I watch showreels. Everyday. Good ones and bad ones.
A showreel is your calling card. It shows off your casting type and range, your skills, your ability to ‘listen and react’ and how technically savvy you are on screen.
Like a headshot, it should be kept updated and relevant.
Here are my top tips...
1 Starting Off
Start your showreel off with a simple black caption / slate for 5 seconds. Add your most recent headshot on the left hand side if you wish. Importantly, add your name, representation and contact information on to the caption. If you don’t have an agent, refer to yourself as ‘self-representing’ (this doesn’t go against you - no negative judgement is made).
Add a collage of your clips like the opening of an ‘80s gameshow.
Add animation or fancy transitions.
2 The Opener
Casting will know almost immediately if you’re right for a part. The job of a showreel is to quickly engage them and deliver the information that they need to make a fair judgment.
Ensure that you are the first person that’s seen on your opening clip. Make sure the shot is in Medium Closeup (head and chest). Remember, a showreel is not a short film. There is no need for establishing shots or big character build ups. Pick your best work and hit them with what you can do.
A showreel is something that is built up over time. Having just one scene is absolutely fine - you’re already ahead in the casting stakes over the many actors who have chosen to have nothing.
If you can’t edit, buy in the services of someone who can.
Confuse casting by having an opening scene that shows you as one of two, three or more other actors in a scene that’s in long shot.
Don’t wear sun glasses (yes, I’ve seen this!), slowly walk around a room or add l-o-n-g, pensive shots looking through a window. Casting will be reaching for the ‘stop’ icon and lining up their next actor. Ensure you ‘connect’. There is no need to explain the given circumstances of the clip, just speak.
So, you’ve grabbed attention. Perhaps casting will view your showreel for a little longer…
Show off your range. Keep your showreel pacy and interesting. Think about an edit that keeps each scene to a maximum length of around the 20 second mark. Make the material work for you. Perhaps revisit a second scene from a project/film etc later in the reel.
Include scenes that show you ‘listening and reacting’. Include a brief long shot that shows you walking and in full height.
Remember that casting want you to be good. Your showreel is there to confirm that you are.
Add any other on-screen captioning or graphics that clutters and distracts. Casting do not hire directors - they’re only interested in you as an actor and what you can potentially bring to the project that they’re currently casting.
3. To Do or Not to Do
Think about including part of a monologue.
The inclusion of a monologue is often a contentious issue.
My advice is ‘YES’.
If you can find 20 seconds from a great monologue (or even try writing your own), include it in your reel. Pick carefully and don’t be afraid to start mid-conversation. Watch your eye-line. Don’t deliver directly down the barrel of the lens. Have it filmed as a ‘dirty two shot’ - as though you’re talking to another person to the side of camera.
Use scenes from ‘live theatre’. Such scenes don’t show that you have a technical understanding of screen acting and the writing and presentation is often at odds with television and film drama.
4 The Long and the Short of it
Keep your showreel to between 1’30” and 2’ 20”.
Don't ignore the time recommendations regarding running time. If it’s rivalling the time it takes to read ‘War and Peace’, you need to bring in an editor.
5 Quality first
Ensure that the different footage you use is of a similar quality eg shot in HD, widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) and with good sound. At Thinking Actors, we shoot in 4K Ultra HD Cinema 24.
Add footage in 4:3 aspect ratio (the square look of an old tv). If your showreel looks as though it was filmed in a by-gone era, it’s time to bring in someone to film something fresh for you.
6 An End Point
End your showreel with a simple black caption / slate for 5 seconds. Add your most recent headshot on the left hand side if you wish. Importantly, add your contact details and representation on to the caption.
7 Click To Send
Ensure that you follow showreel submission details to the letter. If you have your showreel on spotlight, don’t forward the PIN… forward the complete link for faster access.
Open a free Vimeo, WeTransfer or Dropbox account in your name to store your footage and edited reel.
Upload to Vimeo.
I personally don't recommend uploading to YouTube due to inadequate privacy settings.
Thinking Actors is based in Manchester and provides a full filming service for showreels, test tapes, commissions and pilots.