How to Create Your Acting Showreel

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Photo Source: Backstage. Illustration – Joelle Avelino

Creating a good showreel can feel like a technical upheaval. And whether you’re starting out in student projects or you’re a regular on TV screens, every actor needs one. But where to start? Tracking down footage, finding an editor, picking your clips – this guide sheds light on all those daunting tasks so you can create your very first reel or update the one which has been sitting on your website or Backstage profile for years. Time to get cutting!

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What is an actor’s showreel?

An actor’s showreel is like a video showcase – it’s a portfolio of footage and an easy way for industry professionals to view your screen-work online.

Casting associate JJ Bee (Bulletproof, Pandora) explains: “Invitations to screenings and shows are always appreciated, but those who work in casting don't always have the time to see everyone in everything.”

In the past, showreels would be on a DVD or USB, but now everything is online – on Vimeo, Youtube or embedded on to your Backstage, Mandy, IMDb, or Spotlight profile, which makes sharing with others and regular updating easier. Bee tells us: “We live in a digital world, so it’s more important than ever to showcase your craft online.”

Why is an actor’s showreel so important?

“It is a glimpse into an actor’s work,” says casting director Dan Hubbard, “in which we can determine the strength of the actor’s presence and abilities.”

Producer and agent Lola Williams explains that “they give a casting director the opportunity to see how you come across on camera and your versatility as an actor – two things which headshots alone can’t confirm.”

And television director Thomas Hescott (EastEnders, Holby City) tells us: “I would always rather meet an actor in person – but sometimes that’s just not practical so having a range of scenes on a showreel helps.”

What goes into an actors’ showreel?

Start with the key information: your name and, if you like, a headshot as part of that title card. And then go straight into your best scene.

Pick one in which there is no ambiguity as to who you are. Acting across from your exact casting type in your very first scene could cause confusion, so save that for later in the reel, once you’ve established a clear picture of who you are.

From then onwards, keep the footage moving at pace. If you’re trying to decide what to include, organise all your footage in a folder and go through and pick the sections which showcase you best. Bee says: “Demonstrate what you feel really represents your individual talent.” So, pick clips that show you are distinctive! “Originality is key,” says Hubbard. He wants to see “actors’ unique DNA and acting chops.”

If anything has bad sound or picture quality, consider leaving it out. Your showreel is a representation of you and what you can offer so you want it to look as professional as possible, not grainy or out-of-sync. Equally, there is no point in including 20 seconds of you standing on a mountain from a distance, even if it is shot in 4K high definition – your showreel is about you, not about the cinematography. So, find the balance.

And the most important thing to remember is that a good showreel should demonstrate real range, so try to pick contrasting clips to show the full scope of your acting abilities. Perhaps slot in a comedy clip next to one of your more melancholic scenes, or include a clip in a different accent and so on – keep it fresh and keep it interesting. And while it’s important to show your versatility, be realistic about your range. Make sure you are happy with the performance in the footage you include – this is more important than trying to be different for difference’s sake.

At the end of the reel, add a card with your contact details – or the name and details of your agent, if you have one.

What should not be on an actor’s showreel?

Background music, commercials, and montages.

“I do not want to see a music video,” BAFTA-nominated producer Farah Abushwesha (The ABC Murders) tells Backstage. “The amount of time I have been sent reels and they have music all over them. I want to see the way you speak and move in a scene – something that has got a bit of meat to it!”

And best not to include any commercials in your acting showreel. There are some very rare cases which might break this rule – for example, if the advert genuinely had a proper story with you speaking proper lines so it felt more like a scene; but in general, commercials are better left out as they don’t really show raw acting ability. If you’re really proud of your work on a commercial, you can always take a screenshot for your website or add the link to an “additional footage” tab.

Try to keep your showreel fresh and current. There is no point including a scene you shot 12 years ago because this will no longer reflect how you look and speak today. Writer and director Thomas Hescott tells us: “I often watch a showreel with an eye on your playing age, so make sure your showreel is up to date. And don’t bother with fancy montages – I just skip through them to get to the scenes themselves.”

How long should your showreel be?

Not long!

Most casting directors are time-poor, so short and sweet is the key here. Narrow Road talent agent Rozzy Lloyd prefers “concise showreels that really show off your best work instead of lots of clips just to fill a space. No more than three minutes.”

If you discover you have a surplus of footage, just use the best sections which you’re most proud of – you don’t need to include the whole film! It really is a case of quality over quantity. On the other end, if you have a more limited amount of footage and find your showreel equates to only a minute and a half, that’s absolutely fine. With attention spans ever decreasing, it is better to have something succinct and viewable than lengthy and low quality.

Can you edit your own acting showreel?

It depends on your editing abilities and you need to be realistic about this.

It’s usually advisable to go to a professional. A showreel is as important as your headshots, so if you can afford it, it’s best to invest and consider it as part of your career development and essential portfolio. It’s often evident when clips have been smushed together on iMovie and exported in low quality. A professional editor will know how to maintain quality and carry out clever tricks like moving a bit of audio, zooming in on a frame to favour you, and ensure smooth transitions between scenes to keep the showreel pacey. If you feel like you can do this and you’re on a budget then go for it, but it can sometimes be quite hard to make an accurate assessment of yourself –  we are not always the best judge of ourselves. So, if you’re not using a professional to cut the clips, at least make sure that you have sought advice from others who can offer suggestions on the order and choice of content. “Send it round and get feedback!” advises Abushwesha. She also recommends adding text at the bottom of each scene, crediting where it is from, to add context and show what you have been in.

I don’t have any showreel footage – what can I do?

Apply for student or short films on Backstage, or shoot your own projects – or get a showreel company to shoot material for you.

One way to gain material is to put yourself forward for student films and short films. Many of these cast via Backstage, and the draw for actors is that they usually result in high quality footage which can be used on your reel.

Another way is to create your own work. “So many people make stuff, so there is no reason why you can’t make something!” Farah tells us. “Just make sure the quality is good, particularly the sound. If the sound is bad, it can be a real nightmare.” Hescott concurs: “It doesn’t take that much to shoot a scene on location – someone’s flat or a park – with another actor and edit it together!”

There are also some companies which shoot scenes from scratch for you. Take your time over who you choose because some companies just churn out the same scripts, shot with the exact same scene set-ups and the same text styles and music. Which means when casting directors and agents watch a lot of showreels, the same scenes start appearing. So, go for a showreel company which is a bit more bespoke, or write your own scene and pay a freelance videographer or small team of filmmakers to help you with it. That way, you can still have some ownership on the final project and it is not in an identical format to 50 other showreels floating about out there.

Why can’t I just record a monologue for my acting showreel?

While monologues are not ideal, having no footage whatsoever online is worse.

Realistically producers and directors would prefer to watch actual scenes with another performer to see how you interact. Acting is all about communication, after all. But if you’re at the beginning of your career and yet to get around to working on a short, or shooting a scene from scratch, try filming a monologue.

Lloyd says: “I would watch a filmed monologue, but would want an actor to send two contrasting pieces.” Williams tells us she would also consider monologues “as long as the quality is good and we can clearly see and hear the actor.” She adds: “We have reached a stage in the industry where not having any video puts an actor at a disadvantage, so we expect an actor to have at least one video clip as a standard requirement.”

Does an actor need more than one showreel?

No, one good strong acting showreel will suffice.

When managing your online presence, sometimes less is more. However, if you work professionally in different genres of performance, it can be better to have separate showreels. For example, don’t include a clip of you presenting at a sports event or doing a standup comedy set in your acting showreel. Equally, if you do a lot of martial arts or stunts, it might be worth having a few seconds of this in your acting showreel if you can slip it in organically, but certainly no more than that. You should keep everything streamlined and have separate reels for your combat, advertising, or presenting work.

 

I think my reel is ready! What now?

Always do a final check that all the relevant information is provided and correct and then – hurray! – it’s time to upload.

Vimeo is popular with a lot of professionals as it has fewer adverts and distractions than YouTube, but either is fine. Top tip: when you upload your video, make sure you put your details in the description box so that viewers can do an easy copy-and-paste of the key information or links. And once you have covered your website, Backstage and all the other essential platforms, why not push it out on social media and share it with the world!

More for UK actors? Check out Backstage

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