What Goes Into a Good Actor Demo Reel

Today, an actor needs a good demo reel. Many agents won’t even look at representing an actor if they don’t have one. So what are the elements that need to go into a demo reel to make it effective?

  • Brevity. Us directors and the casting directors don’t have a lot of time. I’m not going to sit through a 6 minute demo. I will make it through a one minute demo. And that might even leave me wanting more. Which is what you want.
  • Quality of Acting. I want to see beats or turns. Not just effusing drama. So you can cry. What caused your character to start crying? That’s what I want to see.
  • Quality of Production. I understand that many actors use what they can get– that the filmmakers have been too busy to give the actor a high def quality clip. But when you do have a high quality clip, it does give a stronger impression. But bottomline– use what you’ve got.
  • Does Slating Matter? Not to me. But it’s a good idea to have your name and agent if not both at the beginning and end, at least at the end. And don’t fade it out. That way when it stops on the last frame, it keeps your name up there.
  • It’s not a bad idea to have a commercial demo reel, a feature film or dramatic demo reel and modeling demo reel. That way you can keep them short. I wouldn’t have a four minute demo reel that shows them all. I’m not going to sit through it. But if you don’t have much material, you can put commercial and feature stuff together on one quick reel.
  • If you have scenes opposite famous actors, put it in. If you have three seconds and the rest of the scene is the famous actor, just put your three seconds plus the next few seconds of the famous actor. Yeah, it means something if you were in a scene with Tom Hanks. So you can let me know that– just don’t make it a Tom Hanks reel.
  • I don’t believe you have to chop something waaay up– in other words, a scene between you and another actor and you cut all the other actor out, leaving a very choppy scene of you speaking. I would rather scene the *beat*, even if it includes a cutaway to the other actor. But do try and limit close ups of other actors. I’ve watched demo reels where I wasn’t sure which actor I was supposed to be watching. Often. I get half way through a reel and realized “oh, it was that other guy I was supposed to watch!” So cut if you need to, but don’t go crazy.

So hurry up and get that reel done! Casting people are waiting.


Dan Millican is a feature film director. He also writes, shoots and edits original scenes for actors to put in their demo reel. Next demo shoot is Feb 7 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To register, go to the store.