The basic purpose of a reel is to grab the attention of the agent or casting director by putting selections of your highest quality material together to put your best face forward and then leave them wanting more.
If you’re sitting there thinking, “I don’t have enough material,” Don’t worry! You can puttogether a speed reel of short clips of your work or even selections of (professionally taped) recent student films.
Important DO’s to remember:
*Know what you are auditioning for and to whom you are marketing towards.
*Always! Lead off with your strongest, most recognized, professional quality material. Then finish up with your second strongest piece of work. Give it a nice bookend.
*It must be focused on YOU! The first face they see should be yours.
*Know your type and focus your material in a way that highlights your type. As your reel continues on you can diversify away from your type and show them how you can stretch, but you want to begin with how you are most easily cast. You want the casting director or agent’s first thought to be, “Yes. I can see that. I know how to cast this person.”
*If you are submitting for a particular audition and your dominant type presented in your reel doesn’t necessarily match what you are auditioning for-it is better to submit good material rather than nothing at all. Who knows! They may consider you for another part or cast against type! Stranger things have happened!
*Always choose Quality over Quantity. One clip of strong professional work is worth a lot more than 5 badly edited, badly lit scenes.
*Make sure your finished reel is posted on the casting sites! It gives you a leg up. Your submission is more likely to be seen if it has a video attached.
How long should it be?
*A professional reel, which includes network television and major film credits, should not be any longer than 5 minutes.
*If you do not have a legitimate number of credits, it is a good idea to keep it between 1 minute and 30 seconds minimum and 3 minutes maximum.
*If you don’t have a lot of material the best thing to do is to create Speed Clips instead of a reel. 30 seconds to 1 minute of good quality material from one project is better than throwing a bunch of mixed quality things together. Break it up and showcase yourself with the little clips.
*Most importantly, the first 30 seconds are the most crucial!
Putting it together
A title card at the beginning of your demo is a great way to start out. It should include your name and your web address.
If you are putting it on your website or into an email, it should be embedded or no more than one click away via youtube or vimeo. You don’t want to make Agents or CD’s have to chase you down. They don’t have the time, so make their lives a little easier.
Each clip should be well edited and it should not over show you. You don’t want to show the entire scene/show/film/etc, you want to give a glimpse and leave them wanting more.
Remember: The point of a reel is to:
Be proud of your work, but be realistic about what you have done. If the quality is bad or sound, lighting, and editing is not up to par, then it should not be used no matter how good the acting. If it distracts from the performance, then it is not good and it won’t help you.
Good quality footage from Film and Television is the best business card you can have; it gives you credibility. Short and really good is better than long and pretty good.
For Theatre: all of the above applies.
*Most theatre auditions are in person and a reel is not necessary. However, on the occasion you have to send a reel for an out-of-town audition, or if one is requested of you, it is a good idea to have one ready.
*Make sure it is an accurate representation of your work.
*Performance footage is awesome, but not always easy to obtain and this is understood in the industry.
*If you are taping a song, dance number, or scene:
1. Make sure it is project specific. Ask yourself: What do they need to see if you can’t be in the room?
2. When compiling material for a specified audition, do not cut together the best portions- it should be shown in one take.
3. When compiling material for a theatre reel: same rules apply as in film and television.
Written by Helen Abell with interviews from Vince Pisani, A-List Atlanta Actor, & Vic DiMonda, Associate Producing Director of the John W. Engeman Theatre
This is your calling card. Your resume very often gets in the door before you do and you want it to represent you in a clear, accurate, and professional manner. A good rule of thumb is to provide enough information to make them interested, but not so much information that it is a turn off.
Should be top & center and in a clear font. Large and in Charge!
List your cell, email, & web address and/or your Agents contact information.
* If you have an agent, use their contact info. It is usually better to have someone in your corner who can handle the details of the contract when you get to that point. Always include your web address, especially if you have your reel on your website.
* NO home address or any personal information. Ie. SS#. They need to know how to contact you, they don’t need to have easy access to steal your identity. Plus there are a lot of scammers out there and you don’t want some personal information ending up in the wrong hands. Also remember, a fair amount of headshots and resumes go straight in the trash. It is unfortunate, but it happens and you don’t want any of your information that isn’t already readily available to end up on the street corner.
Height, Weight, Vocal Range (if a singer), Eye & Hair color (some people are leaving this off now as headshots are now in color, but if you change your hair a lot I would include your natural color. In the past when I have had to change my hair color, to something other than what is in my headshot, for a production I have added a header note stating: “Hair is currently Brunette for a production”. I found it helpful because when you walk in the room they are expecting to see the person in the photo. That little note can ease the shock if they’ve pre-read your resume and also remind them later of what you look like if you are being considered.
First you want to list the category of your work. These include, but are not limited to: Film, TV, Commercial, NY Theatre, Regional Theatre, Touring Theatre, Improvisation, Dance, etc. Bold faced, ALL CAPS, and Underlined are usually a good idea. It helps to make it clear and distinct.
Underneath each category you will list your work.
First: DON’T LIE! PERIOD!
Second: Keep it to a 3 column format.
First column is TITLE. Second column is BILLING. Third column is
The first category should be your most experienced category. You can also adjust your experience based on what you are auditioning for ie. If you are going into a Film/TV audition, move your Film/TV credits to the top of the list. It’s a little extra work, but it makes for easy viewing by the CD’s, Directors, & Producers you are in the room to see. They want to know what you’ve done in that genre and they need to see it quickly. So by making it easy for them you are helping yourself out as well and making yourself look professional.
PRODUCTION TITLES should be ALL CAPS for ease of read.
BILLING should be correct.
