How To Make An Acting Reel That Doesn’t Suck


Your fellow actor friend has just excitedly shared their new reel on Instagram or Facebook. You click on the You Tube link and just can’t turn away. But it isn’t because of their glowing talent. It’s because you’ve just witnessed a train wreck of bad editing, acting and sound. Of course, no one wants to be THAT person…the one who says “Hey-nice reel but you might want to fix some things to make it better.” — so you click “like” and move on with your day. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Having a great performance reel is vital for anyone who wants to be a professional actor. So what makes a reel bad vs good? Via a simple online search you can find thousands of examples of actor reels. Do the research and watch as many as you can before creating yours. There are many factors that can kill a reel immediately. Think of your acting reel like a fetus. If you put a fetus into the world before it is fully gestated, it will die. A bad reel can never be unseen, and casting directors do not forget a face. There is no amount of neonatal intensive care that can save you from the self sabotage of putting out a bad reel.

Below are a few rules to remember as you embark on creating your reel:

  • Never put footage from doing background work in a reel. Background work is not acting. Only speaking roles belong on your reel.
  • Use quality HD footage. If you have non HD footage, anyone can see you probably haven’t done anything worthwhile in years. Agents and casting people are often more drawn to hire and represent working, talented actors who will make them money.
  • Feature your best work first. You only have a few seconds to catch someones eye and make them want to watch the entire reel vs turning it off.
  • Make sure YOU are the focus of the scenes you choose to feature. Make sure those scenes highlight your best acting. I watched many reels where the person playing against the actor who made it steals the scene from them.
  • Don’t use cheesy music, distracting transitions or font. Keep it simple, clean and modern. Less is more. A reel should be your business card in video format. Simple and easy to read.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Preferably under three minutes. Leave them with a solid picture of your talent and wanting to see more of it.

Below is an example of a very well done reel:

Here is what makes this reel good:

  • It features simple text with no annoying elements or music.
  • The footage is HD, clear and the editing is not jumpy.
  • The sound is quality. Bad sound can be as bad as non HD footage.
  • The editing is quality. The reel features his best scene FIRST. This is important. The transitions are clean with no extra effects.
  • The reel ends with the actors name and contact information in a clean readable font.

Now, in contrast below are a couple of truly bad, cringe worthy reels.

A truly terrible acting reel

Let’s tear this hot mess of a reel apart and focus on the elements that made it so bad.

  • The reel opens with the title “comedic”. If you need to tell the person watching which genre you are acting, you are probably shittastic.
  • The reel is way, way to long.
  • The clips jump around from some kind of talk show, to an online web series, to actual film work. An acting reel should contain acting. Hosting, talk show interviews and reality tv work should not be on an acting reel. Separate your reels if you are a multi-hyphenate talent.
  • The editing of the clips is very jumpy and to quick. We don’t get an idea of any character she is playing. The quality of most of this footage is blurry, home movie-ish.
  • Around the two minute mark we get into some home, self shot “acting”. The acting is so bad here, it’s beyond me why anyone would put this out.
  • I’m not sure what happened at 3 minutes when she takes all her clothes off. It was out of place and jarring.
  • At the end of the reel we get a “full package” title with bad background music. Here we get to experience this truly bad reel all over again. We get a musical slide show of home selfies, naked photos, headshots and film clips. This thing is all over the place.
  • A good editor could have maybe made this a plausible reel. What was instead put out is only memorable in a bad way.

The reel below touches on something very important, which is that your reel should make YOU it’s main focus.

This reel went wrong in a variety of ways.

  • Cartoony titles are what introduce us to this actress. They were so bad that I was actually surprised the reel contained quality HD footage. I can’t stress how important clean, simple titles are.
  • This reel has too many title cards. If you want to introduce the name of each film prior to a clip, do it in a small font in the corner.
  • The reel highlights other actors more than her. It is possible to edit a scene like this to create more of a focus on the person the reel is featuring.
  • Distracting music ends this reel, as well as more bad titles.
  • This actress needed to build more quality footage before putting a reel into the world. You Tube shows this was from 2013. Make sure you “clean house” as the years go by. Delete old work and replace it as your career grows.

If you are new to the industry, reality is that you won’t have much work under your belt yet to build a professional reel with. In this case, I recommend finding a studio that offers a reel making service to get you started. Trying to get reel footage by shooting at home without studio lighting or sound will only do you a disservice.

Finally, always keep in mind the business part of show business. You are your own product. In such a highly competitive business, it is important that you do everything you can to stand out in the crowd. Your reel is your calling card. Make it sparkle-just not literally.