Tools Of The Trade
Putting a good demo reel together can seem like a never ending and daunting task. What if I haven’t got enough material? How long should it be? What genre is best for me? I have learnt a few important things through much trial and error when it comes to all this. Firstly the powers that be don’t want to see a montage of short meaningful looks interspersed with a line here or there with non descript music in the background. They want to see short concise scenes. Your reel shouldn’t be longer than 2 minutes. If they like it, they might request to see the full scene or longer examples of your work, in which case I point them towards my website or YouTube Channel.
I have discovered that doing two reels, one Dramatic and one Comedic, works best. Coming from SA with not much actual footage for TV and Film, I had a montage type SA Reel, which I now call my “International Reel.” I thought all the work on the Reel had to be from actual projects I had done. This is not the case. The point of a Reel is so they can see you can act and what you look like on camera. As well as giving your Manager or Agent something for the CD’s to see if they don’t know you. You MUST do an American Reel. Your “International Reel” is good but obviously they do want to see you do an American accent and play American type characters.
So, firstly find the type of shows you can see yourself in, and initially, the type of characters you are type cast as. Find what would be the easiest “sell” to enable you to get out there and book work. Later you can branch out to show your versatility, but right now, go for the type of characters that you would audition for the most. Then WRITE YOUR OWN SCENES. I know that sounds like a scary concept, but you will be amazed at how easy that can be when you write for yourself, because lets face it, you know what type of scene feels best for you as an actor, and what highlights your abilities in the best possible light. It’s also the first step in creating your own work. If this makes you want to reach for the wine, there are plenty of people who can write for you, but I really would suggest trying it yourself first. It’s a great way to build your confidence with writing and it’s a safe space to start creating in. If you ask someone to write for you, make sure you have a clear detailed description of the character and a strong idea of what you are trying to accomplish with the scene.
For each Reel I decided to do 3 characters. I am currently working on the new comedic Reel but my new USA Dramatic Reel is up and running, and I’m proud of the work on it. There is an amazing company out here called SpeedReels.com who have helped me write and shoot my Reels. Matt Draper is the owner and he has made it his business to shoot brilliant Reels for actors all over town. I have shot all my work with him and can’t recommend him highly enough. He makes you feel comfortable and has a great eye. Check out the website at www.speedreels.com for packages and price info. It can be expensive, but your Reel is as important as having great headshots. In this game we are always spending money to make money. I’m a big believer in doing things right the first time. You can get friends to shoot it for you and save some moola, but if you are looking for professional results the first time, in my opinion, Matt’s the guy. I feel a strong Reel is one of the most valuable investments you can make.
Be bold and be fierce. It’s another opportunity to do what we love. You get to act, you get to create, you get to be in front of a camera on your own terms. You get to direct and star in your own production. There is nothing worse than picking up a script and not being able to relate fully to the character, or feeling that its just “not you.” Now you get to choose. Be creative and have fun.
Headshots are another drama altogether. They are so subjective. Every Agent, Manager, CD, fellow actor and Time Warner Cable employee will have their opinion on THE headshot that works for you. I have done 4 headshot shoots here and have only just found pictures that might work for me. People will recommend their personal favourites out of the paparazzi of photographers available to you out here. The most important rule: YOUR HEAD SHOT MUST LOOK LIKE YOU. Your headshot should look like the best version of you, not a glamour shot that you could never reproduce without the intervention of a fairy godmother. When I first arrived, I spent about $1000 on new shots. They were amazing. So stunning, I looked like a supermodel. Hair blowing, steamy eyes and totally NOT ME! I ended up looking like every other blonde, blue- eyed actress in Hollywood. My current Manager gave me the best advice when it came to good shots. “Don’t be afraid to look ugly.” “Be an actress and play different characters with different thoughts during the shoot.” This negates the need for you having a million different shots looking like a Doctor, a CSI Investigator, a vulnerable drug addict, a high status blonde in a glamorous evening gown and a relaxed “I’m just a sweet Mum who loves washing powder more than life.” Your thoughts can give you great variation on potential characters and looks. Act your headshot shoot. Don’t just be beige. I learnt this recently when I shot with Karine Simon, who I absolutely loved. She was the best value for money, and made me feel totally comfortable in front of the camera. She is also a painter and a make up artist, oh and did I mention that she is French? Je ne sais quios, `a la perfection. I have just got my new shots back, and am looking forward to getting them up on the site. It made such a difference when I remembered I’m an actress and not just trying to look natural and/or pretty.
I recommend asking your representation who they prefer to use as a photographer as they are the ones submitting you. It can be very frustrating when you are constantly told your headshot isn’t working and you need to do yet another round of packing your entire wardrobe into a wheely suitcase, slapping on the slap and styling your hair into a 1000 different looks. But the right shot will help get you into the room, and it is one of your most important tools here.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts that I have learnt: You headshots are always matte not glossy. They are always in colour only. Black and white photos have no place at your audition. This is not 2002. You should staple your 11 x 8.5 resume to fit your 8 x 10 headshot. Don’t be lazy, because this looks sloppy. Never put your home address on your resume. These end up all over the place, usually attached to a picture of you looking fabulous. There is no need to have a creepy stranger show up at your door. But do put your contact information on your resume. They will need to locate you in this saturated town when you book the job! Don’t put your age on your resume. Let the Casting Director decide how old you play. Don’t use multi character headshots on one page, it’s just awkward for everyone. Make sure the font on your resume is large enough to be read by a human being without a telescope. Don’t use props in your pictures, it’s even more awkward for everyone. You should ONLY have your name printed on the front below your photo. Left, center, or right is subjective. Busy patterns or jewelry will take focus away from your face. Do make sure you get a little of your torso in so they can get an idea of your body type. Try to avoid landscape shots, they appear smaller than portrait shots on websites like LA Casting and Actors Access. Have a border around the headshot, and try to avoid taking shots on plain white backgrounds. Some sort of texture gives the picture energy and is generally more interesting. There is a difference between Commercial headshots and Theatrical headshots. You should have a good range of both. Commercial shots are usually more smiley and in brighter colours (remember the washing powder Mum?) Theatrical are usually more serious and in more muted tones.
When it comes to printing your pictures, as always with America, you are spoilt for choice. My personal recommendation would be Argentum Photo Lab in West Hollywood. They do great reproductions, are reasonably priced, keep your shots on file and generally are very nice people.
Your Reel and your Headshot are imperative as an actor. These are your building blocks to your skycraper. To help you stand “head” and shoulders above the rest. To Reel in the work, to…. Ok, I’ll stop now.
Seriously. For every cheap actor out there, there are 100 seriously investing in their career. Be one of them.