top acting showreel tips

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_