Showreels produced from scratch are becoming an ever increasingly popular and easy way of getting footage, and there are several key reasons why I think you should consider getting one rather than waiting for your own footage
Even if you've been fortunate enough to get cast in something, you may be waiting round months (even years!) for that footage to arrive. When you produce your own 'showreel from scratch' you are bypassing a lot of the issues that you'd otherwise have if you decided to only use the footage from what you have been cast in. Firstly, you've got to get cast in something, which may take some time. And then you have to wait for the production to finish editing. And then, if the production is fortunate enough, you'll likely have to wait for the film or series to finish it's festival and/or theatrical run. Pay for the footage, and you get it a few days after filming. To me it seems logical, and if I were an actor, it'd be something I'd do quite regularly - regardless of whether I was being regularly cast or not. There was a time when the idea of paying to produce your own footage was met with resistance as it just wasn't the done thing, but nowadays with the advancement in cheaper, more accessible equipment, you can produce your own footage that isn't too far off professional level production quality without the need to wait months or years for it to arrive.
A lot of showreels I come across could be improved ten-fold by increasing the focus of the footage. If you've been cast in something, the chances are you'll start out in the background or as a secondary character, which means the focus and attention will be on another actor. So whilst it's great you've been cast in a big production, is the footage even going to be suitable to use in YOUR showreel? - the person watching your showreel wants to see you, after all, and not your scene partner. When you produce a 'showreel from scratch', you can take control of the scene and make sure it's 100% suitable for YOU. If it's not, you can change it. If you have a casting type in mind, the producers of the showreel should be able to cater for that, and adapt the scene so it's best suited to you - which equals great showreel material. So even though you're producing it yourself, it will likely be more beneficial than the footage you'd get from a legit production. You can make changes, and adapt the scene to make sure it shows off the best you.
Working with the filmmaker
This follows on closely from the previous tip, but by working with the filmmaker directly, you'll have a lot more say on what you want to do with the scene. Often when I'm filming showreels, a huge part of my job is to make sure the client feels comfortable - I am there for them, and not the other way around. This is beneficial to actors especially if they're just starting out, because I can walk them through the process of filming at a much more leisurely pace, which you wouldn't get on a professional set. If you got cast, the overwhelming probability is that you will only get a few takes (unless you're working with David Fincher) to get your best performance. When I'm filming, I don't move on until my client is happy. I will even insist that they look back at their takes to make sure they're satisfied with what we've achieved, which is again, something you won't get a chance to do on a professional set. By producing your own 'showreel from scratch', you should be given the opportunity to voice your satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the footage being produced. If you got cast in something, you wouldn't be able to do that. What comes back is what you get.
When I produce a 'showreel from scratch' for a client, then number one thing I am concerned with at the beginning of the project is what their casting type is. This is a huge thing to consider, and something I urge all actors to think about if they don't already know. When you produce your own footage, you can explore your different casting types, making sure it's present in your reel like a checklist. When someone watches your showreel they want to see range in ability, but also character. They want to see that you can play multiple roles, which gives the indication of ability, but also you playing your most natural self. What's always surprising to me when I watch showreels is how often I never get a sense of the actual person I am watching. But for your showreel, it is important that we see who YOU are. If you don't have that in your showreel, it could be the reason why you're struggling to land roles. With so many casting decisions happening online now, it's important you establish who you are to the viewer immediately. They need to see what they are going to be working with.
I am often met with disgruntled actors who are unhappy with the footage they have received back from productions they've been cast in. Typically this is because they'll be student production, where the main focus of the crew is to practise their craft. So what you get back is half-decent, often rubbish and unusable, footage. Filming on these types of productions still have their advantages to you as a performer (getting familiar and used to being on set for example), but very rarely does the footage come back useable, if at all! When you produce your own 'showreel from scratch', you are almost guaranteed of the quality. You can look at the websites of the companies available and make your own informed decision. It's like anything, do your research, and get good results. With many low-paid and/or student productions, you are at the hands of the people making the footage, and you can never rely on it being any good.
Lastly, updating your showreel
It's so important to consider how up-to-date your showreel is. I watched a showreel the other day and the first scene was over 5 years old. It wasn't a bad scene, but it poses too many questions for the viewer. So even if you've got your own showreel, I still think you should consider keeping it topped up regularly with new footage. You can even split the cost of a scene with another actor, so it shouldn't be too costly to do. But if you're wondering why your showreel isn't working for you, this could be why. Also, by adding scenes to your showreel regularly, it means you get the opportunity to cherry-pick your favourite and strongest work. You're not stuck with what you have, but rather, you have more to choose from - and this is what a showreel should be. Your best work. I think 'showreels from scratch' should be viewed upon the same way headshots are. It should be updated regularly.
Thank you for reading 'Why Produce Your Own 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!