10 Tips for Editing your Actor Showreel

A big passion in my career has been developing actor showreels. Back in the early 2000's, I was one of a small core of filmmakers not only editing reels, but building showreels from scratch.

During the COVID-19 pandemic I have been working closely with actors around the world — watching hundreds of showreels, developing innovative reels with drama schools, and providing free workshops.

The actor’s demo reel is, in itself, a piece of art, just like a headshot or short film. As much as we’d like free reign to create them any way we please, there’s a shared language, a defined target audience.

Below are 10 tips that will reinvigorate your acting showreel.

Photo by James Everett Photography
  1. If you have one great scene and three terrible scenes, then your reel needs to have only one scene.
  2. It’s great you were in ‘Coronation Street’ in 2001. But that was nearly 20 years ago and your over-reliance on that scene works against you.
  3. If you have great credits, you don’t need to front-load your showreel with all of those moments. Focus on what showcases good acting.
  4. The first scene MUST establish who you are. If the first clip has you standing across from a person of the same gender, with the same haircut, we’re not going to know which one you are. So many actors make this mistake.
  5. If a scene is out of sync, or jittery; or indeed if any bizarre technical mishap is happening, you need to ditch the scene. Why? Because it looks unprofessional. Sure, you know your acting was great, but it looks like you don’t know your own footage is bad. Your showreel is a product of your own professionalism.
  6. If you have one line in a huge movie, either use that one line, or cut it from your reel entirely. Trying to slice in a reaction shot from earlier in the scene when you were standing around out of focus fools nobody. Have confidence in what you have and don’t try to make it bigger than it is.
  7. Five bad scenes don’t make a good reel. Less is always more. Only use your strongest material, ditch the rest.
  8. If you decide to watch a Drew Barrymore rom-com, but just as you hit play you notice the running time is 2 hours 42 minutes, you’ll be filled with dread. This is how casting directors feel when they see your reel is 5 mins 48 seconds.
  9. Don’t repeat scenes you’ve already shown us. Say you have only two scenes. After we watch both we think “She was great.” But if you return to show more of the same scene later on, we swiftly think “is this the only material she’s got?”
  10. Always leave them wanting more.

Independent screenwriter and film director, based in London. https://www.danieljohnsonfilms.co.uk