Dear West End Producer: ‘Do casting directors watch showreels? Are they useful?’
Showreels are very useful indeed. And it is common that casting directors expect actors to have one. It is a quick and easy way for people to see what actors look and sound like on screen, and crucially to make sure they don’t have ‘dead eyes’ (with nothing going on behind the eyes – perfect for when playing corpses, but nothing else).
Lots of castings now are self-tapes, so actors are expected to know how to present a script in front of a camera. For television auditions, casting directors will expect you to have a showreel. Most actors have one – whether it’s scenes they’ve recorded themselves, or an edit together of clips from TV programmes they’ve been in.
Before being considered for a TV audition, casting directors will obviously watch your showreel. They won’t watch the whole thing – mainly because they don’t have the time (and can’t be bothered), but by quickly looking at a minute of an actor’s showreel they get a good idea of how that person comes across on screen.
If you don’t have a showreel, there are many ways you can get one. There are companies that specialise in showreel services – providing scripts, recording equipment, a director and other actors. This can be done very quickly – sometimes in a day – and your full edited showreel will be completed in a week or so. If you don’t have the budget, you can simply get together with friends and record suitable scenes yourself. And of course, if you have the luxury of having been on television shows, then you just need to edit together the best scenes.
A good showreel should simply include a couple of brief scenes. Don’t worry about changing your accent or character drastically, because, after all, the screen work you get will be pretty close to yourself anyway. You want to appear as natural and honest as possible, and it’s useful if the scenes are focused mainly on you. The best showreel scenes aren’t hugely emotional – they just show how you look and respond on screen. If a casting director thinks you look and sound right, they’ll call you in.
Avoid giving your showreel a montage where you’re running around in a sweaty shirt looking moody. This impresses no one – not even your mum. All we need to see is a couple of scenes with you reacting to different situations – ideally one should be lighter and the other a bit more serious, but this is not a necessity.
Some actors have a straight acting showreel and a comedy one. Some also have specific ones for presenting, singing and dancing. This is fine if you’re sending them for specific jobs – but don’t send more than one showreel to casting departments. We’ll just get confused and end up thinking you’re two different actors.
Your showreel should be no longer than four minutes – and should include your name, agent and contact details. You should upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, and attach it to your online Spotlight CV. You can also add a link to your Twitter profile. If you get a new showreel, then it’s the perfect opportunity to send it to casting directors and agents.
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