Showreels for New Actors

A lot of new actors have a problem – they don’t have a showreel.

It’s a Catch-22 situation: they can’t get work without a showreel, and they can’t get a showreel without work.

So if you’re a new actor without any footage for a showreel, this article will tell you what you can do to make your first showreel.


To make a showreel you have 4 main options.

  1. Use existing footage you have to edit together a showreel
  2. Pay a company to film you and they produce a showreel for you
  3. Create your own footage and produce your own showreel
  4. Put together a self-tape introduction

For new actors, Option 1 isn’t viable – you don’t have the footage yet. So that leaves the other 3 options…

1. Paid showreel

Here you can pay a local company to create a showreel for you. This option will often produce a good looking showreel you can send on to casting directors.

Quite simply you need to find a local company that does this and then you sit down with them to work out the kind of showreel you’re after and the scenes you want to include, i.e. 2 or 3 short scenes of 30 seconds or so.

After you work out the scenes, the company films you in those scenes (with other actors if required) and you will end up a professional looking showreel. If the company you chose it good the tape will be colour corrected and presented to look like scenes from a few different professional production films you’ve been in.

The advantage here is that you can choose your own scenes and thus play to your strengths. If you are en emotional actor, we can see dramatic pieces full of emotion. If you are a comedic actor you can choose more amusing scenes, and so on.

The cost varies but they will often start at about € 200 for a reel.

2. Create your own showreel

If you don’t have the money to spare to get a professional showreel made, then this is the best alternative.

Before starting, make sure you know what kind of showreel you need. Take a look at this article about showreels to really understand what you need.

The idea is this. You film and make a showreel yourself. It won’t be perfect. It might not be that professional, either. But it’s better than no showreel at all!

When you’ve made it you can use your own homemade showreel in your applications until you have some genuine footage from a real film which you can use in a new, replacement, showreel.

DIY or with help?

If it’s possible, team up with people who know what they’re doing to help you make the showreel.

Tell people you know what you’re about to do and you might find a student filmmaker who wants to be a director who will swap your acting talent for a scene or two in their own director’s showreel. Or maybe your one of your friends is dating a cinematographer who will help?

Who knows – but if you can’t find anyone locally who is able or willing to help, then you need to go down the DIY route.

There are 2 things you need to think of here. The first is the practical issue of making a showreel. The second is the actual content of the showreel (which we’ll deal with below).

You obviously need a camera. The good news is that you’ve almost certainly got one you can use. These days smartphone cameras are often very high quality and for the purposes of this DIY showreel they’re fine.

Now the camera needs to be held steady. If you can buy/beg/borrow/steal a tripod or base for the camera then use it. It doesn’t have to be expensive and you can use something like this quite easily.

Important – never, ever, ever, film in portrait mode. Only ever film in landscape mode!

But.. the trouble with smartphones is that the sound quality is not normally very good. If you have no other choice then that’s all you can use. But if you can get hold of a small lapel microphone, then this will improve the quality of the sound hugely and make a lot of difference.

But let’s not forget that a bad lapel mic costing much less is still probably a better option than using the smartphone mic.

You’re also going to need a crew to film this.

Perhaps talking about a “crew” is a bit of an exaggeration. What you really need is someone to hold the camera. Although it could be your Mum or your best friend, it’s a good idea to get another actor to help out as together you’ll be able to film each other in the scene and learn off each other.

And that’s it!

Then, you also need to think about the contents of your showreel.

You want it to be as much like a film as possible and although it won’t be possible with the equipment you’ve got, you can get pretty close to it if you try.

For now, let’s suppose the showreel needs to demonstrate your dramatic acting skills in English.

First choose a scene. It should be short and to the point. Don’t forget, the casting director will likely only watch the first 10 seconds of your reel before deciding if it’s worth continuing so you have to grab their attention from the very first moment.

Let’s make a scene where you break up with your lover over the phone (that way you don’t have to have another actor with you). Write it, learn it, and practice it.

