“I've done some acting but never received my clips to make a demo real. What do I do when I am asked to submit one?”
This is a common situation. Many aspiring actors are promised footage for their reel if they'll act for free in a student or other low-budget indie film, usually expressed as “copy & credit.”
But that doesn't mean great clips are easy to come by. Some of those films never get finished, or won't release footage until their festival run is complete. In other cases, the footage is of such poor quality you risk cutting a reel that is worse than having no reel at all.
So what are your options?
1) Face the facts
First, realize that it is perfectly fine to own the fact that you don't have a reel. Some casting sites ask for demos with initial submissions (before the phase of sending out audition invites), but you can submit for most roles without one. CDs will still look at submissions without media attached (Actors Access, I'm looking at you).
If asked for one specifically by a CD, explain that you do not have a reel available yet, and offer to record a clip of yourself doing a scene or monologue. It is NOT okay to send them a previous audition video, unless you have received written permission from the producers of that script.
2) Hunt down clips
Look back at your talent/image release, deal memo, or contract (you do have one, I hope) to refresh yourself on the details of the promised footage. If the clips are indeed “due,” I would certainly contact the producers and respectfully request that they do what is necessary to fulfill their obligations. If they cite delays for a release, do your best to get a quote of when they expect the footage to be ready (and don't be afraid to negotiate).
This won't always work, so be prepared for an unfavorable answer. I haven't gotten footage from my first role in a feature film, and probably never will, because my scene was cut along with several others during the assembly edit, and never got fully processed.
3) Produce your own!
If you have the funds and the friends to do so, consider producing some scenes on your own. Better yet—make it an actual short film. That way you get an extra film credit to boot. Creating your own footage puts the burden on you, but also provides all the creative freedom to play the roles you want, exactly how you choose. Not a terrible trade-off.
Do your best to get believable sets, costumes, props, good lighting, decent cinematography, good sound, etc. This is not the place for classroom theatrics. Mounting a full production isn't easy, but anything less is unlikely to get you quality footage.
Demo Reel Tips & Trends
If your acting blows me away, great. But I try to assume every actor can decently act unless I'm proven wrong (yeah, it's happened).
The main thing I usually need from a reel is to hear and see you how you normally look and sound. And most CDs don't have the time or luxury to watch reels in their entirety. So for at least your first clip, don't showcase an acquired accent, or rely on heavily stylized or overly emotional footage. After the first 10 seconds, feel free to move on to the rest of your “range.”
You don't need to put lines in context with long moments focused on your co-stars; keep the spotlight on you. A good length for a reel is between 1 and 3 minutes. If you really want to showcase more footage than that, try splitting it into Dramatic / Light-Comedic / Commercial genres. Another trend I've seen is having multiple “type” reels; I'd keep these short, 1 minute or less.
In our digital world of online submissions, we aren't sending physical reels off to casting offices, so it makes sense to have more customization in reels. Just as many actors now do with their headshots, if you have more than one reel to choose from, you can send the one/s that best fit each particular casting situation.
Got a question for me? Get in touch with me here, and I'll let you know when the answer is live on the blog!