Having an acting reel is a really important part of marketing yourself as an actor, but it can be expensive. If you are familiar with software like iMovie or Movie Maker, you can try to create your acting reel yourself, especially if you only have a few scenes to work with. Below are seven editing tips that will help your homemade acting reel look more professional.
Acting Reel Tip #1 - Avoid DVDs
It's great to have DVD copies of films you acted in, but it makes editing your reel very difficult, because the video on DVDs needs to be reformatted before it can be edited. If you can, try to get copies of your film acting footage as video files you can easily work with. If you have a Mac computer, ask for Quicktime files. If you have a PC, ask for AVI files. The best way to get the files you need is to contact the editor of the movie you were in. If they are not on set when you shoot, get their name and number from the director or producer. Most of the time, they'll be able to burn CDs with the scenes you want in the format you ask for. If not, ask if you can get a copy of your scenes on a miniDV tape. If you have a consumer miniDV camera (or can borrow one), all you have to do is plug it into your computer and capture the footage you need.
Acting Reel Tip #2 - A little extra time now will save you a lot of time later
Beyond cost, one of the advantages of making your own acting reel is that you can edit it as often as you like. In order to make this process easy, stay organized when you first create your acting reel. Name all your original scenes carefully and keep a copy of the project you created your reel in, whether it's in iMovie, Movie Maker or another editing software. If you stay organized, you can update your reel in minutes. This way, when you see a role you want to audition for, you can include the perfect scene for it on your reel before sending it to the casting director.
Acting Reel Tip #3 - Keep it simple
Your acting reel doesn't need flashy titles and transitions. A simple fade in and fade out with your name and contact information on a black background works great. You can create that in minutes on iMovie by using the "centered title" template. Stating your name and contact information simply will keep the agent and casting director focused on what matters - watching your acting and writing down your contact information. The important thing is to make sure your slate stays on screen long enough for people to write it down (4-5 seconds if it only includes your name and number, longer if you have more information, like your acting agency's name or your webpage's address). And also make sure you put in the same information at the end of your acting reel. That's the time people are going to write it down... after seeing your best onscreen acting!
Which leads me to the next point...
Acting Reel Tip #4 - Keep the best for last
If you're wondering in what order to include your film scenes on your reel, here's my advice... Choose a really good scene to start off your demo reel (so busy casting directors keep watching) and pick your best scene to end the reel (so that casting directors pick up the phone to call you). Once you have your first and last scenes, filling the middle of your reel is easy. Line up your middle scenes with one goal in mind - for the viewer to keep watching. This means cutting out anything that feels too long or redundant. If you can, keep surprising the casting director by switching genres or character types.
Acting Reel Tip #5 - Make a short intro
Do you have good moments from the films you've been in that just aren't long enough to include in your acting reel? If you have good on screen moments you don't know what to do with (for example, a good close-up reaction shot or a silent bit in an action scene), you can edit them all together in a quick montage set to music right after you slate your name at the beginning of your reel. A quick montage (30 seconds max) can really set the tone for your reel. Setting it to music is easy with software like iMovie (the iLife sound effect library comes with "Jingles", short instrumental pieces perfect for an intro montage).
Acting Reel Tip #6 - Use your editing scissors
A typical acting demo reel is 3-5 minutes long, but having a great 2-minute reel is a much better idea than having a 5 minute average one. Don't feel like you have to include all the film acting you ever did on your reel. Only pick your best acting moments (and make sure you include close-ups so the viewer knows which actor he's looking at). Your acting reel is all about you. Ideally, it shouldn't feature a close-up of any other actor for more than a few seconds). If you have two good acting moments in a scene separated by lengthy dialogue by other characters, cut out the middle dialogue and drop a quick fade in/fade out between your two acting moments (you can do that in seconds on iMovie by using the "fade through black" transition). Remember... The acting agent or casting director watching your reel doesn't care about understanding the scene you're in, they just want to see you act.
Acting Reel Tip #7 - Make the most of your scenes
If you're starting your film acting career, the problem may not be cutting from your reel but adding to it. If you have very few film scenes to include on your reel, get creative! Consider adding footage from a student film or a commercial. If you had a very small role in a film with a recognizable actor or director, you can use a "lower third" title under the footage to mention the name of the actor or director. If you have no footage at all and really feel that you need a film reel, you may want to hire a young director to shoot a few scenes starring you. Film students will probably be willing to do it for free if you pay for the camera and sound package.
Hope all these tips help you make a great first acting reel!
By Alex Swenson
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