Once you've started thinking about producing your own 'showreel from scratch', I believe the most important thing you need to decide first is: What's my casting type?
Have you ever heard someone say, "I always get cast as...", with a hint of frustration? Well, fortunately for anyone who is always getting cast as anything must mean they are working regularly! Yes, casting types can be viewed as a somewhat restricting label for an actor, but if you're just starting out and want to take your career seriously and work consistently, I think it's vitally important that you know what your natural casting type is, because it will greatly inform what roles you're more likely to succeed in securing. So if you're thinking of producing a 'showreel from scratch', the first thing you need to do is understand how people view you and where they would 'put' you. The result will likely be your natural casting type, and my recommendation is to make sure this footage is up front and first in your showreel - casting directors and agents want to see YOU, after all. If you don't demonstrate your natural casting type in your showreel, it will muddy your cast-ability, and you may find that you're not getting as many opportunities as you should.
How do I know what my casting type is?
Perhaps the easiest way of finding out what your casting type is would be to ask friends and family how they view you. What sort of personality do you have? Are you bubbly? Quiet? Thoughtful? Extroverted? Writing up and listing the replies you get would hopefully give you a good sense of your natural casting type - think of it like a dating profile but less embarrassing. I must stress that the info you get back doesn't necessarily dictate the roles you're only ever going to get as your casting type will change with age, but if you want to work, you've got to take advantage of what you have and what sets you apart from someone else. Once you start to work regularly, then you can branch out and try different things, but all the successful actors I know work regularly in the same or similar sort of roles. This can be viewed as stereotyping, yes, but most of the industry works this way - not only in low-budget, student, independent film, but also for secondary characters in larger productions (we want to know who they are quickly without much need for backstory), and if you are or have a stereotype, then perhaps you shouldn't necessarily see it as a negative thing. It's best to accept that it's how the casting process works and try to take advantage of it. As a producer of my own content, I am often looking for an 'easy' casting (especially for the day-players or smaller roles) as I want to know that someone can do the role without much work or effort - call me lazy! But I don't have the budget to spend weeks and weeks in rehearsals trying to get someone to do a role they're not naturally suitable for. The best performances are always the ones I didn't have to do much directing.
I know my casting type but I want to branch out
This is where a range of footage in your showreel comes in useful. Once you've established your natural casting type (i.e. what types of roles you're more likely to get) then you can think about branching out and demonstrating your acting ability through range. I appreciate watching a reel that starts off with a clear and precise presentation of the actor in question and their natural-self, but then goes further to offer something different - because repeating the same character over and over in your showreel may actually harm your chances of getting cast. Often I suggest making sure we 'do something different' with the character which will give my client an opportunity to demonstrate their range-ability. By demonstrating range you also demonstrate that you can act outside your casting type, which is also a great skill to have (perhaps later down the line) as it opens you up to a range of different roles. Watching a showreel that has someone playing the sarcastic housemate, but then the distraught son, followed by an angry car driver, demonstrates a whole range of characters and situations. If done well, this will show a casting director that you probably have the ability to take direction on set if needed - making you more hireable!
Would you consider demonstrating a variety of accents a good thing?
An accent is probably the first thing someone is going to notice and use to judge your casting type. I predict that a fair amount of people are going to disagree with me, but sorry, it's true. Accents bring with them a whole history of stereotypes, characters and general impressions that we may not be able to get away from. Often I will suggest that you use what you have naturally available and 'own it' as it will likely separate you from the rest of the pack and make you more rememberable - be proud of who you are. I naturally have an Essex accent, and whilst I've lived in Brighton for over 10 years, it's still there in the background, and so I can amp it up or soften it when required. It would be harder for me to put on a 'posh' or 'well-educated' accent for example, but that's not to say with some work that I could do it - but if you were casting a project, it's easier to go with the correct accent rather than ask someone to work on it (especially for low-paid stuff). But if you want to work consistently, whatever accent you want to demonstrate, it needs to be 100% spot on. If your attempt at an American accent is off, even by 1%, the audience will be able to tell and you probably won't get cast. My advice is the same as before, if you want to work consistently as an actor, you've got to work with what you've got. You can either 'up' it or 'soften' it, but know your accent and what connotations it may have with an audience and use it to your advantage.
Be ready to take direction
Just because you've been hired in a role you feel comfortable in, i.e. your casting type, don't neglect to do the necessary script and work on the character to make them feel unique. If you can bring yourself to the role, great, but your showreel will suffer if you're always doing the same character. Try to treat each role as something new to discover - the producers will probably prefer something unique as well. This is a difficult one because you've probably been hired because they've seen something in you they feel is in the character written, but from my own experience, whilst I want the actor to 'bring themselves' to the role, I also want to create something new and fresh, so often I'll chuck in a bit of direction to keep the actor on their toes. I recently had an actor say "but I don't think my character would do that", which in hindsight you could argue is good because it suggests the actor knows their character, but you have to be careful with this attitude because it means you're going to fall back on what 'you know' rather than finding something new. It will result in the same performance over and over, which most filmmakers will want to avoid.
Lastly, don't be scared of your natural casting type
Working on your acting-ability is paramount if you want to have a successful career, but if you look at your favourite actors, you'll likely be able to describe them and who they are in 2 or 3 words. This is their 'casting type', and I guarantee they used it to their advantage. Successful actors know how the audience are going to judge them, and this is what casting directors look for when casting. They want a 'quick in' for the audience, and casting type is that key. Know how people view you, and how you come across to people you've just met. Encouraging this will help you carve a place for yourself in the industry. If you don't know your casting type you're probably going to apply for roles you are not suitable for and then start to think why you're not getting anywhere. If this is you, perhaps consider re-evaluating your casting type and make sure you know what it is.
Thank you for reading 'What's My Casting Type?'
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!