Critiques: Your Demo Reels

The following example demo reels accompany "The Actors Voice" column by Bonnie Gillespie posted here:

"Critiques: Your Demo Reels"

Click on any still to launch the .mov demo reel file associated with it.
Kalimba's reel is pretty good. SpeedReels seem to save your name 'til the end and offer no contact information whatsoever, which you'll see me harp on several times in this week's column. At least give me a URL so I can visit your site for more info, if I'm watching your reel on my local drive or away from your site for some reason. I generally like a show title (or film title) in the lower-third of a clip (just to let me know what I'm watching), but because only your first clip has one, it feels out of place. I'd lose it altogether, if you're not going to do it throughout. I'm not entirely sure, but the last clip (the job interview) seems off-brand. I'd lose that clip and end with the "unit with my class" scene. It's funny and I wanted more. Not a huge fan of the cooking show clip in which you're wearing a wig. I'd either put that after the eHarmony spoof or lose it altogether. Still, these are nitpicky issues, seeing as the reel has two of my favorite components: It's SHORT and it edits a series regular down to a supporting player in your scene. Seriously, Lisa Kudrow supported you very well in YOUR scene. That's exactly what good reel editors can make happen! I generally like Scott's reel, but I have a question. How dated is that priest clip? I love it, but I worry it's not your current look or brand, so to lead with it is a bit odd. Maybe save it for a clip after something in your current look/type area. Also, the music cuts out too cold on that clip. The blowhard clip is good. The Comedy Central clip, I'd lose (or save a bit of that for a montage at the end). The scene in the room with the bugs is over the top, but that may be a character (and brand) you go out for quite a bit, so of course, you need to keep that too. I don't like the no-dialogue razorblade clip. It's just not necessary, and could also go in a closing montage, if you really wanted to keep it for some reason. Love the cute kiss ending scene, but it cuts out just a hair too soon. Leave us with a bit of a button and the moment after, so we can let it sink in. Not too long, of course. Oh, and I adore that your opening card is your headshot--so we know who we're checking out, right away--and your name and union status. Overall, well done!
Okay, Brandi got work on a reality show, which is more and more common for actors these days, but I'm not thrilled with how you've chosen to present your work on that show as a showcase of your acting ability. I think it's great that you--out of all the folks that participated on the show--were invited to do press with the show's host on a local news show, but that's something to mention in a cover letter. Or it's a blurb on your website, along with a still from that visit. As a clip, it's just not telling me anything about you as an actor. You could use a bit in a montage at the end of a reel, perhaps, and use the clip from the show itself on a dedicated reality show/personality reel (not an acting reel), but to use this whole news segment is overkill. It's of greater value as a mention, rather than as a full display of how the show was. That said, I know you're using placeholders until you get your footage from actual acting work you've shot, so I get the why and trust you'll yank this as soon as you get more substantive examples of your acting chops.

Here's a great example of a reality show/personality reel from Chanté. The footage is re-edited to be all about you, which is exactly what I'd hope you'd do, no matter where your footage comes from. This has nothing to do with the way the show aired and everything to do with showing us who you are. Excellent! The only thing I'd recommend, here, is removing the clip from the film in which you play a TV reporter. It's mixing messages. You've given us three reality show/personality clips and then one that is of you, acting. Sure, you're acting like a reporter, which could go on this sort of reel, but because it's you portraying a role rather than hosting a show, I think it needs to go on a separate acting reel (one which contains no reality show clips--except perhaps in a montage at the end of the reel, if you must). Still, a fun reel and one that helps me get you.
Now, Lauren's reel is not my favorite, for one major reason. It's one long scene from a project you did, with no editing to make it less about what the producers needed it to be and more about what you need it to be: showing us YOU. There's a full 20 seconds before we even see your face. It's mostly black screen with voiceover, which isn't horrible, but it's just not helping you as much as it could, re-edited. I'd also edit the guy walking down the hall to a fraction of the time we spend on that otherwise. Take this aircheck scene to a great demo reel editor and have him make it all about you. Also, add your name and contact information, so we know who you are and where to find you. It's fine to only have one scene on a reel (especially one that aired on a major network), just present it at its best so we see you at your best.
Brant asked me whether it's better to have no media clips than to showcase work that's "nothing you're really proud of." Yeah. The answer is yes, Brant. I'm sorry. I can't find much to love about what you're using as a reel right now. No name, no contact info, no headshot at the start so we know who we're looking at. Can't be sure whose reel it is and at some points I'm pretty sure it's the female actor's reel, the way it's edited. I don't get to see much of your acting at all, which is the point of a reel. I'm going to show you a great example of the kind of reel you can use to show folks what you're about before you have much usable footage. Yes, you'll need some footage but I bet you can grab a camera, some buddies, and iMovie and do better than you might expect!

