• Admin |
  • March 19, 2018 |
  • 4:19 p.m.

Demo Reels: Three Common Mistakes

by Brad Holbrook
President, Actors Insite 

There is no precise science to putting together a demo reel. Lots of variables are in play. But there are some fundamental things that many actors do (or don’t do) that reduce the chances of the reel making a good impression.

When casting or representation sees your demo reel, it’s probably the first time they’ve seen your work. You only get to make one first impression, so it’s a good idea to avoid some costly pitfalls.

As I read the comments of our Industry Pros, as they review hundreds and hundreds of actor reels, there are many things they don’t agree on. But there are some areas where there is a pretty solid consensus.

Here’s my list of the three most common demo reel missteps, based on what I hear from the Industry Pros we work with at Actors Insite.

1. Length. If you have a lot of good footage, it can be very hard to do the triage on what gets in, and what gets left out. The temptation is to have the reel include all your best moments. But if that takes you much beyond the two minute mark, you’re probably violating the “less is more” rule. To have what is usually considered a “muscular” demo reel, you want it to be lean and clean. To help accomplish this, you should watch for these mistakes:

Choppy editing (which sometimes comes as a result of trying to cram in too much footage). This can destroy the value of your performance. Letting a scene breathe can be more effective than cutting it into pieces to save a few seconds.

Too much screen time for other actors. The dark art of demo reel editing can magically diminish the others without sacrificing the scene’s impact.

Repeating the same types of roles. It’s one thing to strut your brand, but you don’t want the reel to end up being all one flavor. Pick the best representation of your work as a particular type and feature it. Then show what else you can do.

If you leave the viewer wanting to see more, you’ve succeeded. Two minutes, using three or four projects, is a good target.

2. Labelling the clips. It’s surprising how often actor reels don’t include labels, and it drives the CDs and reps crazy. The labels should be uniform in look and placement (three seconds, bottom left, easy to read professional font). The project name on the top line, the director or studio below it. This info should be easy to cross reference on your resume.

3. Filler. This is the opposite problem of having too much great footage. When you don’t have much to work with, you should avoid the temptation of larding the reel with footage that doesn’t serve any purpose other than to make it longer, frequently seen as a montage, set to music. No CD has ever said “really enjoyed that montage of various headshots and production stills!” Worse, when actors add filler to their reel it pretty much declares “I don’t have a lot of footage!”

A one minute reel, with two or three projects is perfectly fine. In fact, some CDs prefer reels to be about a minute long. When they are scrambling to find people to audition for a particular role it is very likely that they will only watch the first few seconds anyway. Those first few seconds should be:
Best stuff.
And then don’t ruin that great start by adding languorous footage of (and I’ve actually seen this lately) walking on a beach, silently contemplating…something.

Your demo reel is nothing short of your best shot to get noticed. If you treat it that way, good things will happen!

                                                                                                                     Actor feedback image

Expert demo reel editing is available at If your footage is online or can be delivered via the internet you don’t even have to come in to the studio. Email for a free consultation on how best to proceed.

You can showcase your work to the top industry pros in the business seamlessly, easily and affordably at Actors Insite, the online actors’ workshop. No membership required. Create your actor profile at and get started today!