Small Fish, Big Ocean
My last semester at university, I was getting ready to move from New Mexico to California to start my life as an actor, with a BFA under my belt and ambition on the brain. At the time, my alma mater had a newly integrated film department attached to the Fine Arts College so the majority of my 4 years was focused strictly on theatre arts. But in this last semester, we got a crash course on auditioning in the LA market and getting a demo reel… and I was completely overwhelmed. Here I was, a 21 year old who thinks she knows it all, and one seminar fueled my doubt. “How do I do this? How can I afford this? What if I never get my footage? Where do I start?”
As actors, it’s easy to feel like so much of our success depends on other people: photographers to take our headshots, agents to get us an audition (more on that later), a student director to get us our footage from a project. But it could be months before you see that footage, you might not like the quality, perhaps it doesn’t showcase your talents.
Something I realized later was that we can make our own demo reels - and it’s actually pretty common. I used to think it was sneaky, that it’s “cheating the system”, and that in doing so I was a fraud. Firstly, it’s not sneaky if so many actors do it, and as audition and acting coach Craig Wallace simply puts it, “Agents and casting directors know that many of the reels they see are “homemade.” They understand that most new actors don’t have a lot of footage, if any. They just want to see who you are and what you can do”. So you can look at it as cheating the system, or you can refer to the adage, “work smart, not hard”. You just need to get the audition, and then you put in that hard work and bring life to the character.
If there’s a skill every actor must have, it should be ‘know how to research’ and there is a wealth of information to get you started and prepared to make your own reel. Websites like Backstage have so much information, advice columns, and reference guides that you have access to even if you’re not a member. Just type “demo reel” in the search bar and you’ll find helpful articles like how to create your reel, what to put on it, getting footage from a director, and so much more. If you do choose to hire someone, make sure it’s the right fit for you artistically and financially. If you’re going to make an investment in your career, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.