I have been acting regularly for three years, mainly in fringe plays and short films. I had two more high-profile jobs late last year: both supporting roles in prime time shows. In both, I shared screen time with well-known lead cast members. Even though they were short scenes and I only had a line or two in each, this was the first time I could sit with the family and see myself on proper telly.
Much as I love acting for its own sake, this felt more like the money and time spent on drama training finally getting me somewhere. I thought that would be how the industry might see it too and added both new clips to the start of my showreel. I haven’t had another screen casting since, even for small projects. Surely it can’t be the case that my two biggest breaks yet are now holding my screen career back instead of helping me reach the next level?
In this business, most of us get little enough opportunity to ‘prove’ to our friends and family that acting is a real job, so enjoy all the kudos from your prime-time roles.
However, when you choose how to arrange clips for your reel, remember you are the star of the show, and no other actor or brand should take that focus. In this respect, the screen can be even less forgiving than the stage, since it is all about the edit – I know actors who have played quite substantial roles in major TV shows and movies only to find themselves edited out almost completely when the production is finally released.
The good news is that you did make it to the final cut, and thank you for sending me a link to your current showreel which, in common with many similar reels I have seen from up and coming actors, proudly starts with your two prime time appearances. If you had asked me before making this change, I would have suggested that this is not always the best approach in terms of maximising your casting potential.
Firstly, like a lot of actors with similar clips, in your eagerness to show us the famous actors you have worked with, both scenes you have chosen start with their characters on screen and your character only enters to deliver a short line at 30 or more seconds in. This may seem like a short wait but a busy casting person with a stack of reels to get through is mainly interested in seeing what you look and sound like, rather than the established actor (whose work they know anyhow) so you need to start with you to the fore rather than anyone else.
The other tricky thing about most beginner-level roles, even in high-profile shows, is that as in both cases, the role you are playing involves delivering information that may be important to the plot, but is often not character-driven enough to give much chance to show off your acting. The old adage about ‘there being no small parts, only small actors’, is true as far as the commitment you should give to any job, but less helpful for a showreel clip where the bulk of the lines and close-ups are on other actors.
With that in mind, I would restructure your reel to start with the strongest scene you have, even if that is an older clip, or a short (as long as you still look like the person on screen in real life). Once you have the viewer’s attention, by all means drop in the bigger shows so we can see that you are going places. Showreels are always works-in-progress anyway – here’s hoping it won’t be long before the biggest name on your reel is you.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne