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Careers Clinic: Should I collaborate on a showreel?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ve been trying to put together a showreel for a while now, and have tried the ‘cheap’ options with varying success (sadly the option of a proper screen part hasn’t materialised yet, perhaps not unrelated to the lack of a decent showreel to secure such work).

Like a lot of actors, I have done one or two student films of varying quality, and one indie film that now seems to be in limbo with no footage in sight.

Two friends of mine have been trying the same route and have been contacted by a company that is offering to do a showreel for all of us if we are in each other’s scenes, and split the cost three ways.

This does sound like a plan, but even one third of the cost is still a big chunk of my savings.

The other two actors have already selected scenes they want to do from the suggested scripts, but if I’m honest, they look to me more like mini-tasters for their own ‘fantasy starring roles’ as opposed to something that will get any of us some paid work.

They are pressing me for a final decision – what are your thoughts?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE It was once the case that the only actors who had showreels were those who had done some ‘real’ TV or film work, and the suggestion of specially created showreel material would have been viewed in pretty much the same way as vanity publishing used to be in the book trade.

All this has changed of course, but despite bespoke showreel material now being not only accepted but generally encouraged, the fact that obtaining it is ‘less expensive’ doesn’t mean it still isn’t a financial stretch for the average actor, which is why collaborative approaches to producing it are very sensible.

Like any collaboration that you are investing time and finances in, it is important to consider the project from a business perspective. What made an old-fashioned ‘vanity published’ book different from the many self-published books that are entirely viable commercially, is that in the former case the author was paying – usually through the nose – for the privilege of publishing a book for which there was no market and for which they often had no aptitude for writing.

Sadly, a lot of bespoke showreels fall into the same category. Whether it is your own reel, or one you are producing collectively, you need to be absolutely sure that you are being seen in roles that you could believably be cast in, in productions other than the showreel itself.

You also need to make sure that the ‘weight’ of the scenes really is distributed evenly, so that your role is central to at least one or two scenes, rather than just being a nodding head or bland human prop in somebody else’s showcase.

Without becoming a diva, you also have to ask yourself how you rate the other performers’ screen acting skills. Would you employ them to be in your reel based on their existing screen work rather than simply because you are all friends and sharing the cost? They should be applying the same criteria to you, of course.

Unfortunately, the quality of any showreel scene is usually at the level of the weakest actor in it, and if there is a conspicuous difference in acting skills, everybody’s money is likely to be wasted as far as generating work is concerned.

It goes without saying that a critical look at as many of the company’s previous reels as possible will help with your decision, and if you don’t feel this is the right company to go with, don’t be either ‘sales talked’ by the company or guilt-tripped by your friends into going ahead.

Taking your time and building a reel that works for you will ultimately work better for casting directors, too.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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