Casting Quarterly

We all know acting is no walk in the park. From casting calls to finding an acting coach, the entire process can be exhausting. Of course an actor’s craft is essential in obtaining acting jobs. But, just as important is the promotion of an actor’s brand. A person can have all the talent in the world, but it means nothing if they can’t attract the interest of a casting director or agent.

Someone who understands this more than most is Daniel Brea. As the founder of Brea Films, Daniel has worked with film, television and corporate clients. Spanning a wide array of genres, Daniel’s directing work regularly attracts millions of online views.

In an effort to give actors further ammunition in their acting pursuits, Daniel created a service called Reel House Media. With it, he develops and produces original content for an actor’s demo reel. In Daniel’s opinion, actor’s have been neglecting the power of a well-produced demo reel for some time. Now more than ever, it can be the difference between landing a part and not.

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Daniel about Reel House Media, and why a demo reel is so important for actors.

The Origins of Brea Films

From an early age, Daniel was drawn to storytelling. Although it initially began as a hobby, he eventually found filmmaking to be the most effective means for expressing himself.

“Well, entertainment was always a thing with me,” Daniel says. “When I was very young I was doing short films. I mean, calling them short films is being generous. It was me messing around with my Uncle’s video camera. I had a few puppets like Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy from back in the day, and I would put on little plays for my friends. Also, Jim Carrey was my idol. I always thought I was going to be an actor like him. But, as I got older I became more interested in computers. Soon, I was even building them. And it was working with computers that led me to editing and filmmaking.”

Daniel knows how arduous the creative process is. More often than not, an artist can look at script pages or raw footage and think how am I going to turn this into something compelling? For Daniel, the key is story. Even in the most muddled messes, there is a story. And it’s the process of finding that story that helps one to grow as an artist.

“For example, when it comes to editing, everyone has different preferences,” Daniel continues. “At the end of the day though, it’s all about the story. You really learn how to pull stories out of thin air sometimes with your footage. I’m very grateful for that training. It prepared me to be a director. Because, in my opinion, coming from a place where you have to learn to take chaos and turn it into a concise, laser-focused storyline is important. It’s not just a skill for editors, but all artists. It’s a lot like Michaelangelo’s block of granite. Whether you’re editing or going out for auditions, the statue of David is in there. You just have to bring it out. That’s the beauty of it. There’s always a story. You just have to find it.”

This attention to all aspects of one’s career was something Daniel felt actors tended to neglect. Yes, they were diligent and determined when pursuing acting roles. But, when it came to promoting one’s brand, things seemed to slip. Daniel was looking for an outlet where he could grow as a filmmaker, but also support the talented actors he was encountering on a daily basis. That’s how the idea of Brea Films and Reel House Media emerged.

“You see, a good friend of mine is a prominent acting coach,” Daniel says. “She has coached people like Halle Berry, Brad Pitt and Charlize Theron. One day, she tells me I need to sit in on her acting workshop. I was like yeah, but I’m not an actor. She said acting is not just for actors. You’re going to see how I improve their performance. That’s essentially what directing is. So, I went and started sitting through her classes. And I was like oh man, I need to practice this. I need to work with actors more. That’s when I started thinking maybe I can create a win-win situation here. I can practice my directing, and give actors a good piece of material for their demo reel. I mean, they’re in a vicious cycle. They can’t get quality work without showing quality work. Usually if you go into an audition without a demo reel, you get parts in no-budget films or student films. So, I wanted to help them break this vicious cycle. I wanted to give them a professional, well-produced piece of footage to start booking auditions with.”

Expect The Unexpected When It Comes To A Demo Reel

Often, the success of a demo scene surprises Daniel just as much as the client. On the surface it may seem like a simple, straightforward concept. But the way an audience receives it can be totally unexpected. For Daniel, this has been one of the joys of the process. The chipping away of the metaphorical granite even after shooting has stopped.

“You never really know what’s coming,” Daniel says. “But, a gem eventually reveals itself. I remember filming a particular scene for a demo reel. It was a fun, cute video. I liked it, but honestly, it wasn’t one of my favorites. The scene partner we got for the demo was a guy in his 80’s. Later, he said Daniel, that’s the best piece of footage I have. Would you mind putting it online so I can share it with some of my friends. Because I’ve been going on casting calls for 24 years and haven’t booked a role where I looked this good. So, I put it on my Vimeo, and the numbers just started going crazy. On Vimeo alone it has about 4 million views, and 5 million on YouTube. It’s crazy how it went viral. Now, the girl who hired me to make the demo scene is kind of a viral sensation. She’s booking a lot of work from it. So, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s a very helpful tool to have.”

An Actor Should Think of Themselves As A Business

When it comes to acting jobs, Daniel feels performers should think of themselves as entrepreneurs. Of course, no one likes to spend unnecessary money. Especially if you’re an artist with limited funds. But, one needs to prioritize where they distribute their resources. Like a business, sometimes you have to invest money in order to maximize your exposure and influence. It’s an approach Daniel strongly believes in.

“A demo reel is an important piece of kit for any actor,” Daniel says. “Now, that’s not to say with a professional-looking reel you’re going to be Angelina Jolie by tomorrow. But, you’re definitely increasing your odds. Most entrepreneurs need to put some money down and trust themselves. Actors need to think of their demo reel as a business investment. Everyone thinks headshots or an acting workshop are some of the most important things. But, a demo reel is just as vital. It’s a small investment for a potentially very lucrative and satisfying reward.”

