A professional actor’s showreel is one of their most powerful tools for landing auditions and getting work. Alongside your actor’s CV and your headshots, a well put together acting showreel is absolutely indispensable and if you haven’t got one yet, you need to make sure you get one as soon as possible.
While your CV and headshots might get an agent’s or casting director’s attention, it is your showreel that actually shows what you can do as an actor. A good showreel will lead to people giving you a chance, a bad showreel will see you dismissed within seconds. And remember, you only have one chance to make a good first impression!
So what exactly distinguishes a good acting showreel from a bad one? I’ve seen hundreds of showreels over the year and have also spoken to many top casting directors who’ve told me what they look for when viewing a showreel. I also work with the actors I teach to help them create their own acting showreels, so have plenty of experience from both sides of the process.
With that in mind, these are the lessons I’ve learned about what makes a great acting showreel and how to avoid the common mistakes.
What to put in your acting showreel
In an ideal world, you will have a load of professional work to choose from when creating your showreel. However, for most people starting out that won’t be the case. You therefore need to look at creating your own showreel from scratch. This means filming scenes specifically to edit together into a showreel that shows the range and depth of your acting.
Make sure the footage you produce is filmed by an experienced director and crew and put together by a professional editor. Your showreel needs to look professional and the best way to achieve this is to have it managed by professionals. Agents and casting directors will instantly be able to recognise the difference and high production values can really help you stand out.
As you start getting professional work, you will need to re-edit your showreel to include examples of your paid acting gigs. Just make sure you are always showing your best possible work – don’t cram stuff in for the sake of showing how much you’ve done. Remember, it’s quality over quantity!
Get the basics right
When creating your acting showreel, the same rules apply as for any acting gig. Even if you are paying a director and actors to work with you, you still need to be professional and treat the process with respect.
That means you turn up early, knowing your lines and ready to work hard. The easier you make the process for the director, the more energy they can put into getting a great performance out of you and the other actors. If you don’t know your lines, the director is likely to deal with it by simply breaking the shoot up into short segments they can edit together later. This will harm the overall quality of the performance.
You should also remember to be polite and pleasant to everyone you work with. You never know when they might turn up again at a later date in your career or who they might end up talking to you about. Always act in a way you would want top industry gatekeepers to remember you for.
Listen and be present
One of the most important skills you have to develop as an actor is the ability to listen, and listen well. If you are having an acting showreel created from scratch, this may be your first time working with a professional director. Remember that their word is the law. It’s fine to have your own ideas, but ultimately you need to trust the director to do their job and to help you do yours.
You will need to be adaptable during the filming process and understand that the director may need to film something in a different way or at different location to how it was originally envisaged. This is a standard part of the filming process and something you need to get used to dealing with.
You also need to listen and respond in the moment to your fellow actors. It’s not enough to simply recite lines, you have to mean them. Being on film can be off-putting for actors at first, but you have to get over that and learn to live in the moment. The camera will pick up on this and so will people watching your finished showreel.
Understand the technical aspects of filming
Acting on film is very different to acting on stage, so there are a number of technical elements of the process you should familiarise yourself with if you want your acting showreel to look professional.
One of the key things to get a grip on is your camera angles. Whether a particular moment is being filmed mid shot, close up, over the shoulder or wide will affect how you need to perform. The type of shot you are in dictates the level of performance you need to give. This means you need to be clear on exactly what the requirements of each shot are so you don’t end up appearing to over or under act in the finished film.
You also need to be up to speed with the demands of continuity. Any actions you take in a scene will need to be repeated in every other take. It’s also important to bear in mind that the director may film a scene 10-12 times from different angles. This means any actions you make (even small ones like fixing your hair or playing with your hands) need to be repeated in exactly the same way in every take so they can all be seamlessly stitched together in the edit.
Avoid big emotions
There is a temptation to be lured by the idea that in order to make an impression, you need to go big. However, chances are, you will make the wrong sort of impression. Film acting is generally more about subtly conveying emotions rather than feasting on the scenery. For an acting showreel, it is best to show real and subtle thought rather than big emotions.
Agents and casting directors know if someone can really act on film. They are looking for the subtlety rather than the big obvious emotions. If you do need to go big emotionally you need to be sure that it’s 100% authentic and real, otherwise it will almost certainly look terrible.
Get your professional acting career off the ground in just one year
Understanding the importance of acting showreels and how to get them right is just one of the things actors need to know to break into the industry. On our One-Year Ultimate Acting Programme, we teach you both the art of acting and also the business side of the industry. That means when you finish studying with us, you can go straight out and start getting paid acting work.
As part of the course, we will help you create a high quality acting showreel using professional equipment and crew, so you have something to show to agents and casting directors at the end of the process. We also hold an end of term ‘Champagne Showcase’ at the exclusive Industry Private Members’ Club, The Century Club, Soho in London. This event is attended by top agents and casting directors to help you show off your talents and get your foot in the door of the industry.
Places on the Ultimate Acting Programme are strictly limited and by audition only. Spaces fill up fast, so if you want to get your professional acting career off the ground in just one year, make sure to apply and audition by the next deadline.