By Marci Liroff

When I first started teaching actors about the business and how they can empower themselves, it was common to see demo reels that ran between 5-10 minutes long! Now it’s more common to see 30/60/90 second reels.

My, how times have changed! I imagine the next time I write about this topic it’ll have changed again. Can’t wait to see what’s next!
1. Here’s the skinny. Get your footage uploaded electronically so it can be easily viewed. Edit a demo reel which has clips from all your work woven together. Here’s the key and it’s one of the biggest mistakes I see actors make with their demo reels: Front-load your reel with your strongest footage. By ‘strongest’ I mean the footage that features YOU. If you’re in a scene with Will Smith but it’s really his scene and it barely features you, you’re gonna look like a background player and aren’t going to impress anyone. In fact, you’re going to get lost in that footage. Don’t use scenes where the other person is out-shining you in the scene.  You want the viewer to be riveted to YOU. Yes, I’m very impressed that you actually got cast in a scene opposite Will Smith – that is actually a big deal – but if you come off looking like an extra in the scene, I’m not gonna be so impressed. Unfortunately, when I play demos for producers/directors/and executives – they mostly have the attention span of a gnat – and will only watch the first few moments, unless you’ve really caught their attention – so make your opening great. Don’t go on and on in those photo montages with music in the background in your opening. If you’re going to do that, I suggest it be no longer than 7 seconds. Or better yet, do that montage at the end. Get to a great scene in the opening where you’re speaking. I’ve seen so many demos where I can’t even tell who I’m supposed to be watching because there are so many actors in the scene.
2. It’s quality, not quantity. At the very least, make sure it is of broadcast quality in both picture and sound. Don’t put poor quality footage on your reel – it only makes you look bad…really bad! With so many actors self-producing content these days for their reels, remember it has to look just as good as the footage we’re seeing on television and in the theaters. If the quality is “less than” it reflects on you. Have someone with an objective eye (not a family member or good friend) go through your reel to help you edit. Be discerning. Imagine you’re the buyer. You don’t need to put something on your reel just because you were in it. It’s got to be great footage. If it doesn’t show you in the best of light – don’t use it.  If it looks homemade (like so much of the self-produced content I see) don’t use it! I’d rather see no footage than bad footage. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube!
3. Use your best footage first and your newest footage at the top of the reel.  I suggest you do not go too far back into your repertoire – if you’re pushing 50, the scene when you were 20 will only confuse people and sorry honey, you’re not that guy anymore!
4. When you’re editing a demo reel, I suggest you do a separate comedy reel and a separate drama reel. If I’m casting a comedy, I want to view and show just your comedy footage and vice-versa. If we want to see your range, we can always view the other reel, but I find that most of the filmmakers I work with want to see *just* your comedy footage if we’re doing a comedy and don’t want to wade through all the drama footage on your reel.
I also really appreciate it when the clips are labeled at the top of the clip so that I know what show/movie this clip is from.
5. Some people are doing clips instead of demos. These are very useful as well. Each clip is it’s own self-contained clip that runs about 30-60 seconds. This way there’s a large variety of clips to choose from and I can pick and choose what I want to see (and send to my team). This seems to be the norm these days.
6. I suggest you upload your demo reel/clips to your profile page on Actors Access for easy viewing along with your resumé and photos. There’s also a great site called Cast It Talent you can subscribe to and upload pic/resume and reel/clips to your profile page and send that package to anyone who requests it.
You should also upload your reel/clips to your IMDb profile page. If you have a website, then of course your demo reel/clips are going to live there as well. If you’re going to upload your reel to a site like YouTube or Vimeo, please make sure you have your contact info easily viewable – either on the video itself or in the description below. Hell, you could post it in both places! These days, a lot of Casting Directors and comedy talent scouts are combing the web for new faces. You can’t imagine how many times I stumble across an actor’s video online and there’s absolutely NO contact info! Don’t forget to include your website, twitter name, and Facebook Page (if you have one) – this helps to market yourself across many different social media platforms.
7. Make it easy for people. I really don’t like receiving large files to my email from ‘You Send It’ when I’m working on a project. I just don’t have the time to download these files – remember, it’s not just your video file, it’s literally hundreds of them. You want to make it really easy for people to view your reel. Send an easily clickable link.

