Creating Your Film/TV Demo: It’s All About YOU!

by Tony Nation

Lately, the subject of an actor’s film and TV demo has been coming up over and over again.  From actors who I work with here at Actors Connection to currently re-editing my own.  It’s a tough subject as you can spend weeks trying to guess what the industry wants to see.  But in this day and age of technology, it’s all about selling what you do efficiently and effectively.  New York casting directors want to see film and TV demos. So what does an actor need in their demo and what should it say about you-the actor?

The first thing to remember is that you want to showcase your best work FIRST!  Why?  Well if an agent or casting director doesn’t like what they see they aren’t going to continue watching.  Pretty simple right?

Second, your demo is all about you.  This is your time to be selfish and to sell what you do in three minutes or less.  It’s not about other actors and their work, it’s about YOU!  These are your 3 minutes to shine and to spotlight your range and the types you play.  And speaking of time, your demo should not be longer than 3 and a half minutes.  You should be able to show everything that you do in that time using three to five scenes.

Third, you want to sell yourself as a leading player.  To sell yourself as a one line actor is not what you want to show on your demo as a lead in.  Save that for the middle of your demo to show that you’ve been on TV shows or films with stars and that we can trust you on set.  For your film/TV demo reel, you also do not want to use commercials or anything where you are not speaking.

Fourth, you want to make sure that we recognize you right off the bat.  From your headshot with contact information leading into your first scene, we need to identify you.  If you are disguised or we aren’t sure who you are in the scene from the get go, that isn’t the scene to begin with.  You never want to confuse your viewer.

Fifth, you want to use reel from actual projects.  For your demo, I don’t recommend using taped monologues or class work.  It’s just like headshots.  It’s all about quality.  Would you want to use a photograph for your acting business that was taken by your friend or mother in your backyard?  No, you want the best professional headshot that you can get as it represents you and your brand.  It’s what gets you in the door for auditions or meetings with agents.  It’s the same with your demo.  From showcasing it on your website to appearing on ActorsAccess.com, you want to make sure that it’s all about YOU and marketing yourself well to your next buyer.

Sixth, how should your demo reel actually look?  Here are a couple of demo reels that I feel showcase the actor extremely well:

Demo Reel 1

Demo Reel 2

If you are looking for an editor for your Demo Reel, I recommend Todd Wall at Wall2WallProductions-he’s one of the best!

CD Jen Rudin Talks Casting Office Etiquette for Adults and Kids By Kelly Crisp

Jen RudinCasting offices can get crowded, especially with kids. Imagine a large group of children in a cramped space, waiting to be judged by strangers. Add strollers, siblings, gameboys, iPads, food, backpacks, and cell phones to the picture. Then imagine kids running lines and primping, preparing for their “big break.” Not to mention the chatter about who booked what job and the catch-up conversations between parents. Acting classes for children (let alone for adults) may not ever have covered audition etiquette.

Auditioning is part of life for a child performer. And it’s tough.

Jen Rudin, an award-winning casting director for film, television, animated movies, video games and theater, began her professional acting career at age eight. By twelve, she knew she wanted to be a casting director. Rudin believes in “creating an honest, positive, and comfortable audition environment.”

“It’s a very small world and certainly casting directors talk to agents and production managers,” says Rudin, who has spent much of her career casting for Disney and now works through her own agency, Jen Rudin Casting. Her work includes “The Princess and the Frog,” “Chicken Little,” “Meet the Robinsons,” and “The Incredibles.” Upcoming films include Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and Peter Bogdanovich’s “Squirrels to the Nuts.”

Rudin views the waiting room as a professional workspace. “You may not think you are distracting [actors] but subconsciously you are shifting their focus away from their audition material and ultimately depleting their focus,” she says. “That can be really detrimental.” Rudin believes that casting office etiquette begins with kindness and respect. “As my father likes to say ‘All you have is your name, so leave a good name.’”

Casting kids means, to some extent, casting their parents as well, and Rudin looks for “good” people. “Be pleasant to the casting assistant in the waiting room because they are going to tell me anything wacky that happens,” she explains. “It’s their job. I hear plenty of stories. Sometimes I will love a kid and say to my assistant, ‘So, what happened in the waiting room today?’”

Rudin suggests that conversations, especially between families, be kept to a minimum. “There is nothing that another actor, or another mother, is going to say to you in the waiting room that is going to make you feel better at that moment,” she says. Any audition-related conversations with your child should take place once you leave the building and be limited to “Did you have a good time?” “Whatever you say in a public space could end up being overheard,” warns Rudin. “You never know who is in the elevator or in the toilet stall next to you.”

Shaking hands is one of Rudin’s pet peeves and strongly discourages the practice to prevent the spread of germs. “It’s bad enough I have to touch hundreds of resumes during the day. I don’t want to shake everybody’s hands,” she explains. “A kid should come in and be themselves. Shaking hands seems a little manufactured and a little artificial to me.”

