Anatomy of an Actor's Reel

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. 

The first few edits were a "bit choppy" and would not give a producer enough time to see a complete scene. So, the edit was further critiqued and changes were made to expand the scenes, without adding more total run time (TRT) to the project. 

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 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 end result worked. It offered longer scenes of dialogue and was less choppy and more marketable. It's important for the actor to showcase entire scenes, rather than quick cuts. 

The one thing that may hold true is that you never want to insert a scene in your editing timeline that is outdated, you should always use recent material, and you never want to show anything that your actor isn't proud of presenting.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. 



What's in a Name

I'm asked the origin of my surname often. Some say, it's the double vowel (aa) that gives it a Flemish or Dutch sound. Double vowel names are not uncommon in Europe, but they are much less common than Johnson or O'Brien in the U.S., although the automaker Saab with its double vowel (aa) might argue that because Saab is a huge name in America. 

Others insist, Saavedra must be Scandinavian, but its actual origin is in the far warmer climate of north central Spain. I'm telling you this because there's a great website online that helps writers learn the pronunciation of difficult surnames. It's a great site for those in the creative field, who meet people from all sorts of countries in their quests to develop stories. Smith is easy to pronounce, but try pronouncing the surnames Aiyegbeni or Ouaddou, which belong to world-class soccer players. This website makes it simple to get the name right before you use it conversation!

If you wondered, the name Saavedra (hear pronunciation above in video) is a Galician surname from the Northern part of Spain. It means..."hall and old main house" in Latin. Apparently centuries ago a family lived in an old rather large house and the Saavedra surname stuck. It is perhaps best linked to the author Cervantes de Saavedra, who wrote the literary classic Don Quixote. It's a monster of a novel, but I managed to read it a couple of times.

The surname isn't easy to pronounce. I don't roll the "rrrrrS" when I pronounce my surname like in the video, but at least I learned the meaning and origin of my surname, my father's given name.

When writing short fiction stories, I feel that having a clear understanding of one's own origin is another tool when crafting particular characters and scenes, allowing me to extrapolate Prose from real provenance and personal cultural experiences.

It's a writer's ethnic honesty of who she or he is that then connects readers to the saga. Writing with a sense of origin to me is much easier than trying to be something that you are not. I doubt I will ever write a story about a German pastry baker even if her name is easy to pronounce.


REVIEW: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

An all-around fun, fuel-effecient and capable small crossover SUV

Images: Larry Saavedra


Since it was first introduced in 1996, the Toyota RAV4 has enjoyed two decades of impressive sales in the ever-popular compact-crossover SUV market. Now for 2016, Toyota Motor Sales has given the RAV4 fourth generation a “mid-cycle” upgrade that includes a new model introduction (the SE) as well as tasteful interior and exterior changes. 

Today, the RAV4 has adopted a more aggressive look and feel. These changes are notable in the higher hoodline, front grille and rear bumper area. Inside, changes to the instrument cluster design and dash are evident and more ergonomic, but more subtle upgrades are seen elsewhere too. 

However, the big news from Toyota Motor Sales is the introduction of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid model, an all-wheel-drive with an EPA fuel-efficiency rating of 34 city and 31 highway. The RAV4 Hybrid is offered in the Limited and XLE trim only, and front-wheel drive is not available this year.

At the heart of the new RAV4 Hybrid is its Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder  (2.5 liter) powerplant that mates to a 141-hp small high-torque electric motor and unique transaxle. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system has a combined 194 system horsepower, according to Toyota. 

Road to Salt Lake City

The best test for a hybrid is a long-distance shake-down for fuel economy since that’s the reason most shoppers buy them, and the classic silver metallic RAV4 Hybrid Limited we evaluated proved to be a perfect candidate. But where to go? 

For us, the most fitting experience in the RAV4 Hybrid Limited meant packing the bags and leaving Orange County, California for the summer Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah, a distance of 680 miles away from home. It’s just the type of road trip that tests comfort, handling and overall performance. Since this year’s summer show theme was all about thinking green, another advantage of traveling in a clean-burning hybrid was our collective contribution to lowering the carbon footprint we leave behind.

Our road trip would take us along one of the most traveled corridors in America, the infamous Interstate15 that runs through Las Vegas. Together, there were four adults seated comfortably inside, plus a load of camera gear and personal stuff all organized behind the rear passenger seats. 

