Secret Handshake Entertainment’s Joe Gressis on Demo Reels: Why You Need One, When You Need One and More!

Joe Gressis, from Secret Handshake Entertainment, gives us the low-down on how to getting a great demo reel!

If you’re looking to make a demo reel or have your current one updated, look no further than Joe Gressis at Secret Handshake Entertainment.

Joe has been editing for years and he is the go-to-guy for several big agencies when they want their actors to update their reels.

Why is Joe so great? Because he is also a producer (A Little Help starring Jenna Fischer and Chris O’Donnell will be released soon) and looks at reels from that perspective.

And check below for some reels of well-known actors!

At what point should an actor get a reel?

Pretty quickly. As soon as they’ve got enough material to support it, basically, because so much of casting is now done online and with DVDs. They go through so many people that as soon as you have it the better.  As soon as you have the material to support. And sometimes, you want to make your own material just to have a reel because so much of it is now based on that before they even will bring you in or anything like that they’ll want to see that.

What do you think of the services that offer filming scenes for actors to put on their reels?

Well, some of them are pretty good.  But you definitely don’t want to skimp on that because if it looks made up, then it doesn’t really help that much.

You can tell?

Yeah, you definitely can tell.  But there are some places that have really good-looking scenes where it’s difficult to tell.  And it really does showcase the actor and it could be an indie film.  And it’s shot on some high-quality HD.  As long as it’s done well I think it’s very advantageous, actually.  Things have changed, at one point that was not true, but because HD cameras are so much better now and give such good image quality that yeah you can do it.

What’s the perfect length for a reel?

Rule of thumb would be 2-5 minutes, and most people will say keep it shorter.  Although, I will actually say that because of the way a lot of digital media works that the rule of the length of a reel is kind of changing because so many people now look at them online.  Vast majority is now online, and what I’ve seen, because I actually just produced a movie where I saw the casting director and director go through a bunch of reels.  I kind of see the behavior of people who are really actively involved in casting people, and so I really paid attention especially in regards to this side of the business.

They couldn’t even tell you how long a reel is.  Because it’s digital and they could jump right on so easily, they watch it at first.  They’ll give you their undivided attention for like 30 seconds, but then they’ll just jump ahead.  And so some people’s reels are eight minutes long, some are two, and it’s like they can’t even really tell you which one was longer because they just jump around so much.  So I actually think the length of the reel is not as big a deal as it used to be.  When it was VHS and people were forced to watch it from start to finish, you wanted it as short as possible because people would really get aggravated and when they stopped it you were done.  But now people when they want to move on, they move on to another part of the reel.  You’re not done.  So it makes your first 30 seconds more important than before.

Like speed reels, I don’t think are all that useful.  Our casting director, Rick Pagano, his company does 24, he cast X-Men 3 and Alien 4 and Hotel Rwanda, all these kind of movies. They don’t like speed reels at all.  They don’t like a 60-second reel.  They find that it’s not really useful, especially because they can just jump to whatever they want to see and see longer bits.  So, I actually think the length of a reel is a much-changing thing.  I do a lot of reels for IFA, that agency, and all their reels are very long.  Like 6 minutes, 10 minutes, not uncommon.

I’ll watch interviews online and if something is boring, I’ll just skip ahead.  But I never thought about that with reels.

That’s what they do with reels now.  And so that’s why it’s like I actually think that the length of reels is not nearly as critical as it once was.  You can have a longer reel and a lot of people won’t know the difference.

Good to know.  Do you recommend both commercial and a theatrical reel, or combine them and then on top of that question – comedy.  A separate comedy and drama reel as well?

If you have the material for a separate comedy and drama reel – yes.  It’s actually quite useful because again because they’re looking through so much stuff if you can actually show somebody for a comedy a comedy reel, and they and they’re not looking at stuff that’s not useful to them, that’s great.  You know, casting directors want you to be the solution to their problem.  That’s what Rick says all the time.  If you can actually be very specific in that case, that’s great, but only do it if you have the material to support it.  And then yeah, a commercial reel is also a very easy thing to put together, it’s just really a bunch of commercials put together.  It’s useful to have that they’re easy to do.  And I would also say, you’ve got a lot of commercial stuff that can go on your theatrical reel because a lot of the commercials are acting-based and so yeah, you can definitely put those on.  So it is useful to be specific if you’ve got the material to support it.

What’s the ratio that you do, theatrical to commercial?

Vast majority is theatrical because commercials they cast, they usually just pull in so many people to cast things, a lot of times they don’t even have time to look at reels.  They just bring in a huge number of people who are in the right category.  They’re also 30 seconds long, so in terms of being able to support material for 30 seconds, it’s a lot easier for people to do that just based on a particular quirk or picture.  They don’t have to worry that somebody can’t act for a 30 second commercial, half of which is pitch anyway.  It’s not usually that hard.

