A high quality reel is one of the best tools an actor can have in their back pocket. But how do you go about creating a video that shows how great you are on camera to a casting director? We asked one of our favorite video editors John Mclean to give us the inside scoop into the world of audition-ready reels.
Hi John! Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been video editing?
My name is John McLean. I’m an actor/writer/filmmaker, and I’ve been editing for nine years.
What is a reel actually used for? What should I be putting in it?
Most people mistake an actor’s reel as a sort of business card for actors. But that’s simply not true. A reel is like a phone interview for a job, only you have all your responses planned out and ready to go. If you could have the best responses in the world planned out when you walk in the room, wouldn’t you? A reel is the first time someone working on a project gets to see YOU. Not your resume. Not what you look like. You. This is, for all intents and purposes, your reel first impression. (See what I did there?) So in short, a reel is used as a pre-audition. A casting director, agent, manager, producer, or director will call you in based on whether they like what they see in your reel. What should be in it? Only the best of what you’ve done. If you look at a scene that you did and you can say without a doubt that you are proud of your work in it, that should be in your reel. Anything less, should be on the cutting room floor.
How do I get footage for my reel?
Getting footage for your reel can be done a couple of ways. If you negotiated to be able to use footage in your contract on a project, then you can pull directly from that. Or, if it was a web series/something you made yourself, you can pull footage from online or the unedited footage. On lower budget things, you can ask about getting the original, unedited footage of your scenes. This way, if there was a scene that you were in that got cut, you could have access to it. It may not have served the film, but it can sure as hell serve your career. It’s important to always get the highest quality of footage available. If you’ve got some high definition footage, and some that’s only standard definition, the quality of your reel drops to the lower quality. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Can’t I just take some videos with my phone?
Taking videos with your phone isn’t actually a bad idea, IF AND ONLY IF you haven’t done any on camera work yet. Find some monologues or scenes that show you off, find a friend with a tripod and put three things on film that you’re proud of. But make sure that your phone films in HD, you have a good microphone and good lighting, and please turn your phone sideways. Never film vertical! And remember, this is just a placeholder. Replace this reel ASAP! It’s meant to help get you some starter work on camera so you can start making a more professional reel.
What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when putting together material for their reel?
The biggest mistakes people make when putting together a reel are just throwing scenes together and calling it a reel. Your reel has to captivate someone and convince them to keep watching for the 90-120 seconds that you’re on screen. So show off your acting chops, but also tell a story. Be interesting, be exciting, and keep their attention. Oh, and remember that 90-120 seconds thing I just said? Yeah, that’s a hard and fast rule. No one wants to watch more than that for a reel. Air on the side of caution and keep them wanting more, but show enough to get them intrigued. How long will get them intrigued but keep them wanting more you ask? 90-120 seconds. All of these mistakes can be avoided by hiring an editor. An editor will make your footage look great, put it together in a cohesive order, and be a second set of eyes for work that you may be on the fence about. A good reel editor will work with you to make you look your best. The best way to test a reel? Ask yourself if you would call you in for an audition based on what you’ve seen. Does it show range? Does the person on screen seem interesting? Do you want to see more of them? If yes, then congrats, you’ve got yourself a reel.
Any other advice for an actor starting out?
If you’re an actor just starting out, welcome! It’s tough out there, but a good reel can make it a lot more bearable. The most important thing is to get out there and act. Get into a friend’s web series or a student film. And if you can’t do that, make something yourself! Get as much footage as you can. The more footage you have, the more you have to work with for your reel. Help your editor help you.
Thank you so much John! How can people get in touch with you if they want their reels edited?
If you’re interested in me editing your reel, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to talk and see what we can do to make your reel the best it can be.