Actors How To pick good scenes for your Demo Reel

Wendy Alane Wright

Wendy Alane Wright

When creating a demo reel, there are several things to consider when picking which scenes to include. Here’s how to make sure you get the most bang for your buck!

How To Choose Good Scenes For Your Demo Reel

Hey actors, it’s Wendy Alane Wright, the Hollywood Talent Manager in Los Angeles, California.

And today, I’m going to talk to you about ‘How to choose your demo reel material’. 

A lot of new actors are struggling to figure out “How to pick the material that I need for my demo reel?” And sometimes you come up with ideas of things, a scene you think you want to do, and you know, funny ideas you have, or things in your mind that you see that could be really interesting. But I want you to shift how you’re looking at it completely and think of it this way.

Know Your Role

As an actor, you are selling a product, and your buyers are television shows or films. Let’s say you’re a TV and film person. Now, television has very specific vibes in each show. Each show has its own texture, its own kind of look that they like the actors to have. It even has a color palette, a designer wheel with all the colors that are really the color palette of the show.

And you’ll notice that they stick to certain colors, the blues and grays, and browns and that the people will have to wear certain colors. It’s a system that’s in place that already exists, and an actor has to fit into that system. You can’t really say, “I’m an actor and I want to be on Scandal.” So, “That’s my favorite show. I want to be on Scandal.”

You have to look at Scandal and say, what actors are already on Scandal? What kind of actors have they ever had on Scandal? What types of actors? What types of characters are on Scandal? And if you fit into what’s already there, then you might have a chance of getting a job if you audition for Scandal. If you don’t fit into that show’s coloring, theme, attitude, energy, the types of characters that are on there, usually, attorneys or somebody violating a law, covering something up, having an affair, complex dialogue, if you’re a bubbly, lightheaded, nerdy, we don’t see too much of that on Scandal.

You have to look at a show, like any TV show, your job is to look. Let’s take Chicago Fire, you know, everyone’s beautiful. All the firemen are beautiful. The police people are beautiful, everyone’s beautiful. Those shows are beautiful. They have deep interpersonal relationships with each other.

And so those scenes are often about congratulating each other for sacrificing something or overcoming something, or being suspicious of something, and then questioning someone else about their motives. There are very specific types of scenes. So you don’t want to bounce, you don’t want to create a monologue or go shoot a scene to get your real clips about something that totally has nothing to do with that TV show.

As an actor, you are selling yourself, the product, to television and film. You need to know TV shows inside and out. You need to watch TV. If you don’t watch TV to figure out what shows you’re going to be on, you’re going to have a very hard time getting on any shows like that. A person who gets on TV, TV shows, it’s because they know what that TV show looks like. And when they do their audition, they know what the tone of the show is.

So you’ll always hear people say, you know, figure out the tone of the show. If you go in there and everyone speaks quickly, you need to speak quickly. If everyone speaks very slowly, then you need to speak slowly in your audition. It’s not just about “But I have a good actor. Look at me, I can play anything.” “I’m just going to show up and I’m going to be me.” It’s not how TV works. We don’t cast people that way. Your job is to learn how it really works if you really want to work, right?

So, that being said, if you’re coming up with a demo reel, you should, first of all, have a list of 10 TV shows that you are absolutely right for. One, you should know what type you are. Do you play the social worker, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, the teacher, the mother, the wife, the political activist? A gang… what is it called? A street woman, as a drunk. What do you play? Then what kind of shows have those kinds of characters? That’s your list of target shows. It’s got to show that you could fit into it. Then you figure out who cast them and those casting directors become your target casting directors.

So, that being said, if you’re coming up with a demo reel, you should, first of all, have a list of 10 TV shows that you are absolutely right for. One, you should know what type you are. Do you play the social worker, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, the teacher, the mother, the wife, the political activist? A gang… what is it called? A street woman, as a drunk. What do you play? Then what kind of shows have those kinds of characters? That’s your list of target shows. It’s got to show that you could fit into it. Then you figure out who cast them and those casting directors become your target casting directors.

Know Your Character

Now, your demo reel should have two or three scenes on it. If you’re going to, if you’re the kind that’s going to play a social worker, you should have a social worker scene, where you’re fighting against the system. You know, you’re explaining to a parent how they’re going to lose their child, or you’re the parent who’s losing the child, but there’s got to be a fight in a scene.

And if you are a cop, then, and that’s the type that you play like the hero, then your scene should be a strong scene with you, helping someone, explaining the law, questioning somebody his motives. It should be like exactly what we would see on TV. Casting directors don’t want to watch your reel and then imagine, you know, they’re not going to say, “Oh, I like her. She’s a very nice person.” “I like him. He’s got nice energy.” Let’s see, what could we put them in. That’s not how they work.

They see the role and then they look at their show and see if it fits their show. Here’s a cop. He’s serious. He’s very interesting in his choices. I was… he was believable. I cast a cop show, I could make him one of my detectives. That’s a fit.

So you’re trying to match your skills with the shows that are already out there. You’re not going to walk into a show and say, “Hey, I’m so special and I’m so amazing. Everybody’s going to change everything and cast around me.” No. Your job is to learn what films and what movies and what directors and what writers, and what TV shows are already working with what you do. 

Let’s say it was me and I needed a demo clip. I’m kind of like the girl who could play the character on Criminal Minds, who sits there at the computer and she’s always figuring stuff out, but she does really strange things along the way. I could totally play that. I also often have played a police officer, a social worker, for sure, and I would have those three clips on my reel.

I think that you need to take a deep look at what types of roles, what type of character you are, what types of roles you play, and select three clips that match those three types. And that way, you’ll have a really strong demo reel that showcases your type and communicates clearly and directly to a casting director where they can place you in the things that they’re already doing.

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