Let's talk about demo reels...
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
In the last several weeks, I've been contacted by various actors specifically to coach them for a demo reel - usually a self-tape audition scene. Here's how that conversation usually goes:
"I want you to coach me for a demo reel."
"Great! How much training have you had?"
"Almost a year. Well, maybe nine months..."
Then they show me footage. I see potential, but I also see an actor who needs to do a lot more training before they're ready to be in the casting arena, auditioning alongside actors with many more years of training and experience.
Here's the deal. It's great to have goals, to have energy, ambition and enthusiasm. But let's break down what a demo reel is really for.
A demo reel's purpose is not to show you off as a work in progress. It's not to prove how much better you are six months after you started your first acting class.
A demo reel exists to show off how ready you are to work - today.
It's to show producers and casting directors that you have the skills to be dropped into their project NOW. It's to show you have an understanding of the organic nature of TV and film acting. It's to show you look like someone who gets the process, who can be natural and relaxed on a set, who can take direction, who can help make their project shine. It's to show you're a pro.
And this is huge: casting directors can smell the difference between a new actor who might be well-coached for one self-tape, versus a seasoned actor who understands what it means to live their life organically while the camera's rolling.
So, even if magic happened, if I were to coach you to one good performance in one good scene (I've done it, so it's possible) - what would happen if a producer saw it and brought you on a set? Now you're on the spot, there are dozens of bright lights shining in your face, you have to hit your mark, you have several lines of dialogue that you have to get in the first take, you have to take direction, you have to recreate that moment you did in that first take, etc. etc. etc......
Do you see where I'm going here? If you're not at that place yet, you are not ready for a demo reel.
So, how will you know when you're ready? If you have good pro actor instincts, it should be pretty clear. If you're in class and understand how to approach a variety of different genres of scripts, if you understand how your character fits into a story depending on the type of role, if you can get to the truth of the scene fairly quickly, if you can make quick adjustments, and if the types of notes you're getting in class are more of the fine-tuning variety rather than a complete tear down and rebuild, then chances are, you can handle yourself in a professional situation.
I know, there's a lot of truth here, and maybe a little too much truth until you're ready to hear it. But if you respect the craft of acting, if you love the challenge of learning this amazing art form, if you enjoy the journey and love what you do, then you should understand that this is empowering knowledge.
Get training first. Lots of it. And trust that the work will follow.
And yes, do a demo reel - but please wait until you're ready, when you have the poise, knowledge and skill to deliver on a set, under pressure, like a real pro.
(My next post will be, then what am I supposed to do if you're telling me I can't do a demo reel now, know-it-all acting coach?)