How to Get an Acting Reel

An acting reel or “demo” is a really important tool if you want to work as a film actor. Many agents and managers want to see a demo reel before they meet you. An actor reel is also handy if you live in New York, for example, and want to be considered for an acting job being cast in LA. Plus, now that many casting websites let actors upload their reels, casting directors use them more and more to pre-read candidates.

Here you’ll find step by step guidance on how to build a professional-looking film reel that gets you work.

“How do I get an acting reel?”

    1. First, make sure you ALWAYS get a copy of your screen acting work. Sometimes, that means calling producers or directors over and over! Try to get a good quality copy. If you get a DVD, make sure it’s not locked so that you’ll be able to extract the video for your reel. The best way to make sure you get a copy of your work is to find out who to call while you’re still working on set. Let them know you’ll need a copy for your reel and get their number.
    2. Once you have copies of all your work, decide which scenes to include on your reel, keeping in mind that an actor reel should be short (3-5 minutes long). Only include the part of the scene you’re in. Don’t worry about people understanding the plot. That’s not the point.

“What should I put on my actor reel?”

That really depends on how much screen acting you’ve done. Ideally, you want to put only your best work. You usually want to show as much a range as possible by picking roles in both film and television that range from dramas to sitcoms (but if you want to market yourself in a niche, you would only put one type of roles on your demo reel instead). Don’t put any filmed stage roles or commercials on your reel unless you have to and only show scenes where you are part of the main dialogue (although you may want to show a scene you had just a few lines in if you played opposite recognizable actors).

  1. Find an editor to create your acting reel. Prices vary greatly and are often dependent on the amount of footage you have. Plan to pay a little more if you need a lot of editing on your scenes, but don’t feel like you have to get a flashy intro sequence or transitions. This can quickly make your reel look amateurish. What they want to see is your acting.
  2. Once you found who you want to work with, you can discuss what you want on your actor reel ahead of time and come back later to see your reel, or in many cases, sit with the editor as they create your demo. Either way, your name and contact information should appear at the beginning and at the end of your demo reel and stay on long enough for people to jot it down.
  3. Once you’re happy with your film reel, ask your editor for a master (a high quality tape or DVD of your reel), along with a CD containing the edited sequence and an internet-ready version of your reel (don’t worry, these are explained below).
  4. Use the master to make 10-15 DVD copies of your acting reel (you won’t need more to start with, plus you may need to update your reel with a new acting role in the near future). Test your copies on different computers and DVD players to make sure they’ll work no matter what the agent or casting director uses to watch them.
  5. Use the internet-ready version of your film reel to upload your demo to audition websites or even your actor webpage if you have one.
  6. When you get a new good screen acting job, you can easily update your reel if you held on to all your original tapes and to the edited sequence mentioned above. This computer file has all the information on how your reel was made, so you can literally add or delete a scene in minutes! All you need is the editor you work with to use the same software as your previous editor).
You can create your own reel on a software like iMovie. If you’re going to be acting as a career, knowing how to make and update your reel will save you lots of time and money. In most cases, all you need to do is put one clip after the other and a title with your name at the beginning and end. Just make sure you adjust the sound from scene to scene so an acting agent or manager doesn’t have to keep raising or lowering the volume as they watch your reel.

OK, you’re done!

Now you have a professional-looking demo reel.

Get a bunch of labels and print your name and number on your acting reels…

… and don’t leave home without one! You should always have a copy of your acting reel with you, along with a picture and resume.

“What if I don’t have that much to put on my reel?”At the beginning of your acting career, you may only have 2-3 scenes from student films to put on your acting reel. That’s OK. As long as you think your acting is strong, the quality of the footage shouldn’t be your main concern. On the other hand, don’t put a scene you’re not happy with on your reel just to fill it up.

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