Ah, I adore Zurit's reel, although it's less of a demo reel and more of a "sizzle reel." This is what actors who have very little material should consider trying, as they build up tape. No need to push to include a bad scene, a one-line role, non-sync sound/non-speaking pieces when you can create a "best of" that gives us a sense of how to cast you, and enough to maybe get you in the room. Until you have more substantive clips--or ones you're really proud of--this is a great alternative to the "all or nothing" dilemma many actors face. Love your use of music and how you have it go quiet but not all the way out, for a line here and there. My only tweak would be to have the reel start on your line in the restaurant. I know you want to establish the scene a bit, but less of his line could do that just fine. Great work!
I like that Tara's reel opens with a headshot, agent information, and website URL. What I don't like is how most of the footage in your reel is shot. Everything is your coverage! So, either this was all shot for the purpose of a reel (which is fine, when done well) or you chose to use none of the establishing shots or cutaways, which seems odd. That's fine for one scene, if it's all you've got, but when you're giving us a lot of material that's all shot as if it's "just for you," we're seeing no professional work and too much of the same thing. It's not helping you as much as just having one "shot for the sake of a reel" scene would. I feel the last scene is the strongest of these and should go first on your reel (or at least right after what is currently the first scene). You could edit down the time spent showing the phone and bringing it to your ear, but that's a nitpicky note. I love the exhibition scene that is the first clip of Lee's reel. Totally great branding and some high-profile stuff. The build and quick emotional switch in the scene in the car is intense and fantastic. The third scene is good. Fourth one is well-edited to be all about you, which I love. After these four scenes, I fall out of love with this reel, which is okay, since many folks won't watch more than a minute of any actor's reel, if it starts answering good questions right away (which this one does). I'd lose the comedic clips on this reel to stay more on-brand with what is clearly your strength. If you have enough to create a separate comedy reel, that's fine, but I don't love the comedy in this reel. As for the gun-spinning/no dialogue piece, that'd be a great closing moment with your name and contact information superimposed. In and out and totally on-brand!

Jennica's reel has a few problems, for me. One minor problem is that her name (used in URL form, which is handy) is in the lower-third at the beginning of the reel, which may go away before the video player controls hide themselves, thereby obscuring that info. Another: Editing your rep's contact info into a reel is always tricky, because it's unlikely you'll be with them forever, and that's another trip to the demo reel editor, when you make a change. Further: The music that plays all through the opening montage cuts out too abruptly for my taste. And... I'm not crazy about the "nobody ever wants to go to bed" scene. I think the look could go into a montage--something you clearly love using--at the end. Oh, and I'd way minimize any montage you feel you must use at the beginning of a reel, as many folks hate 'em and will just stop watching. Save montages for the end, to avoid that situation. Otherwise, good stuff and in a good order too!
Love that Ben's reel starts with him answering the door in his jammies. When he closes that door, we cut to a phone slamming down. Really nice edit. I liked everything in this reel--especially the "see ya later" jump and run after the closing info card (nice touch, for those who stick around and watch longer than you might expect)--but the sound on the "wife's accident" clip needs to be bumped up to match the levels of the other clips. Actually, the more I watch this, the more I'd like to see this material re-ordered. Maybe the estate sale followed by the wife's accident, then the black and white clip, ending with the hard bargain (so the estate sale bits bookend the more dramatic content, rather than threading between). But overall, a great, well-branded reel!
I really do try to find something I like about every reel, but Pamela's just didn't give me anything to love. There are references in the dialogue to the line across the screen (about THEnevermoreNETWORK), but I don't understand at all and I'm not going to call the number to find out. Yes, I did Google, though! And if this is supposed to be public access comedy, I'm really scratching my head now. The edits pop in the audio (and not in the good way) which means they were either done by an amateur to begin with or via pause button on a VCR to create this reel. A kitty meow for the foul language bleep? Huh? It's all just pretty awful and I wasn't sure who to look at until I went back to your email to visit your profile and see your headshot. Not good. This falls in the category of "lose it 'til you have something much better, and even then, use as little of this as possible." Sorry. :(

