Creating Lockdown Showreels for Arts Ed Drama School

Back in February – very much on a whim – I wrote a tweet offering to direct actors from afar. The idea being that, if for physical or financial reasons you couldn’t commit to a full showreel, I could show you the way to film things by yourself.

The ‘Experimental Solo Showreel Project‘ was, at the time, a piece of fun, but little did we know it would represent a shift in how showreels would be created for the coming months.

The premise was simple enough. Actors would create scenes that I had written – they would film them on their phones and I would direct them from afar. After that they would send me the footage and I would edit the final piece. This was socially distanced showreel making before it was legally our only option.

Weeks after this project, the world ended up in lockdown – and this style of filmmaking suddenly felt prescient.

The timing of lockdown meant that drama schools were in a predicament – unable to have their usual showcases but still needing to provide this opportunity to actors. In talking to Josh Parris and Stephen Hudson at Arts Ed, it became clear that this style of filmmaking could be exactly what the school needed.

Using Zoom, I had meetings with the 27 actors on the MA course at the school. I did what I have been doing for over a decade – getting to know actor’s specific needs and casting types, and then I wrote bespoke pieces for each performer.

The essential thing for me with this project – was to elevate the craft from that of a self-tape. A self-tape is a valuable tool for the casting process – but when viewed by itself outside of its original context, they rarely hold your attenion.

The key to this project was to use cinematic techniques that would engage the audience. The little touches of ‘record’ buttons and ‘live’ streaming added an immediacy to the scenes; they felt like real moments the characters were in, rather than self-tapes where characters are performing against a blank wall.

This style of filmmaking suits me particularly well because – being a writer first and foremost, the ability to direct performers via email and on zoom enabled me to bring different parts of my skillset to the project. Being able to take the time to watch takes and then write out detailed feedback and direction was surprisingly joyful!

This filming style is very useful because it shows an actor’s castability in a very direct way, and the filmic techniques and framing make it more engaging than a traditional audition tape.

The actors for the most part took to this process very well – the key block was enabling actors to trust that they could use the camera as an active part of the process. I was very keen for actors to handle the camera mid-scene, to make it feel natural. Also – because they are the only person on set, they have the job of framing themselves. If they were needed in close-up, they had to physically put themselves into close-up. The following scene is a good example of an actor utilising all of the space on screen. It should make you laugh, too.

To give you a sense of how I scripted these scenes, here is how the above scene was written.


For those of you who are interested in this style of filmmaking – whether working in collaboration with me or creating your own material, I recommend checking out my workshop ‘Beyond the Self-Tape – Creating Dynamic Showreel Scenes‘, which you can watch below.

For further viewing:

Watch the full-set of Arts Ed Monologue Reels.

Or:

Learn more about my showreel work.

Email me at dj@danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk

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