How to Find Showreel Scripts
People often ask me, what is the hardest thing about acting? Is it remembering lines? Crying on cue? Playing characters you hate? None of these things. The hardest thing I always face is finding new, fresh material to top up my showreel with, or to bring to an audition. It is a nightmare, particularly when you are first starting out. Finding scenes that suit you, that are 45 – 120 seconds long with a nice character journey that require very little context, is hard. And that’s to say nothing of finding the scripts themselves (a whole other battle!)
If you have come to this article in a fluster after searching for scenes for hours, don’t worry. This quick guide will point you in the right direction. For those just dipping their toe in, who are thinking of building a showreel, this guide will hopefully save you some stress.
Updated 13th December, 2022.
What Are You Looking For?
The first step is knowing what you are looking for in a good showreel script. There is no point opening up a script resource page, or trawling through a series on double speed hoping to stumble across a perfect scene. It is much better to think about narrowing your search down before you even get started.
So, stop and have a think. What are you looking for? Do you need a scene that contrasts the ones you already have? Or something that plays to your strength? What are the character traits, given circumstances or genres you need to investigate?
What makes for a great showreel scene is a whole other article (watch this space…) But asking yourself these questions can help get you closer to finding a scene that is right for you and your needs. The time you save in the search will give you more time to prep and shoot.
Can You Find Showreel Scripts Online?
Once you have some ideas, start searching for materials that fit your criteria. If you know the shows, films or plays you’re looking for, head directly to finding scripts. If you want to have a watch, make sure (before you start bingeing another series) that you look at synopses or episode breakdowns. This can help you pinpoint big moments for characters, or help you find a scene you remember seeing.
The beauty of streaming service algorithms means that you can quickly scan a large group of shows or movies that have similarities to one another. Alternatively, if there is an actor that continues to play roles that you think suit your own style, have a look through their filmography to see what else might suit you.
As far as finding a script… Well, this isn’t actually as hard as you might think! There are a myriad of databases on the internet filled with copies of scripts from films, television and online series. I could write a list, but honestly just making sure you’re using the right search terms is a better way to help you finding that scene you’re after. Use the full title of the movie or series you’re looking for, complete with season and episode number, followed by keywords such as “script”, “teleplay”, “transcript” or “sides”. I also like using “.pdf” at the end to further narrow results to something that is usable. It should look something like this:
“Breaking Bad Season 1 episode 4 script .pdf”
“Mad Max: Fury Road script .pdf”
From there, you have options and you will know doubt find trustworthy free databases that you regularly return to for the shows you like. You will find full scripts, transcripts dialogue, sometimes even drafts or fan-transcribed documents. Although there is a little sifting to be done, in my experience I have found almost everything is out there somewhere.
Streaming with Subtitles
If you still can’t find the script after a search, then you might have to go back to the drawing board: or in this case, a word processor. Throw on the subtitles, watch the scene on half-speed and have the script dictated to you. I have even heard of some people putting the volume up and turning on speech to text, but I haven’t had much luck myself. With all the typos you end up correcting, it’s usually quicker to transcribe the material directly.
Although seemingly convenient, particularly if you have immediate access to the show or movie, set aside more time than you think. However inefficient, when stuck, this can be a really solid option and also doubles as a line learning exercise! Just make sure it’s definitely a scene you want to do before putting in the effort. Unless you are an ex-court stenographer, it will take time to transcribe and format into a useful script. And you want to make sure what’s there is exactly what was originally written.
Can You Use Plays for Showreel Scenes?
We don’t often look here because the pacing and style of a play doesn’t always translate to camera. However, we are not making a film: we’re shooting a showreel scene! And good material is good material.
There has been a big revival of realism in plays this century, particularly in regards to dialogue. Many authors start with theatre and move into television. For example, Fleabag started as a play before it was turned into a television series. Writer Lucy Prebble was a very successful playwright before working on Succession. Lots of successful authors do both, meaning you can find some awesome scenes for your showreel within a play.
Again, I wouldn’t recommend starting your search by opening any compendium of plays and starting to read without knowing what you’re looking for. This would be a massive time sink. Instead, if you find a movie or series you like, see if the writer has also written for theatre and start from there. Finding playscripts online can also be harder than finding their film cousins, so you made need a library card (yes, an actual library card), access to a performing arts collection through a University, or an online database like Drama Online.
Another hidden bonus of finding scenes from a play is that it will more than likely be unique. Rather than picking the scene that’s in vogue from the series that everyone is watching, you’ll have a scene which is excellently written, yet not immediately recognisable.
Acting Class Scenes
If you are currently doing an acting class (maybe you’re even part of StageMilk scene club? ), then scenes will be put in front of you all the time. Often, we disregard these scenes either because we view them as ‘learning tools’, or because we got slammed in a note session, or we are sick of them because we just saw our entire class do them.
However, you should remember that the showreel is not for your class. It is for casting directors, directors, potential agents and collaborators to have a look at. If you find a scene that you enjoy—or more importantly, nail—then don’t be afraid to add it to the bank.
