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The Essentials

The casting directors of ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Captain America’ reveal common mistakes that actors make in showreels, and what you should include in yours

If done well, a showreel is your key to getting more acting work. It’s the trailer that showcases you – and your talent – and can help make a first impression on casting directors. If a picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine how much your acting showreel says about you.

A bad showreel, however, can have the opposite effect, which is why understanding what casting professionals are looking for in a showreel is vital – as is avoiding the common mistakes that actors make.

We asked members of the Casting Directors’ Guild (CDG) and the Casting Society of America (CSA), about what should be included in a showreel, along with tips on how actors can improve their reels.

What is a showreel in acting?

An acting showreel is video material of a performer acting on camera, so that casting professionals can get a better idea of who they are as an actor and what they can do.

As Thom Hammond of Hammond Cox Casting says, “It’s not about having a great film showreel [or] lots of television drama. […] It’s just having something that we can see of you on camera.”

It’s important to remember that an acting showreel should be simple and practical. It isn’t a short film – it doesn’t need to be beautiful or have music. Thom stresses that it just needs to be, “Some quick, accurate video.”

How long should an acting showreel be?

It’s recommended that you don’t have too much footage on your showreel. Frank Moiselle CSA advises that, “Two minutes is long enough, three minutes is plenty.”

Casting professionals are busy people and won’t have time to sit through showreels that are much longer than this.

What scenes should you include in a showreel?

When putting together your showreel, Lucinda Syson CDG advises, “You do need, where possible, to gear the showreel around yourself.”

Other than that, casting professionals recommend that you include the following:

A strong opening

As with anything, you want to hook those watching your acting showreel right from the very beginning, so Victor Jenkins CDG recommends that you should, “Always start with your best piece of work.”

Not only will this ensure that your best performance is seen, but it will also make the casting director want to watch the rest of your showreel, too.

Give casting directors what they want to see and dazzle them with your acting talent from the start. Kelly Valentine Hendry CDG says, “I don’t like having to skip through three or four minutes in order to find somebody’s best work.”

Include recent acting material

Lucinda Syson CDG says, “It’s good to have as much material of recent times [as possible], don’t make it all old material.”

Footage from productions you’ve recently worked on will show casting professionals that you’re currently working and in demand.

Your best acting work

This may seem obvious, but a showreel shouldn’t be a compilation of every piece of your acting work. It’s a highlight reel of your best performances; an advert with the aim of selling yourself as an actor to the casting professional watching. Rachel Desmarest stresses, “Don’t put all the stuff you’ve ever done into one showreel.”

Your aim, Priscilla John CDG reminds us, is to include, “Something that makes [us] want to see more.” Similarly, April Webster CSA urges actors to only include, “Good material, the best of, even if it’s one short scene.”

Be picky with the footage you have. Think about what each clip you include says about you as an actor, and make sure it’s your best acting work. Kahleen Crawford CDG warns, “There may be some things that you’d love to have on there, but be quite brutal with yourself.”

What shouldn’t you include in a showreel?

Once you’ve put together the perfect acting showreel using the advice above, here are some common and easily avoided mistakes that you should check you haven’t made:

Don’t use montages and music

The point of your showreel is to showcase your acting skills – not what you can do with editing software on a computer. So, avoid including a montage in your acting showreel. As Thom Hammond says, “Montages are all about editors, good showreels are all about actors.”

And he isn’t the only casting director who dislikes them.

Victor Jenkins CDG asks for, “No montages, because we don’t want to scroll through them,” and April Webster CSA adds, “I would rather there’s more time for the scenes, so I can get a nice variation of different roles that you may have played.”

Likewise, adding music to your showreel will take away from your performance. Jane Anderson CDG stresses, “I don’t care what you look like to music,” and Frank Moiselle CSA agrees: “I don’t need a montage of musical stuff. I need the scenes.”

Keep this in mind when putting together your showreel. Montages and music are, in Kelly Valentine Hendry CDG’s words, “Just a waste of time.”

Make sure it’s clear who you are in a scene

You should make sure you’re only including scenes that focus on you and the character you’re playing in your showreel. With only a small window to catch a casting professional’s attention, you don’t want them to spend it wondering where you are in a busy scene.

This doesn’t mean you should start editing other people out of your scenes. One other person that you’re talking to is fine. The important thing, as Debbie McWilliams CDG says, is that you, “Don’t confuse [your showreel] with a scene with lots of other people.”

Don’t include scenes that don’t show you at your best

If you feel like your acting showreel isn’t long enough, padding it out with footage where you’re not at your best won’t help. Sharon Bialy CSA says, “If you don’t have two or three scenes, one good one is enough, and that’s really all you need.”

Similarly, Luci Lenox advises, “If you haven’t got good material, never show anything that’s not going to show you in a favourable light.”

If you’re a performer with only a few usable scenes, don’t use them just for the sake of having a showreel. If you’re selling yourself short, it’s better not to have one at all.

How to upload your showreel to Spotlight

To upload a showreel to Spotlight, all you need to do is:

  1.  Sign into your Spotlight account using your registered email address and password.
  2.  Open the left-hand menu by clicking on the three horizontal lines icon at the top of the page (it may already be open), and then click ‘Video’ under the ‘Manage media’ heading.
  3.  You should now be on the showreel management page. To add a new showreel, click ‘Add showreel’ and then ‘Confirm’.
  4.  Click on ‘Click to select a file or drag here’, and then select the showreel from where it is stored on your device.
  5.  Don’t forget to add a title (such as ‘Doritos Commercial’ or ‘Dance reel’) so that casting professionals have some context for what they’ll be watching.
  6.  Finally, click ‘Save changes’. The showreel will appear on your showreel management page after the processing is complete.

If you experience any issues during the upload process or have any further questions, take a look at our managing your Spotlight media library FAQs or visit our how to upload a showreel help page.

From all of us at Spotlight, a huge thank you to Thom Hammond, Frank Moiselle, Victor Jenkins, Kelly Valentine Hendry, Lucinda Syson, Rachel Desmarest, Priscilla John, April Webster, Kahleen Crawford, Sharon Bialy, Jane Anderson and Debbie McWilliams for their helpful tips on showreels.

Take a look at our website for more showreel help and tips from casting directors.

Image credit: Joanna Nicole