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When it comes to actor's demo reels, the ideal length is usually around 2 minutes. BUT... there's more to the story.
There are a few factors to take into consideration, including how many clips you have, the quality of your footage, and how you're planning to use the reel.
In this guide, I'll dive deep on how long should a demo reel be so you know how to create one that's taken seriously by casting directors! And if you're looking to get a demo reel edited, clickhere.
Both screen AND theatre actors need demo reels because they allow casting directors to see your work and decide whether you're right for an audition.
From your demo reel alone, a casting director can tell:
- Whether you're good at acting: From just the first 5-10 seconds of your reel, most casting directors will know whether you're worth bringing in (or inviting to submit a self-tape). They can tell if you're well trained and good at natural acting...or if your techniquecould use a little work.
- What your voice sounds like and how you move: We all move and speakin slightly different ways – wehaveaccents, gesture more or less with our hands, stand tall orhunched, etc. From just 1-2 clips, a casting director can tell whether you'd be a fit for the character they're casting.
- What you actually look like: Many actors have their headshots over-retouchedor ask their photographer to use lighting tricks to make them look better or different than they do in real life. A casting director wants to know what you actually look like, and it's almost impossible to hide that in a reel.
- Whether your resume is honest: Imagine if you submitted a resume with some great, professional credits. At first glance, you might look like you're very experienced...but when a casting director watches your reel, if all they see are low-budget independent or student films, they'll wonder why your resume has all those amazing credits. Sometimes your reel might make the casting director suspicious of what's written on your resume.
For the reasons listed above, most actors have ZERO shot of being invited to auditions without a reel (or without at least a few clips showcasing their acting ability). In fact, many casting directors use a setting to automatically remove all actors without clips so they don't even see their submissions!
Having a strong, proper-length demo reel is critical to getting auditions.
How Long Should a Demo Reel Be?
To figure out the best length for your demo reel, you have to take into account a few factors, including where you're using the reel, how many clips you have, how professional your footage looks, etc. Here are guidelines for each:
- Full, professional demo reel (for submitting to auditions): If you've already got a number of high quality, professional clips, you should put together a reel that lasts between 1:30 and 2:30 (one minute, thirty seconds to two minute, thirty sections). This is the reel you'll attach to most of your submissions on casting sites (Backstage, Actor's Access, etc.). If you have an agent, they should link to this reel whenever they submit you for projects.The full length of the reel should reallydepend onhow many clips you have – each clip should generally last no longer than about 40 seconds.This meansif you have 3 clips, your reel will probably be on the shorter side, but if you have 5-6 clips (don't include more than 6 clipsin one reel), it will be closer to 2:30.
- Full, professional demo reel (for your website &IMDB): If you have a large body of work, you're welcome to create a longer demo reel for your website or IMDB page. This is NOT the reel you'll be submitting to auditions, but instead simply a video that people perusing your website or IMDB page can watch at their discretion. For this type of reel, you should create something that lasts anywhere from 3-4 minutes(but ideally never longer than 4:30). The reason this reel can be longer is because you're not actively "asking" casting directors to watch it by sending it to them. Instead, it's simply there for them to watch if they want to.
- Reel with mixed professional and self-tape footage (for submitting to auditions): If you don't have a large body of work and instead only have a few professional-looking clips along with some footage you shot of yourself performing a monologue or dialogue standing against a wall (called aself-tape), you should generally keep your reel to around a minute and a half. The best length for these kinds of reels is 1:00 - 1:30altogether, and they should nevergo longer than 2 minutes total.
- Reel with mixed professional and self-tape footage(for your website): Again, similar to the full, professional reel option, you can go longer with this kind of reel – anywhere from 2-3 minutes is fine. But remember that casting directors take self-tape footage a bit less seriously than they do professional footage from actual productions you've been in, which is why this kind of reel with a mixture of both should be on the shorter side overall.
- Demo reel focused on a particular acting type (for submitting to auditions): If you find yourself with too much footage to fit into the ideal length of 2:00, you can break it up and create a few different reels, one focused on each particular acting type (comedic and dramatic, for instance) or one focused on each particular character Type you play (young mom and lawyer, for instance). How you break it up is up to you, but these Type-specific reels should ideally be about one minute long, and NEVER longer than 1:30.
- Related: How to Find Your Type Quickly
- Individual clips (for submitting to auditions): Notice there was no option for a compilation reel of "self-tape" style footage only. That's because if you have no professional footage from actual productions(you only have footage of yourself performing monologue or dialogue scenes standing against a wall), you should NOT create a compilation reel. Instead, you should simply keep each of these as standalone clips. The maximum length for these videos should be about 30-40 seconds.
- Related: Actor Monologues: How to Find the Right One for YOU
As an overall takeaway, when it comes to a professional reel you use to submit for auditions,NEVER go longer than 2:30. If you do, casting directors will see the timecode and immediately assume you're out of touch with current industry trends. They might not even click play!
Each clip should be about 30-40 seconds long at most and they should be strung back to back, with your absolute best clips first so you keep the casting director's attention all the way to the end.
Reels for Casting Directors vs. Agents
Agents, managers, and casting directors have slightly different goals when it comes to how long should a demo reel be: A casting director wants to know whether you'd be right for a particular part, and an agent wants to know whether they'd have an easy time submitting you (while also looking good in front of casting directors by representing actors with high-quality footage).
Here's the main differences between them:
- Casting directors: They want to see that you can act, and they also want to see that you're a good fit for the character they're auditioning.
