All About Commercial Demo Reels

What Is a Commercial Demo Reel Good For?

Commercial demo reels are primarily used to get a commercial agent. They are composed of prior commercials you’ve been in, show what your type or “brand” is, and demonstrate that you can make money as an actor.

Additionally, actors seeking commercial representation are much more likely to get a meeting with an agent if they already have a reel.

Commercial CDs, producers, industry and ad executives might also look at your reel to determine if they like your look and energy. 

Can a Theatrical Demo Reel Include Commercials?

If the commercial is more theatrical in style and it’s trying to tell a story or evoke a feeling, maybe. Ultimately, it will mostly depend such factors as:

  • How much dialogue and camera time you have. Are you the main character or part of a group.
  • The presence of any distracting lower-thirds or voiceover
  • How long the commercial segment is. 20 seconds out of 30 is more potentially usable than 5 seconds.

If the commercial is solely designed to sell as many hamburgers/new cars/life insurance policies as possible in its short 15-60 seconds, probably not.

An example of a fun, theatrically-appropriate commercial was the Snickers, “You’re Being a Diva” campaign.

How Long Should a Commercial Demo Reel Be?

Just as with theatrical reels, As Long As Your Material Is Good. Please note, however, this is not an excuse to make a five-minute reel.

When people say things like, “Your commercial reel shouldn’t be longer than a minute” they’re not asking for literally 60 seconds. Think about it, if you have an awesome demo reel showing great range and bankability, but it was 67 seconds long, do you really think anyone would refuse to sign you?

You hear a specific number like 60 or 90 seconds because it’s an easy amount of time to understand and, most importantly it forces you to be ruthless with your material and only choose the best.

Whether your reel is 40 seconds or a minute and 40 seconds, you want the tightest, most strongly focused reel that shows you at your best.

A demo reel with two great commercials will be much more useful to you than one with five good-to-mediocre ones.

And also just like with theatrical reels

  • You don’t want to show the same character or product over and over again. For instance, if you were Flo from the Progressive Insurance campaign, you wouldn’t need more than two spots even though the actress has probably appeared in over a hundred different commercials.
  • It’s not about showing every single spot you’ve ever been in. It’s about demonstrating your skills and money-making potential. Your resume can list how many times you’ve played the same character or worked for the same campaign.

How Do I Get My Commercials?

Ideally, you want to talk with someone such as a 2nd AD while you’re filming the commercial to find out if they’ll be making a copy available.

If they’re able to give you a copy, you’ll want a 1080p (or 720p in a pinch) self-contained QuickTime file. Ideally, you’ll want it as little compressed as possible (sometimes called a “self-contained file”) so your editor can easily edit it.

The file may be 20 to 100 megabytes in size, but production can send it to you via Wetransfer, Dropbox, or Google Drive among others.

If they’re not able to give you a copy, don’t panic. It will probably be posted to YouTube shortly after it airs and you or your editor can get a copy from there.

Web sites such as will generally list what TV shows your commercial aired on so you might be able to DVR a future airing on broadcast TV, Hulu, or a networks dedicated Web site and grab your spot in the process.

What Do Demo Reel Editors Need?

A high-res copy of each clip, preferably at 1080p resolution, but 720p will do. You can simply forward each link production sends you to your editor.

PLEASE NOTE: Wetransfer is awesome, but the links only stay live for seven (7) days so download the files right away to your computer. If you haven’t got an editor lined up you can send them the files using Wetransfer or one of the other services.

Important Stuff

The order of any demo reel is Best Stuff First. Second-Best Stuff Second. And so on.

You’re rarely going to be given more than a few seconds of someone’s attention so it’s vitally important that you grab it right away with your best work.

Of course, “Best,” “Second-Best,” etc. are relative. Is a great looking commercial for a smaller-tier product that stars you better than a Fortune 100 ad campaign that you’re a smaller part of? How about one where you’ve only got a line or two, but it’s opposite someone famous?

Everybody will have their own opinions so you’ll need to consult with your reps, editor, and any knowledgeable friends in the industry to get some consensus. One person who says, “I like this one best” is relatively worthless, but if six more people out of the ten you spoke to say the same thing, you’ve got your starting clip.

Dramatic and comedic clips can be on the same demo. Don’t believe anyone who tells you your commercial demo has to be light and frothy the whole time. Someone casting for a somber commercial needs a demonstration of your dramatic abilities the same way they do your upbeat and energetic skills.

Note, that I wouldn’t recommend starting your reel with something heavy, but again, your editor should know how to weave in and out of the different tones.

And of course, even if your more somber clips don’t work on your commercial reel, there’s nothing to say you can’t create a reel just of your heavier clips or even have them as separate clips entirely.

It’s About What Your Reps Need
My experience is based on interacting with many different agents and managers, but I haven’t met all of them, and they’re all different people with different needs and philosophies.

So, if they say, “Who cares what some guy on the Internet wrote. Do it this way.” Do it that way. Give them what they think they need to represent you to the best of their ability.

If you can’t quite find it in you to believe that they’re right make a second reel that has the commercials on it that you want and submit that reel for your own stuff.

And Also About What the Casting Director Needs
Casting directors need what they need when they need it. Some of those things—like professionalism and an “it” factor—are constant and some—like hair style or accent—change with each project.

As such, you might find that non-commercial work such as stand-up or hosting can work on a commercial reel. If they can see how you can handle a turn or phrase or work a crowd that might work to your benefit.

Some Don’ts for Commercial Reels

Eventually, the day will come when actors will stop trying to put these on to pad the impressiveness of their reel. Let that day be yesterday for you. Nobody wants to see a montage, commercial or theatrical.

Transitions Between Clips
Let each clip smash cut into the next. It’s okay if it’s a little abrupt. Your demo reel editor should know how to use that abruptness to make your reel more effective.

Faceless Spots
If your back is to the camera, the clip is no good to you. Just like with theatrical reels, we need to see at least one eye in order to make an emotional connection.

Extra Work
You need to be one of the principals in the spot with significant dialogue. It sounds harsh, but it’s true: extras don’t need demo reels.

Don’t Make Fun of the Product
There’s a lot of “fake” commercials such as SNL puts out where they’re making fun of the product or of the people that use it. These are great for your sketch channel, but not for your reel.

Any CD or rep will look at those and have to ask themselves if you’ll do or say something that will tick off the client.

Can You Shoot Your Own Commercial?

Absolutely. But…

One of the hallmarks of network-level commercials is that they are particularly well-produced. High-end cameras; beautifully flattering light, crisp, clear sound.

With a theatrical reel, you can use student films, no-/low-budget projects etc. and not suffer because they don’t compare to a 100-million-dollar blockbuster. Agents, managers, and CDs understand that there’s a huge pool of filmmakers who are still learning.

Not so much with commercials. If you can’t duplicate the look, sound, writing, and editing seen in a prime-time commercial then you probably shouldn’t go this route.

If you can, then shoot to your heart’s content.

Have more questions about demo reels? Feel free to contact us.