What is a sizzle reel ? An Actor’s Guide to Sizzle Reels

What is a sizzle reel

In this blog post, we will answer the following questions: What is a sizzle reel? Why Do Actors Need a Sizzle Reel ? Casting Directors’ Relationship To Sizzle Reels? How Much Does a Sizzle Reel Cost ? How To Make a Sizzle Reel? How to Make a Sizzle Reel With No Acting Experience ? Common Mistakes In Sizzle Reels and more. We will also give you a few insights on sizzle reels in general. 

The beginning of any sizzle/demo reel is a story.

What Is a Sizzle Reel ?

A Sizzle reel also known as a demo reel or showreel is usually a 1-3 minute video compilation that showcases an actor’s best on-screen performances.

Sizzle reels were originally created by writers, producers, and other professionals in show business to pitch tv, movie ideas, and projects.

The word “sizzle” is used to convey the excitement and interest that viewers should feel after watching a reel, enticing them to want to see more of an actor’s work or performance.

A sizzle reel should typically contain scenes with speaking roles although you can sometimes use a scene that portrays a strong emotional experience without dialogue.

It is the most valuable marketing tool that an actor can use to attract employers and draw attention to their work.

Sizzle reels can also be produced for experts and influencers looking to increase their visibility in communities or with media.

Note: Big union projects such as major network tv shows and large-scale films cast actors that have already been in a professional film or tv production. 

In such cases, the casting directors are looking for sizzle reels with completed professional footage that was produced by a studio and aired and distributed in a certain location.

They need to know whether the actor has the professional on-set experience and that they can handle the high-pressure situations of professional film/tv sets.

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Sometimes, you will hear the terms “demo reel” and “sizzle reel” used interchangeably.

A sizzle reel does for an actor what a commercial does for a product or a movie trailer does for a movie.

It helps actors to promote themselves to casting and talent agents and display their acting abilities, acting range, and on-camera presence.

Casting directors, acting agents, and producers use sizzle reels to find new acting talent and cast roles for productions and projects. 

What do Sizzle Reels Show ?

Sizzle reels inform viewers about the following :

  • What type of work you have done previously,
  • What they can expect from your performance,
  • Whether you are a good fit for the role they are looking for.
  • etc…

Casting directors and talent agents will often call actors to come in to audition or consider them as potential clients based on how good their sizzle reels were and fit what they were looking for.

Different types of actors such as voice actors, commercial actors, and film/tv actors have to tailor their sizzle reels to match their specific niche in the industry. 

For example, voice actors will have reels composed of audio clips and commercial actors will have reels made up of advertisement clips and tv/film actors will have reels of their best on-screen performances.

Why do Actors Need a Sizzle Reel ?

As an actor you have to understand that having a sizzle reel is necessary just to get a casting director or talent agent to even look at your submission. 

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  • To audition for roles and get talent agents.
  • To show casting directors that an actor has done professional work. (This entails they have experience working on sets and acting in speaking roles).
  • To demonstrate to CD’s and acting agents that  you actually have the acting chops that you claim to have in your resume as well as your acting type that you portray in your headshots. 

In short, your demo reel should say : 

“ I’m here, this is what I can do, how can my talents make your project better ”. 

How Long Should a Sizzle Reel Be ?

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All casting directors agree that a sizzle reel should be at least 1 minute long and no longer than 3 minutes. In most cases, the best length is between 1 and two minutes.

It is usually made up of 3-4 exciting mini clips that are compiled from all the amazing on-camera performances that you have done.  

Make sure that your clips never exceed 45 seconds as their maximum length. Your opening slate should be around 4-5 seconds.

Timewise a typical demo reel will look like this :

  1. Opening slate – 5 seconds
  2. 1st clip – 30 seconds
  3. 2nd clip – 30 seconds
  4. 3rd clip – 30 seconds
  5. 4th clip – 30 seconds

Total time = 2.5 seconds

Former casting director Amy Jo Berman says ” your demo reel should be 1-2 minutes tops. They should actually be closer to 1 minute because people have less and less attention span nowadays. Your goal is to give casting directors a taste of your work and leave them wanting more ”.

It’s crucial to understand that putting together your sizzle requires balance. 

If your demo is too short it shows that you don’t really have enough footage to show, while if it is too long then viewers will not look at it.

Also, don’t use too many short clips and splice them together since this will look choppy and make it hard for the viewer to appreciate what is happening in the individual scenes.

