Sure, head shots, postcards, resumes, etc. are important too but your reel can literally win (or lose) you the role.
I can point to countless times when, after coaching an actor for their audition, their call-back, and sometimes their 2nd call back for studio/network, I get called by the actor and told that their agent called and said that the network or studio "loved their audition" and the part is "as good as theirs" but they just want to see some "reel" before they make their final decision.
Within a few days of this, the actor is either devastated or hired, depending upon his or her reel. Can your reel really have this much power over your career? In a word, Yes. As I said, I've seen it happen countless times. Parts are won and lost daily, on the strength of your reel.
So, what exactly IS an actor's reel...?
That's easy; an actor's reel is a short compilation of clips of professional film and TV work, which features said actor.
What's difficult is answering the next question:
What isn't an actor's reel...?
This is where I may lose a few friends or gain a few enemies, but I have to tell you the truth.
An actor's reel is NOT a compilation of scenes shot specifically for the actor to use in their reel, dressed up to look like scenes from actual work...
Sorry, but that includes scenes shot in your acting class or by companies that proclaim (for a hefty fee) they can "shoot your actor's reel!" These will NOT get you the job - and in fact, a reel like that, might just cost you the job.
You see, no one likes to be played for a fool. And that's just what you're doing when you try to pass off a homemade (or bought) reel as a professional actor's reel. Reel means clips of work you were hired to do! Not playing dress up in front of a camera. Ouch.
So now that we're clear on what is and what isn't an actor's reel, the million dollar question remains...:
What makes a good actor's reel...?
Therein lies the rub. If you've worked at all you probably have some clips of your work that you could cut together to create your reel. But do you really believe that this will convince someone to hire you?
I know you looked really cool in your "under 5" on that police drama when you pointed and said to the series lead, "They went that-a-way!" But is that really going to cause some studio suit who was on-the-fence to suddenly say, "He's perfect! That's our actor!"? Uh, no. Your mom may think you were brilliant and had star quality but chances are no one else will be convinced.
If you do have some experience and clips of your work that makes you look good, then you have two choices. You can edit them into a traditional actor's reel that lasts from about 2 to 4 minutes, roughly, or you can cut them into the new thing in Hollywood; a "Sizzle Reel" that lasts about a minute. Basically, a Sizzle Reel is comprised of quick cuts between short clips with no text or explanations of what shows the clips are from. They can be very convincing and I like them. Rather than try to explain the differences, here are two good examples of reel from the same actor. Ned Van Zandt is a versatile and talented working actor who had his reel cut both ways. Watch both and compare...
|"Sizzle Reels" - The hot new thing in Hollywood.|
I think a sizzle reel can be an excellent choice for some. Hollywood executives can sometimes be a little ADD (IMHO) so it doesn't pay to make them have to pay attention for too long. On the other hand, you may have a great clip, with a known star, that builds slowly and pays off big at the end. A Sizzle Reel might not be the best choice in this scenario. Choose what works best for you.
I know what some of you are asking now.
"What if I don't have enough good clips of work I've done?"
If your work hasn't, so far, yielded great clips that show you off well, don't fret. Everyone knows that your experience is just what people have hired you to do thus far. It isn't necessarily all that you are capable of. Some actors will just cut whatever clips they have together to make their reel. I think this is a mistake, as I said earlier.
Instead, I recommend shooting yourself doing a monologue. Now, before some of you start yelling at your monitors, "You said NOT to shoot it yourself!!!!!", take a breath. I'm not talking about reel, I said shoot a monologue. That means no costumes, no set, no props, no other actors. Just you and a neutral background (No unmade beds or messy closets in the background please!). Don't try to make it look like Reel. It's not meant to fool anyone. It should look like an actor doing a monologue. One static MCU shot. The only catch is, it has to be GOOD! I mean really good. So work on it with a good coach so that you know it's the best you can do. And I don't mean just me (although I can coach you via Skype, no matter where you live!). Any good acting coach can help you be better. There's no point in putting up a monologue that isn't really good.
Some will say this isn't good idea. That it's better to put up a reel of your work, even if it's not that impressive, as it shows that you've worked. I would only say in response; Your resume shows that you've worked. Put yourself in the studio's shoes. What would convince you to give an actor the role, a powerful, well-acted monologue or 3 or 4 clips of an actor saying "They went that-a-way"...?
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