Choosing scenes for your showreel is a nerve-wracking task. There’s all the pressure of putting yourself out there in the industry, showcasing your ability and your type and the roles you’re shooting for, and all in the space of a couple of minutes of footage. Some actors think on this and stop dead in their tracks. Indeed, I know far too many actors who delay the crafting of their showreel for months—even years—in search for the perfect piece of material to come along. (A lot of them are waiting still.) But does it always have to be this hard? Are there any things you can do to make the process of choosing showreel material any easier? Read on, colleagues…
When you are choosing scenes for your showreel, pick recent material you’ve filmed that best showcases your work. Your scenes should focus on you (rather than the show/movie they’re from) and speak to your range. Choose diverse scenes that showcase your work across different styles or genres, and keep them as short as possible.
Before we dive in, remember that showreels are insanely personal things. At least, they should be, if they’re going to showcase you as an actor in a way that separates you from the pack. So please absorb all the advice you can from this article, but remember that your showreel will always be different from other actors you know. Find what works for you, not what somebody tells you is best. Even us! Although we hope you’ll take at least some of what we have to say on board…
How Many Scenes Should I Put in my Showreel?
Three. Ideally. You want three, short scenes that contrast—and yet never overstay their welcome. However, if you only have two scenes you’re happy with, there’s no unwritten rule saying that you must include a third. Even one, good scene is better than a handful of weak ones.
Some actors opt for more scenes, sacrificing the length of individual clips to pack in more varied content. This can feel exciting, and like you’re getting more material seen! But more likely, the resulting work will flash past without making any lasting impression about your acting on your viewers.
Your viewer needs a time to absorb and process your work—and that’s your acting work, not the cool jobs you’ve done.
What Kinds of Scenes Should I Include?
Ooft. Big question. This is often where those showreel-delaying actors get stuck. Let’s look at a few pointers that might help guide you through
- Short scenes. 45 – 60 seconds is the sweet spot. Anything over a minute better be The Most Gripping Drama Ever. But ideally your scenes will flit effortlessly across the screen with some impact. Too long, and you risk boring your audience—who may switch off all together!
- Scenes that showcase you. This should be the key deciding factor in scenes for your showreel. A bit part you shot in House of the Dragon might be an impressive credit. However, if it’s you being eaten by a dragon within ten seconds of appearing on screen, it’s not really giving potential employers/representation an idea of what you can do. Less impressive projects that foreground you are far more desirable as showreel material.
- Recent work. No matter how proud you are of that indie feature you starred in straight out of drama school, it’s no good including unless you look exactly the same—no. Are exactly the same. Don’t shock casting directors by sending them your reel and then appearing in person twenty years older.
- Material that you’re proud of. We’ve mentioned this already, because it’s one of the defining factors for a good showreel. Show work you know is good, you know you’d be happy with people seeing.
- Scenes with some variation. If you have three great villainous scenes, pick one. Your scenes should show your range, not put you into a single typecast box. Even if this the ideal role you want to pursue: don’t cut yourself out of other work as you try to land that dream role!
Note that we haven’t even talked about what makes a good showreel scene. That’s a whole other discussion, and something we explore elsewhere on the site. But to recap quickly: look for strong characters with an arc to match, a clear objective and strong dialogue!
An Example of the Perfect Showreel
As an exercise, visualise your perfect showreel: sit in your home, stare at a blank wall and imagine it playing in front of you. Money, resources, material were no obstacle. How does it look? It might be a little something like this…
“My showreel begins with a slate: name and agency in white font on a black background. This fades down before my first scene: a clip from a student film I shot recently—a 45 second clip showcasing my comedy skills, with plenty of banter and strong dialogue. It’s not the whole scene, but it cuts at a point in the scene that is punch, and fades to black.
Next is something I did for a streaming series last year. It’s a small scene that took me a night to film, but it’s nice character work and contrasts with the comedy. It also shows that I’ve done something on a larger scale, but without me being lost in the background. That goes for about a minute, it’s my longest clip, but also fades to black just as we start getting into the second half of the scene.
Finally, my latest work. It’s actually something I shot with the help of a StageMilk coach, from a script I found through my membership. Unlike the others, it’s only a self-tape I shot in my house, so there’s no fancy production value, but I look good in it. And it is exactly the kind of role I want to be cast in. It’s forty seconds long. Punchy, a bit exciting. It leaves the audience with a bit of a rush.
One final, identical slate before a final fade to black.”
Do Scenes for your Showreel Need to be Professionally Shot?
Scenes for your showreel don’t need to be professionally shot, but they should be professional in tone and presentation.
Professional screen work is ideal, but so is a well-lit and graded student film. If your home studio set-up is whizz-bang enough, something you’ve shot there could be a great showcase of your acting! At the very least, a self-tape you’ve shot at home has no pretensions about looking like professional work; it actually showcases your acting in its most distilled form. Just shoot for quality, and never settle for bad audio.
If you are feeling particularly creative and industrious, you can even try shooting a scene for your showreel like a short film! It is a lot lot lot of work, but does give you an incredible amount of creative freedom and control over quality and product.
Can I use Monologues in my Showreel?
Using monologues as scenes for your showreel is a contested subject. Many say no, as they don’t allow potential employers to see how you work with others. At StageMilk, we’re more lenient: we say yes, if they showcase your work. But often, a perfect, short monologue is hard to come across that has the same impact you might get from a scene of similar length.
And why is this? Because scenes show you in the thick of human interaction. They are a moment of conflict with a character’s goal in mind, swapping actions as you tack your way through the scene.
Can I Make Multiple Showreels?
Yes you can! There was a dark time when such things were merely folly… But in the age of online casting profiles like Showcast or StarNow, there’s nothing stopping you from having multiple showreels to suit different castings and situations.
You’re likely to still have a primary showreel that you send out to potential employers or agents, but you could also have showreels for different genres, media (such as theatre, or presenting work) or accents. Just be sure that each showreel adheres to the above rules and adheres to a similar, professional quality.
Feedback and Revision
The other advantage of having access to your showreel on casting profiles is that you have the opportunity to revise your showreel/s as new material comes in. If you’ve filmed a new, exciting short film and think its opening would be a perfect, punchy showreel clip, crack your current reel open! Is it stronger than any of the material you’re currently using? Swap it out!
As you are compiling a showreel, get as much varied feedback as you can. Friends, colleagues, your agent or manager, even us good folk at StageMilk! As part of our Scene Club, you can send through your showreel for some honest, one-on-one expert advice.
Other Showreel Resources
At StageMilk, we place a lot of emphasis on showreel and self-tape literacy; after all, they are two vital skills for modern actors to use to promote themselves. For this reason, we’ve written a lot on the subject of showreels, and have listed a few important resources below:
- Ultimate Showreel Guide
- What Makes a Good Showreel Scene
- How To Make a Good Showreel
- How to Find Showreel Scripts
- Do I Need a Showreel?
- Does Your Showreel Suck?
- How to Cut Down a Monologue or Scene
The Perfect Scene for your Showreel Doesn’t Exist
So there you have it: all the wisdom we have to share on choosing scenes for your showreel. It’s a lot to take in, we know. But actors who spend time crafting showreels with considered, curated scenes always distinguish themselves in the industry.
One final point. It sounds tough, but be assured we mean it as a strange kind of comfort: the perfect scene for your showreel doesn’t exist. Stop dreaming about it, stop imagining it out there, waiting to be found and loved and performed. Even a dull showreel scene is better than one you never bothered to find or shoot. So start yourself somewhere: stop delaying and start planning.