A Reel Dilemma
This week I finally edited and posted my latest theatrical reel. I finally got the new clips I was waiting for last Thursday evening and began the excruciating process of selecting which scenes to use. Then, I spent several days agonizing on what order to put the clips in. Finally, I settled on what I thought was the best mix while still landing in that 2-3 minute sweet spot for a reel.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, it wasn't. Here's why.
First and foremost, it's always tricky to know when to update a reel. You can update it every time you get a new clip, when you have all new material, or somewhere in between. Given how long it takes to get footage, I chose the third option. I wanted to keep the best stuff from my older reel, but add enough new material to keep it from being "stale" and to enhance the overall visual quality of my reel.
It would have been nice to have an expert on reels sitting next to me sifting through the new clips to determine which segments to use. I know what segments I like, but, like choosing headshots, it's really important to have outside input. We all look at ourselves differently on the screen than everyone else and that perception informs what material we choose to feature. Alas, I didn't have this luxury but I tried to be as objective as possible (a contradiction in terms I know).
Once I'd selected the segments I wanted, I dropped them into my current reel (I edit my own reels using iMovie on my MacBook) and created a "master reel" of new and old that I sent to a few friends for input on which clips to keep and which to drop. I knew which clips I thought I should lose and which should stay and fortunately my friends agreed (otherwise it would have been really really hard to decide what to keep and what to lose).
Then came the most difficult part - what order should the clips be in? Should I lead with something new? Should I lead with the clip with the best visual quality or best acting quality? Should I split the clips up so that I have similar roles next to each other or so there is a significant shift from one role to the next to show some range?
On this matter, my friends opinions differed. Some thought I should lead with the new material and some thought I should lead with the clips with the strongest visual quality. I know there is viewer bias against poor visual quality and tried to keep this in mind when selecting my leading clip. I also kept in mind my audience - casting directors. They want to see and hear me immediately.
In the end, I decided to keep the same (older) clip as the opening for my reel. It has great video quality and is a close up on me talking so the viewer knows right away what they're getting from me as an actor. The clip is also somewhat ambiguous in terms of good guy or bad guy.
For the second clip, I went with an intense villain scene because it's new stuff and contrasts well with the prior clip. It also happens to be the longest scene in my reel but I just couldn't figure out where to cut it.
Though it wasn't the best quality clip I have, for the third clip, I decided to go to something more good guy so that in the first minute or so, the viewer gets a sense of the range of characters I can play. From there on out, clip quality tended to rule out over everything else. I figured if people made it past the first minute, they wouldn't stick around for poorer quality video.
I created 5 different versions of my reel before settling on the one posted above. At each stage, I wrung my hands about the ordering of the material and I'm still not 100% sure I got it right. I could edit until the cows come home, but I needed to get out the new material and I am happy with the result even if not perfect (I've already gotten an audition off of the new reel).
One major frustration remains, however. Even the most recent material in my new reel is still 8 months old! I feel like I'm growing by leaps and bounds as an actor in LA because I'm working with some of the most talented people in the world. I'm a much better actor than I was 8 months ago and 8 months from now, I'll be better still. It's aggravating to know I'm currently being judged on old material. It's certainly better than nothing though, and I do feel like this reel is stronger than the last.
As actors we are always being evaluated on a lagging timeline which is why no one becomes an overnight success. It's a long uphill slog, but it's important to note the milestones as they pass. Getting a reel together is an important milestone. Getting a stronger reel together is even better.
Milestone marked. On to the next!
How do you decide what to put in your reel? What's the longest you've had to wait to get footage?
(photo courtesy of Andrew Parkhurst - screen shot from Shut Yo' Mouth)
-- Gabriel Voss