I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
The main reason I am able to earn money writing and directing showreel scenes for actors, is because most directors hoard the footage for years. They won’t give it up, won’t share it. In fact, nearly every single actor I know has had the experience of a director ignoring their calls and emails, simply to avoid having to share the footage!
1. It’s not properly edited or graded yet, so I’m reluctant to share it.
2. Sorry, I missed your emails and calls. What did you want?
3. We’re going for the festivals. Cannes and Sundance. We can’t let footage out due to exclusitivity.
4. I own the footage, it’s not yours.
5. I’m not giving it out for showreels yet.
Here’s another secret. The main reason, in fact, perhaps the ONLY reason that directors hold back the footage is this:
They’re ashamed of it.
When you come up with a film idea, you’re convinced you’re a genius. Then you write it, and wow, you’re still amazing. And then you shoot it; and the actors have their own ideas, and the lights keep breaking, and the location isn’t quite working, and everybody hates you because you don’t know how to talk to other human beings.
Basically: life happens. Things are never perfect, it’s just the nature of it!
Experience and knowledge allow you to realise that nearly all footage always sucks, because we’re not the geniuses we think we are.
But it takes a long time for directors to be that self-aware. So we’re mostly ashamed of the terrible nonsense film we’ve made.
So we don’t edit the film. We just leave it on a hard drive and hide from it. For weeks. Months. Years.
And then a actor asks for the footage. We’ll throw up any excuse.
“It’s currently being graded.”
“We’re currently in the process of thinking about grading it.”
“I’m in India for the next four months.”
“The footage is all in India. And it’s being graded there.”
The bottom line is that whatever the director or producer or editor is telling you; well it’s probably nonsense.
And they’re scared that their film sucks. And guess what, it probably does.
If you want your footage back, I recommend the delicate approach. Tell them you admire the fact they want to make it perfect; but remind them (politely and not angrily) that you worked really hard on it, and you need something to show for it. And let them know that you know the project is far from perfect; and that all you’re looking for is a few little shots to go on your reel. Play down the importance of it, yet remind them you have a right to it.
And don’t let them get away with the ‘festival’ excuse. Festivals are fine with there being trailers online, and if an actor has a piece of footage on their reel, it’s a non-issue. Directors have long used this as a golden excuse for keeping footage for themselves, but it’s nonsense. Festivals have a problem with a whole film already being screened elsewhere, or on the internet. But you having twenty seconds of a scene in your reel is irrelevant.
Good luck getting your footage back, and don’t resort violence.