- It's OKto use self-tape style footage in your submissions reel. If you're submitting to co-star roles and just getting your feet wet in the professional screen acting world, casting directors expect you to not have a great, high-end reel yet. This means they're totally open to actors who have reels with self-tape footage, as long as the acting is really strong. On the other hand, if it's Pilot Season and you're trying to get a Series Regular or Recurring Role, you should have lots of high-quality footage,
- It's a good idea to be as specific as you can with your submissions reel. Since casting directors are looking for the perfect character for a particular part, the more specific you can be with the clips you send them (showing you're an expert in the particular Type or style of acting they're going for – comedic, dramatic, etc.), the higher your shot of getting invited to audition.
- Keep your submissions reel very short. Casting directors are extremely busy and somewatch thousands of reels a month. They appreciate when actors keep their reels under two minutes (or 2:30 at absolute most).
- Agents and managers: They want to see you can act, but they also want someone who has a lot of range and makes them look good.
- It's usually not a good idea to use self-tape style footage in your agent/manager reel. Agents want you to make them look good when they submit you, so they're less likely to sign you if you have no professional-looking footage yet. They'd rather represent actors who have professional-looking footage because it makes them look like they represent very experienced actors. A shortcut to getting professional footage is to shoot a scene for your reel (www.actorscreenershoot.com).
- You should showcase a wide variety of roles to let them see your range. Agents want to be able to submit you for lots of different roles, so the more Types you can pack into your showreels, the more impressive it will look to them.
- Your reel can be a bit on the longer side. Although it's still not generally recommended to use a very long reel, you can definitely make something slightly longer (up to 3 minutes altogether)if it's filled with professional-looking footage. In some cases, a longer reel will increase your chances of getting signed because it tells the agent that you have a lot of stuff to work with, and they can perhaps give you suggestions on how shorten your reel in a more compelling way.
- Related: How to Get an Acting Agent: The Ultimate Guide
How Many Pieces Should Be in a Demo Reel?
You should have anywhere from 3-6 clips in your demo reel – no more and no less. Having only two will make people wonder, "Why is this a reel? Shouldn't it have just been two separate clips?" And having more than 6 clips will make them too short (assuming you're keeping your reel within the 2:00-2:30 total recommended length), which won't give casting directors enough time to get into the scene and judgeyour acting ability
Make sure to include your contact information at the end. It's also good practice to include your headshot on the contact information slide, and keep it on the screen for no longer than five seconds at the end.
"How do I choose which clips to use in my reel?"
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine whether a clip should stay or be cut:
- Am I able to be heard and seen clearly in the clip?If not, cut it. If yes, move to question 2.
- Could I play this type of role today and do I look similar to the way I did in that clip?If not, cut it. If so, move to question 3.
- Is the clip significantly less impressive than the resume credit?If so, cut it. If not, move to question 4.
- Is this clip the weakest in my reel?If so, cut it. If it's not, don't cut the clip and move onto the next clip in your reel. Then start the four questions over while focused on the second clip this time! Keep going through until you've cut enough clips to get your reel under two minutes.
When you're editing a demo reel for the first time, cramming everything into a 2 minute time frame can feel constricting. But don't worry! Viewers don't need context and they don't need to understand the plot of the story. All they need is enough information to judge your acting ability. So feel free to cut away!
And if you're having trouble, my company offers demo reel editing services for actors all over the world – we can work with you personally (via Zoom) to help you cut your clips down into a compelling 2 minute demo reel.
for pricing and packages.
Compilation Reel vs. Clips – Which is Right for You?
If you're just starting out and don't have a lot of footage yet, I recommend using independent clips. These clips can be simple self-tape style clips where you're performing a monologue or dialogue with a reader, standing against a flat backdrop (usually either blue or white). Casting directors often prefer these short clips to a full demo reel – especially if your reel winds up being too long. You should aim for a minimum of 3 clips, each 30-40 seconds, showing different character Types and emotions.
Once you've been acting for a year or two and you have some footage, you should compile all those clips together into a compilation (or "sizzle") reel. This demo reel is what will quickly showcase you in all different settings, outfits, and emotional states so a casting director gets all the info they need from one video file.
How to Make a Demo Reel for Acting
Here's a special video where I dive deep on what's needed for a great demo reel. Check it out if you want to learn more!
If you'd like to learn even more about how to create a compelling reel, along with how to get footage for a demo reel AND how to use it when submitting to auditions, I highly recommend checking out this guide:Demo Reel: The Ultimate Guide for Actors.
I explore what's most important for demo reels, including acting reel tips and how to make sure your reel is taken seriously by casting directors and agents alike.
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Some Additional Q&A
How Long Should a Scene Be in a Demo Reel?
Each scene should generally last about 30-40 seconds, but some can be as short as 20 seconds. No single clip/scene should ever last longer than 50 seconds.
How Long Should a Commercial Demo Reel Be?
The length of a commercial demo reel should be 2:00 (two minutes) to 2:30 (two minutes, thirty seconds). The rules are the same for commercial and dramatic reels, so read the rest of the guide above to learn more about the different lengths of commercial reels.
If you enjoyed this article (How Long Should a Demo Reel Be?), you might be interested in some of these:
- Demo Reel: The Ultimate Guide for Actors
- Acting Resume: The Ultimate Guide for Actors
- Acting for Film: The Ultimate Guide
- What is a SAG Card?