Why Your Acting Showreel Is NOT The Place To Show Versatility

I must admit that, in the past, I have got this completely wrong. When creating showreels from scratch I have advised actors to show all of their versatility. You wanna show you can play a serious doctor? Great. Want to show you can do slapstick comedy? Let’s do it! Want to prove you can be an action hero? Okay!

But I was wrong.

I’ve learned this lesson for numerous reasons.

If you are desperate to show versatility on your showreel you really need to ask yourself, WHAT FOR? Let’s imagine all the A-List actors got showreels created. Would you advise Al Pacino to do comedy scenes about dating? Would you suggest that Ben Stiller do a period drama in a British accent?


The problem, on a psychological level, is that everyone gets a bit bored of what comes naturally, and they want to prove they can do other stuff. It’s like how Woody Allen has always wanted to be taken seriously, or how Jim Carrey has often moved into more serious dramas. And you know what, they’ve been pretty successful with their attempts, BUT, they did this after proving they can do what comes naturally – they excelled with their comedic genius and became millionaires. If you are a young upcoming actor with a flair for comedy, you should be honing your comedic skills and building yourself up in that area – not trying to balance your reel with lots of dramatic scenes.

There was a showreel I created for an actress a few months back, let’s call her Mary. Mary wanted to show a lot of range; we did a silly comedy scene, a serious scene between professionals, and a gutwrenching break-up scene. The first two scenes, they were OKAY, but something was missing. I tried to pull all my directing tools out of the bag to make the performances work but something was missing. It’s not that it was BAD, it just could have been much better.

And then we did the last scene. Her acting blew me away. It was literally mesmerising. Afterwards I told her how incredible she was in the scene. She said “Thanks, that’s the scene I related to the most, I think it most suits my casting – with the others I wanted to challenge myself.” Here was an actress who could have had a perfect showreel if we had played to her strengths, her talent would have been undeniable to anyone who watched it. Instead we had two okay-ish scenes and one great one, and the reel ends up rather unbalanced.

How many great actors do you know that are truly versatile?

Sure, you can say Matthew McConaughey now after ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, but that’s not how he made his name. He honed his talent and found a career with a very different kind of casting. Robert De Niro does comedy now, but the comedy is based on the Robert De Niro we know and love from earlier in his career – one wouldn’t have existed without the other.

My previous attitude towards showreels from scratch was; “let’s nail whatever your typecasting is, and then let’s also create the characters you’d most like to play.” The problem with that approach is that actors spread themselves too widely. What comes naturally may be strong-minded characters with lots to say, but then they also want to show a “bubbly and quirky” side. It rarely sits right, and you end up with a reel that is all over the place.

I highly advise actors to think long and hard about what they want to do, and before committing to a reel they should figure out what they’re best at. To see what they can bring to the screen, how can they have the most impact and be the most natural, performance-wise. That’s what you want to nail, you want to be yourself and do it so well on screen that people just have to cast you. And the way to do that, I believe, after many years of doing reels, is to not have versatility as one of the primary aims of your reel. It’s like the famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “don’t become a wandering generality, be a meaningful specific.”

You can watch examples of my acting showreels from scratch on my SHOWREELS PAGE

Email Me: dj@danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk.

Tweet Me: @danieljohnsonuk

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