I actually really love Ron's reel. I'm so inspired when I see out-of-market actors with reels that could compete with--and surpass--those I see from LA actors every day. I love that you include info about the projects (including awards) in the lower-third. This is all good, well-branded material, always starting on you. And the montage is saved for the end to show more, but after the work has been consumed! Just awesome.
Stacey's got such great materials! Good opening, good use of music as intro and then under the first scene (though it doesn't "go" with the scene very well, especially since it sounds like you bring it back in the "I want to have sex with you" scene with the guy in the bad wig). Honestly, there are some edits that would make this reel much tighter and more pro-level, but it's good already. Nice button at the end. I'd leave the text up a bit longer for those who don't hit the pause button before starting to write down your info, but that's one of those nitpicky notes.
The problem with Valerie's reel is that there's very little to tell us it's yours. While the first scene is fun, there are five people in it and without a starting still on you (via headshot or clip), we're not focusing on you like you'd like us to. I'd fix this via re-editing. I'd put the hand-raising scene first so we know (more likely) that it's your reel. Next, would be the dog scene. Then the self-injury clip. The in-studio/audition/class scene? I'd lose this as soon as possible. Until then, I'd edit out the reader and class applause if at all possible, as it's pretty distracting.

My-Ishia has a pretty good reel! I like using the lower-third as a way to share the project info. You never know when that will be relevant to someone viewing your reel. I also enjoyed that you started off with a high-profile quick clip, then went into a title card for the reel, then the rest of the content. I think, overall, you're generally well-branded in this reel, but it's 60 to 90 seconds too long. Some of the face-cutting footage isn't great (mostly due to failing special effects makeup on your scene partner, at times) and I would lose the music video altogether--or put it, along with the non-speaking clip with the children--into a montage at the end. It shows you have more professional-level footage, but doesn't diminish the value of the higher-profile footage that you currently have surrounding it.
Okay, Ana! Let's get to it. This is certainly a starter reel, and really, it's not worth using as-is. You've got some good acting going on in that grief clip, but the music is overwhelming in places and it needs a ton of editing to be useful as material for a reel. Why are you whispering in the second clip? I wonder if these weren't shot in an acting class. Not that that's horrible, but it's not reel-worthy. If you're shooting your own stuff, it must look GOOD. Take a look at other reels--start with those on this page--and get a sense of composition, sound, editing, and lighting that's required at a minimum, for professional-looking material. Finally, the last scene has some funny, well-written stuff about waiting room games, but it's just not shot like anything on a reel should be. You've got some homework to do. From your email, I know you're willing. :) Dive in!
Elizabeth sent me her very first reel and after looking at a very first reel, I have to say, YAY! :) Good start with the headshot and name (and at the closing too) and I love that the audio of the first scene begins before we're off the headshot. Very nice touch to establish environment before we're on you, via the shot. Yay to your editor! Titles in the lower-third are cool, as I've mentioned already. The music is a wee bit too loud at places in the first clip, but that's a minor tweak and honestly not a deal-breaker. My best note is that you've made good use of re-enactment footage--and that's hard to do! It's good to use it sparingly and at the end of an otherwise actor-clip filled reel, which is exactly what you've chosen to do. Well done! Great first reel!

