The Complete Guide to Actor Showreels from Scratch for New Graduates
The modern drama school graduate has a very brief period of naive exuberance where they finally feel FREE and ready for the big bad world, and then it dawns on them – it’s impossible to get in the room. You can’t prove to people you can act until you’ve proven to people you can act. That’s where the showreel comes in.
This blog post is my attempt to demystify the process, to help you understand what a showreel from scratch is, and to help guide you away from making many of the mistakes that actors make when getting their first acting reel created.
The showreel from scratch is a relatively new phenomenon. Years ago it was frowned upon, seen as ‘fake footage’, now it’s essential. What better way to show agents and casting directors what you can do than by showing them what you can do.
Getting a showreel after graduating is one of the most proactive things you can do, meaning that as soon as you leave drama school, you’re not just another pretty blonde headshot firing emails at disinterested agents. No, you are a living breathing human that they can see on screen.
Finding the right showreel company is essential. You need to find the filmmaker or company that suits your style and temperament.
When looking at showreel creators, there are important things you should insist on, which I list below, along with other tips which I hope prove useful.
Many showreel companies rehash the same badly written scenes again and again. They work from a template of cliche ‘break up scenes’ and ‘doctor/patient’ scenes and it tells us nothing about you as an actor.
Even worse is when they steal scripts from famous films and TV shows. Casting Directors don’t want to see you impersonating the Jack Nicholson monologue from ‘A Few Good Men’ and they don’t want to see you recreating the orgasm scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (actually that could be amusing to watch).
They want to see you in a natural and believable performance. As good as you are, this isn’t possible without good written material.
Showreel that I wrote, directed and edited for Rebecca Calandro.
SEE EXAMPLES OF THEIR WORK.
This is your showreel we’re talking about. It’s probably going to cost you a chunk of money.
Don’t just go by the video clip of their best piece on the website, ask for additional examples. See if they’ve done other industry work.
If you’re paying for a reel, you deserve quality.
REALISE YOUR VALUE.
Remember this is YOUR SHOWREEL. You will likely have to live with it for a year or two – it will be representing you in the industry. Don’t rush to use the cheapest or most accessible showreel service.
Use the one that will do the best for you, that will understand who you are as an individual, as an artist.
Showreel I created for 19 year old actress Aimee Barrett.
BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR REEL.
Don’t try to cover too much range. I covered this in great detail in a recent blog. But to explain it in a nut shell — don’t try to prove you are a genius who can be Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks and Al Pacino all at the same time.
Focus on being more specific. Show your strengths. You get cast for being GREAT at ONE thing. Casting Directors, whether you like it or not, go for safety.
PROVE you can do something simple in a great way. It’s rarer than you think.
FIND A DIRECTOR THAT UNDERSTANDS ACTORS.
Chances are you’re still quite nervous when it comes to acting, especially for screen.
The training that most actors get in the UK is still mostly focused on the stage. That training is, of course, integral, but it can leave newly graduated actors feeling insecure about being on camera.
Be sure to work with a director who understands that – who can help you understand how camera work is different (and also very similar). If you’re interested in this topic you may enjoy my article about making the jump from stage to screen.
You don’t want a company that will just point and shoot, you want people who will get to know you, and help you as an actor.
First episode of my web-series ‘Sally the Life Coach.’
SHOOT IN REAL LOCATIONS.
There is nothing worse than watching a showreel that includes a scene about a doctor and patient that is clearly filmed in a drama studio or a flat. The creation of any fictional material is of course, fictional, but we need to believe in what we are seeing. If you don’t have great locations – make the location less important to the story – a short captivating bit of dialogue in close-up on two actors is more interesting than a fake looking doctor scene.
Yes, it’s your showreel and it’s one of the most important bits of acting you’re going to do after graduating, but remember to relax a little and enjoy the process! We’re in the business of make belief, and we get to have fun when we’re doing it.