Surprisingly, everything fit and our leg room seemed more than generous. The fact that all four of us were from varying age groups and backgrounds; an artist, a musician and two automotive journalists, made the trip even more interesting. While our tastes in music never quite meshed, some liked rock, others punk, we all did agree on how dynamic the optional 11-speaker Entune Premium JBL® Audio with Navigation system sounded, and with Bluetooth capabilities it made music selection a pleasure.

Most importantly, the four of us took notes of the miles traveled between fuel stops along the way. Considering we would travel a total of 1,400-miles across both flatlands and mountain terrain, none of us could predict if the RAV4 Hybrid would live up to 34/31 mpg rating. Of course, as hoped, the RAV4 did get an impressive 33/30.5 mpg over the course of the trip. Slightly off from EPA estimates, but reasonable. In fact, our round trip from Orange County to Salt Lake City cost less than $100, or $25 each. On that note, Toyota recommends 87 octange or higher unleaded, which gives owners options if price per gallon is a concern.

Because of the 12.3 gallon fuel tank in the hybrid model, fillups came more often than we would have liked, but still the mileage numbers were impressive. Actually, the hybrid model gains 8 mpg more than the standard RAV4 AWD model, and it accelerates better from 0-60 over the non-hybrid RAV4.

Comfort Inside

Another plus for the new RAV4 Hybrid Limited was the generous interior volume, enough room for 4 adults, but not the five as Toyota allued to in their press material, nevertheless, everyone enjoyed the ride and large Big Gulp-sized cupholders were plentiful. 

Again, the 35.6 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the rear seats was enough to hold all our belongings.  If the 60/40 split rear seats were folded flat, it expands the cargo space to 70.6 cu. ft., slightly less than the non-hybrid edition. The youngest member of our entourage commented that a roof mounted luggage or bike rack would be one of their first purchases. Considering the RAV4 can be outfitted with a Class 3 hitch-mounted bike rack, someone could have a roof luggage carrier and a bike rack too with little effort. For those seeking to tow a small tent trailer for other gear, the hybrid has a maximum of 1,700 pound towing capacity and 150 pound hitch weight. 

A Rav4 Hybrid like the one we drove to the show was on display with a cool roof-mounted tent thanks to Yakima. 

A Rav4 Hybrid like the one we drove to the show was on display with a cool roof-mounted tent thanks to Yakima

At the Outdoor Retailer show we caught a glimpse of several small tent type trailers that could be towed behind the RAV4 Hybrid, including several models that support carrying along kayaks from Freespirit Recreation in Bend, Oregon. Inside the convention center Yakima also had their new RAV4 outfitted with a roof top mounted tent. 

There’s lots of comfort in the driver’s seat, and lots of decisions to made too. Like whether to run in EV mode for short bursts in the city under 25 mph, or ECO mode, for the best fuel economy. The driver can monitor the in-dash hybrid system and fuel consumption indicator. The HVAC and instrumentation were easy to read and well-positioned in the new RAV4.  

While getting aquainted with the controls and features takes some time, one of the most useful in our eyes was the new accident-avoidance feature called Safety Sense, which is standard on the Limited model. 

With it, drivers can engage a forward collision warning system (with pedestrian detection), forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning and intervention system and automatic high-beam headlight control. It’s all quite straightforward to manage, and with the big rigs of Interstate 15, it was functional to have at our fingertips. Whether or not it saved or used more fuel is debatable, but our 4 person team of evaluators really liked this safety feature.

The youngest member of our group said, “Driving the RAV4 was very comfortable and very easy. I felt safe driving with the Safety Sense engaged. Overall it was a joy to drive.” 

rav4 hybrid engine

Overall Performance

For starters, the RAV4 Hybrid is no sportscar. But it’s no slouch either. The new RAV4 Hybrid uses the same powertrain as the Lexus NX 300h and Toyota Camry Hybrid. That’s great news for demanding consumers, and we found it plenty powerful for even the steepest and twistiest of roads. Passing power was also effortless. So if you’re not looking for gobs of power to keep up with the Fast and Furious crowd, the RAV4 Hybrid held its own along Interstate 15. 

Braking was very good, although at times they tended to feel artificial probably due to the electric hardware of the hybrid engine assisting the stopping performance. But with 11-inch plus ventilated discs at all four corners, braking was well beyond our expectations. 

While we made several driver changes to stop for lunch and fuel, we all had ample time behind the wheel to come to the conclusion that the RAV4 Hybrid was the right vehicle for the trip, not only did it have enough room, but the memory function seating positions made it easy for us to adjust to our time behind the wheel. And the blind spot warning indicators that are standard in the Limited sure helped out in heavy traffic conditions.

Limited Model Pluses

While the XLE is available for less money, the Limited is packed with features. Perhaps the most useful are the front heated seats, eight-way power driver seat with lumbar support, leatherette upholstery, adapative cruise control, 7-inch touchscreen with navigation, smartphone app integration and 18-inch wheels. If that’s not enough to lure you away, the XLE model is just as nice in every other way.

MSRP for the RAV4 Hybrid Limited as reviewed is $34,510.

-- Larry Saavedra


Car Photography 101 Updated

So you want to become a better car photographer? You’ve probably seen all the cool photographs in magazines like Car and Driver and you are pumped at the prospect. Here's how they do it.

note the shadow free windows without reflections, etc... and the smooth reflection free body panels. this was shot late, late in afternoon, F11 with 85mm lens. 

First, log out of YouTube. Most of the tutorials on YouTube are nonsense. I can tell you that after 25 years of photographing cars, trucks, snowmobiles, etc. most amateurs get it wrong because they listen to someone who has little to no experience in the field. 

While I can't explain every trick of the trade in this post, I can get you on the right track. If you are shooting a car that is stationary, think of your subject as a huge mirror and the sun and sky as your softbox and that’s how to get the best images when shooting cars.

Pick the best possible location to avoid distractions in the sheetmetal, glass or chrome.

Let me explain. The car’s paint finish reflects everything around you, the trees, plants, people, the street, etc. So it’s extremely important to have the best possible light falling on the subject. The light temperature gets warmer in the later afternoon and that's what you want. You can almost get rid of most reflections if you shoot in the light at dusk. But if you shoot in the morning the color shift will be colder than later in the afternoon. It's totally dependent on what look you are trying to achieve. 

Personally, I start shooting (in most cases) an hour before the sun sets and continue to shoot until well after dark. Obviously you need a solid tripod to do this because your shutter speeds get very slow and there’s no way to hand-hold it without blurring the subject. Almost all professional car photographers shoot in the very late afternoon, even with action shots. 

Long exposures are great, they aren’t critical like in the days of film photography, so you can push the exposures tremendously without altering the color balance or shift called reciprocity failure. 

I like to start with what’s called a 3/4 view off the front and then I spin the car around until the entire car is covered. The sun should always be at your back and if you are shooting in the correct light, there should be only soft shadowing off the car. If the shadowing is crisp or harsh, then you are shooting too soon, wait for the sun to get lower in the sky. 

Expose for the undercarriage where the light drops off and then average the light hitting the exterior of the body panels. That should be your exposure setting. Do not shoot with any F-stop under F11 or you will see a dramatic drop-off in sharpness from bumper to bumper. If you want to blur the background, simply move the car further away from the background, don’t adjust the F-stop, keep it at F11 or F16.

This is where novice car photographers always go wrong. They don’t know where to focus. Always focus on the car’s side mirror facing you if the car is at 3/4 to your view. Then reframe the car while holding down your focus button and take the image. Focusing on the grille or the windshield will only create a look that is sharp in the front and soft in the rear end. Use you depth-of-field meter if you have one. 

Try this from several different elevations, low to the ground and from a ladder, too. Add tree limbs, and other things in the foreground to create a dimension to your image. Experiment!!

If you are gettting it right you will see the sunset (or sunrise/clouds) in the car body, and nothing more. Use a slight telephoto (85mm to 135mm) to add a compressed feel and that smooth paint finish will pop even more. 

Use a shutter release cable or lock up the mirror if possible when shooting long exposures for the sharpest images. Mostly, watch your background! It's important to keep the background free of obstructions like trees, poles, etc. Find areas that are wide open in the background so that the vehicle becomes the sole focus of your image. 

Incidentally, if you have to go into PhotoShop of Darkroom and tweak the hell out of your image, you've done something wrong. While we've become a world of post-production addicts, a good photograph will need very little post work and should stand on its own. 

Experiment and enjoy. 


Pinup Models: The Sequel

Ok... so I wrote about pinups and the concept of using women's sex appeal to promote the sale of products just recently in a blog.

Well, shortly afterward, a friend named Frank, emailed me to say he was just asked to bring his Porsche Speedster to a high-fashion photo shoot in Los Angeles for Guess brand jeans. 

I realize that this was a fashion shoot for Guess, but I also thought it was all rather archaic for 2016. 

It was Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who satirical said, "The more things change, the more they stay the same"

Well then, pinup models are back in vogue, or they never really disappeared.

So much for the progressive women's movement I suppose. Got to love it.


guess jeans2
guess jeans




Going Barefoot

There has been a lot of talk about making trailers cheaper, smaller and more lightweight so those with smaller cars and sport utes can tow them. The problem seems to lie in the true drivability factor. 

Are they safe? Especially being towed behind a smaller wheelbase vehicle. Just because the trailer is lighter than the vehicle's towing capacity, doesn't make it safe. 

By far this new BareFoot is about the best small trailer I've ever seen, and I've seen and towed plenty as the former Editor of RV magazine. But again, is it safe behind a small vehicle?

The tail wags the dog is a problem that arises when the trailer and vehicle become unbalanced on the road at speed. It doesn't happen at low speeds, but at 55 or 65 miles per hour bad things can happen if you get sucked up in the draft of a high-speed big rig that passes by. 

 Trailer sway is a huge issue and not many novice drivers understand it. I won't go into detail because there are plenty of great sites online that discuss it, however, it can be caused by lots of situations, not just other big trucks, but by unbalanced loads or sudden gusts of wind.

The problem is that once sway begins it is very difficult to stop and many people tend to slam on the brakes, which only makes the problem worse. The best thing to do is simply lift off the throttle until the vehicle slows to a safe speed, get out and balance the load in the trailer and then start up again. Don't counter-steer either, that can cause you to spin.

Small vehicles with limited wheelbase and transmission performance can have difficulty towing a trailer, even the small single-axle ones. So it's best to do your research before you get on the road. Trailer sway is just one issue, and sometimes certain hitches help a lot, but unless your rig can be outfitted with a standard 2-inch ball and it's mounted to the frame, I would think twice before towing anything more than a tiny cargo trailer. 

If you're trailer is considerably longer than your vehicle and you can't get a 2-inch ball hitch mounted to the frame, STOP and rethink it. Drive to your local trailer repair shop and ask them their opinion. If you trust their advice go with it, but don't overlook a second opinion either. 

Ignoring the warnings only puts you and the lives of others at risk. Be safe.



America's First Formula Car

While researching the world of Formula race cars, I stumbled on this gem of a movie on Vimeo. It stars the 1959 Scarab, the first front-engined American-made race car to compete in Formula One.

There's a huge story behind this movie, the fact that Lance Reventlow bankrolled it thanks to his fabulously rich mother, Barbara Hutton, the fact that it was made without special effects yet retains the true spirit of racing at speed, and the fact that it was director Bruce Kessler who filmed and produced it for Reventlow. 

You've got to check this out. It's called The Speed of Sound and is really a great look at the Scarab race car and the making of a true racing movie. Run time is about 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Our Two Brains

If you have an in-house creative department, or you are searching for a freelance creative consultant follow the cues set by Walt Disney before you get started formalizing your ideas. 

What Disney did was to place right-brained people together with their left-brained counterparts as he leaped from project to project building his Magic Kingdom.

Understand that the right hemisphere of our brain "is mainly in charge of spatial abilities, face recognition and processing music." Whereas, the left hemisphere "is dominate with speech, and computation of numbers." 

Disney knew the science intimately. 

While Roger Sperry was the neuropsychologist credited with understanding how right- and left-brained people think, it was Disney, who put Sperry's discovery to practice in business.

Disney knew that for every creative project there had to be a finance officer to keep it on track. So he placed a financial person in the same room as the creative person and together their goal was to make Disney's plans succeed. 

Obviously, the artists would have loved to explore their ideas without any financial barriers, but that would have amounted to chaos. Or, vice-versa. A bean-counter couldn't have propelled Disney to stardom using spreadsheets alone. 

So he brought the two very different mindsets together in the same department to keep the creative ideas flowing, without financial worries. 

What this means to you is that for every creative project there must be a reasonable financial aspect to it, essentially a detailed budget, but much more than that. For the project to work, creative people must keep the costs in the back of their minds, knowing that the financial person is handling the spreadsheets. 

Creative projects under Disney were well-funded, but never out-of-control. Meaning, budgets were set, but they were realistic and flexible. 

So the next time you begin the creative process, keep Disney in mind. You will start to see how he built a theme park in the City of Anaheim into one of the biggest companies in the world by simply understanding the science behind our two-sided brains.