As an acting coach I am often prepping young performers for auditions. I guide them artistically to help them nail an audition through careful scene study. I also advise my students on their portfolio and what they should bring to auditions. We all know that your headshot and your résumé are your calling cards. They’re what gets your foot in the door of an audition. But what about demo reels?

Demo reel aka sizzle reel. A demo reel, also known as a sizzle reel, is a compilation of an actor’s work on film. It usually consists of 20–30 second clips totaling no more than two minutes. It should feature the actor in different scenes starting with the most professional booking. Demo reels are valuable in that casting directors can see how your child looks on film, their personality, and acting ability. Demo reels have opened many doors for actors. Like headshots, demo reels can be tricky for children because they require updating. Children grow fast and their looks can change. While I recommend keeping the most professional and current scenes at the front of your reel, it is OK to have dated pieces as the reel progresses.

Material. Clips from network television shows, feature films, independently produced films, and commercials are all desirable footage, but today actors have an added bonus: student films. Universities invest heavily in professional equipment and thus give their students access to state-of-the-art facilities. I have heard complaints from parents not able to receive footage of their child’s work. Make sure you draw up a simple contract stating you will receive a copy of the film or scene upon completion. Your child is working for no pay and should be guaranteed a copy of his or her work.

If you have no professional footage, you can help your young performer put together something on their own using other good actors and good material. You and/or your child can even write something that they connect to, but make sure you have good sound, lighting, and picture quality—and spend a few bucks on getting coached properly. A bad reel is worse than no reel at all!

Putting together your own reel. If you have the footage and want to put the reel together on your own, this is one option. Make sure you start with your child’s headshot with name and contact info visible! You can also label the clip identifying what it is from. If you have a Mac or know a handy teenager, perhaps they can help you working in iMovie. It is very user-friendly and will save you money for sure.

Hire a professional. Another option—and one becoming more popular—is hiring a professional company. REELARC, a company specializing in custom demo reels is one such company. They consult with actors to learn their strengths and then they write, produce, and edit a custom demo reel. The part is written for your child and highlights their strengths, allowing them to test new boundaries on film. The video quality is shot in 4k and edited by a team of professionals, which gives your child’s reel a professional feel. There are many companies out there. Make sure to do your research and check them out before spending the money. It is an investment, but one that is worth it when professional jobs are on the line.

As a parent, you want your child to succeed in their professional and artistic endeavors. Demo reels can open up unimaginable doors with an honest and memorable performance. Whether you are using TV clips, independent and student films, or using original content, it’s important to gather material that features your child at the center and showcases your child’s talents. Your goal as a parent is to support your child’s dream. Creating a great demo reel is one important tool in an arsenal of many that will jumpstart your child’s career.

Master your craft, empower yourself, and enjoy the journey.