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. Because while the edits are typically just quick cuts, it's very personal to the actor being represented, and that means you'd better communicate well.
I've been going back and forth with Tony Becker for weeks on what constitutes an actor's demo reel. Becker has spent most of his life in the entertainment business. You might recognize him from shows like The Waltons, Little House on the Praire and Tour of Duty. He had a unique perspective on the edits needed to make an actor's reel come alive. I on the other hand, listened, took notes and generally went by gut intuition when it came to editing his scenes.
What I didn't realize was there is 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. I didn't know that, I'd always figured you needed to follow an outline. But that isn't the case.
The one thing that may hold true is that you never want to insert a scene in your editing timeline that is old, 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 gleaned the Internet for the answers, and what I determined is that actor reels are typically under 3 minutes in length. After creating one for Becker I think under 2 minutes is more than enough, and come out with new improved versions more often. Another tip is use only the highest resolution material you can get your hands on, that means, stay away from standard definition footage when 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 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, I inserted some voice over from Mike Rowe under Becker's slate at the top of the reel and then paid it off at the end of the reel. Everything in between are highlights of Becker's most recent work.