Scene opens with you on the phone already into the conversation. You are in shock when tell your lover that you don’t understand why they’re leaving you. You listen as your lover tells you something. Then you begin to cry and through your tears you tell them it was a mistake, that you were drunk, that it won’t happen again, that you’re sorry, etc. By now you’re utterly distraught and as your lover hangs up, you drop the phone and react badly.

Of course this is an idea for one type of actor – you need to play to your strengths so when you do it, write a scene that really reflects who you are. This means you need to know your type and then create a scene which will let you show it off in the best light.

Then select a good location – a room in your house is the obvious choice for the scene above.

Spend some time shooting a few practice shots and uploading them onto your computer to see how they look. Put the camera in different positions and see how you look in the scene. Check out close-up and medium shots and see what they look like.

Make sure the sound is right, too. Try with different mic positions and make sure you can sync the sound to the footage in the editor – a clapperboard is nice here but just clapping your hands once and calling the shot number is enough.

Play with the light in the room. Perhaps it works best with the curtains open; perhaps best at night. It’s often easier to have too much light in the room as in the editor you can easily make a scene darker but it’s much harder to make it lighter… so add as many lights as you can to the set!

Decide on your clothes and makeup. (And don’t forget that for those of you who don’t normally wear makeup you’ll need at least a little powder to stop your skin shining.)

And then you’re ready…

With your camera operator (i.e. your actor friend) shoot the scene 4 or 5 or 10 times till you’re happy with what you’ve done. Try with different camera positions so you have a selection to choose from when it comes to editing.

And then if your camera operator is also another actor, you might want to swap round so you film them half a dozen times so they have something for their showreel, too.

More scenes

A showreel doesn’t have to be the length of a feature film. As long as it gets going from the very first frame it will work. Ideally, perhaps, you need 2 or 3 separate scenes which together get to about 90 seconds or so.

So you should also prepare a few more scenes. Try to make them as different as you can within the same genre.

For example, alongside the scene of you crying over a breakup you can have a scene in the kitchen where you laughingly tell your friend (who can be played by the other actor) about your lover and how great they are. (Just make sure you’re wearing different clothes so it looks like a completely different moment in the film!)

Then another scene which “comes from” a different film. Maybe you in an office having a job interview? Or in a doctor’s waiting room looking at posters on the wall and maybe rushing out before the nurse comes and gets you.

You’ll notice all these scenes have one thing in common: they are easy to set up and require at most just one other actor.

Putting it together

People have different ways of editing. These days you can do it on your smartphone or tablet, but often the apps for this are a little bit awkward.

It’s usually easier to use a computer. Simply transfer all the files (video and sound) to your computer and edit it together. There are free programs that you can use here, and for a few euros you can pick up slightly more elaborate programs too.

Editing, of course, is a huge subject and if you’re new to it at the beginning you’ll have a very simple edit. Later you’ll be playing with colour correction and framing and styling and cutting and so on. It’s worth going online and reading up on these to help get the best results.

(And a brilliant side effect of doing your own editing is that you will learn ahuge amount about the practicalities of acting which will help you enormously when you go onto set and act in a real film.)

So put the best scene you have first. Then the next best. Then the next.

And you now have a short showreel where you demonstrate your skills as a dramatic actor in English.

Upload it (not password protected) to Vimeo and on your next application you link to it and of course add it to your enCAST profile!

Of course we’re not saying that your mini scenes will win an Oscar. What we are saying is that they are much better than nothing and much better than the usual “showreels” often given after an acting workshop.

When you get a real gig and some good footage, all you do is replace your DIY scene with a professional one… and then you’re on your way to getting even more work!

3. A self-tape introduction

Finally, if you really have no other choice, you can create a self-tape introduction. This will tell the production what you look and sound like.

In this case you just stand in front of a camera and talk briefly about yourself for a minute or so. Tell them who you are, where you live, what experience you have and so on.

For details on how to make a self-tape, see here.

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