You: Do I need a showreel?
StageMilk: Yes – all the way, yes!
A Showreel is an essential tool in your audition kit. In order to sift through their endless lists of submissions, agents and casting directors need to judge your suitability in a less than concrete manner.
We’ve all heard of the X factor, and it’s an unfortunate fact that no one can pinpoint exactly what that is. All you need to know is that it exists and is constantly evolving depending on the job and the crop of acting talent. What makes you stand out for one audition may lose you the opportunity to land a gig at another. What you as an actor need to do, is define what you are presenting and present it as well as you possibly can. This is where a Showreel comes in. A headshot is nice, a CV is fine, but the three elements combined give a snapshot of your vibe, potential, experience, style, any aspect of performance that they are looking for in a role. Note that this doesn’t guarantee you roles. This doesn’t allow you to present the actor you think everyone wants. That approach will inevitably backfire. Your Showreel is there to represent you in your most genuine, peak performance, to advertise what is essentially your product.
If you have been cast in any professional roles, edit these in order from best to … less best. A collection of previous footage looks good because it shows not just your previous cast-ability, but also demonstrates that you have experience working on a professional set. Never underestimate your ability to be professional and play nicely with others. Talent is half of the equation, but if you are a nightmare on set, you won’t get rehired. Introduce the reel with your name and contact details, maybe an image of your headshot, on a brief slate. Then keep it down to maximum 5 clips. Avoid montages and transitions, keep it clear and simple. This is a catalogue, not a movie trailer.
If you are shooting a Showreel scene from scratch, choose one solid scene that has a character you are relaxed in, and an emotional shift. Some Showreels are a montage of cherry picked fake scenes, with one each to show you in comedy, drama, neo-noir, blockbuster, insert whatever genre is popular at the time. This just feels messy.
A single, clearly shot scene will be more powerful and less obsequious than the broadest montage of laughing, crying and yelling that you can concoct. If you are pitching for a job as an actor, the agent or casting director will assume you can run the full gamut of emotions. You are an actor, after all. A carpenter doesn’t list their ability to hammer in a nail on their resume as it’s a foregone conclusion. It may be tempting to write your own tailor made scene, but I would suggest staying away from this. Not only are you not pitching yourself as a writer (at this point in time), but you are also a more dynamic actor if you have a bit of distance from the prejudices that can affect you when performing your own writing. By performing someone else’s material, you are showing the agent/CD that you can do the job they are hiring you to do.
Note: you can always tweak a scene slightly if it is out of context, or change any details that make it more difficult to shoot or to perform.
A Showreel is there to give a moving, living impression of you as an artist, not as a box-ticking tool. You are not being graded on this, so represent yourself in a your best light, and shoot for a scene that has a bit of variety. Good comedy has an element of drama, and vice versa. It’s usually agreed upon that a Showreel should avoid being a climactic scene, as when they are taken out of context, high drama can feel undercooked and jarring. However, you do you. This is your 90 seconds to shine.
That’s right. 90 seconds. One and a half minutes. 2 minutes is okay if you have a collection of professional footage as the changing clips are more engaging. It is, without exception, better to leave the viewer wanting more. You are pitching to busy people who are doing you a service by watching your reel. Do them a service by keeping it short, sharp, and engaging. Bear in mind that a commercial on TV is only 20-30 seconds, and a poorly crafted one is boring and annoying. These are two impressions you need to avoid at all costs, because first impressions definitely count.
At the end of the day, a Showreel is just that; a reel of footage to show someone what you’re about. Just like an airbrushed headshot does you no favours, a fabricated showreel is fooling no one. Make it truthful, make it dynamic, and make it snappy, and you have yourself a Showreel.
Not sure how to create your own kick-ass showreel? Gotcha covered.
It might also be worth reading Showreel alternatives for those on a budget.