Tips for Creating My Own Reel?

Hi Bonnie,

First of all, thank you for putting so much real and valuable information and insight out there. I’m an acting student from Minnesota preparing to make my move to LA in about 12 months. Before I go, I have an opportunity I’d like to take advantage of. We have the opportunity to use university funds for a research project of our choosing and I’d like to do a project based on creating a reel. I don’t have many film credits to my resumé, and the quality of the few student films done around here isn’t great.

What I’d like to do is create a playbook, so to speak, to show actors like myself how to create/produce your own reel. I’d be working with my faculty advisor (who actually had a great film/TV career before turning to teaching), and I’d be paying for a professional DP and editor. My advisor is understandably hesitant because he doesn’t want to send me out there with a less than professional quality reel.

He’s sent me out to scour the web and see if I can track down CD’s thoughts on the matter. What are yours?

Brandon Roberts

Hi Brandon,

Great question! And what a wonderful opportunity! Absolutely, when you’re self-producing — especially for a reel — you want to put as many of the components that are within your control INTO the best condition possible, before you begin. That means great material, great co-stars, great locations, great sound, great people running the equipment, great editors putting the best content together, and a great set of outside eyes to be sure you’re on track.

So, because what you’re looking to do is to provide a “how to” about creating your own reel, you want to deconstruct what it is that makes good reels work. Take a look at demo reels that were compiled from actual work, for starters. What makes good reels good? It’s usually that everything on the reel is an opportunity to cement the actor’s brand, to verify his or her primary type, and — of course — to showcase the work. The best reels are long enough to show us what an actor can do, but short enough to leave us wanting more. It’s a delicate balance, of course, but it’s also a “you know it when you see it” type thing, in terms of knowing it’s been done well.

I’d recommend you check out Robert Campbell’s website. Robert is an actor and a demo reel editor. He also contributed many pages on the art of the demo reel to the third edition of Self-Management for Actors, as well as writing two pieces for The Actors Voice: POV. While his tips are mostly geared toward those who are creating reels from existing material, I still think this is a wonderful starting point for what you’re trying to do, as the whole purpose of your project is to prove — and show evidence of the fact — that self-produced content can serve as material for a demo reel.

Ideally, actors will want to remove self-produced content quickly, as “real” acting projects take over the space on the reel. Same as with a resumé. You want to cut out material that was just “showing what you can do” as soon as you have higher-value information (higher-profile projects, names people recognize, studios and networks we all know, etc.) available to take its place. Take a look at my archived column called Quick Fixes for some more tips like these.

Yes, I believe actors can create their own material — for festivals, for web series development, for distribution, for pilot presentation, and certainly for demo reel footage. I think professionalism is key, no matter what the gig. (See last week’s column for more on that concept.) So, yes. Surround yourself with professionals. Work to control those factors you can, in fact, control, going in. And always have someone else helping you gauge whether what you’re considering putting out there is viable, and is on par with or better than everything else out there. That’s where you should start.

Good luck! Keep me posted on how it all goes.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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