actors showreel hints and tips

Showreel For Actors

An actor’s showreel is the first time a casting director sees a performer in action. It must make an immediate impact and be relevant to the brief if you want to get an invitation to the casting room.

What is a showreel?

A showreel for actors is a short video of different scenes showing the actor in their very best work. Usually this requires a speaking role, although a scene silently demonstrating powerful emotion might be added.

It’s essentially an actor’s demo reel showing casting directors whether you have the right look and talent for the role they are casting for right now.

Do you need a showreel to get an agent?

Talent agents want to spend their time and money representing clients who regularly book work, because that’s how they earn the commission to keep their business going. 

You must show potential agents that you’re a professional actor ready for professional work. Your showreel is part of that package. 

Showreel advice and tips

  1. Make it two minutes in total and no more than 45 seconds each clip
  2. Add a title shot with your current photo, name, and age 
  3. Make the opening scene your best one
  4. Add two or three more clips to show other emotions and characters
  5. Have a clip with your native accent fairly near the start
  6. The reel must focus on you so the casting team immediately identify you
  7. NEVER include a photo montage
  8. Update regularly so you’re showcasing the correct age, weight and look

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Above all, remember that a casting director and their team receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of submissions for each role.

They are speed checking showreels to choose their shortlist, and usually stop after a few seconds. 

Make your showreel snappy and engaging, and make it clear you are a convincing fit for the role.

Some people put their agency contact details on the final shot. However, any change in representation makes your showreel immediately invalid.  Instead, add your agent and their contact details on all casting website profiles you have. Also add them to all your social media accounts.

There are many other acting showreel tips worth researching and considering. Outfits, makeup, setting and quality of footage can make a difference. But at the heart of all this, the casting director must quickly see your ACTING at its very best.

Actor showreels from scratch

The problem for new actors is getting screen work from which to build a showreel, because they often need a showreel to get the screen work first.

Instead, you must create a showreel from scratch. 

New child actors can simply film a song or poem performed at home. Even a smartphone is usually good enough quality, but make sure the background is visually neutral and audibly silent. Then just add a title screen showing your child’s name and age.

Adults too can take the DIY approach. But obtain the best quality footage you possibly can. 

Ideally, you’ll work on student films to get a variety of looks and emotions for a wider range of casting roles. Meanwhile, keep trying to find work via casting websites, reputable acting agencies, and Facebook filmmaking groups.

Should you have the funds and aspiration, there are many companies offering showreel services and packages.

Showreel monologues

The choice of monologue is important if you are creating a showreel from scratch.

First, identify what casting type you are. Your choice of monologue must show the casting director how you look in the roles you’re physically appropriate for.

Realistically, six foot broad-shouldered men get cast as nightclub bouncers more often than waiters or nurses. If you’re an overweight middle aged woman with a strong yorkshire accent, the casting team for a period drama set in a stately home are unlikely to see you anywhere other than the kitchen below stairs. 

Next, think about pacing. The monologue must allow you to show emotion as you speak, without big wasteful pauses.  

Furthermore, avoid well known scenes from big budget films. You don’t want a casting director watching your performance while thinking about the same scene in the original film. Against BAFTA and Oscar nominated actors in high production value footage, your version is never going to compare well.

Overall, remember to make the scene memorable and engaging. You have just seconds in each scene to convince the viewer of your talent and keep them watching.

Some showreel package businesses offer monologues as part of their deal. Discuss the relevance of the monologue to your specific needs, and don’t just pick up any random script offered.

Showreel from student films and unpaid work

You should only work unpaid if you are being given a copy of the work for your showreel. 

Sometimes the footage is uploaded to YouTube rather than sent to you on disk. In this case, you can download the YouTube material with the owner’s permission. Spotlight recommends using Keepvid. Input the YouTube video URL and then download the file into your computer.

Many filmmakers prefer vimeo. You’ll normally find a download button to press. If you don’t, then request permission from the vimeo account contact. 

How to get showreel from your movie work

Ideally, you should not get your showreel material from DVD or Blu-ray disks. Instead, ask the production company beforehand about getting hold of a copy of your material for your showreel.

However, if you do use a DVD, you’ll need to convert and download the footage so it can be edited. Handbrake software can do this. It’s free to download to both Mac and PC.

DVDfab.cn is software which does the same job for Blu-ray disk footage. It’s free to use in a 30 day trail, so remember to cancel if you don’t intend to use the software again.

How to get showreel from your TV appearance

Footage downloaded from a catch-up service is difficult to edit and breaks the copyright restrictions. So for best results record the footage from the live TV broadcast. 

Get a freeview receiver with a built-in recorder that can record via a USB stick. 

The easiest format to work with H.264, so make sure the freeview receiver you buy uses this format in its built-in recorder.

Musical theatre showreel

Musical theatre showreel is an essential tool for musical theatre performers too.

As with an actor’s showreel, two minutes is enough for most casting directors to make a decision on whether to see you or not. So you must display several impressive talents in a short space of time. 

You could use footage of a performance on stage, but this rarely produces quality visuals or sound. 

Instead, a recorded session in a studio allows great lighting, a variety of camera angles, and clear sound. With careful showreel editing, it allows your performance to pop.

Find a showreel company

It’s easy to locate showreel creation companies. Try Spotlight, or ask for recommendations in Facebook groups and in your Twitter network. 

Check the company’s website and see showreel examples. You’ll quickly spot the companies you want to work with, as they vary in their expertise. Also, some businesses use more expensive, high quality equipment and software than others.

You can find showreel packages which create the whole footage from scratch, or those who edit the material you provide.

Ask how much input you have in the editing process. This is your showreel and is one of the ways you sell yourself as a professional actor.

In addition, clarify what is included in the price and what your specification is at the start. If your agent doesn’t like what is produced and you ask for alterations, it will cost you extra to make changes.

When arriving with your showreel material, make sure it is in the right format, and your instructions are specific. Detail which scenes to include, where they are in the file, and the specific point they each end.

Video editing software

If you want to edit your own actor’s showreel instead of asking a professional to do it, you can do so. 

Professional editors usually invest in expensive editing software, which is beyond the financial reach of the average actor. However, cheaper solutions are usually good enough to get the job done to an adequate level.

If you have a Mac, i-Movie is preinstalled. Windows Movie Maker is a popular choice for PCs. 

Alternatively, use professional video editing software DaVinci Resolve 16 from BlackmagicDesign.com. It’s a freemium model, offering a free basic package plus a paid plan which adds complex features for studio use. For showreel editing the free version is more than sufficient. 

Whilst DaVinci Resolve 16 looks complicated to beginners, there are a number of good tutorials available on YouTube. It all depends on how much time and confidence you have to learn new skills.

Showreel music

Some music can add atmosphere to a scene if it’s done properly. But this requires a range of skills and choices most people execute badly. 

Remember, the casting director just wants to see you act. 

So, if music was added when your scene was broadcast, then include it. However, don’t waste time adding music when making your showreel from scratch.

Can you use copyrighted music in a showreel?

You’ll find a lot of copyrighted music and footage in actors’ showreels. Usually the only text on screen is the production name, along with the director’s name and production company listed. 

It’s just universally accepted that actors use this material to showcase their talent, especially when using broadcast material.

However, avoid it if you can, especially when making your own showreel. It’s not necessary to add, and it does infringe copyright.

Export your showreel

Ideally, export your showreel as an MP4 file using the H.264 codec and AAC audio. The size should be less than 700MB, but large enough to allow quality visuals.

How can you convert a video file to MP4 format? Use QuickTime Player, which is free for both PC and Mac. Export, and then upload.

Showreel share day

In the late teenies, actor and casting director Kate Davies-Speak started the Twitter phenomenon of #showreelshareday.

The sudden burst of monologues all over acting-related Twitter profiles initially caused some alarm for longstanding casting professionals. But the overwhelming response was one of positivity. 

Suddenly monologues were an accepted part of Twitter account activity and actors could showcase their talent beyond the chosen clicks of casting professionals via casting profiles. 

It also allowed filmmaking teams to support the actors working on their projects. 

In addition, showreel creators suddenly found their talents and businesses widely discussed.

Each year you’ll see the event announced on the Twitter account for Showreel Share Day (@ShowreelShare). However, if you’re part of a Twitter network (which the great majority of performers and filmmakers are) then you won’t fail to notice it happen anyway!

Final thoughts

Showreel is an advert selling your talent.

Create something that grabs the attention within seconds, and makes the viewer want to keep watching. It must also feel real, both in how you look and the emotions displayed. You have two minutes to wow a demanding audience.

Moreover, the agency or casting director wants to meet the person they saw on screen. Any significant changes to your appearance demands another update, in the same way regular headshots are required.

Also, remember this is just a calling card. It might get you in the casting room. From then on, a unique mixture of talent, looks, personalities and luck takes over.

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