How I Prepped For My First Acting Reel

Prior to creating Actor For Actor, I studied acting for 4 years. Upon graduating from school, I understood that my true interest lies in directing film, yet I could never shake the deep connection I felt within myself while acting. Needless to say, I took a break. When it came to acting I became inactive and rusty and as more directing jobs came into my life, I thought I might as well give up on the possibility that I step in front of a camera again. Then I realized— what am I waiting for? What do I have to lose other than time spent exploring my skills and methods? I was incredibly interested in what it would be like to act again, and so, I decided I’d have my own reel made. The next big question was what would it feel like to act after five years away? 

First, I’d need my scenes written. The scene writing process begins with Amber at a one-on-one orientation. She asks me what themes I am interested in, as well as character motivations. I tell her I want to explore an argumentative scene and a monologue, and that I’m interested in exploring guilt, sadness, and anger as the emotional quality range in my reel. Within a few days, Amber sends me back 1 custom scene and 1 curated monologue from her archives. Lullaby, a monologue by Jason Milligan, is about a woman whose husband just abandoned her and their six month old baby and takes refuge at her sister’s house. The monologue explores themes of grief and desperation as my character confesses a sinister thought while trying to cope with her given circumstances. Despite my “rustiness”, I’m not so intimidated by the material. The text is simple and brief; I view it as an exciting opportunity to rebuild my approach to breaking down the character’s motives and emotions. The second scene, Pirouettes, is about a choreographer in remission from cervical cancer whose colleague just sabotaged her dance from being in a large industry showcase. It’s a fast-paced confrontation scene that allows for a lot of energy. I love the added impediment and occupation details, as this is information I can take away to really help me develop the character. I’m satisfied with both scenes, especially the contrast between the two of them, and am excited to see how I’ll develop them. 

Next, I need to mentally and emotionally prepare for the two roles. This is where I get excited because character development and “background” work is one of my favorite parts of the craft. After discussing the characters further with Amber, I’m able to understand the difference between the two women’s situations. This is crucial in developing my identification with them, or what I like to call, “where am I taking my character?” For Lullaby, I want to take my character to a dark place of marital abandonment, emotional exhaustion, and circumstantial regret.  For Pirouettes, I want to take my character to a raging battle with a disgusting nemesis. After I set my specific intention with where I want the scene to go, I break down the script, memorize my lines, write down motivations and actions, reflect and rehearse, question what the motivations felt like, make notes of what feels good and what feels off. As the ideas flow out of me, this “pre-rehearsal” process is easier than I expected, which is a super empowering sensation to know that my “acting instincts” are so alive and well! 

A few days later, Amber and I met for a rehearsal. Amber helps guide me through the text and gives her notes. She also answers any questions I have in regards to those “off” moments, which is incredibly helpful to have. After character work, we block my scenes and take reference photos for the actual shoot day. Lastly, we discuss costumes, makeup, locations (see our location scouting images in the slideshow) and expectations. I leave rehearsal feeling confident about what everything is going to look like and ready to continue working on my characters. I spend the next few days applying the blocking and beats we’ve mapped out, as well as doing hours of “marinating” on each character’s personal life. This is my favorite part of the preparation process, and I’m grateful for how easy the meditations come. 

As shoot day approaches, I try my best to relax with the work I have put into the scenes and not fret over how everything will go. I think that may be what every actor goes through when shooting their reel; it’s such an important thing to have for your portfolio, you’re bound to get stressed out over it because you want it to be your best. But that’s where I’m open to cutting myself some slack. I’m not going on to set demanding I be the best I can be, but to trust that I’ve done the work. I find this to be a major key to my approach. Trusting you’ve put in the time, effort, and commitment to your characters gives so much more freedom than performative pressure! Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing how everything will turn out, but mostly, I’m looking forward to seeing where my reel will grow next. The reel process is just the beginning of every actor’s journey, and I’m absolutely thrilled to be on my own again.  

Stay tuned :) 

- Hana