How to Pick the Best Demo Reel Editor For You
The best demo reel editor is not necessarily the most talented or the least expensive, but rather is the one who wants to work with you to make the best reel from your material instead of merely being willing to do the work for money.
Finding Prospective Editors
Not surprisingly, Google is your friend here. You can type in “demo reel editor” and be rewarded with dozens of pages of links.
Sites such as Casting Networks, Now Casting, and Backstage will also have links to editors.
And, of course, you should ask your friends, students in any acting classes you’re in, and/or get recommendations from your representative.
NOTE: In the interest of economy, when I use the word “editor” I’ll be referring to both individual demo reel editors and demo reel companies with editors on staff.
Narrowing the Field
I would recommend calling each editor instead of emailing. This is because a surprising number of recommended or listed editors may no longer be in business. Too many people seem to think being a demo editor is an easy way to make some quick cash, and then they learn it’s a business like any other and move on.
Calling will save you a lot of time, and give you a chance to start vetting them right away.
These are some of the things you want to check for:
- Attitude. Does the person on the phone sound happy to talk to you, or are they treating you like you’re a nuisance? Even if it’s just the admin, a poor attitude at the front desk almost always represents a poor attitude throughout the rest of the business.
Getting stuck with an editor who feels free to treat you poorly is a lousy way to get your reel made.
- Pricing. Are they up-front about their prices or do they give you vague answers? Unless the editor is charging a fixed price for everything (which is rare), it’s honestly impossible to give an exact price, but they should be up front about their rates and any additional charges.
And speaking of… you should also ask if they charge extra for anything like creating different file types (e.g., .MOV vs. .MP4) or image sizes (e.g., 1080p, 720p, etc.). Do they charge for storing your source material or have a set-up fee for when you come back
Unfortunately, some editors will offer a low hourly charge or flat rate for very basic services, and then nail you at the end with a lot of add-ons.
And there should be no attempt to manipulate you into paying their rates because, “that’s what professionals do.”
- Ask if you can sit in the room with the editor. At QuickNickel Video, our policy is the actor is always encouraged to sit in.
If they say you can’t sit with the editor, or you get charged more to sit in, move on. I have found having my clients sit in makes the process faster and less expensive and they learn about how to make stronger selections from their next projects which helps them save money when they update their reel.
Unless you don’t have the time or interest, there is no excuse to keep you from being there when someone is working on your demo reel.
- Turnaround time. Another reason to sit in with the editor: most of the time you should be able to get the reel done that day.
Yes, there are occasional clients who have a ton of stuff and it takes more than one visit to finish or they’ll need sign off by their reps which doesn’t happen for a day or more, but those are exceptions.
At the very least, if they can’t promise a turnaround time in less than a week, look elsewhere.
There should be some examples of demo reels on their Web site, but bear in mind that they may not necessarily indicate the current level of experience or of what your demo reel will look like. Not every editor regularly updates their site with their latest and greatest work.
The examples should, however, give you a sense of the editor’s style and eye.
Some things to look for:
- Are there any dead spots in the reel where the energy or pace drops off?
- Are there any duplications of previously seen characters? Are they “padding” the reel? (Sometimes this is at the client’s request, but the rest of the time it indicates an editor who doesn’t know their stuff.)
- Are there any montages or weird graphics? In the former’s case these are unwanted holdovers from a decade ago; in the latter’s case they’re amateur-ish distractions that will negatively impact how your reel is received.
- Do you agree with the choice of the first scene? Was it the strongest one for the actor?
Do You Need to Pay Someone to Put Together Your Reel?
You can get a friend who edits (or at least knows their way around an editing program) to do it for you, or you can learn how to edit on your own using free programs like iMovie (Mac-only) or Windows Movie Maker (Windows-only). There are literally hundreds—if not thousands—of free or low-cost editing tutorials on the Web.
The High Cost of Free
Going this route does have some drawbacks.
I’ve had many clients who first opted for a friend to create their reel for them and they all told the same story: it took months to get it done.
Why? Your friend likely has a job, a significant other, a social life (or at least a fantasy football league), etc. The amount of free time in their day is tiny and they won’t want to spend it working on your reel. So they don’t.
You can’t push them to finish faster because they’re doing you a favor. And if it’s not quite as good as you’d hoped, you can’t ask them to do it again ‘cause they already did it once for free.