According to Joe Gressis of Joe’s Reels and Secret Handshake Entertainment, the reality of the situation is that most casting directors when looking at reels will give their undivided attention for 30 seconds, and then they will just jump ahead. This makes your first 30 seconds more important than before.

It is therefore quite important to avoid fancy intros, montages and to jump-start your sizzle reel with your best performances.

Reminders : 

  • You also want to avoid fast paced montage edits that don’t give enough time to evaluate your performance.
  • You want the quality of the footage to look as professional as you do.
  • Keep your reels short. 

Casting Directors’ Relationship To Sizzle Reels 

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If you look at it from a casting director’s point of view they want to see your sizzle reel to find out if you are the right actor for the role they are trying to cast. 

They want to press play, see your name and agent details, and then they want to see your best performances right away.

In most cases, they only spend 30-60 seconds of their attention on a reel and move on to the next one. They watch a hundred reels or more in a typical day and have little time and even lesser attention spans.

After looking at reels that were submitted for a role they will make a long list of potential candidates that they will send to the directors and producers of the show, who will then make a shortlist of actors that they want to see at an audition.

You should have 3-4 clips or scenes from professional productions that you acted in, that show your range and versatility as an actor. In some cases, just one great clip or scene can get you the audition or get you noticed if it is good enough and it matches the role the casting director is looking for.

In order to capture their attention, start your sizzle reel with the highest credits first. TV shows and movies should be first, followed by short films/indie films, web series, student films, with self-taped performances coming last. 

What Kind Of Footage Should You Put In Your Sizzle Reel ?

All actor sizzle reels must-have scenes or clips that clearly identify the actor. Anybody watching your scene should not be even slightly confused as to whose reel they are watching. 

A typical scenario in which this happens is when you are acting in a scene with another actor that has your exact casting type

If you have a scene like this, use it towards the end of your reel after you have already firmly established a clear picture of who you are as an actor.  

Pick scenes that portray : 

  • Your unique talent,
  • Accurately showcase your personality and skill, 
  • and enable viewers to envision what you will bring to their project. 

To do this first identify all the things that make you unique as an actor. 

Next, gather all the footage that you have and choose the sections that highlight your unique skills and attributes.

Some of the scenes you should include are

  • A slate screen at the beginning and end,
  • Scenes that focuses on YOU,
  • Scenes that showcase your best work,
  • Scenes that shows your type.

Your footage should also focus exclusively on you and your acting skills and not on other actors. Use scenes in which you do most of the talking in dialogues. Don’t put in that 20-second clip where you are looking at a sunset or standing on a mountain top. 

Good footage for a sizzle reel should show your acting range like drama, comedy, action, etc… Casting directors want to see the different types of roles and characters that actors can play. 

However, make sure the scenes that you put on your reel still align with your acting type. If you put highly different roles on your reel you will probably end up confusing the casting directors.

Try to incorporate contrasting clips that demonstrate your versatility as an actor. Choose the best one or two scenes from a specific project and move on to your other performances.

Refrain from using multiple scenes from one project where you are playing the same character. It makes you look like either you don’t have enough credits to choose from or that you have very little range as an actor.

For example, if you are good at comedic roles, have an accent or unique skill, pick those scenes that highlight these abilities and put them in your reel.

Beware of trying to be different just to appear different. The footage you use to show your versatility should be legitimately good.

It is important to tailor your sizzle reel to the project that you are submitting for. If the project is a drama make sure to showcase your drama work and not a comedy and vice versa.

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If you are a beginner actor, focus on making one sizzle reel that showcases the different characters, styles, and genres that highlight your acting range and ability.

This will usually be a mix of comedy and drama.

More experienced actors on the other hand should keep their comedy and drama clips separate as this helps casting directors avoid looking through irrelevant clips to get to what they are looking for.

In addition to your acting skills, the footage you use for your sizzle reel should be of high quality.

Therefore avoid using any clips that have bad sound, are grainy, shaky, out of sync, and have bad: picture, lighting, and sound quality in general. 

Your footage should be :

  • At least 720p HD video,
  • Well lit and color corrected/graded, 
  • The sound clear, well- mixed, synchronized and normalized.

Scenes you should avoid : 

Don’t forget

  • The footage should also show your skill level and current look,
  • You should leave out footage with distracting filters or underscoring, 
  • And don’t include footage from so long ago.

How Do You Make a Demo Reel ?

You can either make your reel yourself or hire someone to do it.

Many actors google things like ” how do you edit a demo reel ” to learn the basics of using their computer’s video editing software to piece together clips to highlight their performances.

This is a great way to get started and can be a good way to save money as well.

