What is a sizzle reel? | How to make an Actor's Sizzle Reel
What is a sizzle reel

What is a sizzle reel?

Written by on | Acting Tips

Last night I sat down digitally with a bunch of actors from all over the world as part of my work for the StageMilk Scene Club, offering advice, running lines and talking about the state of the industry. One of the things that kept coming up was this: ‘I don’t love my showreel and I want to approach some agents once this is all over, how can I get ready for that in isolation?’ The answer ladies and gentlemen is the sizzle reel. The sizzle reel is a collection of self-tapes edited together end to end to show your capability and range as an actor. They could be monologues or scenes, but I would err on the side of scenes wherever possible. Here’s a run down of how to make a sizzle reel and what you can use it for. 

Preparation

Right so the first port of call in making a great sizzle reel is your preparation. You need to pick and work on, as an example, two scenes and a monologue. Now importantly, you don’t want this to be longer than say three minutes thirty. Agents, casting directors, directors, producers – they are all very busy people and they are highly unlikely to watch the whole video. If you send them a 15 minute opus they’re unlikely to even open it. So we need two hot as hell, short scenes and a cracker of a monologue. Think about your casting – what roles do you usually go for, prepare a scene or a monologue that is your take on that idea. 

For me, if you look at my headshot at the bottom of this page. I look like a friendly fella right? I get cast as a lot of nerds and best friends. I’m not particularly interested in these roles, but it’s what others see me as on a base level, so I will have a scene in my sizzle reel that gives them this sort of energy, but maybe my particular spin on that. Something like maybe this scene from 50/50

For my next act, I would want to do something contrasting with that, I also get cast occasionally as a bad-guy, weirdo, serial killer. I know… rude right? But I enjoy these roles a lot, getting into the psyche of a bad guy for a bit can be super interesting and a great excuse to watch more Mindhunter which is awesome. Anyway, whatever that might look like for you. Get a few contrasting scenes and monologues together and work them up to shooting. Then put whatever scene you think is strongest, first – once you’ve edited it! More on that below.

I will also mention, you may well have a bunch of recent self tapes knocking around that you can also use, so review your material to date. Again we’re looking for range, castability and they call it a sizzle reel for a reason right? It needs to be hot as hell i.e. you doing some red hot work so yeah make that happen!

Shooting

Shoot it just like you would any other self-tape, we have tonnes of guides about how to self tape littered through StageMilk.com so here are the highlights. Need gear to shoot with and unsure what’s in your budget? Check out our equipment guide here. Got all the gear but no idea? Check out our guide to shooting a self tape here. Wanna know what a great self-test looks like? Check out our list of cracking auditions here The most important things are that you can be seen, you can be heard and there is nothing to distract the viewer from your performance, for example only the necessary props for your scene, a block colour background with nothing to busy, a reader off camera (but as close to the camera on one side as possible) who is an actor or at the least a competent reader. If you can’t secure a reader while you’re in isolation (thanks COVID-19) maybe just work on some monologues instead.

Editing

Now Indiana Kwong wrote an excellent article recently for StageMilk called the Ultimate Showreel Guide and she gives you some awesome options about editing towards the end of the article. Also she has a list of places you can look for good scenes as well as a bunch of tips and tricks to make your showreel or sizzle reel as good as it can be. Think of your sizzle reel as an accent to your showreel. It doesn’t replace it but it can show a different side of you that your showreel does not capture, without a lot of the detractions of the showreel. No idea what is holding back your showreel? Or worried that it might not be as great as you’d like?

Check out out video on why your showreel probably sucks:

As mentioned above for your sizzle reel, you want to have 2-3 scenes or monologues coming in a total of three minutes thirty. Four minutes is too long, so make sure you cut it to length. If you have to lose some material from the start of the scene. Do not edit within takes. You can make it longer or shorter, but no cutting of small moments from the middle of the tape. It makes it jump around and looks super weird. If you have to start halfway through that is generally a better option than jump cuts throughout the scene. 

Use

Okay so now you have prepared, shot and edited your sizzle reel there is a variety of ways you can use it. Firstly, add it to your Casting Networks or similar profile alongside your showreel, send it to your agent to review and generally add it to your package. If you don’t have an agent you can use a sizzle reel as an example of your work when you send through an expression of interest to an agency. Self-tests are the currency of modern casting, showing that you can test well, have a great set up at home and know what you are doing is a valuable asset in the modern world and again, without the distractions that can come with low budget film. 

Is it important to still have a showreel? Absolutely, a showreel is vital, but a sizzle reel alongside it can help to show your range and capability. Additionally having some really popping up to date footage is always a great thing and a sizzle reel gives you the ability to do that easily. If you want an example of one, you can check out mine here

Conclusion

Well hopefully you have found that to be useful! The sizzle reel is a cheap, effective and powerful tool to add to your package of showreel, CV and headshot. Agents love them and they focus completely on you, the actor and your ability to do our primary job – audition! If you need some practice why not check out the StageMilk Scene Club, it’s completely online, you get access to thousands of plays to read and watch, regular check-ins with the StageMilk team who are all working actors, plus monthly projects, expert interviews and heaps more.

About the Author

Patrick Cullen

Patrick is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster based in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of the Actors Centre Australia in 2014, Patrick has been working in film, TV and theatre across Sydney and Brisbane ever since. Patrick can be found glued to test cricket in bars across the land.

About the Author

Patrick Cullen

Patrick is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster based in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of the Actors Centre Australia in 2014, Patrick has been working in film, TV and theatre across Sydney and Brisbane ever since. Patrick can be found glued to test cricket in bars across the land.

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