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Careers Clinic: What scene do I need in my showreel?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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My agent says that not having a showreel is making it hard for me to get screen work. Unfortunately, having no screen work yet, I have nothing to make a reel with.

I have decided to bite the bullet and get something made specially. I’ve had a look at showreel makers online and, realistically, all I can afford at the moment is one properly produced scene.

My agent says that’s better than nothing and the sooner the better. Some actor friends have advised me to ‘go all out and make the type of scene I would most like to be in’. Others tell me that, for a first-timer, something less ambitious that reflects my normal casting is best. I also wondered if I should use my own accent or a more regional one, as everybody says accents are one of my strengths.

What would you do if you had just one scene to make and a lot riding on it?

Acting is no different from any other business – you have to invest in good tools. However, not being able to afford all the tools you would like up front is a position many beginners find themselves in.

Once you start shopping around for showreels or any other service for actors, lots of people will try to sell you the benefits of their particular product. There are plenty of competent showreel and self-tape makers around and it is only good business sense on their part to make the best pitches they can. A quick online search or a query on any of the popular acting forums should tell you whether a particular company can deliver on its promises.

To get the best out of even the better companies and film-makers, the important thing for you is to be clear about your goal for investment. Otherwise, the danger is that you end up with a reel that is ‘nice to have’ rather than one with the best chance of bringing you castings as soon as possible. Obviously, that’s what every actor wants from a reel, but, for a more experienced actor with existing footage to add to or upgrade, other considerations such as demonstrating their range might come into play.

For a first-time reel, the most important thing you need is to be seen doing your best in your most likely casting. For that reason, even though you are good at accents, but would normally work in your native one, that is the best voice to capture on film if you have just one scene to play with.

You can – and should – add other voice examples to your casting profile as audio, at least in the short term. If you do a particular accent well that also fits your casting type, prioritise getting that aspect of your work on to film when you can next afford to add a clip.

While there’s ‘a lot riding on this scene’, don’t get so hung up on it being perfect that it becomes stressful. Do think very carefully about your strongest casting type. Do a survey among (sensible) friends and family, your agent, and anyone in casting you happen to come in contact with. Hopefully, the results won’t vary too wildly from how you see yourself.

Depending on the service you use, you may provide the script or that might be something the film-maker offers as part of the service. Either way, focus less on clever writing and more on whether the scene shows you doing the best acting you can. Then commit to it, rehearse it, and treat it like a real job. That’s by far your best chance of this investment translating into real screen castings in the future.

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