You can easily trim yourself out of short films and other productions to create some 20-30 second clips and then upload them to websites like Backstage or Actors Access.

Or if you’ve acknowledged that getting the footage together for your demo reel can be hard work especially if you are not used to filming.

By hiring an expert editor to help with the editing process, you will have your video looking professional in no time.

​​​Can You Use Copyrighted Footage In a Demo Reel​ ?

Absolutely! 99% of the stuff you’ll put in your reel is copyrighted.

As long as you don’t try to sell or advertise your footage or put it on Youtube so that you can make money when people watch it, it’s legal.

If you’re not taking any money from the video you make, it’s totally fair to use copyrighted material.

Learn more about the legalities here.

What Types Of Medias are Edited Into a Sizzle Reel ?

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  • Press coverage (TV spots, radio interviews),
  • Media placements (TV and magazine ads),
  • Media clippings (magazine, blog and newspaper articles),
  • Interactive media outlets such as photos, music, voice over, graphics, and animation.

How Much Does a Sizzle Reel Cost ?

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It usually costs $700 – $2,000.

If a show requires more cameras, a large crew, and weeks of filming, it will go as high as $100,000.

This cost is dependent upon

  • The length of the reel,
  • The clips you prefer,
  • Custom animations,
  • The use of advanced equipment,
  • The locations you want to shoot @,
  • Whether you want a coach on set,
  • edit time, etc…

How To Make a Sizzle Reel 

There are several things that you should keep in mind when creating your sizzle reel. Though remember to focus on the most critical aspects first.

Are you ready to dive in ?, Let’s get started!

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1. Content 

You shouldn’t throw together three minutes of haphazard clips.

Content-wise you should tell a story, display energy and show some audience response.

Your audience will be more interested in watching your sizzle reel if it tells a coherent and interesting story. 

Make sure that your sizzle’s content is fun, but representative of the event you are showcasing. 

2. Rhythm & Music

Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul – Plato

Music choice is not just pivotal, it is a sure way to make a great sizzle video. 

To say that music and rhythm make or break a sizzle video will not be an understatement. 

It guides the emotional direction and tempo of your sizzle video.

3. Contact Info

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Views differ on where you should put your contact information in a demo reel. 

Include contact information in the beginning or end of your reel, then go right into the first scene.

What to Include

  • Name 
  • E-mail ( use your agents/managers email ) 
  • Phone  ( use your agents/managers email ) 
  • Website
  • Headshot
  • Street address 
  • Job title 

Your reel’s useless if the viewer doesn’t have a way to contact you. 

4. Edit Your Sizzle Reel 

In addition, you can :  

5. Publish it Online 

Once you’ve created your reel, it’s time to start using it to book acting jobs!

Having an acting reel is honestly a crucial part of advertising yourself as an actor.

You should upload your reel onto Major Casting Sites

In addition to casting websites, you should also upload your reel to either YouTube or Vimeo or your own personal website.

How to Make a Sizzle Reel With No Acting Experience ?

Self Tape

When shooting your own sizzle reel : 

  • You can save money
  • You can get feedback and workshop it
  • You can make your ideas – REALITY !
  • You can save time.

Also, keep it edgy and natural. 

Demo Reel Examples

Common Mistakes In Sizzle Reels

  • Reenacting scenes from your favorite movies

Remember reenacting someone else’s scene only shifts attention away from you, and this is the last thing you want when people are looking at your reel.

If you use a very recognizable line, like ;

“ Say hello to my little friend ! ” —Tony Montana, Scarface

It will remind the casting director of the original actor, who was probably better than you and make them think you’re not that good. 

  • You shouldn’t add everything you’ve ever done to your reel
  • Don’t submit poorly produced footage
  • Don’t use stage work clips or scenes from your acting class

This ensures that you won’t compare favorably with the original cast and that you’ll probably be breaking copyright laws. 

  • Don’t put heavily dramatic scenes on your reel

This means something tragic and even melodramatic to prove you can act. 

Good acting is subtle

You should show scenes that are clever, humorous, entertaining, and subtle, these are closer to the real thing.

Conclusion

Create a killer sizzle reel to help you stand out from the competition! It’s a great way to build awareness and buzz around your brand.

A quality reel should be 3-5 mins long.

The purpose of a sizzle reel is to show potential producers, casting directors, acting/talent agents, streaming services, etc.. about what your film is about and its marketable potential. 

Also, don’t neglect feedback.

Most importantly, your sizzle reel should always tell a story.

Leave a comment with your opinion or any questions you may have below…