Advice from a Casting Director on Creating a Winning Demo
By Brittany Lauda
First impressions are important in any profession – and voice over is no different.
As both a Coach and a Casting Director for games and animation, it can be painful to see actors putting any less than their best foot forward.
For voice actors, your demo reel is truly the vehicle through which your ‘first impression’ gets made. As you can appreciate, Casting Directors are busy people, often with only 24 hours (or less!) to get talent submissions, review them, and send them over to their client. The hard truth is, sometimes they can’t listen to your full demo reels – and that’s why the first 10-15 seconds are crucial.
There are a few key things that are sought after during my castings, specifically when it comes to character reels. And while these tips may not cover everything, following them will help you create a more competitive reel – and most importantly – a stronger first impression.
Ask Yourself: Are You ‘Reel-y’ Ready?
The first thing to consider is if you are ready to create your reel.
Demos aren’t typically made overnight. It’s a back-and-forth creation that begins before you even get to the booth with a script. Make sure you do your homework and are practicing, studying and researching.
The most important thing is being able to reflect on your work and assess your own flaws critically. If you believe you are ready, the next step is producing the reel.
It is highly recommended to work with a professional who knows their stuff. Research their own bookings, and the bookings of people they have created reels for… and be sure to take notes. Ask:
- Are they working in the field you want to work in?
- What market do they work in?
- Are they booking work?
- How does their demo sound?
Know that You Only Have Seconds to Sell Yourself
You have 10-15 seconds to impress a Casting Director.
If you decide to slate, make sure it’s a quick and neutral slate. Personally, I prefer no slate, or a slate in your own voice. Time is of the essence here and the Casting Director is looking to hear enough of you to know if they’re calling you in or not.
Create Your First Spot and Hook the Listener
Now, you go on to do your first spot. How do you decide what it is? You want to achieve a few things in that first spot.
Most importantly, you want it to hook the listener, and show them you have something to offer them as a talent.
You want the spot to be in your natural voice as well, so the listener can identify where your voice rests. You also want to convince them that they should listen to the rest of your reel.
Bring Yourself to the Table, Leave the Stereotypes Behind
What you don’t want to do is start off with something very “out there,” like a creature, a heavily accented character, a child or something far out in your range.
Make sure you are avoiding stereotypes and clichés that Casting Directors hear far too often- draw on your acting chops instead.
Don’t start the demo with the angry commanding military officer that has been heard 8,000 times today. Show the listener something realistic and natural that resonates closer to you as a person, while also keeping it interesting. Bring yourself to the table.
Listen to how Jenna Pinchbeck brings a realistic and natural read to this demo.
It is also important to not alienate the listener right away. Don’t start with something too annoying or too angry. Accents also don’t make a character. Popping on a British accent isn’t all there is to playing a posh character. Use all the tools you have at your disposal. Remember that crying and yelling isn’t all there is to acting, there is a lot in between.
Similarly, I wouldn’t recommend a monotone character as your starting spot either, since that gives me as a listener very little to go off when it comes to your acting abilities. Don’t put anything on your demo that you can’t sustain in a session either. If you can’t perform in a video game session for two to three hours doing that voice, or specific accent, it’s not good to advertise it in your reel.
Make Characters, Not Caricatures
The last, and most important advice I can give for making your demo reel stand out is that you want to make characters, not caricatures.
Your spots should seemingly ‘live,’ both before and after their small time in your demo. They should seem like they are plucked from a scene and placed into the reel.
Think about them as characters, not just lines on a page or stereotypes. What were they doing before? Where will they go? What is their goal? And most importantly, who are they? Knowing your character makes all the difference in an audition and in a project, and it’s no different in a demo reel. Don’t phone it in. When I hear a reel that feels like real characters that were plucked from a real product, that’s someone I want to work with because I know they can do their job in the booth by bringing to life the complex characters I hand them.
Listen to how well Heather Nicols pulls you into her princess character, without overdoing it. This doesn’t mean you can’t have emotional spots or cartoony spots in your reel. I encourage you to show me all the ways you can stretch yourself as a talent. But if you have only 10-15 seconds of my time, you want to make those count. And what I want to see is you.
About Brittany Lauda
Brittany Lauda co-owns Kocha Sound, where she casts and directs a variety of anime, video game and animated projects. She can also be heard in a variety of games and anime. Additionally, she is a voice over coach who specializes in character work and demo reel production. Learn more about Brittany Lauda and/or about her business, Kocha Sound.