The Complete Guide to Demo Reels For Actors
A key piece of any working actor's identity is their demo reel. Here's the good news - allcasting subscribers can now add a demo reel to their profile! Having a demo reel on your profile will help you get discovered & cast… as long as you do it right. To help you do just that, here's everything you need to know about demo reels for actors.
What is a demo reel?
A demo reel (also sometimes referred to as a “Sizzle reel”) is a brief compilation video of your best on-screen acting performances. It usually consists of 3-4 clips from a variety of appearances/scenes and showcases what you, as an actor, can bring to the table. The demo reel lets casting directors understand what you look like on the screen, what can they expect from your performance, and what type of work have you done before.
In other words, a demo reel is your time to shine and put your best foot forward. More often than not, your demo reel will be the difference maker between getting an invite to an audition or not.
Here's a good example:
How does a demo reel help you get cast?
First and foremost, having a demo reel is an immediate indicator of experience. It shows the casting director that you're serious about acting and have gigs under your belt.
The casting director can immediately see how comfortable you are in front of the camera and whether some of the talents you display translate to the character at hand. Or any other character for that matter - perhaps your strong suits as an actor are more fitting for another role.
A huge benefit of showcasing your range of talents and acting abilities is not just that you can impress a casting director, but also that you become a known quantity - they know what to expect of you. If you're competing against people who don't have a demo reel, then you've got a strong advantage, because calling in actors without a demo reel is always a gamble.
In short, your demo reel says “I'm here, this is what I can do, how can my talents make your project better”. And that's exactly what casting directors want to hear.
Let's move on to how to create the perfect demo reel.
The perfect demo reel: technical
Before we dive into what content you should include in your reel, it's important to outline the technical aspect of it. Even if you have incredible clips and performances, the single easiest way to butcher their value is by presenting them wrong. On the flip side, if your performances aren't that impressive, a well-made demo reel can make them feel professional.
There is no single standard for length, but every casting professional shares the same general outlook - a demo reel should be no shorter than 1 minute, and no longer than 3. We suggest taking the middle route and aim for 2 minutes. A shorter demo reel signals that you don't have enough content to include, whereas a longer one simply won't be watched - casting directors are always short on time.
Make sure the clips you use are of high quality. Never include phone-filmed shaky & blurry scenes or blatantly amateur footage that makes it hard to see what you're doing on camera. All your clips should come from professional productions or, if you're planning to make some clips yourself (we'll get into this towards the end), you must ensure that the production value is good.
Always keep it as simple as possible. Make sure your fonts and transitions are simple. Funky openings with colorful elements or fancy transitions feel unprofessional, unnecessary, and over-the-top - the only thing they achieve is waste the casting director's time.
What's more - don't add background music. Make sure all your clips have clear sound and don't pollute it with unnecessary extra sounds.
Unless specifically asked to, never send your demo reel as a file, i.e. an email attachment. Imagine if a casting director receives 100 applications each of which has a video file attached? Their computer would get swamped.
Actors typically upload their demo reel to Youtube or Vimeo and then just share the link. Indeed, even with allcasting, you'll need to upload your video to Youtube before you can add it to your profile. Sending a link to your video is much simpler, quicker, and easier than sending the whole video.
Don't forget: whether you share to Youtube or Vimeo, always include your name & contact details in the description, along with any other relevant information.
Anatomy of a demo reel
Opening slate (4-5 seconds); clip #1 (~30 seconds); clip #2 (~30 seconds); clip #3 (~30 seconds); clip #4 (~30 seconds). Feel free to give each clip the time it deserves, but keeping it around 20-40 seconds long will ensure that it's not too short, nor too long.
Now that you know about the technical expectations, let's move on to what your demo reel should contain.
The perfect demo reel: content
Your demo reel should start with info about who you are and how to get in touch with you. Your name and contact details are sufficient. A time-tested method is to simply add them in white font on a black background. You may also add your headshot on the side if you like. For example:
Having your headshot in the opening frame can be particularly helpful if your scenes feature multiple people and dialogue. It's sometimes difficult to identify - which actor are you? With a headshot, this question is immediately resolved.
Always, ALWAYS put your best clip first. Once again, understanding the value of a casting director's time is of paramount importance. They're not there to watch demo reels, they're there to find the perfect actor for the role.
So if you don't capture the casting director's attention straight away, then they'll just stop watching your reel. Having your best clip as a climactic finale makes no sense if it ends up unseen.
