Welcome back to “Little Fish in a Big Pond,” by Lizzie Maxwell.
Today’s “Little Fish” article is about our “Demo Reels”
Lizzie asked Christina Johns, a videotape editor and producer, a few questions about actors and demo reels.
What she does? Actors bring her tapes of their performances on various T.V. shows and films. They sit down together, pull selected material, and create a tape out of that. Sometimes, when a person has no tapes they start from scratch by shooting a scene or monologue in the studio. 2 or 3 scenes so they have a variety of emotions and looks. They charge around $60 an hour.
Who needs a tape? In the early years it was the working actor who was trying to get a new agent or manager, or wanted his work to be known by casting people who didn’t know his work. Now it’s grown. You’ll find stars with demo tapes who are trying to present a different side of themselves.
Another use that’s prevalent is if a producer is out of town, for example, a show that shoots in Hawaii, the casting director might know the person’s work but the producer doesn’t so they’ll ask for a tape. Or sometimes it’s down to the wire for two actors for a role and the director may request their tapes just to look and see what else they’ve done, learn their range, and see how they look on film.
A person just coming to town, do they need a tape? Yes, unfortunately for the actor, they probably won’t even be considered by an agent if they don’t have a reel. A photo and resume doesn’t get them in the door unless they are very young or extremely good looking. Christina has seen actors come in with nothing. They’ll tape something in the studio which may just be a monologue or two person scene, and suddenly, they’ve landed a hot agent and gotten some work which can then be put on their tape.
How long should a tape be? Most actors have a five to eight minuet tape. A demo tape should never be longer than 10 minuets. You don’t know how long someone is going to sit and watch your tape; they may only want to watch the first 30 seconds, so it’s important that you hit them with the most powerful work first, unless you most powerful work is a student film with poor quality.
What should be on the tape? Order of priority. If you don’t have a feature film, you can’t start with it. Go to your next thing down the list. Your best work is more about the credit. They want to know if you’ve been hired by ‘someone.’
What about the fancy stuff a lot of people are doing, adding music and special effects? It is recommended people shy away from that. It’s very costly. It can be extremely effective in two instances. A montage will work if an actor’s credits aren’t that exciting. With a montage actors can pull form commercials, from public access, and other projects, and it can be put together brilliantly, so it doesn’t look like commercials or public access. Then it works for you. The other instance where montages are effective is at the other end of the spectrum. An actor whose face is recognizable, but you can’t place it.
How does one get their tape seen? It helps if you have a connection or referral. Often the usual number of tapes ordered is somewhere between six to ten because the agent wants some, you want some at home, and you’ve got to send one to mom and dad. Some actors ask for 50 for mass mailing, but this may or may not be effective. Then you have to follow up. “Did you have a chance to see my tape?” You should take any excuse to get in the door and put your face in front of them. Picking up or dropping off the tape is a good time to be seen.
What is the price of duplicating tapes? The price of the tape stock on VHS is somewhere between $2 and $5 for the tape stock. It’s not very expensive.
Editing tapes? The cost of editing tapes digitally is around $80 per hour. Cue up your tapes ahead of time to save time and money. You’ve got to spend a lot of time cutting other people out. It needs to be about you.
Homemade tapes? If you do it at home, invest in an external microphone that you can put on your body or next to your body, and plug it into the camcorder.
Remember, follow your dreams!!