For the acting community

Demo Reel Basics
Total posts: 38
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 12:27 PM Dec. 11, 2011

Updating my actor reel so it's time to think long and hard about what to include and how to best set it up. The standard length is 3-5 minutes, but my actor friends tell me that casting directors are now asking for a one-minute speed demo, so the structure has to be nice and tight.

Actually I can see where the shorter format can be a plus for many actors who feel pressured to fill 3-5 minutes but don't really have that many good scenes. I've seen demos with decent clips marred by shots that are poor quality or that go against the actor's dominant type.

The point of a demo reel is to show industry people how to cast you, so don't rush to do one if you're still building your resume and trying to discover your dominant type, but keep this in the back of your mind always: get the clips, get the clips, get the clips! It takes a long time to gather a decent selection.

Consider carefully any programs - Adobe Flash, for example - that may not play on an IPad or other Mac products. It has to play on anything.

Here is the basic structure, borrowed shamelessly from Bonnie Gillespie's book Self Management for Actors, which I strongly recommend:

  • Open with your headshot or a super brief (3 shots) montage of close-ups of you from your films. Eliminate the headshot in the version intended for uploading to an online profile.
  • Lead with your very best clips. If you have 15 seconds of brilliance, put it first.
  • Don't show everything you've ever done. In creating a demo, less is more. It doesn't have to be a prescribed length; it does have to be good.
  • Only use clips from film work that appears on your resume. If you're short of clips from films/TV, use clips from your commercials, documentaries and industrials.
  • Show your acting range and variety of roles, but within your dominant type.
  • Stick to simple cuts, dissolves and fades. The demo should show your strengths as an actor, not the creativity of the editor.
  • Edit the scenes to remove other actors as much as you can. This is all about you. Everyone else should have the least amount of screen/dialogue time as possible while still keeping some continuity to the scene. Nice, tight, short clips.
  • Cut to the chase. Don't waste time on lead in, lead out parts of the scene that are not very interesting.
  • Don't overly ID each clip. Reading distracts the casting person from looking at you.
  • Begin and end each clip with your face and voice, or at the very least your face.
  • You might also close with a 5-15 second (depending on length of reel) montage of photos of you from your films, but don't include any from clips you've already shown. I'll add a bit of my own advice here: if you've worked with directors or in films others in the business are likely to recognize then over this closing montage do a screen roll of your credits, including the directors' names. It's a nice touch.
  • Add a music bed only if it helps to integrate the clips and isn't loud enough to distract.
  • For demos intended for distribution, open and close with your name, website, and contact information on the screen. Again, you can eliminate this on the version intended for uploading to online profiles where this information is already showing.
  • Keep the Quicktime upload version to no more than 15MB and 320 pixels wide by 240 pixels high, which should get it onto most personal websites, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
  • Be sure to have your name and contact information neatly printed on the DVD label as demos and resumes often get separated.
  • Finally, no outside branding. Never let anyone who edits or duplicates your demo put their name, logo, or contact information on your marketing materials.

When it comes time to update your reel consider this, only replace a clip if the new one is better than what you have, is just as good but newer, or just as good as what you have but of a type of role not currently on your reel. Tons more info in Gillespie's chapter on demo reels. I recommend her book on my blog at

Total posts: 38
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 10:05 AM Dec. 12, 2011
Here's more: Brian Dragonuk says that 60 Second Demo reels are all that most Potential Employers are willing to look at. Many will not even start to look at anything longer.

As he puts it, if the Employer wants someone to do Drama - thats all they want to See - nothing else. Same with Comedy, TV Commercials, Shakespeare or Industrials - an Actor needs a separate reel for each now. A Voice reel is 30-45 Seconds tops and each Voice Style, Accent or Language needs its own reel.

It occurs to me that all this can get very expensive. I've been thinking about investing in the latest version of Final Cut Pro and doing my own video/audio editing. Running updates through an editor would be too time consuming and blow my budget. At least the CD/DVD is starting to fall by the wayside. Just links and emailable audio mp3 files.
Total posts: 8
Joined: 9 year(s) ago
Posted 3:11 PM Jun. 9, 2012
Are you available to help put a demo together; or where should I go to get a demo put together?
Total posts: 38
Joined: 11 year(s) ago
Posted 9:12 AM Jun. 11, 2012
Hi Cheryl,

I don't use anyone locally, but I know actor Ken Arnold does headshots and demos at Studio Boh in Baltimore. Here's his contact information

3500 Boston Street, Suite 412
Baltimore, MD
phone: (410)703-4190