So many people want to break in as film actors, but few take the time to fully research the right way to present and market themselves. Here’s our special to-do list of how ‘not-to’ make an actor’ showreel.

1. They start the reel with two people of the same gender having a conversation.

I know that you know who you are. And your friends know who you are. But the person watching really doesn’t, even if they’ve seen your headshot. I can’t tell you how many reels I’ve seen that begin with people who are not only of the same gender, but even the same hair colour! If I see two blonde woman talking in an opening showreel scene; sure I may want to cast one of them, but it may not be you!

Your reel needs to very specifically explain to us WHO YOU ARE. This is the most common mistake I see on showreels, and it’s stopping you from getting work.


2. They have a montage.

Some actors seemingly think a showreel is a bad music video where the same person keeps reappearing but with different clothes on and different hairstyles.

It’s not.

A Showreel is where you show your acting. The way to do this is to have scenes of you acting.


3. They put bad stuff at the end of the reel.

This is like saving the worst part of a movie for the end sequence.

Okay fair enough that happens in movies all the time. But you want your Showreel to leave people feeling positive about you. Don’t give them a chance to think you’re amateur. If it’s no good, drop it!


4. They show too much diversity.

You can’t do everything. You want to give casting directors/agents a sense of who you are. If you’re strong in comedy as well as drama, that’s great – and you can show that in your reel but don’t try and be absolutely everything.

I think actors often try too hard to show they can do everything, before they’ve shown they can do something, and do that something very well. Be specific – casting directors will thank you for it.


5. They keep the reels running for far too long. 

This isn’t Lord of the Rings, it’s an acting showreel. You want people to get from beginning to end before they’re distracted by their Twitter notifications.

If your reel is three minutes, it’s too long. You can show an awful lot in only two minutes, even one and a half.


6. They use grainy footage.

This is a crime used by so many actors, and worse, it is so often how they begin their showreels!

Showreels work best when we can grasp what you look like. If you filmed a student film in a basement in near complete darkness, this is not a great way to show who you are.


7. They over-rely on ‘Celeb’ Footage.

You had a scene with Alan Rickman, that’s great. You should be proud. But you need to be careful how you use it in your Showreel.

The wrong thing to do is have a piece of it at the beginning of your reel, another clip in the middle, and yet another at the end.

This is too much! Be classy. You want to give the impression that yes, you did a great job with a great actor, but you’re not too fussed– it’s just one piece of work. The second a casting director sees you using too much of it, they’ll think “right, this is all you’ve done.”


8. They put their ‘Background Artist’ work on the reel. 

You did a scene where you stood next to Julia Roberts. This is amazing! I’m jealous. But it has no place in your showreel.

Even if you got to say a word, like “yes,” chances are this was two seconds of screen-time and it doesn’t tell us anything about your acting skills, your casting type, nothing.

Maybe if you’ve been an extra on twenty films and you’re always in close-up, maybe make some kind of ‘Background Artist Reel’, that could be fun. But don’t fill your acting reel with shots of the side of your head being somewhat near Julia Roberts.


9. They don’t kill their darlings. 

Maybe you love a scene you did because you wrote it. Or because it stars your ex, who you are still in love with. Or maybe your hair looked particularly good that day.

We all suffer from this — thinking a thing is better than it is because it happens to be a personal favourite.

But you have to be RUTHLESS! If it doesn’t serve a purpose, ditch it. I get so much work re-editing reels I’d already edited because the clients say “you were right after all, that scene was pointless!”

I think this is why actors shouldn’t edit reels themselves and they shouldn’t get their partners to do it either. You someone who is impartial.


10. They wait too long to update them. 

There’s always one more scene you’re waiting on. One clip that some director promised to send you nine months ago. Or maybe you’re just hiding away until someone finally puts you in something where you get to act a lot better than you did in that last thing you worked on. This is an endless loop and before you know it, you’re seventy-eight.


A showreel is a constantly evolving thing, like your hair-style. You might like how it is now, but it could always use a little trim.

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About 

Daniel Johnson is a screenwriter, director and shoots showreels for up and coming actors.
http://www.danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk
@danieljohnsonuk