What Makes a Good Showreel Scene?

I have written, directed and edited a huge amount of showreel scenes for actors over the past few years. They have become their own art form. How best can you showcase an actor’s talent within a scene? What should you be aiming for?

When an actor is paying for a showreel scene to be created, they often see it as an opportunity to go ALL OUT, to show all of their range and abilities.

But I’d caution against that. What you really want to do is show one part of you, one skill, and be an expert at it.

Say you want to do a break up scene. A girl breaks up with a guy. It might be tempting to film a scene where you scream at the other person, hit them and then unleash a devastating monologue at them about how you’ll never forgive them.

But what is this actually showing the casting director who’s watching? It’s showing one thing, chaos. And that’s NOT what you want!

The best actors do a lot by doing very little. In a showreel scene you shouldn’t be afraid of subtlety.

One of the scenes I am most proud of is this one:

There’s no action in it. No screaming. Just two grown women having a conversation. We see a lonely, vulnerable mother (Debra Baker), attempting to reconnect with her daughter. The daughter (Selina Braithwaite) is finding the strength to tell her mother that she doesn’t want to know her anymore. I think there are some really powerful moments in this scene. Far more powerful than if they had been screaming at each other trying to show their ‘range’.

And what is ‘range’? Rather than show EVERYTHING you can do, show ONE thing that you can do. If you want to do a comedy scene, show that you can deliver a line in a way that makes people chuckle. If you want to show your intensity, have a scene that involves you THINKING, or HOLDING SOMETHING BACK.  You can learn so much more about a character (and in turn, an actor) by how well they hold back. The not screaming is more interesting than screaming, the almost crying is more fascinating than crying.

Here’s a comedy scene I shot a few weeks back with Francesca Kingdon and Stephen Mitchell.

Again, there are no big theatrics. There’s no cakes being thrown in faces or people falling over. What I find hilarious about Stephen Mitchell is the small things – for example, the way he delivers the line ‘are you really checking your fucking emails right now?’. He doesn’t change the tone from his earlier conversation, there is no big ‘joke delivery’, no aiming-for-funny, he just says his lines, and in turn the result is a very funny performance.

What makes Francesca funny throughout the scene is how sincere she thinks she’s being — she doesn’t even know she’s being inappropriate. The look at the end of the scene when she says “do you wanna use it?” is funny because it’s said with heart, with care. It’s not delivered like a punchline.

Here we have two actors who have, again, showed their skills by doing something very subtle. For me, that is a much better indicator of comedic talent than an overblown scene full of funny happenings and silliness.

What makes a good showreel scene is the same thing that makes a good scene in a TV show or movie. It’s about a moment. About telling a story. About showing us a piece of humanity. Tone down the craziness and deliver something TRUTHFUL, that’s what the casting directors want to see.

Email Me: dj@danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk.

Tweet Me: @danieljohnsonuk

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