What's more, if you have a variety of clips arrange them such that each clip contrasts with the next. For instance, if you have 2 clips that are action-based and 2 that are monologues, arrange them such that they go - action, monologue, action, monologue. It will help better showcase your acting range right off the bat and keep casting directors interested in what's coming next. The more varied your clips, the better. Plus, try to avoid putting various clips from the same projects unless they're absolutely brilliant.
Note: this should go without saying, but your demo reel showcases your acting range and ability, so keep in mind that you should only include speaking roles. If you've done background work, don't include it. It'll make casting directors laugh and not in a good way.
Casting directors don't need to understand the story. They only need to see what you look like and what can you do on camera.
We understand that it's tempting to insert an elongated clip that gives context to your character's speech, but if you're not in the clip, then don't bother. Ideally, all your clips have full focus on you acting your heart out.
Use recent footage
Clips older than 5 years serve no purpose in your demo reel. Casting directors want to see what you can do now! If you had an epic role in a huge movie 10 years ago, including it in your demo reel will signal the following things:
- you haven't gotten enough good clips over the last decade
- you're trying to impress them with big names
- you might be difficult to work with
- you don't understand how demo reels work
The more recent your clips, the better.
Simple transitions & titles
There's no need for title cards, fancy transitions, black screens, text that explain a scene, or anything else beyond your clips. Just move directly from one clip to the next. You may add the name of the project in a bottom corner on top of the clip. No need for anything more.
If you're wondering why, it's the same reason as elsewhere - everything is done with the casting director's time in mind. The faster they can go through your stuff, the happier they'll be. Any extra transitions or title cards unnecessarily stretch the process and can get on their nerves, which is something you absolutely don't want to be doing.
Do you need multiple demo reels?
Unless you're a professional actor with lots and lots of experience and projects under your belt, the answer is no. One reel that demonstrates the best of your talents is enough.
That being said, there is value in having multiple reels. For instance, if you're auditioning for a western and have lots of western-oriented clips from previous projects, then creating a custom reel for that role can be beneficial. The casting directors can see what you look like in costume, if your accent is right for the role, and how will you fit in on the set. This kind of type-specific reel can be beneficial for those of you that are often typecast for a single role.
Another common method is to create two reels - one for drama, one for comedy. If you've got the clips and means to do that, you can go right ahead and have two reels.
But, once again - it's not necessary. Better to have a strong regular reel than several weaker type-specific reels.
What to do if you don't have (enough) clips for a demo reel
The demo reel can be a daunting thing for the aspiring actor that's just starting out. Landing a speaking role is not easy if you don't have the experience. Getting enough good ones for a full demo reel can feel impossible. You might find yourself in a loop - to get more high quality acting roles, you need a demo reel, but to get a demo reel, you need more high quality acting roles.
Generally speaking, if you don't have enough clips for a demo reel, then don't have one. Yes, you probably won't land that role, but you won't get it with a bad demo reel either. Perhaps that role is out of reach for you, given your current experience, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Nevertheless, there are ways of building a demo reel even if you have little to no “real” clips.
1. Hire a demo reel service
There are professional reel services a google search away that will help you create clips for your reel. They provide you with a script, have professional filming equipment, have a realistic set - in short, they have everything you need to create a good clip.
Unfortunately, this service can be rather pricey. What's more - it doesn't always land well with casting directors, since you're essentially “faking it” to get ahead of others. Most directors won't mind, but there's always a danger of stepping on some toes with these mock reels.
2. Student films & non-paying gigs
It's much easier to find speaking roles on smaller productions since they rarely have the means to pay their actors. They tend to have professional equipment and solid projects so you can use this to your advantage and get “real” and well-made footage for your demo reel.
3. Self-tapes can work too
Casting directors are people too and they understand full-well that you have to start somewhere. So adding some self-taped scenes can be perfectly fine if your demo reel is short on clips. But then you have to put the effort in.
No blurry footage, no bad acting, no selfies, no bad sound. A low-quality self-tape will NOT help you in any way. Quite the opposite. Anything short of perfect will hamper your chances of landing the gig.
How to add a demo reel to your allcasting profile
It's a very simple 5-step process:
- Make sure you're logged into your allcasting profile
- Go to your profile (on mobile: Menu -> edit profile)
- Scroll down to the Video section or select Demo reel in the side overview.
- Select Upload demo reel in you profile window
- Insert your demo's Youtube link and Save
That's it! Now all of allcasting's casting directors will be able to see your demo reel. Your chances of landing a gig are higher than ever!