Finally, Rudin adds, “Take it all with a grain of salt. You’ve got to go on a million auditions before you get something. If you can remember that, you are going to be a lot happier in the waiting room, and your child will give a better audition.”

Casting Office Etiquette Tips

Arriving at the Audition
Arrive 10 minutes before your appointment time. To ease overcrowding, don’t arrive too early or late.

Don’t bring strollers or siblings, especially toddlers.

Finish eating, drinking and attending to the bathroom before you arrive.

Come Prepared
Actors should prepare before they arrive. You can’t control the casting office environment and there are times when casting may run ahead of schedule.

Review the audition sides quietly without distracting others.

Be Quiet and Respectful
Do not speak with other actors. A simple hello is best.

Do not discuss industry business such as recent auditions and bookings.

Use of Electronics
Never play electronic games.

Headphone volume should be kept to a minimum.

Do not talk on cell phones. Place cell phones on silent.

Privacy Considerations
Don’t stalk the sign-in sheet. It can make others feel uncomfortable and lends itself to gossip.

Listening at the door is awkward for your child and others. You don’t want to be that parent.

The Audition
Be ready when your name is called.

Greet staff with a simple hello and be ready to slate. Allow staff to direct any small talk.

Do not shake hands with casting director or staff.

Parents should not go into the audition room with their child, regardless of their age. An important aspect of the audition is how confident a child feels in a room with strangers.

No tears. Reevaluate if your child does not enjoy auditioning.

Leave the room with a simple thank you and goodbye.

After the Audition
Don’t linger. Quietly collect your belongings and leave.

Do not discuss what took place during the audition until you are outside of the building.

Do not correspond with the casting through social media. Use a post card or email.

Be cautious about reading or sharing information about castings via the internet.

LOOKING YOUR BEST! with Brandi Washington

Brandi Washington is a makeup artist who learned the ropes from her mother at an early age. Brandi is pursuing a career in acting in New York City but feels that her creativity is too outrageous to put into only one craft. Since living in NYC Brandi has worked at Sephora where she learned how to apply makeup on different skin types, tones, and textures. After Sephora, Brandi started freelancing and doing makeup for local artists’ music videos, weddings, Independent movies, head shots for actors and fashion shows. Brandi loves applying makeup, because it allows her to create, and make others feel good while doing it.

1. How do you approach the “look” you’re going to give a client? Is there an initial consultation?

BRANDI:  Yes, there is an initial consultation either in person which is usually done for a bride to be. If I’m doing makeup for a photo shoot or video I will talk to the photographer or director to get their vision via phone or email. I’m usually told the theme or mood of the occasion, and then I go from there using my own creative expression. I stay within the guidelines that I’m given, but I like to add my own personality to my art as well.

2. Is there a standard when it comes to head shot make-up? Or make-up for auditions?

BRANDI:  The standard for head shot and audition makeup is to be as natural as possible. When you take your head shot you want it to look the way you look in person so the casting director will recognize you. When you enter the room to audition you want to look the way you look in your head shot for the same reason. They go hand in hand.

3. What are the key essentials a do-it-yourself-er would need to create the perfect look for head shots/auditioning?

BRANDI:  The key things you need to do make for your own head shots are an HD (High Definition) foundation that matches your skin; Natural lipstick or gloss (pinks & nudes); Soft blush that brings a pinch of color back to your face after your foundation application; Translucent setting powder to apply to your face after your done applying your makeup (the powder holds your makeup in place for the shoot); Mascara; A natural based  matte eye shadow (light brown, nude, pink) applied only to your eyelids; Soft pencil eyeliner (I prefer brown over black for a more natural look); Any basic brush set will get you started (foundation, blush, and eye shadow brushes are the most important). Things that also help is to clean, moisturize, and prime your face before you apply any makeup. Any primer that has oil control is best. You can find most of these products at any pharmacy in the makeup aisle or at Sephora. Also there are a host of Youtube tutorials to help you once you gather all of your supplies.

4. How cohesive should hair/fashion be with the make-up job?

BRANDI:  Your hair should be natural just like your makeup, and how you are on an average day in the city wearing it down in some pictures and up in others will showcase different features and give different looks for your head shots. Your clothing should be the same, nothing over the top, just relaxed and YOU. If you are going for more sophisticated roles, still pin up your hair in some and wear it down in others. Wear a nice blouse or dress shirt… whatever the role calls for, but remember to be natural in whatever you do.

5. Do you have any recommendations regarding make-up for men in head shots/auditions?

BRANDI:  My suggestion for men is to bring blotting papers to wipe the oil and sweat from their face during the shoot. Translucent powder does wonders for men as well. It just keeps the oil and shine under control. Wear your hair and facial hair according to the roles you are aiming for and be natural with your selections.