If you opt to do it yourself, you’ll be in a similar time-and-quality situation. Learning the software may only take you days, but learning why to cut when you do and why one scene is better than another are things that, quite frankly, take years to learn.
Plus, if something goes wrong (and things are always going wrong), you’ll be on the hook for figuring out what the problem is and how to fix it. Whereas a professional editor will have figured out the solution—or how not to create the problem in the first place—years ago.
On the other hand, demo reels aren’t static things and learning to edit is a powerful tool for an actor. Once you’ve figured out how to create your first reel, you’ll just be doing the same thing over and over again, but with more experience and know-how.
So take a look at your priorities. It might make sense to figure out how to do it yourself.
(Don’t) Do It My Way
One of the most important services demo reel editors perform is as a dispassionate third party.
We’re not emotionally attached to the material so we can offer up our opinion without such added baggage as:
- Really needing the scene to work because the shoot was pure hell and you need to get something out of the experience.
- Hating a scene because you don’t like your hair/triceps/clothes, etc.
- Really wanting a scene to work because you never get to play “X” and finally someone cast you as that.
- Hating the sound of your voice or watching your work, period.
However, some editors will take this a bit too far and won’t accept any input from you. Your basic, “My way or the highway”-type situation.
This is flatly unacceptable. It’s your reel and your career, and you should absolutely have a say in how it’s put together.
The flip side of that coin is the editor who won’t offer any opinion on your work. They’re there to assemble the clips in the order you want and that’s it.
Partly, this is because the editor doesn’t want the client or their reps yelling at them over some “fault” with the reel that they blame the editor for because they took her advice.
And partly, this is because some editors are only in it for the money and refuse to care about something so basic as a simple demo reel. (Demo reel editing is typically considered beneath the dignity of “professional” editors.)
I always tell my clients, “It’s my job to give you my counsel. It’s not my job to make you do it my way. Yours is always the winning vote.”
You don’t want to work with an editor who thinks you have nothing to add or will begrudge you your opinion.
With this power, however, comes responsibility (thank you, Stan Lee). As mentioned above, it is your career, not the editor’s, so it behooves you to know as much as you can.
Talk to your reps, watch other reels, learn some of the lingo. As much as possible, you want to be a partner in the process of making your demo.
Four Things Not to Say to Your Demo Reel Editor
“I know just what I want.” I’m sure that’s true, but you’re likely saying that while looking at your scenes within the context of each project.
Once they’ve been pulled from their sources, edited down, maybe color-corrected a bit, what you thought you had and what you’ll actually have are rarely the same thing.
I tell my clients to focus on identifying the scene(s) they want and write down the start and stop times and that’s it. Once it’s captured and in the editing program we can determine what we have to work with and how best to utilize it.
“I’m very loyal.” In 14 years of editing reels, I can count on zero fingers the number of people who have told me this and came back more than once.
I don’t know a single editor this phrase isn’t a red flag for.
“I’m broke/Can I have a discount?” Join the club. You know who’s not driving an $80,000 Tesla? 99.9% of the editors in the world.
Editors are small-business owners like restaurateurs, computer programmers, and roofers. We set our prices to cover expenses and give us a fair profit.
It sounds harsh, but don’t hire an editor until you can afford to pay their rates.
“What do you think?” (Over and over again.) If an editor has edited a scene every which way but loose, and they still don’t think it’s a strong choice for your reel, but you keep wanting them to tell you it’s strong, they’ll eventually tell you what you want to hear because they don’t want to keep fighting that battle.
This goes back to the point above about responsibility. Editors have more experience than you, but they aren’t perfect. If you like a scene, stick to your guns. Just because the editor doesn’t like something doesn’t mean they’re right.
I’ve edited many reels where I’ve disagreed with my clients’ choices and that’s okay. I respect them for making what they thought was the best choice for them.
This Should Be Fun!
Whether you’re getting your first reel done, or updating it for the umpteenth time, it should be fun. You’re moving forward in your career and making yourself a more hirable actor. Yay!
So, spend a bit of time to make sure the editor you’re working not only wants to make the best reel they can, but also wants to make sure you had a great time making it.
Have more questions about demo reels? Feel free to contact us.