Casting Directors on Actor Reels

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Have you ever wondered how important it is for actors to have demo reels? And what exactly are casting directors are looking for when viewing them? While every casting director is unique and has a different work style, it can be helpful to hear them discuss best practices for reels. With that in mind, here are two Virginia-based casting veterans sharing their thoughts on actor reals—Anne Chapman from Anne Chapman Casting whose work includes “Lincoln,” “Harriet,” and “Loving,” and Erica Arvold from arvold.casting whose work includesinludes “Lincoln,” “The Good Lord Bird,” “Harriet,” and “House of Cards.”

How often do casting directors watch the actor reels?

When selecting talent, Chapman prioritizes headshots as the most important tool, then demo reels, and after that are resumes. But she reveals her first step in assessing performers is to watch their reels. “I always go to actors with media first,” she explains. “And then I’ll go back and look at the resume. But if I have a time crunch and I’m looking at a lot of people, I want to see their reel. I want to see them up close, acting at me fast.”

Arvold likewise prioritizes headshots, but places less weight on reels. “The reel can come later because it depends how much time I have. And a lot of times, the time is very scarce, so I’ll 50-percent of the time pick people based on their headshot and resume before I watch their reel.”

Do casting directors watch the entire demo reel?

Arvold admits, “Sorry to say—I don’t ever watch the reel from start to finish. It’s very rare. I’ll just click a spot, find it, click another spot—done.”

Chapman estimates she watches longer portions of actor reels, clicking through as needed in her attempts to be as thorough as time allows.

Submitting updated reels and asking for feedback

Arvold actually enjoys giving actors feedback on their reels, but only under certain circumstances. She absolutely does not want actors to email her their updated reels. Rather, all new media should be updated on their actor profiles. However, she adds, “But you can tweet me. That’s the one thing. And I do Feedback Fridays. So I love giving feedback on reels—that’s one of my favorite things to do if I can get through all of the tweets on a Friday.” When time allows, Arvold will reply with a single tweet. “Actors have to be really brave, right? Because that’s publicshe adds. A positive result of this approach is that others can view and learn from the public feedback and then adjust their own reels as needed.

On the other hand, Chapman finds it frustrating when actors ask for feedback on their reels. “I literally won’t have time to do that,” she explains. However, she wants actors to feel free to email her their reels, as long as it’s to her email address that’s specifically designated for submissions only. “So I would prefer for them to go there, and that way when I have time, then I’ll look at a whole bunch of reels,” Chapman says.

Demo release tips:

The 3 most important aspects of an actor reel

Arvold describes the most important elements: “YouI need to see younot the other people. Short. Great quality.” Casting directors need to know whose reel it is right off the bat so they don’t become confused by the face of a scene partner.

“Immediately, youclose up, acting, fast,” Chapman adds.

The first four seconds

“If you are hearing how much time Erica and I spend looking at the reels, the first four seconds of your reel should not be a close up of your headshot,” Chapman asserts. Casting directors already have access to actor profiles that display headshots, so it’s redundant information for them.

Arvold also suggests, “If you have a long scene … just cut it down and put it at the front … I want to see you hitting it.”

“And I would prefer it not be an accent in your first clip. I would like to hear your natural voice,” Chapman adds.

Arvold agrees, saying if she hears an accent in the first clip, she’s likely to assume the actor doesn’t have a natural American accent.

Don’t worry about plot

“It doesn’t have to make sense, the scenes. Just cut—cut to the bone. We don’t care about the plot,” Arvold insists. She doesn’t need the history of the character or the storyline. “I just need to see you listening, you being the character, and having fun really—it could be a dramatic scene, it could be a bad guy, but just seeing you perform your craft at a high level.”

Please no profile shots

Chapman prefers not to see profile shots of actors in cars. “So many reels are in car profile shots, and I’m just looking at your profile. It’s hard to guage. I like face-on.”

Production quality

Arvold admits low production value can throw her off. “It’s really good to have professional quality. Even if it is a short film. Even if it is a student film … the production quality is so high in general for a novice or a professional, that you can get footage on yourself from many, many sources. So you don’t even have to go with your iPhone in your garage and start talking,” she advises. “Oh, please no montages… Just get down to business.”

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