How To Create Your Acting Showreel

Creating a good showreel can sometimes seem like a real technical upheaval. But whether you are starting out in student projects or are a TV series regular, every actor needs a showreel! But where to start? Tracking down footage, finding an editor, picking your clips - this guide sheds a light on all those daunting tasks so you can either create your first ever reel or update that one which has been sitting dusty on your Spotlight for years. Time to get cutting!

What is a showreel?

Think of a showreel like a video showcase. A portfolio of footage and a easy way for industry professionals to view your screen work online. “Invitations to screenings and shows are always appreciated, but those who work in casting don't always have the time to see everyone in everything,” explains casting associate JJ Bee (Bulletproof, Pandora), “We live in a digital world, so it's more important than ever to showcase your craft online."

In the past, showreels would be on a DVD or USB but now everything is on the internet - on Vimeo, Youtube or embedded on to your Mandy, Spotlight, IMDb or Backstage profile. Which makes regularly updating more easy and sharing with others more accessible.

Why is a showreel so important?

“Your showreel is important,” says Dan Hubbard CDG CSA, “it is a glimpse into an actor’s work in which we can determine the strength of the actor’s presence and abilities.”

Producer and agent Lola Williams explains that “they give a casting director the opportunity to see how you come across on camera and your versatility as an actor - two things which headshots alone can't confirm.”

And television Director Thomas Hescott (Eastenders, Holby City) reveals, “sometimes for TV dramas if a part is very small we will use showreels to make a decision and when I've been working on smaller projects (like short films) we know many actors will not come in for a casting so we have to work off showreels. I would always rather meet an actor in person - but sometimes that’s just not practical so having a range of scenes on a showreel helps.”

What goes into a showreel?

Start with the key information - your name and, if you like, a headshot as part of that title card. And then go straight into your best scene. Pick one in which there is no ambiguity as to who you are. For example, if you are acting across from your exact casting type in your very first scene, it could cause some initial confusion - save that one for a little later once we have a clear picture of who you are.

From then onwards, keep the footage moving at pace. If you’re trying to decide what to include, organise all your footage in a folder and go through and pick the sections which showcase you best. JJ Bee says “Demonstrate what you feel really represents your individual talent.” So pick clips that show you are unique! “Originality is key,” says Dan Hubbard. He wants to see “actor’s unique DNA and acting chops.”

If anything has bad sound or picture quality consider leaving it out. Your showreel is a representation of you and what you can offer so you want it to look as professional as possible, not grainy or out of sync. Equally, there is no point in including 20 seconds of you standing on a mountain from a distance, even if it is shot in 4K high definition - your showreel is about YOU, not about the cinematography. So find the balance.

And the most important thing to remember is that a good showreel should show real range so try and pick contrasting clips to show the full scope of your acting abilities. So perhaps slot in a comedy clip next to your more melancholic scene or add in a clip in a different accent and so on - keep it fresh and keep it interesting. And also, while it is important to show your versatility, also be realistic about your range. Make sure you are happy with the performance in the footage you include - this is more important than trying to be different for difference sake.

At the end of the reel add a card with your agent and contact details.

So, what does not belong in a showreel?

“I do not want to see a music video,” says producer Farah Abuwesha, “The amount of time I have been sent reels and they have music all over them. I want to see the way you speak and move in a scene, something that has got a bit of meat to it!”

And best not to include any commercials in your acting showreel. There are some very rare cases which might break this rule, like if the advert genuinely had a proper story with you speaking proper lines so it felt more like a scene, but in general, better left out as they don’t really show raw acting ability. If you’re really proud of your work on a commercial, you can always take a screenshot for your website or add the link to an ‘additional footage’ tab.

Try and keep your showreel fresh and current. There is no point including a scene you shot 12 years ago because realistically this will no longer reflect you and how you look and speak today. Thomas Hescott says “I often watch a showreel with an eye on your playing age so make sure your showreel is up to date. And don't bother with fancy montages - I just skip through them to get to the scenes themselves.”

How long should your showreel be?

