FILMING A SHOWREEL FROM SCRATCH
I don't know much about how other showreel companies operate, so I am going to explain how filming a 'showreel from scratch' works mostly from how I do it, what works for me and little tid-bits and gossip from clients
Which company to go for?
There are plenty of options out there - just spend a few minutes googling and you'll be inundated with names, promises and an important decision to make. So, which company to go for? Your needs are likely going to be different to another persons, so you have to decide what it is you're looking for. Personally, I see a lot of naff scenes, thrown together without much thought or care, as well as, cookie-cutter scenes, scenes that are more about the DP than the script, scenes that are clearly rushed, or just out right poor quality. All these things go a long way to distracting the viewer from what they should be watching... you! The scenes shouldn't be about the showreel company, so it's my recommendation to avoid anyone who is either too expensive, or too 'showy'. There are some advantages to going for a popular or well-known name, but is that really going to get you a job? Probably not. Your acting will though - which is what a good showreel company should know. So when you're looking at companies, try and spot the ones that look like they've got the actor in mind with the scenes they produce. Testimonials and reviews are also a great way of figuring out who is best for you. I work with a lot of newbie actors, and so a lot of what I do is tailored towards that demographic. I spend a lot of time getting to know the actor, and making sure they feel comfortable with the process - it's why I write these blogs. Sometimes the popular name isn't always the right fit. There are plenty of companies out there, so choose wisely - the power is in your hands!
The script, the script, the script
The script is everything. Well, not quite. But it's pretty important! I've watched many showreels that have bad writing, and it's a big no-no, especially when you're filming your own 'showreel from scratch' there's really no excuse but to get the script spot on. When you're cast in a production you have very little control over the words or dialogue. Occasionally the director may suggest you can ad-lip, or make it up a bit, but this rarely happens - mostly for continuity reasons and saving time on set. So if you're producing your own scripts, you got to take great care over the scripts. Whilst bad writing is really distracting and off putting, if the script is bad, it won't give you the platform you need to perform the character you want to demonstrate in your reel. In my experience, a lot of scripts are either ridiculous and over the top, or too long winded (and sometimes both). With a showreel script you really don't have time to do much else apart from the thing you want to demonstrate, so exposition and backstory, unnecessary establishing shots or blocking, and dialogue that sounds like how no-one would ever speak, are just some of the ways a script can trip you up. I don't want to give away all my trade secrets, but it's fair to say that I spend a lot of time and put in a lot of thought and attention to the scripts I write. It isn't as simple as just writing a one-scene-fits-all type thing, because then everyone is just performing the same scene! I like to get to know my client first, and ask some important questions that enables me to tailor the script to their casting type and ideas. I then give an opportunity for my client to feedback and I'll make any changes they feel are necessary. I've written hundreds of 2-page scripts, some of which can be found on my website, so experience is key to making sure you get the script you want - but don't be afraid to say if your script isn't right. It's perhaps the most important aspect to your showreel scenes.
Scene partners and locations
Personally, I wouldn't trust a company that promises they'll sort these out for you, because I guarantee they'll be rushed and left to the last minute. I've heard horror stories of clients being left without a scene partner because the company they originally chose to go with couldn't find someone in time. I've also been told stories about the scene partner being totally wrong for the scene and character - both of which will have a negative affect on your showreel from scratch, obviously. That's typically why I think it's a good idea that a client provides their own scene partners - someone they know, is suitable for the written role, and can be trusted. If on the odd occasion they don't know anyone, or would prefer to work with strangers, I open the casting up to social media and my mailing list. This way my client can choose their preferred option. Scene partners are a huge part of a 'showreel from scratch' and their importance shouldn't be neglected. The same is true for locations! Personally I don't provide this service because I don't want to film duplicate scenes. There are only so many times I can film outside my house or in my kitchen before the scenes lose their quality. I don't like doing it. And that's why I think it's beneficial for all involved to do it the way I do. Locations don't have to be complicated, but a bit of thought goes a long way to making your showreel production values that much better. I've seen scenes where they've tried to shoot a restaurant scene in the living room, which I think is such a bad idea - just make the living room part of the scene! So pay particular attention to the companies who offer both these services in the price you pay, because they may not be all they're cracked up to be.
I want to say this is the most important part, but each point is, right? It's all important. Because if you get any of these things wrong and it will surely have a negative affect on your showreel. Personally, I've just updated all my gear - visual, audio, post-production, to make sure I am keeping up with industry standard. This is a costly endeavour, but one I feel is absolutely essential to making sure my client gets the best possible footage that is going to last. Therefore I film in 4K as standard, at no extra cost to my client, because I know this is this the right thing to do. The equipment that is used to film your scenes is important, but so is how it's used. The great thing about scouting showreel companies is that you can watch some of their examples - be aware of the ones that don't have many examples, and note that some companies don't put all their scenes on. So there is no guarantee that you'll get exactly what you're looking at, but you'll get a good sense of the quality. When it comes to the actual filming day, I try to pay particular attention to the needs of my client. I understand that I'm likely more experienced than them so it's my job to walk them through what is going to happen. I don't like to rush, and I want everyone to feel comfortable. Inevitably they'll be some nerves, so I see it as my job to ease those and to try and make the day an enjoyable one. I give my clients an opportunity to rehearse with the scene partner and we will block the scene. I only move on once my client has had an opportunity to watch back their takes to tell me they are happy to. The day is about you, not the showreel company. If you're not happy about something, you need to say. You're paying for it after all.
This is where the magic happens! All your clips are taken and compiled into a sort of 'best of' your performance. It shocks me to hear that some showreel companies only do one or two takes, but I guess you get what you pay for. I try my best to make sure I've got the best possible performance from my client, which then gives us options in the edit. I also try and throw in a bit of direction if possible and/or needed, which again gives us more options. There are an infinite amount of ways a scene can be played, but there's only one correct way (I think David Fincher said that). It is the editors job to find that way within your performance - but only if the footage allows them to. So therefore the edit is extremely important to making sure you get the possible scene(s) for your showreel. Typically, I edit what I think works best from the takes we have, but then I give an opportunity to my clients to feedback (like I do with the scripts). If they don't like something, I will try and change it if I can. The edit also includes a full sound mix and colour grade which goes a long way to make the scenes look professional. I pride myself on a quick turnaround without compromising on quality, but I've heard of people waiting weeks, or even months, for their edited scene. It really (really) shouldn't take this long. If you are warned about there being a delay of more than a week or two, I would suggest asking for a discount on the price you've paid - you're paying for a 'showreel from scratch' and you should get the edited scenes pretty soon after you film. If not, you need to ask the company why not.
Lastly, build on what you have
I've said this many times throughout this blog series, but I feel like repeating it once more here. Your showreel should never be finished. There is always something you can improve or build on, so once you've got your showreel together, I'm sorry to say, but you need to start thinking about what's next. What's missing? What could improve it and how do you do it? Seeking opinions and listening to the honest ones is a great way of realising what you've achieved and what perhaps you've missed. Also, as you get older (it happens to us all, don't worry), your casting type is going to change. If your showreel is a few years old, this is probably going to start working against you. You need to keep it up-to-date with fresh, new footage. It should be an ongoing process. Do this, and you'll have a great showreel from scratch! Therefore look to build a relationship with a company, and ask about a discount for returning customers.
Thank you for reading 'Filming A Showreel From Scratch'
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!