Why should someone come to you as opposed to editing their reel on their own?

For one, I’m an objective eye, which is very useful.  I’ve also done this for a long time.  I know what people are looking for – I know the standards of the reel.  And also I will focus the scenes on you as the actor and do it in a very seamless fashion so people can’t tell that a lot of editing has been done.  I mean, obviously sometimes they can tell that there’s a certain amount.  And there’s also quite a learning curve to learning a lot of the editing software, and we’re reasonably priced.

But a lot of it also is that objectivity.  Because sometimes people are attached to scenes or don’t like scenes for reasons that really have nothing to do with what people are seeing.  It’s like, that seems so hard, I didn’t like my co-star, stuff that people don’t even recognize.  An objective eye will get past that stuff.  So that’s a very significant part. I’m also a producer at this point, and so I kind of make reels the way that I know I would want to see them when I’m actually hiring actors.  I think the big advantage that I’m a producer as opposed to another actor is like a lot of people do reel services and say, “Oh, I’m also an actor!”  Well, that’s not, in my opinion, a benefit that they’re also an actor because they’re competing with you, they’re not trying to hire you.  We’re trying – I’m trying to hire people, as well.

When I brought mine in, you looked at it, and you immediately said, “You did this yourself, didn’t you?” It took you 2 seconds to know that I did it.

Yeah, because I can spot that stuff just because I’ve been editing for years and years, and I know how to make it all move along.  And in a way that casting directors and producers and directors want to see it.

What’s the process that you go through in choosing the order of the scenes?

You know, at this point you definitely want to put your best foot forward, put your best thing at the start.  I kind of like juxtaposition a lot.  So, if you’re somebody who can do drama and comedy very well and it is all in one reel, it’s nice to kind of separate them out.  It’s also good to not put too many things that are similar to each other all next to each other, unless of course that’s what you’re going for.  I had one client who did a lunch lady reel because she gets cast for lunch ladies so much, and so she did a lunch lady reel just to show that she could do varieties of those.  So they were all the same – they all had that similarity.  I think she’s going to do an all nurse reel, too.

A lot of it though, it’s also very customized per person, so it kind of just depends on what suits you best.  Sometimes it’s stuff where you look really great or where you’ve got a particular character.  That’s one that’s kind of more art than science. I can give you certain kind of guidelines, but everyone is specific, and there’s a lot of ways that rules can get broken, in a good way.

After somebody finishes their demo reel you guys house it for them in case somebody wants to come back and add another scene?

Yeah, we’ll keep it in our files and of course, but you’ll also have a DVD of it and digital media generally speaking, depending on what you buy.  So you’ll always have your own versions of it, too.

You said earlier you’re branching out in developing and producing your own movies.  Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?

Oh yeah, yeah.  I’ve met so many people doing reels, which was kind of nice, so it gave me a really good contact base in addition to other places I’ve worked.  And so, it kind of worked out, and we’ve produced our first movie called, “A Little Help,” which will be coming out this year, with Jenna Fischer, from The Office, Chris O’Donnell, Leslie Anne Warren.  Shot it in New York, it was great.  It was a really great experience, and I loved doing it.  We actually hired an actor or two who we had done reels for.

When I first came to you, I saw that you were editing a pretty well-known actor’s reel, and I was kind of shocked that somebody well-known still need to get reels.
Well, we just did one for Helena Bonham Carter.  But we’ve done reels for Brian CoxPeter Dinklage.

I think it was Ron Livingston.

Yeah, we did his reel, too.  All kinds of people like that.  Dougray Scott, Tracey Ullman.  Done reels for a lot of them.

I think a lot of it is because of where money comes from I would say is a lot of it.  And also foreign directors and producers, you know.  So you have some German director who might be the next big thing in Hollywood, he did some awesome movie.  Or like that Russian guy who did Night Watch and stuff like that.  When he comes to the States to do like Wanted or something like, who does he know?  Like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, maybe Tom Cruise and that’s it.  He doesn’t know anybody else.  And so it’s like, for us, we’re like who doesn’t know Brian Cox and Helena Bonham Carter?  Well, that guy!  (Laughs)  He doesn’t know them.  Or some Japanese banker. He doesn’t know who they are either.  He might not even know who Brad Pitt is.  He might only know Tom Cruise and somebody like Burt Lancaster, you know?  He might only know John Wayne, who’s been dead for years.  So there’s definitely, I think people need reels on almost every level, except when they’re maybe A+ level.  So it’s like useful at almost every level.

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