Zelika's reel is just one scene. That's fine, when it's done well. I'd add an establishing shot of you or a headshot--something with a title card including your contact info (or at least an end card like that)--so we know who we're watching, in case we save your reel locally and watch it later. I'd say you could edit back some of your co-star's dialogue to put the focus more on you, without losing much of the scene's meaning. Still, this is generally good, short, and well-branded, which is what a starter reel should be. Terry's concerned about keeping himself out of bad guy roles by showing too much range in this reel. My notes: Need a title card. The reel is way too long. There are sound issues in the "marriage was over" scene. I'd lose the "swirling wine" scene altogether. The "welcome brother" scene is okay. All of the restaurant scenes are of such low quality, I'd never use them. The toast with the kiss on the sofa is filled with sound issues and isn't on-brand for you. "Enjoy the rest of your day," spoken by another actor? Lose the clip. You don't speak in it! The tuxedo in the alley clip? Out! "Files are missing" scene, out too. I don't love the "Mrs. Winston/go to the spa" scene at all. It's a bad ending to a reel. Basically, you're trying to tell the story of this film in your reel, rather than selling your best work. If you can re-cut this to lose all scenes with tech problems (a lot of them) and make it all about the sleazebag you so totally nail, as a type, you'll have a much shorter (under a minute) reel that sells your type perfectly. Including the bad guy.
Ah, Melanie. I adore you! My biggest concern with this version of your reel is that it's got you sporting a ten-year age range between the first and last clips. Sure, the older footage (of you, younger) is at the end, which is fine, historically, but it might be time to lose the closing clip (but not the one before it, from the same series, strangely enough, because you look older there than in the final clip), even though it's a brilliant button. My favorite thing is the "like" theme your editor pulled out in piecing together a few clips in the middle of your reel. Hilarious example of an editor--and you--having fun with what you're doing. I'd be sure to add your contact info--at least your website--but otherwise, a homerun, just like I expected from one of my favorite actors on the planet!

Christa is hoping to have "LA standard" materials before moving to LA. This is a good out-of-market reel, with industrial footage edited to be all about you. Will this hold up in LA? Only a little bit. You're going to have to have some acting footage (not that corporate/non-broadcast isn't acting, but it's not a co-star on CSI either). I'd suggest moving things around a bit, for now. I'd go Cisco, then the direct-to-camera clip you currently end with, then the Santa Cruz Film Festival ad, and end on iChat (or cut that one altogether). That puts your most "actor-y" stuff up front, which is better for the LA market, 'til you have student films and other narrative projects to include. Also add some contact info--at least your website--in the opening or closing card. Otherwise, really good stuff, and a nice model of corporate/non-broadcast reel footage for other out-of-market actors!
When I saw Jim's reel, I actually stopped and said to my husband, "Man! It's so nice to see out-of-market actors doing seriously LA-ready stuff with their materials!" This is evidence of our world getting smaller and information getting more accessible (Thank you, Internet!) and actors being more open to pushing outside of their comfort zones. Very strong work, here. All edited to be all about you. Toward the end, there are too many single shots (no environment), so those will be the first to go, as you continue to edit in bigger/better stuff and lose the less awesome stuff (like the journalist's inverted pyramid structure for writing--be ready to lose what's at the end), but that's a great structure to have in place. The reel is short, which is great. I'd just add in your name and some contact info (at least your website), but otherwise, this is rockstar good! I'm going to assume Jonathan's reel has a watermark from the demo reel editor because it's still "in progress" and the editor doesn't want it out there 'til it's fully paid for. Fair enough. I'll try to ignore the watermark, then (as OMG, if this actually lives on the finished reel, that's suck-tastic and like a headshot photographer getting a photo credit on headshots you paid for. Ick)! LOVE this reel. LOVE. The interrogation scene is edited to be all about you. Jailhouse negotiation is excellent and edited well. MadMen I'd cut before the handshakes upon exiting the room, and go to the walk-and-talk part of the scene. Montecito Hotel scene, I'd put later. Astronaut scene is nice but the music feels a bit on the nose. Consider editing differently. Love the Walmart greeter scene. So on-brand! The following couple of scenes are not great. You have better, so it makes me want to lose these, or relegate bits of them to a montage. I love the Matthew Weiner voiceover (but not the other, unidentified VO) from the MadMen DVD. That's nicely done--both in terms of getting the praise and using it in the reel. (Yay, you!) Maybe put that after a closing card with your contact info and/or URL, so it's not seen as masturbatory by those who don't love it. And I'd give just a beat more after "he's a genius," for the button to set. Overall, awesome, though. :)

Remember, your demo reel is the trailer for the movie that is you. Leave us wanting more. Show us how to cast you. Lead with your strongest stuff (and that could be the highest-profile, the biggest money-earner, the largest role, or--most importantly--the most "on-brand" of your work) and always take the advice of a pro, when he or she tells you you're lingering on anything a bit too long. Avoid the scrapbook syndrome. You are the only one with the emotional attachment to each and every clip. When your reel is great, we notice the acting. When your reel has problems, we notice the problems. If you think like a producer, it becomes very easy to see the point of a reel: To show us what you're like on screen, to let us hear your voice, to teach us how to cast you next.