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I get this question often from actors.  Do I really need a reel?  The quick answer is YES!  If you want to compete in this market and get audition opportunities, then you need something that shows your work.  Period.

Now, I get it.  Some of you are just starting out so you’re reading this and thinking, “How do I get a reel if I haven’t done anything yet?”  And here is where it gets a bit hairy.  Here is the best advice I can give on reels…

If you have not had ANY on-set experience and thus, nothing to show, there are things you can do.  Starting out as an actor is hard.  No one wants to give you a chance because you’re green.  I get it.  If you are serious about your career, and I mean SERIOUS, start pounding the pavement!  An acting career takes WORK, a LOT of hard work!  If you are just starting, GET IN CLASS!  Class offers you the training you need to learn so many things you need to know as an actor and some classes will record your scene and give you the opportunity to get those scenes.  Of course, this isn’t ideal for a reel, and I don’t suggest you keep these class scenes as your reel forever, but if you’re just getting started, it’s an option.

Another option is to create a scene!  What?  I can do that?  YES!  Did you know there are companies that will shoot a scene for you for this purpose?  Some will even write the scene for you.  What roles do you think you will book?  What roles do you want to book?  (Be realistic here!  If you’re not in tip top shape and workout like crazy, don’t try to be an MMA fighter in a scene… you get it?)  Ask people what they see you as and go after those roles.  Once you have the role you want to perform, have someone write a small scene for you and then record it!  Please do your research and make sure the company you hire makes it look professional!  Quality is of the most importance here.  It needs to look like you were actually on a professional set shooting a scene from a tv show or film.  Do this for a couple of different characters and voila!, you have a reel!

If you can’t afford this option, then you must get to work!  Meaning, start doing anything you can.  Student films are an excellent way to get some footage.  Check with local colleges and their film department and see what they have on the horizon.  Go to the Dallas Film Commission and the Texas Film Commission websites and see what films are coming to your area.  Both of these sites list castings for upcoming projects.  Short films are another great way to get footage.  Join every FB film group you can.  These groups post castings all the time!  Use these resources to find work.  If you’re sitting around waiting for the opportunities to come to you, well, then you’re going to be sitting around a long time.  PUT IN THE WORK!  I can’t stress this enough.  Once you start getting on any set you can, things will start happening.  Networking is key and there is no better way to network than to be on a set!

Once you have some footage, edit some clips together for your reel.  Typically, your reel should only be one minute.  There are some mixed opinions about this but most of the workshops I have taken on this subject, they suggest a minute.  The realistic truth about this is most casting directors are only watching about 20 seconds of the reel anyway, sometimes less.  They know within the first few seconds if you’re what they are looking for.  If they like what they see, then they will continue to watch.  If you choose to make a longer reel, good for you!  It’s not a bad idea but I do suggest having the shorter reel as well.

Now you have a reel! What should it look like?

Here’s what is so important so don’t miss this!  Your reel should start on YOU.  Please don’t begin your reel with a scene that starts on another actor.  IT’S YOUR REEL!!!  Why would you want someone else to get the attention?  Start on you with your strongest scenes first.  It only makes sense that if they are only going to watch 20 seconds that you want them to see you and the best of you!  Your reel is all about you and your work, so pick the scenes that make you shine!!!  And lastly, as you start booking better things, start bumping off the student films and short films.  For instance, if you book a co-star role on a network, put that scene first and bump off the old student film that probably isn’t as strong.  You get the idea.

Once you get enough footage (and believe be you will after working for YEARS), it’s a good idea to split up your reels.  Make a drama reel, a comedy reel, a commercial reel and even a host reel.  This makes it easy to submit a specialized reel for a specific role.  And lastly, get your reels up on social media and casting sites.  Let people see you!!  After all, that’s why you want to be an actor, right!?!?!


April Hartman
Written by Acting Coach: April Hartman