How I Create Natural Showreel Scenes for Actors

So, here’s Libby Grant’s showreel:

When I first met Libby, I was excited by her energy and sense of humour. She had a lot to give when it came to screen acting but hadn’t really had the chance to demonstrate her talent in the right way. She showed me a compilation of her previous screen-work, and it’s not that the scenes were bad, it’s just that they didn’t show HER. I got no sense of her identity. Of the woman I saw sitting in front of me.

So we created something that would capture her unique comedic sensibilities, but also how truthful she is with dramatic scenes. Annoyingly, in order to keep the reel short, I cut half of the dramatic scene from her reel, but I hope she uploads it separately as well because it was a powerful performance!

Back to the comedy. Here’s one of the scenes I wrote:

The important thing with showreel scenes is to make sure there is drama. A conflict. Someone has to want something. Preferably the person who’s paying for the showreel should handle the character who wants the thing. In this case, her character wants a baby. She’ll do anything to get it.

Comedy is not easy. It’s hard to be believable. That’s what makes Libby’s performance so strong here – yes she’s quirky and funny and likable, but she also grasps the intention of the scene.

Here’s a scene I shot with Luke Newey.

I’m not sure I should say this but, don’t you think they look like a young Jim Carrey and Ed Norton? Anyways, moving on.

On the surface, this is a simple scene. One guy wants the other guy. But I think what makes it work on a deeper level is that another conflict is going on. Yes, one character wants the other character, but the other character feels betrayed, because the friendship wasn’t a friendship. It makes their relationship untenable. The actors, Luke Newey and Joseph Tregear, handle this moment beautifully.

Here’s the script:

I think as directors and actors (and writers!) we can often make the mistake of thinking, as it’s a showreel, we need to SHOW, as in – we need fireworks! But the majority of the time, the opposite is true. When you go small, you can find the real truth of the moment. Luke’s scene is all about subtext, and he had the confidence to go small, which is why I think the scene feels relatable and honest.

Which brings us on to the next scene. Here’s Sally Walsh and Stephen Mitchell:

My favourite thing about the latter seasons of the show ‘The West Wing’, is seeing Martin Sheen and John Spencer on screen together. They have so much weight, you can’t help but be moved by all the moments they share. Not only had they been through seven seasons of a TV show together building their characters, but they had the weight of their long careers behind them. They were two heavy hitters on screen, and you could just feel it in every scene.

I bring this up because, I think experience counts. Both in life and on screen. Sally Walsh was a series regular on ‘Emmerdale’, and had multiple episode stints on ‘Doctors’, ‘Eastenders’ and many other shows. Stephen Mitchell appears in the new Spielberg film ‘Ready Player One’ – and has popped up in numerous shows in recent years such as ‘Episodes’, ‘The Office’ and of course my niche-masterpiece, the much loved (by me) web-series ‘East Street Mary and Dave’.

You can see from watching them that they are experienced actors. They know where the drama is and how to handle it.

Interestingly, it is Stephen’s character who wants something in this scene. But as he pushes Sally further and further, he doesn’t realise how much pain she is holding. Not until she blurts out, ‘Of course I missed you,’ and then details all the moments she missed him.

That moment of truth is powerful, and again, it’s an understated performance, but you’re left in no doubt as to what she’s feeling.

Here’s the pages:

If you want to chat to me about showreels from scratch, email me at dj
@danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk

And I’m on Twitter.

And there’s more about my showreel work here.

Note on Copyright: a) These scenes are here as examples and are not to be reproduced without written agreement from the creator, me!

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