There are a lot of different schools of thought with regard to reels. As an agent in the SE, this is my 2 cents…
The strongest footage for anything, whether it is for a reel or clips to post on Actors Access, is from current, recognizable shows. For example, Nashville, The Walking Dead, The Originals, The Vampire Diaries, Sleepy Hollow—the list goes on. The best clips showcase your character and are not more than 30 seconds or so. If you have a larger role, you can edit for the strongest clips and go up to about 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, but not much longer.
A speed reel is generally a minute or less. It gives us a quick glimpse into a variety of your work.
The 2 to 3 minute reel gives you time to establish scenes more thoroughly and is my preference, but only if you have the legitimate footage for it. Again, the legitimate footage is from recognizable shows. Ideally, you have 4-5 different clips included in the reel.
Now, I know there are a lot of actors out there who are reading this and thinking, but I am trying to get hired. I do not have the recognizable credits yet. So what do I use in the meantime?
If it is not recognizable, I am only really interested in seeing footage if it is amazing quality and really demonstrates that you have acting chops. If you have done a short film or even a student film, those are good sources for you. That said, I would not spend a lot of money putting these clips together for a reel. If you are capable and can do it yourself, that makes sense. Otherwise, I would place individual clips from these projects on Actors Access.
2-4 clips on AA can make an impact. Clearly label and describe the clips, so that casting can glance at them and tell if there is a relevant character being showcased, that is helpful to them. Then, it is worth the $20 a minute to post. I know that AA has said that having some footage uploaded will help to place you above the headshots of other actors who do not have footage when casting views a submission. I have never had casting indicate that it makes a significant difference for them.
In our current market, good, solid reels are most important for talent who have significant credits. Casting will reach out to us directly for a downloadable version, so they can pitch an actor on a role. This procedure has become more and more commonplace, particularly during pilot season.
In our current market, good, solid reels are most important for talent who have significant credits.
I love the fact that technology has enabled everyone to become a filmmaker these days. For most actors, there are means and ways to procure footage, but be sure it is really strong, otherwise you look unprofessional.
Surely some actors are reading this blog who are in search of an agent, and they are asking: shouldn’t I have a reel to help me procure an agent? Again, if the footage really showcases your acting, then yes. But so often new talent send us a reel, and the footage does not show us what the actor can do, so we end up sending them a scene to tape anyway.
There are services and professionals who help talent to create reels. These are options if you want the experience of writing, shooting and putting together footage, but they are not marketable reels. If you want the experience, it is great, but the selling feature for this investment should not be that you come out with a truly useful reel.
One of my biggest pet peeves with reels is to see footage (recognizable or not) that is poor quality and grainy. There are services out there that can pull footage for you. If the quality is poor, it is likely older footage, and the current work is a big piece of having a successful reel.
And, what I say today, may not be true tomorrow.