’re not looking for pure praise. Ask friends and peers to explain what makes it effective or ineffective.
You can do this on your own for free, ask for a favor, or pay an experienced editor. Any way you choose to make it happen, aim to create something that’s authentically you. Your demo reel will serve you best when it shows what you’re capable of doing right now and instills faith in the people making those casting decisions.