Not long! Most casting directors are time poor, so short and sweet is the key here. Rozzy Lloyd, agent at Narrow Road, prefers “concise showreels that really show off your best work instead of lots of clips just to fill a space. No more than 3 minutes.”

If you discover you have a surplus of footage, just use the best sections which you’re most proud of - you don’t need to include the whole film! It really is a case of quality over quantity. On the other end, if you have a more limited amount of footage and find your showreel equates to only 1:20, that’s absolutely fine! With attentions spans ever decreasing, it is better to have something succinct and viewable than lengthy and low quality.

Can you edit your own showreel?

Depends on your editing abilities and you need to be realistic about this. I personally would always advise going to a professional. A showreel is as important as your headshots and therefore, if you can afford it, best to invest and consider it as part of your career development and essential portfolio. I can always tell when clips have been smushed together on iMovie and exported in low quality. A professional editor will know how to maintain quality and carry out clever tricks like moving a bit of audio, zooming in on a frame to favour you and ensure smooth transitions between scenes to keep the showreel pacy. If you feel like you can do this and you’re on a budget go for it, but it can sometimes be quite hard to make an accurate assessment of yourself - we are not always the best judge of ourselves. So if you’re not using a professional to cut the clips, make sure at least you have sought advise from others who can offer suggestions on the order and choice of content. “Send it round and get feedback!” advises Bafta nominated Farah Abuwesha. She also recommends adding text at the bottom of each scene crediting where it is from to add context and show what you have been in.

I don’t have any footage…. where do I go from here?!

“So many people make stuff there is no reason why you can’t make something!” says Farah, “Just make sure the quality is good, particularly the sound. If sound is bad, it can be a real nightmare.” Thomas Hescott concurs “It doesn’t take that much to shoot a scene on location, someones flat or a park, with another actor and edit it together!”

There are also some companies which shoot scenes from scratch for you. I would take your time over who you pick, mainly because some companies just churn out the same scripts, shot with the exact same scene set ups and the same text styles/music. Which means when you watch a lot of showreels, the same scenes start appearing. Go for a showreel company which is a bit more bespoke or write your own scene and pay a freelance videographer or small team of filmmakers to help you with it. That way you can still have some ownership on the final project and it is not in an identical format to 50 other showreels floating about out there.

Sounds complicated… could I just record a monologue?

While monologues are not ideal, having no footage whatsoever online is worse! Realistically producers and directors would prefer to watch actual scenes with another performer to see how you interact - acting is all about communication after all. But if you’re at the beginning of your career and yet to get round to working on a short or shooting a scene from scratch, try filming a monologue.

Rozzy Lloyd says, “I would watch a filmed monologue but would want an actor to send 2 contrasting pieces.” Lola Williams said she would also consider monologues “as long as the quality is good and we can clearly see and hear the actor. We have reached a stage in the industry where not having any video puts an actor at a disadvantage so we expect an actor to have at least one video clip as a standard requirement.”

Do I need more then one showreel?

No, one good strong acting showreel will suffice! When managing your online presence, sometimes less is more. However, if you work professionally in different genres of performance, better to have separate showreels. For example, don’t include a clip of you presenting at a sports event or doing a stand up comedy set in your acting showreel! Equally, if you do a lot of martial arts or stunts, it might be worth having a few seconds of this in your acting showreel if you can slip it in organically but certainly no more than that. You should keep everything streamlined and have separate reels for your combat or presenting work.

I think my reel is ready! What now?

Always do a final check that all the relevant information is provided and correct and then - hurray - time to upload! I personally prefer Vimeo as it has less adverts and distractions than Youtube but either is fine. Top tip - when you upload your video make sure you put your details in the description box so that viewers can do an easy copy and paste of the key information or links. This saves the time and the frustration of having to freeze the frame and jump back and forth from their browser to your video to type in that pesky 12 digit Spotlight pin. And once you have covered your website, Spotlight and all the other essential platforms, why not push it out on social media and share with the world!

Article published in Backstage Magazine, 2020

Photo Source: Backstage. Illustration – Joelle Avelino

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