TOOLS OF THE TRADE: Your Acting Showreel

Showreels – an important tool of the trade and one that you have to get right. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started.

A showreel is essentially a video ad for your services as an actor. It shows clips of your previous work and is useful when seeking an agent for representation or for when you have to audition long-distance (ie. for an overseas production, or even interstate). It is also useful to put on your website, but more about that next month.

A general rule of thumb is to keep your showreel at under 3 minutes. Casting people and agents have limited time. And with the advent of DVDs, you always have the option of including longer scenes and full scenes in an “extras” section, which gives them the chance to look at you in more depth, if they wish.

Choose clips that best reflect your ability and range. Try not to include scenes or clips that focus too much on the other actors in the scene – this is YOUR ad, after all, not theirs. The only time this rule can be broken is if they are a well-known actor and you’re not, but you should still have at least equal screen time, even in that situation.

Please do not use amateur theatre footage that shows you as an unrecognisable blob on the stage – in fact, try to avoid using any non-professional stage work. Showreels are usually used for film and television work only, so stick to screen work, if at all possible, and try to only use good quality, well-shot and lit clips.

Of course, when you’re first starting out, you are unlikely to have any footage for a showreel, and that’s where specially shot scenes and clips come in.

There are a few companies who offer this service – but please make sure you check them out thoroughly before committing to working with them. Does the director have professional credits? Is the camera person a professional? Are they using a studio or is it to be on location? Do they offer to edit your reel as part of the service? How many copies will you get and how will they be presented? Are they considered reputable in the industry?

DO YOUR HOMEWORK – there are sadly far too many people who will try to take advantage of actors, so make sure you know everything possible about the company and the people before agreeing to employ them to help you sell yourself to the industry. (Which is what you’re doing).

Your showreel should be updated every few months – once a year at least. A cost effective way of doing it is by doing it yourself (many actors do), but only if you’re technically savvy and have an understanding of editing and marketing (and a fast enough computer to carry all the video editing and DVD authoring software required).

Presentation is key with this tool – not only should the reel itself look slick and showcase you effectively, the cover of the DVD (or VHS) should also look appealing and give a taste of who you are. Put your headshot on the front cover, include your contact information on the back and maybe a short biography.

One Minute Reels

There is a trend that has started up of using one minute reels – due to Casting Directors’ having less and less time to view reels. This could be seen as a challenge to actors – I mean, what if your great scene opposite a really well-known actor goes for a minute and a half?? Well, I suggest that you view the one-minute reel as a ‘trailer’ for your longer reel (which only goes for three minutes anyway, right?). Use your one-minute reel the way that a feature film uses a trailer. JUST USE THE HIGHLIGHTS.

Do you get to slap that well-known actor? Use that bit of the scene. Do you get to share a ‘moment’ on screen together? Use that. Do you have some very funny lines in other work? Use those. Do you have a dramatic/angry/upset moment? Use that. Basically, edit together all the highlights of your screen career to date – like a trailer.

Be creative with how they’re linked up. I had one reel that cut from line to line and made up a kind of one-minute monologue, for example. But it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense or tell a story – the people looking at your reel know it’s a one-minute showreel – so they’ll just be looking at your talent, not your editing ability.

Ultimately remember this fact – this tool is selling YOU. So make it the best you can.

Originally published April 2007 © Sally McLean. All rights reserved.

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