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Darwinisms: 4 Tips On How to Produce Your Own Acting Reel Darwin Carlisle, Director and Founder of First Class Reels, offers some tips on how to produce your own acting reel. First Class Reels is a video production service that helps actors and actresses demonstrate their talent in Los Angeles and New York City. We shoot on the Blackmagic Ursa 4K camera, with professional lav microphones for recording audio. Mannequin Dreams, a 2014 short film produced by First Class Reels and directed by Darwin Carlisle, was recently shown at the London Short Film Festival. Read more about it here: Darwin was recently featured on Entrepreneur on Fire, one of the top five podcasts in the country. You can hear the interview here:

A lot of people have been asking me what they should be looking for if they turn to producing their own reel for free.  It's certainly a great option if you have a filmmaking friend who's ready and willing to provide the professional eye and equipment that you'll need to create something that works for online websites like Actors Access, LA Casting, IMDb Pro and other assorted casting sites.  You probably already know that a demo reel should consist of about half a page to a page of dialogue and be mostly about you - it really doesn't have to be super complex.  But how can you make it stand out?  Here are some tips on how to make your reel extra strong.

1. Be Prepared

People are generally impatient when it comes to clicking on videos - often they decide to click away just seconds after they've arrived! So you have a fraction of a second to impress these jittery viewers, and (sad to say) they love to pick apart actors' performances.  So make sure you throw everything you have up on the screen the moment the cameras are rolling, and - while every actor works different - this generally includes a few things like:

  • Write out the character's background
  • Write out the GOALS the character hopes to achieve in the scene
  • Ask "What were they doing right before this?"
  • Ditto "What were they doing right after this?"
  • Rehearse with an acting coach
Don't forget about costume either - layering is frequently more interesting, but can be distracting in some instances.

Don't forget about costume either - layering is frequently more interesting, but can be distracting in some instances.

2. Improv

Bad example, but I'm going to use it anyway - if you were scrolling through thousands of videos wanting to see what different birds looks like when they're flying, you're going to get really impatient at every wasted second - you don't want to click on a video of the bird sitting on a branch preening its feathers and then taking off after a minute or two.  You want it to already be in the air so you can EXACTLY what it looks like.  By the same token, you don't want prospective agents or casting directors to see you warming up to your big moment a minute into the reel.  They want you to cut to the good stuff IMMEDIATELY (side note: context is the last thing on anybody's mind when they're trying to gauge performance).  So if you want the scene to be GREAT from the beginning, one way to achieve that is by improv-ing out the dialogue that your character(s) had right before the scene.  That way, you're well into your character when your scene starts.

3. Use Good Audio

Look folks, this one should be self-explanatory, but audio does not just sound great by itself.  It's just as challenging of a medium as film and video, and it requires just as much work.  Most of all, it takes the viewer out of your film instantly if you sound like you were being recorded on an iPhone in the next room.  If you're spending money on makeup or film equipment, do yourself a favor and go ahead and rent a lavalier or shotgun mic.  It'll be worth it, trust me.

4. Challenge Yourself

Take everything I just said and throw it out the window, but only if you know what you're doing.  An acting reel is an imperfect way to sell yourself, and it's only marginally better than (or frequently much worse than) a short film or other demonstration of your skills.  Nobody clicks on your video looking for an acting reel.  They click on your video wondering if you are an ANSWER to their CHALLENGE of finding the perfect actor for their specific role.  And since the content they're creating is likely to be something they care a great deal about, they're looking for more than just someone who can hit their marks.  They're looking for a fantastic actor who can blow them away, and nobody knows for sure exactly what that awesome performance might look like.

Granted, there are some fairly basic rules a lot of people still go by.  They want to see you in a Legal genre scene if you're going out for a detective role.  They're not going to bring in an actress who has a comedy reel for a dramatic role, and vice versa.  Still, they're not looking for automatons - they want to see life and texture.  Trust me when I say, you're much better off taking a risk and giving yourself something difficult to chew on, because the person watching it will likely see what you're going for.  And understand this key point: you book the role in the audition, not the reel.  You don't have to be exactly what they need in the reel - you just need to be close enough to be worth bringing in to see in person.

So that's it!  Happy hunting, and of course, if you need help, just drop me a line!