During an orientation with Actor For Actor, one of the first questions we ask is if you have a scene you want for your reel or if you want one written for you. More often than not we write something for our clients, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we encourage them to stay away from scenes of another movie. After all, we’re not trying to convince casting directors that these scenes are from new original films - it’s very common to see curated scenes in actor’s reels.
For the same reason you wouldn’t audition for a play with a monologue from The Godfather, you shouldn’t use a scene from a well known movie for your reel. You are setting yourself up to be compared to a great actor from a famous scene and all the casting director is going to think of is that well known performance.
If you do bring in a scene from a movie, we’ll re-work it in a way that is more personal to you as the actor while also not just re-creating the same scene. The greatest example of ‘what not to do’ we’ve seen in a reel was from Girl, Interrupted where the actress did a famous monologue (originally performed by Angelina Jolie) donned in a messy blonde wig and and held a half-smoked cigarette. It didn’t showcase her talents as an actor, and all you could think of was how great Angelina Jolie is in that movie (she won an Oscar for that role!)
What To Look For
You have about 30-45 seconds in each of your scenes to showcase your talent. When you’re finding material from another movie, don’t just look for a great scene because it did well on Oscar night. Look for the writing - what is happening in the scene, what are the relationships or themes? Do you react stronger to family relationships or romantic ones? Themes of betrayal or euphoria? Basically: what speaks to you as an actor? Once you find that, the rest of your work will come easier and you can make a strong statement in your reel.