As an actor, a showreel should perhaps be your number one priority when it comes to taking your career seriously and obtaining jobs. Without a showreel you'll be at a huge disadvantage
Who are you?
As simple as it sounds, in order to build your showreel, you need to understand who you are. This is a difficult one, and a question I often ask clients before I start writing scripts, because it's important to understand that you (your character, your face, your gender, your body-image, your everything) is going to determine what roles you're going to get - this is called your casting type. So the first thing you should do is understand what it is that is going to get you jobs (especially at the beginning of your career), and assuming that's why you want a showreel. At the beginning stage you may need a bit of trial and error. You may dream of playing a certain role, but with some harsh truths thrown in, you may realise that role isn't right for you. Perhaps you're someone else in the cast and that is totally 100% fine. As long as you get a job, right? Once you've established yourself and you're working regularly, then you can begin to branch off and try new things. When I watch a showreel, I want to see the person. I want to know who I am going to be potentially hiring. If your showreel doesn't do that, I guarantee you're already at a disadvantage. Some may say that some footage is better than nothing, but this isn't always true. There's really no excuse why you don't have some material - especially with the latest iPhones shooting 4K (pick up some decent audio equipment before doing this though, and learn to capture great sound). If you don't know who you are, how can you expect someone else to hire you?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing acting as a hobby. Getting the odd job here and there, working for fun, and enjoying being around creative people - this perhaps should be the only reason we do what we do. But if you want to take your career seriously, then you need to take your showreel seriously. The longer you leave it to get good footage, the further away you'll be from your ambitions. I can't teach you to be productive, it's totally up to you how much effort you put it. But recently I edited a killer-showreel, and it was a joy it to edit. She had so much footage to choose from, we were able to tell a 'performance-narrative' with her showreel. She's this, but she can do this, but oh look, there's this as well. Admittedly, she's been in the industry for 10+ years, and so has accumulated a lot of footage (and she hasn't changed in appearance much over the last five or so years), but it's going to put her at a huge advantage to her competitors. When looking at showreels I can tell immediately who is taking it seriously - which is an important distinction we need to make. Anyone can claim to be an actor, blimey, I could change my twitter-bio today and start a new career. But that doesn't mean everyone is going to get hired. You need to set out your ambitions, and make sure your showreel mirrors that. If you're not getting seen or cast, perhaps ask yourself, does my showreel look as though I am taking my career seriously? Because as a producer, that's the only actor I want to work with.
There are a number of different ways you can go about obtaining footage. The first is to get cast in something. Obviously, right? But how do you get cast if you've never been in anything before? Audition, self-tape, beg? Maybe. But if you don't have a showreel, you are already at a disadvantage, because I guarantee the other 95% of the 100s of other applicants do. When I'm casting, I look for excuses to get rid of people from the list. Not having a showreel is the first cull. Sorry, but I don't have time to follow up and work out the best way for you to send a self-tape to me. The quickest way to deal with this is to self-tape by yourself, off your own back, using your own initiative, and send a youtube or vimeo link instead - and just explain why you don't have a showreel yet, but that you did the self tape instead. It can't hurt your chances, right? But don't explain to the production that you ARE going to do it, just do it. It could land you the job. Beyond getting cast and self-taping, the next way of obtaining footage is through student films. Now, this is rough terrain. I personally wouldn't rely on getting decent footage from a student, but on the rare occasion an actor has come away with something useable, I'd consider this winning the lottery. So this is the risk you take, but I would see student films as an opportunity to practice and learn about being on set - but don't expect any footage from it. Another way to obtain footage is to ask friends to film something for you. This is perhaps the most cost-affective way of doing it, because you're all working for free and hopefully gaining some showreel material from it. However, who is going to schedule it? Whenever someone says they're going to do it this way, I admire their ambition, but I know how hard it is to get a bunch of people in the same room together. You'll need to find a script, find the production team, find an editor. There is a lot of work involved, be warned.
Work, work and work
This is a personal mantra of mine, and perhaps the only piece of honest advice I should give. I meet a lot of people who complain about the industry being rigged against them, which may be true, but admitting defeat isn't going to get you very far is it? At some point you have to accept the deck you're dealt and then just get on with it. And the way you get on with it is to work. There's nothing more you can do. The more you work, the greater chance you have of becoming successful (whatever that means to you). If you don't work then I can only imagine that you won't get very far. Now, working can consist of may different things, and I think that's why it's such a difficult subject to talk about. It's kinda abstract, right? To work. Because what does it actually mean? Well, the way I work is to just write a list of things I want to do, and then to do them. The list is forever growing, and I never reach the end, because once I've done most of the list, I sit down and think about what else I'd like to do. They have to be achievable targets, because what's the point otherwise? But they also have to be ambitious - slightly out of your comfort zone. It could be as simple as 'get cast in a short film'. Okay, so how are you going to do that? Apply, okay, good. How are you going to apply? What website are you going to use? Do you need to sign up? Is anything casting at the moment? To say you want to get cast in a short film is pointless if you don't set out a way for yourself to actually get what you want. Break down your ambitions into achievable targets, and then work towards them. If you do this everyday, little by little, you'll be amazed at what you'll achieve in a year, I promise.
Improve and then improve some more
Kinda like the previous point, to improve is an abstract idea and one that I can't really teach you or advise on how to do it. We're all different, and what works for me, may not work for you. But improving can only help your chances, right? So you need to think long and hard about how you may go about improving. I can only talk from experience, and I can honestly say that I don't feel like I've improved much from the day I started - but this obviously isn't true. All I'm saying is that it is very hard to monitor progress and improvement, but that doesn't mean you should stop trying. Recently I had the pleasure of working with an actor who I hadn't seen for a while. I'd worked with him a couple of times on showreel scenes in the past when he was just starting out. Personally, at the beginning, I could see a lot of room for improvement to say the least, and I doubted that he'd be able to 'make it' in the industry. However, a year or so later, I worked with him again, and his improvement was incredible - I felt like I was now working with someone who knew what they were doing. In that year-gap, he had basically said yes to every project going, and practiced as much as he could. The improvement was plain to see, and I was actually quite chuffed for him. He knew how to conduct himself on set, he waiting for action, he understood the angles and lens size, and he even took direction and implemented it - which takes some doing, and isn't easy. So all I would say is, practice and you'll improve. Then you can use this new footage as building blocks, slowly getting your showreel better and better. See it like a game - there is always the next level, but you've got to complete this one first.
Lastly, building a showreel from scratch
This is the part of the article where I convince you that filming a showreel from scratch with me is going to be the best thing you ever do... It may well be, but I'm not up for the hard sell. My website hopefully demonstrates my services, and so I don't need to convince you about my credentials. But personally, I would use a showreel company if I wanted a quick and easy way of obtaining footage. There are plenty out there to choose from, ranging in price and quality, so choose carefully. But if you pick a decent one, it can really improve your chances of getting cast in the future. I think showreels and obtaining new footage should be as important as getting new headshots - if not, more so. I never make a decision on casting based on someone's headshot - even if it was taken on an iPhone. All I want to see is that person acting, and acting well. Even if it's just one scene to start, that's probably better than nothing. And you can even split the cost with another actor, so it shouldn't be that expensive. Building your showreel from scratch is an advantage you should consider. You should build year on year, working and improving, getting it better and better - it's never complete. That's if you're taking your career seriously.
Thank you for reading 'Building Your Own Showreel'
I've been making films for over ten years now, so my thoughts and opinions have formed from that practical experience. Therefore my biggest piece of advice is to go out there and try it for yourself - it's the best way to learn. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, I'd love to hear from you. Tweet @DHshowreels with your suggestions!