Avoid Producing A Demo Reel Yourself

A question Daniel receives often is why can’t I just produce my own demo reel? I know myself and my abilities better than anyone else. From Daniel’s experience, this is one of the ways actors sabotage themselves. On one hand, actors tend to have blindspots when it comes to how they are perceived. Also, footage shot on a mobile phone cannot compete with the high production-value a service like Reel House Media provides. Daniel feels this is the biggest mistake. Thinking you can do everything yourself.

“The biggest mistake is that actors try to put a demo reel together themselves,” he says. “They think they know how they’re perceived. But, a good number of them are lacking key pieces of information. We try to help our clients understand how a casting page looks on the producer’s end. Also, how a casting director thinks and functions during auditions. Nobody wants to take a chance on somebody just for being a nice person. They want someone who is confident and experienced. I mean, why would you spend a thousand dollars on headshots and not have a demo reel as well? Honestly, I think that’s a big mistake. Anybody who thinks they can do it all themselves can only reach a certain point. Also, It’s nice to send someone a link to your website or reel that has a little bit of a view count. A lot of our clients tell us people ask when is the movie coming out. Or, where can I see the whole thing? That’s really what you want. You’ve sold them on you as an actor. It also means you’ve been directed on a set. You have to give the casting director the feeling that he or she can work with you. As simple as it might sound, that kind of assurance doesn’t tend to come from cell phone video, or self-produced content.”

Acting Roles Require Brand Awareness

Besides the production of the demo reel, Daniel wants to help an actor identify their acting brand. Often with a director or acting coach, there is a tendency to impose their own creative biases onto the performer. This is something Daniel wants to avoid. Instead, his goal is to find a balance between the actor’s wants, and the expectations of the entertainment industry.

“Our motto is, at the end of the day it’s your money,” Daniel says. “We’ll do with it whatever you want us to. But, our advice is let us sit down and talk with you for about an hour. We want to learn about your passions and motivations. For example, and actor might come to us and say there’s a lot of hospital show casting calls. I need to shoot a scene where I’m a nurse. I would advise against this kind of thinking. You’re best at what you’re driven to be. A common misconception is that a nurse is a character. A nurse is not a character. A nurse is just a person in a certain line of work. Now, a caring person who has dedicated their life to helping others, that’s a character you can develop. You can apply that approach to a nun or a school teacher as well. Often, one of the things we try to help with is diving deeper. What is at the core of yourself? What are you most passionate about? Maybe it’s all over the spectrum.”

“Once, we had a young guy who was very passionate about being a lawyer,” Daniel continues. “He wanted to do police procedurals and courtroom dramas. But, given his appearance and age, it wasn’t working out so well. You see, there has to be a balance between desire and the core of the character. We try to help actors find that balance. You have to do something you’re comfortable with within the parameters of what your god-given body is allowing you to do. In the case of this young man, he was having difficulty selling people on the idea of him being a lawyer. He was 22, with spiky, bright red dreadlocks. Also, he was unwilling to alter his hair or appearance. We had to say look, nobody graduates law school at 22. Nobody is a seasoned detective at 22. And they certainly wouldn’t go to court with that kind of haircut. Instead, let’s find you something that has the same intensity, but works with your age range. So, we went in the direction of maybe you’re a law student, or a college kid. Maybe you come from a rough neighborhood and you’re the kid that’s going to make it out. So, we try to guide them towards what we think will be most successful.”

Actors Inspire Directors As Well

Typically, the director is thought of as the guiding force in the relationship between filmmaker and actor. But, Daniel is quick to point out that he’s learned so much from actors as well. It’s a symbiotic relationship, where each member is able to better themselves from the interaction.

“I’ve become better as a director from working with people who have less experience,” Daniel says. “Its made me understand the struggles of actors more. I really don’t envy that side of the artistic world. It’s funny because most of the actors I know who are not successful in a monetary sense are still happy. Acting is the supreme passion for them. It doesn’t matter if they do a play and only three people show up. They’re still going to attend an acting workshop, and go out for casting calls. I think that’s a valuable lesson I have learned from them. It’s very easy as a director or a producer to want to make more and more money with each project. But, you have to always remember to go forwards not backwards. If you’re passionate about something, you should remember why you pursued it in the first place. Keep it enjoyable for yourself. I’ve learned that lesson from actors, and its been a wonderful gift.”

Daniel Brea with monitor

Wrapping Up Demo Reels With Daniel Brea

Kevin Bacon once said, “A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.”

For Daniel Brea, creating this kind of environment is always the goal. As an artist himself, Daniel knows that talent alone will not ensure success. An actor must balance craft with the marketing and promotion of one’s brand. Yes, acting is often a frustrating pursuit. But Daniel firmly believes one’s persistence and determination will triumph in the end.

“When it comes to acting roles, your skill isn’t enough,” Daniel says. “You need to be driven, and you need to swim against the current of constant talent being shoveled into this industry. That takes a lot of time and work. And you have to create and maintain your demo reel. Let’s say you shot a few scenes that didn’t get you anywhere. Well, you can’t keep submitting the same demo reel over and over again. You have to go out and shoot another scene. You have to keep pouring time and resources into your creative machine. At some point, the right collection of circumstances will align. Although it may seem like luck, it’s really not. It’s being prepared when the right opportunity arises.”