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  1. Hi Marci,

    I’m loving your blog! Ever since I met you a couple years ago at Actorfest, you’ve become a great role model and mentor for my career with all your fabulous advise and expertise. Thank you!

    Here’s my question: How do you feel about actors adding clips of a special skill to their reel? For example singing, dancing, accents, etc.

  2. Marci,

    A question about self taping. I ran into a fellow actress today who said she scours the trades for what’s casting, lands her hands on the sides when she can and self tapes auditions that she then has her manager forward to casting (her manager calls first, it seems to see if it will be seen). First, what are your thoughts on this? Second, on any video…you are saying you want a link you can click on that will then take you to a video that plays on the web, not a download. Would a password be okay? or is that too much work (I’m thinking about this being copyrighted material and that an actor could get into trouble just posting that on the web).

    Also, part of me is just really wondering about this! I know Vera Farmiga use to make videos and send them to folks. I love the idea of getting as many people to get to know my work as possible as I’ve gotten a bit of late start :-).

    But also…how to approach being assertive like this in a way that’s effective and doesn’t turn people off. Would love your thoughts. Thanks so much!


    • Yes there are many situations where you’re either not in the same city as the CD or not able to come in for an audition and we request you to self-tape your audition. I wrote a blog post about this awhile ago for your reference ( ).

      Yes a password is ok, but it’s better if your video links are easily viewed. Because you’re not trying to monetize viewership of your demo reel, I don’t believe you’re doing anything illegal by showing clips like this.

      Regarding Vera Farmiga – she didn’t just tape herself doing auditions and send them out willy-nilly. They were REQUESTED by the casting offices thru her agent or manager. Ideally, she would normally come in for an audition back in the day and in the case of these self-taped auditions she produced them out of necessity – she wasn’t in the same city as the CD or the filmmakers. Apparently she made REALLY GOOD self-taped auditions!

      In terms of being assertive – just use the manners you were brought up with. In many cases we are doing an open call or search and are requesting that people put themselves on tape.

  3. That’s a fantastic question Arianna! It’s a strategy I’ve tried myself a couple of times (with the help of my manager), and I’d love your opinion Marci. I’ve heard so many stories of actors booking major roles off-tape that it seems a valuable tool.

  4. Marci,

    Perfect timing on the current blog! I’m in the middle of putting my reel together now. Here’s my question: With 5 feature films currently in post (and only a couple of very brief snippets from teaser-trailers to show for it) can I lift those snippets and create a “coming attractions” element at the end of my clips?
    Thanks so much for the help!
    jim mckeny

  5. What would you suggest be in a child’s reel whom does not have much experience yet? Age range 6-8 years

  6. Hey, Miss Liroff. @TravantiQuinn here. We’ve spoken on a number of occasions, and I’d like to glean a little more insight from you.

    I re-edited my reel at 4am this morning, and the film school grad in me always fashions my work into a narrative. Its fun, logical, and I figured it would help engage a viewer into watching the REST of the reel (ie Busy CDs) to complete any semblance of a story. My way of making the isolated puzzle pieces, one compelling picture… albeit a demo reel.

    The above is not the purpose of a reel, of course, but I found that if you cut the reel a certain way, it could showcase both your acting range, and engage the viewer with some sort of thru-line simultaneously.

    The aforementioned is a little more difficult to achieve with shorter reels, but I figured my reel had more dynamism with a little narrative.

    Miss Liroff, I must say, my reel NOW breaches the Marci Liroff 30-60-90 principle by 40 seconds, but it isn’t without good purpose, and I’m hoping that my extension of the reel helped to serve that purpose.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts, regarding my thought-process; and the reel itself if you have time. I value your opinion, & would appreciate the feedback… as always!

    Again, a simple inquiry to help satisfy my curiosity. I just wanna learn!


  7. I did watch your reel Travanti and it’s not that it’s long, it’s just confusing. I’d like to see your strongest scenes first, and complete scenes, not intercut with other scenes.
    Your opening scene focuses on the woman, not you. The following dinner scene isn’t a meaty scene at all. The next scene that jumps between the kitchen and the park makes no sense to me and the park footage isn’t very strong – I’d leave that out.

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  1. […] Marci Liroff:   As you amass more work, you’re going to need a kick-ass demo reel. Check out my earlier blog for what your demo reel should look like in terms of format and content. There are professional […]

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