“Can I have a few more copies of your reel?”
That’s what my acting coach said to me after reviewing my first reel.
When I came into the industry I knew that I needed a reel, but I didn’t have anything to put one together.
It wasn’t until about a year later that I finally had a few scenes under my belt and had a friend help me put one together.
Of course, I excitedly ran out to my car and grabbed another handful of copies.
The entire time I was thinking about all of the people he might be giving my reel to and what that would mean for my career. I was envisioning Tarantino and Michael Bay being moved to tears by my masterpiece.
When I handed my coach the copies, I felt like I had just #MadeIt.
Here’s what he said…
“Thanks, the uneven legs on my desk have been driving me nuts and this should do the trick.”
He then proceeded to even out his desk by sticking my Reel under the legs.
When he was finished, my acting coach said
“I’m going to leave those there as a reminder and if you try to remove them, don’t bother coming back to class. Here’s why: your lead in sucks.”
We then went through my reel together, using one of the spare copies I was still embarrassingly holding as I struggled to decide whether I was angry or crushed.
“Compare your lead in to mine [referring to the interaction we just had as if it were a scene]. My opening grabbed your attention and made you feel and do something. You actually ran all the way out to your car and back based on my Lead In.”
As we played my reel, I got the point he was making and it is a mistake that many actors make. I was so focused on making my reel look cool and I had stylized the opening with great title slides and an awesome track.
Even my coach commended me on the production value. He went on to say:
“A CD who looks through dozens of reels a day will not sit through that and then the rest of your reel does not matter.”
See, the Lead In to your reel is what matters most. Use it to grab the viewers attention and force them to view the rest of your reel.
Open with something offbeat. Think about it this way.
If you were strolling through the isle at the grocery store, or maybe going for a walk in the park, what would capture your attention, stopping you in your tracks?
Maybe someone being slapped. One pedestrian pulling a gun on another. Someone screaming “this is the best day ever!”
Things like this are what force the viewers attention.
If you see someone being slapped or being held at gunpoint, your brain’s self preservation mechanisms kick in and you subconsciously think “am I next?”
That forces you to watch for what unfolds next.
The same is true for a positive note. Some shouting “this is the best day ever!” would trigger your brains gratification senses, forcing to watch what unfolds and see if you can have some of what made that persons day the one ever.
Perhaps a billionaire philanthropist is strolling through the park throwing wads of cash at everyone. Whatever it is, your brains curiosity will force you to investigate.
That is how your reel should open.
Of course, you don’t have to use the specific scenes I just mentioned but you must choose scenes that fill these 3 requirements:
- Grab the viewers attention and forces them to watch what happens next
- Triggers an emotional or physiological response (loud bangs work great for this)
- Leave open ended questions
Your entire reel should actually contain these 3 ingredients to be powerful enough to help you with bookings. Otherwise, you risk your reel being relegated to the role of furniture leveling device.
You only have a few seconds to capture the CDs attention so throw your best stuff into those first few seconds. Even though it may be “improper or risky” and acting coaches and your peers would say your crazy for it (that’s a good sign) the most powerful reels open with a loud noise.
It shocks the viewer out of the mundaneness of the day and forces the brain to switch back on after having gone into “autopilot” during a repetitive task (sorting through dozens of reels).
Limit this to the Lead In and then again about 3/4s of the way through your reel, when the viewers attention would start wear thin again.
Another incredible way to force the viewers attention is to leave open ended questions throughout the reel, particularly after the lead in.
The character in the scene doesn’t have to actually speak in questions, but questions should be triggered in the viewers mind about the character.
“Did she die, why was it the best day ever, etc?”
The job of your reel is to force the CD to see you, through any means necessary. There should almost be the feeling of an itch that needs to be scratched, is how Cheryl put it.
When your reel does its job, the CD will ask the admin personnel to the office to call you in. Before the office actually makes the call, they will do the back end work to see what you’re all about.
They will scan your social channels to see if there are any liabilities there.
This will happen before they even call you in to read, because there is nothing worse than having to recast a bad apply.
So as much effort as you put into perfecting your reel, you still have to deal with the casting office and their processes. 99 actors out of 100 do not think of this at all.
Even with the perfect reel you can still drop the ball in the admin office if your credentials don’t measure up.
A fantastic reel that contains the 3 ingredients mentioned, combined with credentials that match your goals makes you an unbeatable casting candidate.
While I can’t help you cut the perfect reel, here I can help with the rest that is equally as important.
So what will you use as a Lead In to your reel? How will you sprinkle open ended questions throughout?
Let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email with questions if you have them. I read every one that comes through because my goal is to…
See you at the top,