For Theatre: Character Name
For Film: Lead, Supporting, Principal
For TV: Star, Co-Star, Guest Star, Featured, or Under 5
COMPANY NAME and DIRECTOR
*no need to put the year
you did the show
*Commercials: It is typical to list your work in this category as “Commercial conflicts available upon request”
*DO NOT list Extra/Background work. Not much goes into this work (except patience) and what they really want to see are the projects you put all your years of training to use in.
*If your resume is small and you want to list scenes you have done in class work, so industry can get an idea of what you can play, that is fine, but PLEASE make sure you label the category as Class Scene Work.
What, Where, and Who. *College education is not necessary, unless you are just leaving college and entering the larger markets.
Acting: T. Schreiber Studios - Terry Schreiber
Voice: T. Schreiber Studios – Page Clements (vocal production)
Dance, Stage Combat…etc.
Last, but not least! Special Skills. This is where you list things like stage combat ability, accents, other languages, or any other special skill you might have, ie. Juggling. The important thing to remember is anything you list must be performance ready. I have been in an audition before where I was asked to combine my Irish accent with a lisp while doing the scene in American Sign Language. Obviously the director was really bored and it was a bit over the top for them to request all of these things at once, but I did it. You must be performance ready with everything you list you can do!
Things to Remember!
* Don’t add more information than is needed. Remember: keep it clean, clear and easy to scan.
* Your resume should match your IMDB resume. If you do not have IMDB credits yet, make sure your resume matches on the different casting sites you are on. Ie. Casting networks, actors access, backstage, 800casting, etc. People in the industry do cross-reference.
* Very Important: when you attach your resume to your headshot, trim it down to the same size as your photo. (preferably before you arrive at your audition…not while you are in the lobby)
* Be proud of your work and what you have accomplished. If you are just starting out people in the industry understand and expect you to have a shorter resume. Wear it proud!
Written by Helen Abell. With interview by A-List Atlanta Actor, Vince Pisani.
Your headshot is your best marketing tool. The most important thing to remember is it must look like you. What walks into the room matches what is on your photo! Your headshot should showcase you on your best day and should convey your type, your essence, and your personality.
There are a lot of variables when talking about headshots. So for the sake of argument, and to keep me from rattling on for pages and pages, I will be talking about your basic headshot, from the shoulders and up, though some of the information below can be applied to all photo shoots.
Before you go:
Be prepared and do your research.
*Find a photographer you are comfortable with! This is so important! You need to be able to relax in front of the camera and if your energy doesn’t mesh well with the person taking the pictures, it will read all over your face and will create an unusable photo.
*Research them well. Look at their website or their book. Have they shot actors similar to you? If you are a short, Hispanic, character musical theatre actor, it’s probably not the best idea to choose a photographer who is used to shooting models full time and actors part-time, even if their photos are amazing. Are they really good at honing in on an actor’s essence? When looking at their other work, do you get a feeling of who that actor is? Does the photo express something?
*Call up several different photographers and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do they shoot in a studio? Or do they shoot outdoors in natural light? Are touch-ups included? Do you get a disk of all your photos?
*You want to portray your most dominant or playable type, but you don’t want to dress in “costume”. It is a better idea to reflect your character traits and personal essence.
*Plan your clothing choices ahead of time. Make sure they are clean and ironed. Try on your clothing choices and play around with different colors.
*Stay away from crazy patterns. You don’t want to pull focus away from your beautiful face.
*You want to pick clothes you like and are comfortable in.
*Bring options. A good photographer will know what works and what doesn’t.
Drink lots of water a couple days before and get a good night’s sleep.
During the Shoot:
Hair and Make-Up
If you are having someone do your hair and make-up, it is very important that it is not overdone. You still have to look like you (on a nice day) and not the glamor shot version of yourself. You have to be able to recreate the look at your auditions.
Before the shoot make sure you have communicated with your photographer about what kind of photos you are looking for … i.e. Commercial, Film/Television, or Theatrical. Depending on the type of photography package you get and how the photographer works, you may be able to shoot multiple types.
You want your headshot to focus anywhere from mid-chest to shoulders and up and it’s usually a good idea if your head is not cut off.
The main focus is your beautiful smiling face. If you are going for a Commercial look, the industry likes to see your teeth! Show off those pearly whites!
There is nothing wrong with a full body photo or with a ¾ shot, in fact it is good to have in your book, but these types of photos usually work best on casting sites like Casting Networks, 800 Casting, or actorsaccess. For your typical audition it’s best to stick with the close up.
Your eyes should be going through the lens, not to the lens. There should be something going on behind your eyes. Allow yourself to play! Have Fun! Some photographers let you bring music (if you are shooting in a studio), so bring your favorite tunes and let yourself go.
If you have certain statements or phrases about yourself you like, don’t be afraid to say them out loud. I used my Sam Christensen essence statements and ended up with some very dynamic photographs. You want to fill the photo not just with your face, but with your energy.
After the Shoot
Touch-ups: Don’t overdo it! If it’s noticeable it just won’t work. They don’t want to see an airbrushed version of yourself, just the awesomeness that is you!
Printing: Matte finish is preferred to Glossy.
It goes without saying that they should be in color.
Get feedback! Narrow it down and eliminate the obvious ones that just don’t work. Whether it’s something weird in the background or your eyes are half closed or what have you. Then show them to a variety of people…i.e. Your agent, manager, teachers, industry professionals, friends (though be careful if they are not in the industry. A good question you can ask your friends is “Does this look and feel like me?”)
Written by Helen Abell
With interview by Vince Pisani, A-List Atlanta Actor
Written for the T. Schreiber Studio blog series: