Stop the press. I’m about to bust some showreel myths for you! This is a topic that gets talked about A LOT. I guarantee at every workshop, masterclass or coaching session the number one question that gets asked is about showreels. 

Performing artists want to answers to questions like;

‘I don’t have a showreel. How do I get into acting?’

‘What do you put in a showreel?’

‘What’s a showreel?’

‘I don’t have any professional work, what do I do?!’

‘Should I be paying a lot of money for a showreel?’

And I answer;

‘Two scenes to start and keep building.’

‘Start with your strengths. If you can have 1 x comedy and 1 x drama then great! If not, go for  2 x drama or 2 x comedy scenes that are contrasting.’

‘A one-stop-shop of your body of work for film and tv.’

‘Not yet..start with self-tapes!’

‘In short, no. But…’

It’s great to have a flashy high production showreel when you’ve accumulated a body of professional work. By professional work I mean work with professional production companies in film, television and theatre rather than, ‘I paid someone to make it look like I was on set’. There is a huge difference between that kind of professional work and indie or student productions and of course, paying for a showreel scene. That’s not to say that they don’t have their value. There are just a few pros and cons to consider. A topic for another day!

So what do you do about footage?

  1. Find two great scenes in different genres. Drama and comedy work well as a start. 
  2. Work on them with a good acting coach OR work them yourself (if you have the skills to back it up, be honest here) to a high standard.
  3. Film the scenes using either your camera phone (more recent phone models have the best cameras!), a snazzy camera and mic set up, hiring a self-tape studio or find a friend with some equipment. Offer to help them in future as a thank you!
  4. .Edit your two scenes

Current industry trends enable artists to submit self-tape style scenes to boost casting submissions, for when they are agent hunting or to showcase their skill. One comedy and one drama. No gimmicks or high production value are necessary. You on camera with good lighting, good sound and great acting will get you into the audition space. Casting directors and agents want to see if you can act without the bells and whistles.

You’ve started creating a body of work, your next job is to keep building it. 

Go to class, keep working on scenes, find the ones that pop for you and tape those. Eventually, you’ll have a scene that you’ve smashed out and want to take to the next level. Have a conversation with your agent or a mentor and discuss whether or not to embark on filming with a high production value. Or, perhaps, a self-test style scene is getting you through the door. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

You’ve also got the option of ‘showreel courses’ and to use showreel production companies. Is it essential? Not really. Is it good to know they exist? Yes. Do you have friends who have great equipment and can you pull some resources together? Potentially!

Casting directors will watch scenes produced using a phone with good sound, lighting and great acting. You do not have to have a high production value showreel and you don’t have to show them everything you’ve done. However, if that is the eventual goal, know that you have options.

What if you do have pro footage to play around with?

If you do have decent professional footage you can definitely edit it into a traditional showreel. Be strategic about this. Pick the footage that showcases the type of actor you are and the type of work you’re after. There’s no need to shove that TVC you did in there just to show you’ve done TVCs. I mean, is it really necessary to show casting directors that you can react to a delicious burger? Maybe not!

I’ll say it again. It is not essential to show casting directors every single thing you’ve done. If you’re scraping at bits and pieces that are subpar my advice is don’t go there! Take a step back and stick to two scenes. Pick the best moments with the best acting and work on building your reel from there.

Here’s an extra tip!

It’s trending to have your scenes as separate files so that agents can be more direct in their submissions. Basically, they get to go, ‘here’s the drama scene for the dramatic production/ dramatic role’.  As opposed to, ‘here’s the showreel now scroll to 1:30 for their drama scene’. 

See where I’m going here? You want to think, ‘what’s the most efficient way to get me through the door?’

Don’t wanna just take my word for it?

Gain comfort in knowing that you don’t need an expensive showreel or self-tape set up to get your foot in the door.  

Take this quote from the reputable Australian casting director, Nikki Barrett, when asked about actors and whether actors with less technological expertise are at a disadvantage.

“No. Doing a good audition on a self-tape is exactly the same as doing a good audition in the room, it’s just that you’re filming it yourself. That is the whole difference. We’re not going to bring someone in because their technology was great.

I’ve watched atrocious self-tapes, but if I see something interesting, I will go back and ask that person to retake or try to find some way around it. 

People at our end don’t expect super-high technological quality. We’re used to watching tapes done on iPhones and things like that. So long as we can see you and hear you, we don’t really care how fancy it is.” – Nikki Barrett, Australian Casting Director, Medium Equity Magazine 

The takeaway?

I’ve heard numerous reputable casting directors directly tell performers that it is not essential to have an expensive reel. It’s not about high production value tapes. All they want to see is the truth. The truth of who you are as an actor.

Start with two scenes, film them self test style and keep building from there. You’ll add more scenes, eliminate others and eventually you’ll find your groove. You’ll even get to add and accumulate pro footage. After all, that’s the end game, isn’t it? 

You got this!

Have more questions about showreels or anything else industry related? Sign up to The Artists Hustle, follow us on Instagram and Facebook and stay connected. 

Find out more about The Artists Hustle- Business Course here.