Also, your teachers or instructors may be able to point you in the right direction by either recommending scenes they know or helping you to find authors, series, movies or actors to watch. They spend a lot of time watching and reading scenes, and will also have a good radar of when something has been overdone. They will also help you be objective and find scenes that suit you, as they’ll know you as a performer better than most.
Can You Write Your Own Showreel Scene?
Not many consider this, but… Can you write? If you are a wordsmith, you can simply write your own scene. I made that sound very simple, and of course, for those that have written to a high standard, you already know how difficult it can be to write a roughly two-minute scene with a satisfying arc/no context.
Instead, I would suggest using your skills to augment or refine an already existing scene. If you find a character you like, but they are of the wrong age or gender, a few tweaks might make the scene more appropriate for you. An otherwise perfect scene might have too much exposition or need too much context to be understood. A few edits or additions might circumvent these problems.
If you are an adept writer (or looking to become one, which is how they all start out), beginning from scratch is also a possibility. Just make sure you have people you trust to look at it before you use it to shoot with. Scripts go through huge amounts of development, drafting, and editing before they get put in front of the camera. Don’t assume your writing is any different.
Like It, Save It: Active Watching.
Finally, The best way to save time in finding a showreel scene is to always be looking. This doesn’t mean constantly scouring scripts, but instead always having the search for scenes in the back of your mind when watching movies or series.
We are all always consuming a stack of media across multiple platforms. Finding that scene you saw six months ago can be like finding a needle in a haystack—particularly if it’s from a show with multiple long seasons. So, if you see something you like, take note as you are watching. You may not always need a new scene, but taking five seconds to note down great scenes or characters as you see them will save you heaps of time when you do need to find one. Keep a journal, bookmark on a streaming platform or type something into your phone’s ‘notes’ section. You will thank yourself later.
A Couple of Don’ts
Before you go launching into your search, let’s cover a few important don’ts when searching for a showreel script. Your search is going to take you all over the place and take a huge amount of time. Let me point out a few places you shouldn’t even bother with. Trust me.
#1 Get Away from Superhero or Science Fiction
Why? Too popular, too iconic, or needing too much context and special effects. I love the Force as much as the next Jedi, but no one wants to see you screaming “I have the high ground!” in a showreel. No amount of self edited lava on your green screen is going to get that to carry. Same goes for all caped or mask-wearing super heroes, any of the Doctor Whos, passengers or crew onboard any of the Starfleet ships, no matter how personal the moment. A showreel is not the time to deliver your version of The Joker or Harley Quinn.
Maybe, just maybe, you could get away with a more human moment from a show like Buffy, Supernatural, or Jessica Jones. But remember that it’s that human quality we’re looking for: not somebody who is, by default, more than or different than human. You might be a fan, it might be fun, but you won’t do yourself any favours. At worst, you’ll push people away.
#2 Stay Away from Cult Films and the Award Winners
Why would you want your performance compared to an Oscar winner? Do you really want your Roman Roy compared to the guy that just won an Emmy for it? Are you really going to deliver the Diner scene from Silver Linings Playbook better than Jennifer Lawrence? Is the Mr Pink rant from Reservoir Dogs really going to carry without the all star cast?
I see this all the time, and it’s a big no. Either you are going to copy the performance, or you are going to use lines that a true prodigy has already nailed. And I guarantee whoever is watching will start thinking about the person who did it first.
These are fun scenes to study and play with, but for a showreel it is worth going a little further off the beaten track. You want people to be watching your acting, not thinking about the movie the scene is from or comparing you to the actor that played it so well that they were given a shiny statue for their efforts.
No matter how naturalistic the dialogue, the stylistic divide is too great. Don’t underestimate how much the character design and animation play into what you are receiving when viewing. Replacing that with warm bodies will very rarely work.
Not so much a hard “don’t”, more one to be careful of. Often, translations, subtitles or dubs don’t convey the nuance of the original language, making it cumbersome or clunky. If you think a scene is a winner, feel free to transcribe and give it a go. Just remember that when we hear dialogue in a foreign language we don’t understand, it can sound very very different when translated into English. Most of the time, it doesn’t sound half as artsy or deep.
#5 Don’t Use Audition Scenes… Yet
If you just had a self tape or audition, and you loved the part, don’t put it on your showreel straight away!
Scripts being used to audition with are often embargoed, not for copy or release, or simply not finished yet. The timeline for a production to go from the audition process to official release could be years, and releasing a scene from the show or movie that isn’t finished is a big no-no. Casting directors may get very annoyed that the embargoed script is now on someone’s Showcast.
So if you really love a script, put it in the vault and wait for the show or movie to be released. Only then it is fair game.
Hopefully these tips will help you focus your showreel search, save you some time and get you closer to finding that scene you need for your showreel.
Remember, a showreel is an ever-evolving thing. At different ages and stages, you will need to showcase different things. This means that you will always be updating. So its important to keep looking out for scenes you could add to the bank just in case you ever need to refresh your reel. As you start getting work, your self-shot scenes will gradually be replaced by examples of professional work, but even then, you may want to intersperse some new scenes to show range if you feel it’s getting a bit stale.
So keep looking, keep searching and good hunting!
Leave a Reply