Anatomy of an Actor's Reel by Larry Saavedra

An actor's reel is like a video resume of his or her greatest scenes in film and video. If you find yourself wanting to create one prepare yourself, it can be a long process. While the edits are typically just simple cuts, dissolves and transitions, the end result is very personal to the actor being represented, and that means you'd better communicate well before you go making too many changes (for dramatic reasons). Storyboarding the project upfront helps, but simply talking about project works just as well. 

I'd been going back and forth with an edit for actor Tony Becker and he and I talked about what constitutes a good actor's demo reel. "What is it exactly that separates one from another?" 

I didn't begin the first draft until he and I talked about what was expected and why. Becker has spent most of his life in the entertainment business, and so he had years of great moments on film. You might recognize him from shows like The Waltons, Little House on the Praire and Tour of Duty. He has a unique perspective on the edits. I on the other hand, listened, took notes and generally went by gut intuition when it came to editing his scenes. Yet, he and I agreed that the reel needed to be short, and current...no old stuff.

What I didn't realize as I began the edit that there was no real, honest template for an actor's demo reel. Some may tell you there is a standard in Hollywood, but there isn't. You can pretty much insert whatever you feel a producer or director or casting agent wants to see in a performance before he has the actor read live. I didn't know that, I'd always figured you needed to follow an outline like a script. But that isn't the case. I confirmed that with a relative, who directs and produces  feature films and plays. 

The one thing that may hold true is that you never want to insert a scene in your editing timeline that is outdated, you should always use recent material, and you never want to show anything that your actor isn't proud of presenting. Another truism is that your music underscore isn't all that important to a producer or director, after all, they are really just wanting to see the actor's performance, so even if you got Adele to agree to let you use her music it really doesn't matter. In fact, some producers even turn down the volume in an effort to concentrate on the visuals of the scene. 

How long is an actor's reel? I asked around, and what I determined is that actor reels are short. After experimenting I think under 2 or 3 minutes is more than enough material. You can always re-edit the reel every years or every six months. Another tip is use only the highest resolution material you can get your hands on, that means, stay away from standard definition footage whenever possible. Also, experiment with still head shots too. I did and used them at the end of the reel for Becker and I think it worked well, but don't go crazy, keep it simple. Again, there's no right or wrong way of editing a reel, but it should flow and not confuse. As I learned, "it's not about the editor's skills, it's about the actor!"

As my friend Becker told me half way through this project, the reel should tell a story, it should have a beginning, middle and end, and so when it came to editing his reel, I inserted some voice over he had from Mike Rowe and tucked just the audio under the black slate at the top of the reel and then paid it off at the end of the reel. Everything in between were highlights of Becker's most recent work. 

 

 

Perspective in Photography by Larry Saavedra

 My close up with no reference to scale of background.

My close up with no reference to scale of background.

The background of an image can be an important part of your composition. Without a frame of reference the viewer has no way of understanding the scale of the subject, whether it’s people, animals or inanimate objects.

I tested the idea at the Broad in downtown LA.

Under the Table by Robert Therrien, (1994) is a 10-feet tall table and chairs to match, an installation that was inspired by Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

As I focused close-up on the side of the chair you couldn’t tell if the chair and table were 32 inches high or 10 feet tall because there was no frame of reference in the background (image on the right). The viewer looked at simple white walls and light.

I stood in the same place, zoomed out to 17mm and took another shot. By showing more of the room the subject suddenly changed and became more interesting, which was Therrien’s intent of the project.

To me it illustrates the importance of correct perspective when it comes to the overall composition (mostly important in landscape photography or interiors).

Of course this is all silly nonsense. But it’s amusing how little changes to perspective creates a whole new image.

 As I pulled back to reveal more of the room the table and chair suddenly grows in scale (note the mother and child on the right).

As I pulled back to reveal more of the room the table and chair suddenly grows in scale (note the mother and child on the right).

So You Think You're Smart by Larry Saavedra

einstein

 

    I recently wrote about right and left brained people, and the contributions that these groups make to the world. Then a recent conversation with an aquintance sparked my interest in the subject again.

    As he was talking, he kept referring to things like intelligence as if it was a trait of only left brained people. I thought about what he said for a moment, and then asked him if he felt that all successful people were of the left hemisphere persuasion and that right brained people simply contribute to the creative things in life like comic books and water colors. He nodded his head in agreement with that observation like it was a statement. 

    I didn’t reply.

    He spoke with authority that all great things in the world come from what people call analitcal thinkers, those who use the left hemisphere of the brain in subjects like language and math. 

    What I wanted to tell him was that without right brained “creative types” there would be no music, no art, or television shows. Steven Spielberg would be unemployed because movies would not exist and his favorite books, of which he so proudly brags about reading, would never have been published. 

    That’s the intelligence power of the right brain. 

    I wanted to tell him that to suggest that right and left brained people are separated by a thing called IQ is neither correct, or based in any fact.

    To borrow a line from the blog site Fresh, written by Jeff Dance, it says in essence, “Creativity is the highest form of intelligence because it goes beyond recall and extends into knowledge creative.”

    The first person who comes to my mind using Dance’s wonderfully written theory is Stephen Jobs, who at the height of his career at Apple was neither an engineer or programmer, two fields that are dominated by left brained people. 

    Actually, Jobs was the creative cog in the business, he was the visionary, the thinker, the sensitive one that realized what people wanted and set out to make it. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the light bulb…did the same. 

    Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and Beethoven were others, as Dance pointed out in his post called Creativity is the Highest Form of Intelligence. In fact it was Einstein who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    So as I sat there listening to this acquantaince drone on about intelligence and Mensa tests, I realized, he had really no idea how this world works, or didn't want to admit it. 

    Finance and numbers are a good thing, best kept to cubicles, but intelligence is measured by one’s ability to use their imagination to find solutions that help other people get through life. 

15 Second Rule in Writing by Larry Saavedra

 Me (second from right) and Victor Villaseñor standing next to me.

Me (second from right) and Victor Villaseñor standing next to me.

By Larry Saavedra

     "You can know all you need to about someone in the first 15 seconds," a great piece of advice given to me by Best Selling novelist Victor Villaseñor. Understanding what makes the interviewee tick is critical to asking great questions, whether you are writing a short technical manual, or a 700-page memoir.

     I've had interviews that have gone on for hours, and walked away not knowing what this person was really about. A disconnect situation like that can kill a story fast. If the person smiles the moment you meet, then you can assume that this person is friendly and willing to engage. If you get a yawn, a frown, or those shifting eyes, then you know that the person is bored, and not the least bit interested, again a disconnect that will affect the story. If you find yourself in a bad interview, and understand why it's going south...then you might be able to adjust for it before things start to implode.

These two Navajo sisters from northern Arizona were great to interview. One was shy and the other extremely outgoing and lively. I saw that personality difference in seconds.

     Embrace the message of the "15 second" rule. Learn to read a person's attitude and character quickly, and then find a way to make the connection to tell your story. Developing great content comes from having a positive experience during the interview process, whether it's about the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or the man on the street with an incredible story to tell.