Demo Reel Lockdown Motivation

Guest Blog Post by Ian Lyons

Hi all, with this unforeseen downtime we’re having, along with appreciating our health and our loved ones, it’s a fine time to get our promotional materials prepped for when things start to pick up again. As I’m a fellow actor and demo reel editor, I thought a few pointers about reels might be helpful to get you motivated.

I’ve edited demo reels for actors at all levels of their careers, from those just starting up in indie/student films to those well established in studio film and TV projects. While the quality and quantity of the footage may vary, how the reel is constructed remains generally the same. 

I’ve heard conflicting opinions regarding how long the reel should be, should better known projects be at the front and so on… There is no real definitive way. Some of the longest, most painfully boring reels are the ones by the most successful actors who are maybe too precious with their work (I’ve been guilty of this); while other actors want their reels under a minute.. I generally aim for around two minutes, but that can vary depending on the actor’s desires. It’s always a good idea to check with your reps, so you can best shape the reel to their needs.

When I first receive an actor’s footage, I look for what scenes best demonstrate the actor’s abilities and range. If you’re editing your own reel, definitely share it with friends or industry professionals for their opinions and advice. What I’m really looking for is what rings most true to me. It may not be the scene with the most shouting or crying, but it’s the work that looks most effortless and natural. Of course the quality of the footage can often dictate which pieces I choose.

Poor image and/or sound can be a huge distraction and can adversely affect how one views your reel. The last thing you want is someone to turn it off.

So you’ve chosen the scenes you want to include, now you have to trim it into a cohesive whole. The main thing to consider when editing is to keep the focus on the actor whose reel you’re editing. Sure that actor opposite you is a great guy and really delivers those lines with pizzazz, but you’re not trying to get him the job. He’s got his own reel. Trim as much out of the other actor as possible so the scene still works. Maybe even cut out some of their image and underlay their dialogue below your reaction shot, but always keep the focus on you. If you want to show you’ve worked with a well-known performer, that’s fine, but don’t spend too much time on them. You don’t want the casting director wondering which actor’s reel they’re watching. 

Now this next part is about being too precious. Remember casting isn’t watching your reel to be entertained or told a story. They are crazy busy and just want to know how well you can act and if you’re right for their project. So when you edit that scene, don’t be too concerned if they’re going to fully understand what’s going on. That doesn’t matter. Just show them you can act, don’t worry about the story.

Lastly, to include contact info or not? Again, if you have representation that’s a good question for them. If you’re reaching out to the NYC market then you’ll need your materials on Actors Access, which prefers no contact info on your reel and/or clips. The way I see it is, if someone is looking at your reel then they already have your contact info, cause you’ve either emailed it to them, your agent shared it with them or they found it on a website which includes a way to contact you. It’s absolutely your choice though. It doesn’t look bad if you’ve included your contact information, but it will lengthen your reel by a few seconds. I generally have a quick title card with only the actor’s name at the beginning and end and that’s it. 

Thank you for spending these few minutes with me. I wish you the best in your endeavors and most importantly wishing you and yours much health and love in this trying time.

Attend the ActorPlaybook Studio Workshop via Zoom - REEL Talk w/Guest Ian Lyons on April 16th

Learn more at Reels By Ian

Follow Ian on Instagram at @ianactornyc

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