Contact Brandi at br_renee@yahoo.com OR 646-351-7832

$50 Make Up Application for Headshots

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CBS New York Names Actors Connection One of NYC’s Five Best Acting Studios!

Actors Connection is pleased to announce that we’ve just been named by CBS NY as one of the “Latest Best of New York: Best 5 Acting Classes”.  Check it out here. Thanks for recognizing our NY acting classes, CBS!

How to ACE an Audition By Daniel Lehman from BackStage

Casting director Sig De Miguel has cast dozens of independent and studio films, first with mentor Amanda Mackey and then as an independent casting director. He partnered with CD Stephen Vincent in 2006, and together the duo has cast more than 40 feature films including “Rabbit Hole,” “Holy Rollers,” “An Englishman in New York,” the 2011 Sundance hit “Gun Hill Road,” the new film “For Ellen” starring Paul Dano, and the upcoming “Affluenza.” De Miguel’s previous casting credits include “United 93,” “The Cooler,” “The Matador,” “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” and more.

Although he now specializes in casting independent films, De Miguel cautions, “Actors should not think in terms of studio films versus independent films versus episodic television versus theater versus commercials. They should aspire to be working actors and work in all mediums available to them. The reality is unless a project is doing a search for an unknown, most actors starting out are going to be considered for small roles and day players.”

We asked De Miguel for his advice regarding auditions, submissions, and acting résumés for those seeking to perform in NYC.

What should actors always remember to do when they walk into an audition room?
Sig De Miguel: The two most important things an actor should bring into the audition room are preparedness and professionalism. I always admire it when actors come into the audition with a strong knowledge of the text, a defined point of view on the material, and assertive, specific choices. Actors should try to approach the most truthful state of being of the character and since it’s usually done in a very short period of time, knowledge of the role and material, preparedness, and specificity are the actor’s best tools.

They should also know how to read an audition room. They should be able to gauge when a casting director is open to conversation or when they have to move quickly. If they have questions, they should be concise and they should be the type of questions that help inform the choices they are about to make. I also love it when an actor has a strong sense of their space and their frame on camera. Even if you have very little experience, learning audition technique and practice can make you come across like an old pro in the room.

And what are your audition pet peeves?
De Miguel: My biggest pet peeve nowadays is actors not bringing their sides to the audition. Because we are firmly in the digital age, a lot of actors are going through their lines on their iPads or phones, but they should always bring their sides to the audition. Somedays it’s like we are Kinkos! But seriously, when you are printing sides for 12 people, it becomes an annoyance. I also think that actors should always carry a couple of headshots with them, as you never know who might want an additional headshot.

What do you wish more actors knew about auditioning?
De Miguel: The main thing I want actors to know is that the power is in their hands. That might be a strange concept to understand, but they are the ones coming into the room and giving the auditions. There is nothing that makes me happier than when an actor comes in and blows me away with an audition. That is why we do our job. When someone walks into the room and does extraordinary work, our job is done. It is very rewarding to see that.

No one is going to do the rehearsal and preparation but you. No one is going to give the audition but you. That audition room is your room to shine. It’s your room to show your specialness. Actors who revel in that are the ones that succeed—the ones who enjoy and take command of the process. Unless you reach a certain echelon of the business, you are going to be auditioning for many years and the audition room needs to feel like home. Regardless of whether the audition room is big or small, whether you are auditioning for two people or 10 people, whether the casting director is warm and friendly or is rude, the great work must always remain the same. The only constant is you and your work in the audition room. It is your moment to seize.

How can actors get your attention, and how do you discover new talent?
De Miguel: Please never visit or call. You never know what is going on in a casting office on any given day. An actor could decide to stop by or call on a day where there is a very time sensitive deadline and things are very urgent. It would not be a good idea. In addition, think of the number of actors that live in New York and try to imagine just a hundredth of them calling every day. It would be chaos.

I strongly encourage specific self submissions, submitting for a specific project and role with a concise paragraph as to why they would be right for the role… By being specific and defined as to their type and skill is how actors tend to open their first doors. I’ve always been critical of actors who put 100 skills in the special skills section of their résumé. “Special skills” means just that—you are very knowledgeable and experienced at these skills. Too many actors put everything and the kitchen sink into this section, and it weakens it. Can you do a dialect listed on your résumé at the drop of a hat if asked by a director in an audition, and can you do it very well? If not, then you should take it off your résumé. Also don’t say you are fluent in a language if you are not truly fluent, because a director or producer could start speaking to you in the language.

How important is acting training on an actor’s résumé?
De Miguel: Education is important to me, whether it means having attended a theater school or currently studying with a teacher, taking a class, private coaching, etcetera. It doesn’t mean that you need to have attended the most renowned theater program in the country, but you should always strive to further your education. There are some great teachers and classes in the city and even successful, established actors continue to take classes.