You may have heard the saying, “no reel is better than a bad reel.” That may be true, but if you don’t have a reel, you won’t get far in the industry. Many casting directors won’t even consider you if you don’t have a demo reel—it tells them you’re not prepared for a professional gig.
Let’s take a look at what a demo reel is, how long it should be, and how you can put one together.
What is a Demo Reel?
A demo reel, also known as an acting reel or showreel, is a short video showcasing your best performances. Talent agents and casting directors use demo reels to find new talent, cast their productions, and help their clients land acting jobs.
In the old days, you might have gotten away with a headshot and resume. But today, most casting directors require a demo reel so they can gauge your on-screen presence and decide whether or not you fit the roles they need to fill.
How Long Should a Demo Reel Be?
Two things you need to know upfront about demo reels:
- Casting directors watch A LOT of demo reels.
- Most casting directors only need 30 seconds to make a decision.
To make an impression, keep your demo reel short and sweet. Lead with your very best work and don’t let your reel go over two minutes. If you can make it shorter than that, even better.
A good rule of thumb is to choose three of your best scenes, each around 30 seconds long. Put the best clip or most impressive credit first. Don’t splice too many short clips together. It ends up looking choppy.
Another thing, keep the focus on your performance. Since you don’t have much time, choose scenes where you do most of the talking. A clip with a famous actor can help establish your rep, but don’t choose a scene that highlights them. Your reel should be at least 75% you.
How Do You Make a Demo Reel?
Other than choosing scenes where you have the spotlight, how do you decide which clips to use? And what else should your reel include?
Here are five basic guidelines to help you create a successful demo reel:
- If possible, choose clips from different productions. Don’t add multiple scenes from the same production—it gives the impression that you’re not versatile and that you don’t have many credits to choose from.
- Show off your character type if you have one. For example, if you often play the sassy sidekick or the comedic relief, include a sample clip to establish your acting brand and show off your strongest work.
- Update your reel from time to time. If all your footage is more than ten years old, casting directors will wonder what you’ve been doing since then. Besides, you’ll want to update your clips as you grow and become a better actor.
- Use captions. Every time you introduce a new scene, add a caption stating the production name and, if applicable, the network. Captions usually appear in the lower left or lower right corner of the screen for three to five seconds.
- You can also Include your contact information. Opinions differ on whether it’s best to put this info at the beginning or end of your reel (or both), but what really matters is that it’s there. Use a slate screen with your name, email address, website, and (if applicable) representation. You can also include a headshot if you want to. This screen should last no more than five seconds.
How to Get Footage for a Demo Reel?
If you’ve been in an independent film, a web series, or a student film, is it OK to use those clips in your demo reel? If they showcase your best acting, absolutely! In fact, that’s a key reason to accept these types of projects—they’ll provide you with some great footage.
Just make sure the production quality is good. Unless you want your reel to look outdated, use at least 720p High Definition Video. And make sure the clip has good sound and lighting, too.
If you’re acting in a professional TV show or film, mention to the director that you’d like to use some of the footage for your demo reel. Then, after filming wraps up, try emailing them to politely ask for your clip. Just know that you may have to wait until post-production is finished—usually at least a few months.
Alternately, you can use our Aircheck service to get a digital (HD) copy of a past commercial, web series, show, or film you’ve been in.
But what if you don’t have many credits? In that case, it’s perfectly fine to get some friends together and film something. As long as the quality is good, most casting directors will accept both professional and privately filmed footage. Having said that, if you have clips from professional gigs, use those over privately filmed footage every time.
When you have the clips you need, use editing software or hire an editor to splice your footage together. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just professional.
One Final Acting Reel Tip: Once your demo reel is complete, make it easily accessible. Post it on your website and use social media and casting websites to get yourself noticed!
Demo Reel Examples
Need some examples? Check out these demo reels.