How to choose your best showreel clips

The key to a good demo is relevance and interest. Most demos get watched for only a few seconds so make sure you have the best bit right at the front. Full face (or body if that is key) and a good, clear shot. If your only record of that great speech is a low resolution, badly lit shot then you will have to make the decision what impression that is going to give to a casting director or agent. What will they remember from the shot; you or how bad it looks? You have to be brilliant to overcome any distractions like bad sound or poor lighting. Show it to a neutral friend or even a stranger and get their honest opinion. If in doubt, don't use it. Casting directors watch hours of show reels. Make their life pleasant not painful.

Well-lit shots clean sound, good detail. Along with a great performance, these are the elements that will make your reel attractive. I am assuming you are a performer of epic quality here and that we only have to get you exposed to the right people. If your performance stinks then don't even think about including the footage.

So best shot first, maximum 20 seconds unless it is absolutely compelling. Assuming you have range, the next clip should be quite different and reflect another part of your range. Find good expressions, head turns, reactions, interactions. If you can cut between long shot and close up then lovely but that may be difficult if you don't have editing gear or different camera angles to choose from. Don't worry about continuity. You aren't making a documentary. Good short clips that show you off well are the key.

Straight dialogue is OK but show that you can act/react/affect a scene. If you have a comedic clip, make sure it is strong. Weak jokes are a turn off. If you are creating a single reel then you will include everything you have. If you can edit separate reels for different styles and have them ready for appropriate applications then that is very useful. If you credit or identify each clip make the title clear but discreet. Don't obscure the scene. Most directors don't want a highly produced reel, they just want to see you in action.

Anything past the 30-45 second mark is unlikely to be seen. If they like what they see then they may watch more so put the best stuff nearest the front and if you don't have much then make the reel short. 1-2 minutes is fine, 3 minutes is maximum. If they watch that much then you are on the shortlist for audition. That is when the decisions are made. It is good practice to include a hold shot on the end with contact details. Imagine the frustration of seeing someone great but not knowing who they are!

Reels are becoming very important. CVs are rarely studied and it is the gut feel that a reel produces that get you to the next level. Be discerning about your choice of clips. It's not a vanity contest; it's a professional tool. Think relevance, quality and brevity.