QuickNickel Video

Demo Reels

PART III: Selecting an Editor

All right. You’ve collected a group of strong scenes that are focused on you doing a bang up job of acting. Now all you have to do is turn them into a demo reel.

Selecting an Editor

A good editor can absolutely elevate your demo reel so be sure to put some time and effort into picking the right one for you. Check ads and links on Now Casting and Craigslist, talk to other actors, search Google for "demo reel editor," etc. Check out the editors’ Web sites for samples of their work. If they don’t have a Web site, pass on that editor. Call four or five of them to get a feel for who you might be working with, and have a list of questions ready. If an editor doesn’t have the patience and professionalism to answer all of your questions, keep looking.

Look for someone who is passionate about what they do, and about doing it well. There is nothing about editing a reel that cannot be explained in plain English so if a prospective editor starts throwing around a lot of technical jargon in the beginning, know that they’re probably going to be using the same words at the end when you ask why your demo reel can’t be better than it is.

Editorial Branding

There shouldn’t be any. Don’t let whoever edits your reel, or duplicates your DVDs put their name, logo, Web site, or e-mail address on any or your marketing materials. It’s not their career, it’s yours.

Do I have to use a "for pay" editor?

No. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer with some computer savvy. You can put together a perfectly fine demo reel with, say, Apple’s iMovie or Windows’ Movie Maker (both of which are free), or one of the more expensive and sophisticated programs such as Final Cut Pro or Avid.

But there are advantages to hiring a professional:

  1. The high cost of free. Yes, you can get your friend, or your cousin, or your cousin’s friend to edit your reel, but... you can’t push them to hurry up because they’re doing it for free; you can’t complain about the quality because they’re doing it for free; and you can’t ask them to do it over because they did it for free.

  2. Time savings: If you’re not already familiar with not just the editing program, but all of the software and hardware required to bring your footage into the computer, how to troubleshoot problems (which crop up all too frequently), and how to make a DVD, then you could be looking at a learning curve that easily stretches 30 or more hours. On the upside, after the first go-round, the next time you edit your reel it may only take you five or six hours.

  3. Industry awareness. A good demo reel editor has spent lots and lots of time examining what works and doesn’t work, and why. We’ve spoken with the casting directors, directors, agents, and managers that you’ll be submitting to. We won’t have all of the answers, or always be right when we offer an answer, but we will have spent hundreds of hours absorbing all of the–frequently conflicting–information out there.

  4. Dispassionate opinion. Probably the biggest advantage an editor brings is that we’re not emotionally connected to your work. We look at it with the "fresh" eyes of both a prospective audience member, and an industry professional. This is a much greater asset than simply knowing how to work the software and hardware.

Some other things to consider when choosing an editor:

  1. Drop-off vs. Sit-in. Most of the actors I work with want to sit with me as I edit their reel, and I think that’s great. It makes the process truly collaborative, and that’s always a good thing. If you want to be there, there is no reason you shouldn’t be, and it shouldn’t cost extra. If an editor won’t accommodate you, move on. And don’t for settle for someone who only begrudgingly agrees. Three or more hours is a long time to sit with a grump.

    An additional benefit to sitting in, is that you can learn how to help the editor–and stay off the cutting room floor–for the next project you book. As my camera technique teacher puts it, an actor has just one job when on a movie set: to stay in the picture. You may end up being cut because you’re a jerk, or your talent didn’t extend beyond the audition, but more often than not, your best work doesn’t make it to the finished movie because of various bad habits nobody ever pointed out to you.

  2. If you don’t have the time to sit in, make sure the editor has a system for showing you the latest version of your reel without your having to do any traveling. I put a low-resolution QuickTime movie up on my Web site, and send an e-mail with a link to it. After reviewing the file, the actor can call or e-mail me back with any changes they want. Generally, this method takes two or three go-rounds before it’s finalized.

  3. Extra fees. Archive and "de-archive," set-up, transfer... whatever they’re called, I strongly disagree with the practice of tacking on extra costs for what are routine tasks, particularly when each "extra" tends to run another 25 or 30 dollars. Like a prix fixe meal, one price should take you from walking in with scenes to walking out with everything you need as an actor.

    Today that "everything" consists of the following:
    • At least one demo reel on a DVD for your agent/manager, or (for Los Angeles) to drop off at Now Casting and L.A. Casting.

    • An Actors Access-specific version of your reel on DVD.
      This version should not exceed about 2:10 because you want to minimize any delay between the CD clicking the button to view your reel, and your reel actually starting. As of right now, 2:10 is about as long as you should go. Also, you should cut out your name or headshot or anything that comes before your first scene. This is because when a casting director reviews your reel on Actors Access, they are looking at a screen that contains your name, and a number of thumbnail photos of you. Keeping them in just wastes valuable seconds giving them information they already have in front of them.

    • A QuickTime version for SAG’s iActor
      Currently, SAG’s requirements are that the file be no more than 15 MBs, and in QuickTime (.mov) format. This file can also be used for your personal Web site, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc.

Three Things You Should Never Say to Your Editor

  1. "This’ll be really quick" – No it won’t. Or more accurately, it might be, but it most probably won’t. Quite simply, editing takes time. After CGI, it’s the most time-intensive element of a production (assuming the project wasn’t caught up in pre-production limbo). Whenever a prospective client tells me that something will be quick, I know I’m dealing with someone who has little or no real experience with editing.

  2. "This’ll be really simple." – See above.

  3. "I’ve edited some stuff myself." – If you immediately follow that up with, "so I know that this is going to take time, and I’m going to stay out of your way," great. If you follow that up with pretty much anything else, not so great. This is going to sound very self-serving, but not only does editing take time, to do it well takes a good deal of technical savvy. To do it very well, takes an understanding of psychology, sociology, industry trends, skillful acting, and camera technique. It requires a balance of passionate opinions with dispassionate professional distance. You have to be able to take a position and explain or defend it with more than just, "uh, because," but also to know when to give way. It takes taste and awareness and perception and a highly critical and discerning eye, and all of these require experience, lots of experience. Someone who has edited "some stuff", and who hasn’t come to realize at least some of the above, is, quite frankly, a danger to his career.

Go to Part IV, Putting it Together.