Professional vs. D.I.Y. Reels

For actors, life never seems to stop: Classes, auditions, rehearsals, performances, all while keeping your headshots up-to-date...and don’t forget the day job! Acting is a 24/7 grind that can feel defeating and exhilarating, often both at the same time. With so little free time and often very little money, every second and dollar counts, so it’s no wonder that so many are looking to capitalize on technology to cut out the middleman and personally take on one of the actor’s most important tools - the Acting Reel. But when it comes to your career, is a Do-It-Yourself reel truly the way to go?

While a D.I.Y. reel certainly has many appealing aspects, the two most prominent are its convenience and cost-savings. Most computers these days have some sort of light video editing software as a standard feature - Apple iMovie, Windows Movie Maker are two that come to mind - and each makes it easy for a beginner to understand the basic concepts of editing, as well as how to cut together a finished product. Add to that the first-hand knowledge of your work and almost instantaneous feedback from friends and family, and there seems little reason not to take the reigns of your reel on your own.

You have the footage, you have the software - why take it to someone else to edit it for you? Well, just as there are pros to making your own reel, there are just as many risks involved as well. And while it may seem simple to just toss your best work on a timeline and export, the reality is that there is far more that you need to consider before sending it off to the casting agent, including: 

  • Recommended Reel Length- You have so much fantastic work to choose from, why not just put it all on there and let the casting director see for themselves? Well, for one thing, the person watching your reel just doesn’t have that kind of time; not only do they have many other reels to peruse and consider, but they most likely have other projects to get to, each with their own slew of submissions. More importantly, however, is that an overlong D.I.Y. reel gives off the impression of indecisiveness and a lack of focus, two things you want to avoid when trying to get that big job. 
  • Formatting- Remember in English class when you had to learn the different citation & submission styles of writing, like MLA, Chicago, and APA? Reel formatting is often the same way and it is important to know exactly what kind of format casting needs from you before sending it off. Do they want a .MOV or .WMV file? 1080 or 720? Hard copy or electronic only? While many companies don’t have restrictions on the type of file they want, many others do, and it is a good idea to figure this out before the edit so there is no time wasted (as well as giving you a chance to figure out if your software has the ability to export it in the requested format).
  • Focus- This one should be a “no-brainer”, but still manages to come up frequently. Say you had an audition for an upcoming production of HAMLET. Would you perform a monologue from Christopher Durang? The same is true for reels. To be successful, you have to be sure to put out exactly the kind of mood and feel that casting is looking for. 
  • Professional Look- While ideally the material and performance would just speak for itself, the fact remains that overall presentation of a reel has some bearing on the final impression made on a casting director. While some come out looking tremendous, many homemade reels often present themselves as just that - homemade. Presentation is important and, much like an interview or an audition, the reel can sometimes be the only time you're seen by the production team before a rehearsal. A reel that takes everything into account and adds just that little bit extra can help draw the focus towards your performance and keep your name in the running for that next role.

Now for some, the D.I.Y. prospect may seem a bit more daunting than originally thought. Still, hiring someone else to make a reel for you may seem like a waste of money, and you may wonder just what you're getting for your investment?

To get the obvious out of the way, you’re getting a professional editor, someone who has studied the craft and often has access to more advanced software and methods to put some power behind the technical aspects of your video. Whether in feature-length film or acting reels, they are trained to look at the intangibles that may slip through the cracks in a D.I.Y. project, and they also possess the knowledge of industry standards and formatting that can keep your reel from running into any unforeseen hurdles. While more expensive and powerful software is nowhere near necessary, when combined with the trained and critical eye of someone who knows how to use it, the combination can streamline the editing process while also giving the finished project a skillful and polished look.

Yet more than that, when you get a professional editor to put together your acting reel, you’re not just buying a service, but are instead creating a team to help take your career to the next level. You are hiring a master-of-all trades who is focused on highlighting your talents and helping you put the best version of yourself out into the world; someone who is experienced in the theater and film industries, there to study your work and to give you objective advice on how to go forward; Someone with the knowledge and the capabilities to build your brand and help keep the attention on you. Successful acting careers often aren’t made alone and hiring a professional editor for your reel shows an investment made in yourself, with a team of people doing their best to help you thrive.

So which is better: Professional or D.I.Y. reels? In the end, the answer is really up to the individual. If you have an eye for film and a flair for the edit, or if cash is a little tight, making your own reel may be the way to go - many turn out well and make a great addition to the actor’s marketing toolbox. Still, if you’re looking for a more polished presentation, and have the means to do it, a professional reel can often be a much better long-term investment for your career.  Much like hiring a professional photographer for your headshots, the quality of the end product - and the confidence it inspires, both in yourself and in casting directors - is often worth the money spent.