Do I Need A Demo Reel?

Leeann Dearing

“Do I really need a demo reel to get started?”

We get asked this question a lot. So today, we’re gonna talk about it.

Do you need a demo reel to get started in a minor market like Arizona?

No. You don’t.

Okay, that’s the blog for today. Thanks for reading.

I kid, I kid. Sit down. Here’s the thing, you don’t neeeed a demo reel to get started. (There will be another post coming soon on exactly what you need to get started as an actor in this market of ours.)

However, it’s a very good idea to have a demo reel, and without one you will miss out on the holy grail of castings, “The Direct Booking.”

(See how happy I am about direct bookings? It makes me want to roll around in a field of flowers.)

Back on track. Here we go.

There are a number of credible, valuable agencies in Arizona that serve our local actors and community. If you’re hoping to be represented, in general you look for a SAG/AFTRA agency. (Ford Robert Black, Leighton Agency, Dani’s Agency, Signature Models and Talent) There are also wonderful choices in The Agency Arizona and Deb Maddox.

If you are fortunate enough to be signed by any of the above, you’re in good hands. So consider what your demographic is for a moment. Let’s say you’re caucasian male, 35-45 age range. Your agent may have hundreds of actors that fit that criteria. But suppose a client wants to bypass a casting and book directly from the website. How many actors are now eligible for the role? Likely a fraction of that number. And without a demo reel, you aren’t even in the running for those jobs. You’ll never even know they existed.

Even if you aren’t represented, websites like CastingNetworks and allow you to upload a demo reel. Most actors without reels aren’t seriously considered for jobs on these sites.

So, if you’d like to be a working actor, you should get yourself a demo reel.

Step One: Collect your footage. What kind of work have you done in the past? A commercial or two? A student film? An indie film? It all counts. Contact production from previous jobs and ask what the best way to obtain a copy of your footage is. (Generally you would contact an AD, or a production assistant that you worked with for the project.) Sometimes you find nothing but dead ends. The project got scrapped, the company can’t release the footage to you etc. I feel your demo-reel-frustration, little artist. That’s annoying. But you’ve still got options, so read on.

Step Two: Divide your footage up into categories.

If you only have a bit of footage acquired, just start with one catch-all demo reel. That’s fine. 30 seconds to a minute is sufficient. Eventually you’ll want to move into two reels: Theatrical and Commercial. You may even consider doing a Spokesmodel reel and a Character/ Comedy reel, depending on your specific goals.

Step Three: DIY

Let’s say you gather all you can of your existing footage, and you don’t have enough to make a demo reel. Give your agent whatever you do have, even if it’s a solo commercial or clip. That’s fine to start! However, if you’re not able to get your footage from past clients, don’t despair. This is the age of DIY, right? People are creating their own reclaimed wood palette headboards and sewing tableclothes out of organic cotton scraps. So create your own footage!

Start by finding a monologue you love. (Check out WhySanity or ShakespeareMonologues) Find a commercial you resonate with that plays into your primary or secondary casting type. Memorize all your material, and get it polished. Work with an acting coach so that your performance reflects your best work.

If you have a film camera (worst case, use your iPhone!) get a recording of your performance. Start where you have to start. But be proactive about crafting your own footage. Truly, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You see the quality of the videos online that amass lots of attention and views. They’re not all professionaly filmed. A crude editing program like iMovie can be sufficient for simple cuts and transitions. Final Cut Pro has a steeper learning curve.

If you try to edit yourself and realize…

Another alternative is to hire an editor to assist you! (Contact the studio if you need a recommendation.)

Want some editing inspiration?

Here’s a cut of my commercial reel. (Which now badly needs to be split into two reels. Character/Comedy reel and Spokesmodel/Commercial mom reel. I’ll share the finished results of those soon!)

Leeann’s Reel

(Filming a Superbowl Commercial a few years ago with Danica Patrick.)

Here are a few more examples of reels I love!

Theatrical Reel

Commercial Reel