Dragonlight films

Top Acting Showreel Tips by Iona Campbell

How to Create the Ideal Acting Showreel

With so many conflicting pieces of advice around what makes a good actor’s showreel, creating a decent one can seem an impossible line to tread. A snappy and compelling showreel is a must in every actor’s arsenal, and is the most accessible way for those casting you to get the essence of your on-screen abilities. Here are some tips to help you market yourself effectively with this all-important tool:


1) Have a physically contrasting partner in your opening scene.

Make sure that the first scene of your showreel is with someone positively distinct from you, ideally someone of a different gender. Or failing that, someone with a different hair colour! Casting directors are likely to know you just by a headshot, so if the person you’re playing opposite in the first scene is too similar to you, it’s liable to cause confusion.

2) Avoid montages at all costs!

While a neat montage may show off the skills of your very talented showreel editor, and make you feel all dewy-eyed at your multiple screen accomplishments, it does nothing to help your showreel. Many casting directors simply view them as a waste of time and would much rather see you show off your acting chops in brief yet effective scenes.

3) Pick scenes where you have significant screen time.

It’s tempting to feature a scene of you playing a waiter/receptionist/perplexed bystander in the background of an acclaimed BBC drama, but you should avoid playing second fiddle to a much more well-established actor who dominates in screen time. It’s a good look on a CV, but not so much on your showreel, and eats into valuable viewing time showing off someone else’s talent. If you’re lucky, some filmmakers may even be able to provide you with the rushes, or re-edit a scene favouring your character, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Here is an example from a friend, where she has a lot of screen time:

4) Time is of the essence.

In a clickbait world, attention spans are getting steadily shorter, so pity the poor person casting you who has sat through 100 showreels already. Some may even finish the reel before they reach its end. “What about my carefully curated footage?”, you may ask. A winning solution is to put your strongest scene first, and also to keep your showreel roughly between 2-3 minutes, to leave your viewer wanting, rather than reaching for the cross in the corner of the screen. Ideally between 2-4 scenes should suffice.

5) Listening is good.

The best scenes are not necessarily those of gratuitous weeping and high drama. Some of the most compelling performances in recent years have said a lot by seemingly doing little, take Claire Foy in The Crown, Robin Wright in House of Cards or Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall as examples. What these actors have in common is their propensity for listening, in other words giving concentration and intuitively reacting to what is happening in the scene. Do not rule out scenes which are light on plot or heavy emotions, as you may be exhibiting this most effective acting technique.

6) And lastly…actually HAVE a showreel!

Actors will often wait many moons for footage to be returned to them in vainglorious hope that having nothing is better than something which isn’t quite perfect. Meanwhile months go by when you may be missing out on job offers you may have otherwise been applying for. Sometimes, it is okay to compromise with what you have and show that you have at least made the effort of putting some work together.

Good luck and here’s to showreel success!

Follow Iona on Twitter @IonaCampbell_

Why do we watch movies?

 For the past century movies have played a significant role within our lives. Whether you’re looking for some easy entertainment to pass the time, see the next ‘biggest film of the year’ or taking your partner on a date. People often imply that a movies whole purpose is to just entertain, but is that entirely true?

Movies allow us to explore our minds -- to experience and feel things we wouldn’t normally feel within the real world, to escape reality. It’s not every day you’re going to be caught up in a car chase down a military runway (Fast & Furious 6), getting hunted in the woods by a psychopath wielding a machete (Friday 13th), or be enlightened by romance (When Harry met Sally).

Think about that time when you tried to decide what movie you were going to stream, you flicked through every page of every genre to pick out movies you were interested in. How did you decide on the film? Flip a coin – doubtful. You more than likely thought to yourself and questioned “What do I feel like?”, “What worlds can I explore?”. We watch films to feel something – love, fear, escape, peril...

Social network1.png
Social network.png

Most directors will tell you that their job is not to entertain others, but to tell a story.  Let's talk about David Fincher, someone I really admire. One of his traits to impact a viewer's feeling is the use of camera angles. The Social Network follows this within the opening scene of the film, we’re shown Mark Zuckerberg and Erica Albright positioned in a narrow field of view to show us their relationship with one another. As the scene moves forward Erica ends the relationship with Mark, then the shot becomes wider justifying the distance between the two characters. The final shot of the scene we see Mark sat by himself, the camera still holding the wide shot.

In short, the use of different camera techniques helps us feel the disconnection between the two characters, but as it’s subconscious we don’t realise this initially which is the hallmark of a great director.

I went to go see Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the day of release with high anticipation (as I’m sure many others did), however, as I’m sat there trying to engage with the action I couldn’t help but feel “I like it but I'm not enjoying it... Its Star Wars I should enjoy it! Wait am I watching a Star Wars film?” The codes and conventions of Star Wars were there but it just felt as though I was being forced to feel something that wasn’t on the screen. Moments where emotion were intended as part of the scene felt as though it was being forced upon me.

When walking out of the cinema I felt disappointed, because I didn’t feel any empathy for the characters due to a lack of emotion. There is also a lot of historical baggage with Star Wars - we, the fans set our expectations too high, when a new film is released we’re quick to criticise it against the previous instalments.

Often we are told how to feel something about a particular film, not by the story but by the marketing. We all understand the meaning behind ‘hype’, and we’ve all been caught up in it at some point. Trailers play a significant role with this and push marketing to the limits to make us feel as though we need to watch the ‘next big thing’. A good example  of this is the recent film Meg where the hype of trailer far exceeds the quality of the film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsLk0NPRFAc

People go to watch the movies to feel and to escape from reality, movies transport us to a different time, place or situation we may never be able to experience. The emotions we feel when we’re engaged by a movie is what makes us come back for more.

So, when you’re next thinking about commissioning a film or a video ask yourself what do you want your audience to feel?