On Getting Reel Footage

Aug 20, 2010 by     No Comments    Posted under: Resources, The business, Three Actors

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from actors is how difficult it is to get footage for their reel. A few thoughts on the topic…

Actors’ Perspective

As an actor, a reel is of the utmost importance. We’re trying to get people to hire us to perform on camera, so it follows that showing people that we can perform (well!) on camera is pretty damned important. So, yeah, a reel is friggin ‘imperative.

Most complaints I hear on this topic come from actors who worked for free on a project. If you actually get paid to show up and act, actors (generally) feel that they have been compensated in some way and are less demanding of their footage. When working for free, however, the (rather dangerous) expectation tends to be that the actor is doing the project to get great reel footage. Let me first say that expecting good reel footage is a precarious thing to do…it can be pretty darned difficult to predict whether or not a project will yield you great reel footage, mostly because you have no control over how it is edited. HOWEVER, if you get the raw footage, then you are back in control and can hopefully work with an editor (or DIY) to make the footage look as fabulous as you do (and you do look fabulous).

In Fairness to Filmmakers

If you’ve ever made a film, then you probably understand that getting a copy of the footage to your actors is the last thing on your mind. You’re dealing with post-production, getting the thing edited, and paying back “fast hands” Eddie for the money you borrowed to make the damned thing. There’s also a good chance that as a filmmaker you’re a bit concerned that the actor might make your project look like crap, and throw it up on YouTube for all the world to see…kinda freaky.

Actors, remember that filmmakers have (oftentimes) poured their entire lives into their project. As such, they’re probably a little bit protective. You should also know that sometimes if even a few seconds of a project end up on the internet (as part of your reel on YouTube, for example) the film will be disqualified from certain film festivals.

Lastly, remember that there is no law or stipulation in the SAG contracts (that I’m aware of) that says you are owed footage for your reel. Try to get that in writing (see below), and more than anything, be a super nice person so that the powers at be are predisposed to help you.

Get it in Writing

As @vanessaleinani recently reminded me, www.copyprovided.com offers a great contract template to have whomever you’re working with sign prior to filming. This is particularly helpful for non-union and student projects. I suggest potentially adding clauses guaranteeing you’ll get the raw footage within a certain amount of time. All of this sets up the idea with whomever you’re filming with, that you will indeed be wanting and pursuing the footage for your reel. And actors, know that assuring the filmmakers that you are only going to be taking 20 – 30 seconds (that’s most likely all you need) and using it for your REEL, not some new rip-off movie, will hopefully put them more at ease.

Getting Your Footage: A Step-by-Step Process

So here’s my main point. The reel footage is for YOU. The actor. You need to do everything in your power to make it as easy as possible for the filmmaker to get you what you want. Should it be this way? Maybe not, but it’s your career. Take charge.

  1. Get cast in something (good job!)
  2. Before you start filming, get it in writing that you are supposed to get the reel footage (see above)
  3. Make sure you have all the up-to-date contact information of all the people involved with the project before you leave the set…especially the editor. That person will ultimately end up with the footage
  4. Buy a portable, external hard drive to store your footage on (I purchased a 1TB external harddrive on newegg.com for like $100).
    Note: The vast majority of people will be editing the footage on a mac, so you need a mac-compatible hard drive, but you might check beforehand just in case
  5. Most likely the project was shot digitally, so there is a person with a hard drive with all the footage…find that person. Stalk that person. Show up at that person’s house with your hard drive
    Note: You might have more luck if you call said individual beforehand, but I’ve found legitimate stalking to help as well…you didn’t read that here ;p
  6. Send a hand-written thank you note or show some other form of gratitude to the director and others who helped you get your footage
  7. Grab a drink, some foodstuffs, and kick back on your couch. I promise someone will come to your house very shortly and make you famous

Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.