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How to… create a showreel from scratch

Daniel Johnson. Photo: Alexandra Turshen Daniel Johnson. Photo: Alexandra Turshen
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1. Use original material

Don’t rehash old TV scripts, it’s an amateur’s mistake. Find a writer or company experienced in writing for actors and utilise their skills to give you the best possible material. The script is half the battle. Take the time to source the right (new) material, and you’ll instantly be ahead of the pack.

2. Keep it simple

“Simplicity of approach is always best” was one of Charlie Chaplin’s rules for film-making, and it holds true for reels. You don’t need crane shots and action sequences: you need you, in close-up, portraying a character, naturally. You won’t impress casting directors by faux innovation, you’ll impress them by being truthful. It’s rarer than you think.

3. Don’t attempt everything

Sure, you want some range: you want to show you have various tools in your toolbox. But don’t try to be Travis Bickle, Ace Ventura and Buzz Lightyear in a two-minute reel. Do what naturally suits you. Embrace what makes you memorable. Don’t strain to tick every box – your niche is your niche, and you should dive proudly into it.

4. Keep the edit short

Just because you filmed it, doesn’t mean you have to use it. If things aren’t working, cut them. Two or three great pieces are better than six average bits of material. Go with the strongest, and maintain that level. A showreel is like any other video – once we get bored, you’re toast. Respect the viewer.

Daniel Johnson, an award-winning screenwriter and director who specialises in creating showreel material for actors (danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk), was talking to John Byrne

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