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 - or in other words, who are you going to be cast as? This is a difficult one, and a question I often ask clients before I start writing their 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. When I watch a showreel for the first time, I want to see the person clearly and without distraction - I want to see the person who I am going to potentially hire. If your showreel doesn't do that, I guarantee you're already at a disadvantage because this will likely require me to follow up with you, which I probably won't do. If you don't know who you are, how can you expect someone to hire you?
Set out your ambitions
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 when I look at someone's showreel I can tell immediately who is taking it seriously and who isn't. 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. The quality of your showreel will reflect how people view you. The more time you spend on building your showreel, the greater your ambitions will appear. If you are using footage from 5/10 years ago (believe me, I've seen it), this will only continue to work against you. So make sure your showreel matches your own ambitions - it will help you get there.
There are a number of different ways you can go about obtaining footage. The first is to get cast in something. Obvious, 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? 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 like winning the lottery - as often the students are very much beginners, and are likely to either forget, break or lose something vital to filming the scene. Another option is to build a team of people you know and trust and work on something together. This may be the cheapest option, and may result in the best quality (depending on the people involved) but it's going to cause you a lot of stress and time (in my experience) - there is a lot of work involved, so be warned. And finally, you could hire a showreel company to do it all for you ;-)
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. My advice is to break down your ambitions into achievable, but slightly-just-out-of-reach targets, and then work towards them, one by one. 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, and would now consider hiring him for one of my own projects (update: I did!).
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 'How To Build 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!