How to edit your showreel in such a way as to appeal to casting directors
Casting directors look at showreels primarily to get a feel for an actor, to see how they move and talk in a way that a headshot cannot convey. This is a very simple purpose that the showreel is attempting to fulfil and it is important to remember that throughout the edit.
Casting directors cast their net far and wide in the search for actors, wanting to see as wide a range of people as possible so it is important to remember that they will be pressed for time. However, if your showreel is even being seen by a casting director then you are already under consideration.
The casting director is already somewhat on board and they are watching it wanting you to be right for the role. Therefore it is best to remember the simplicity which a showreel should have at it's heart. Keep the footage short and too the point. There is no need for showy theatrics in your reel. Just simple competence and an ability to fill the screen with your presence.
Again, we return to the timing issue. Casting directors watch hundreds of reels and are very pressed for time, so it is unlikely they will sit through the entirety of a five minute reel. They come to the reel only to find out what you are like so once they get an idea it has served its function. It's completely fine to have a five minute reel, just be aware that it is unlikely it will all be watched. Many casting directors cite two minutes as their cut off point and some say even that is being generous.
As a result, structure and conventionally pacing goes out the window. It is best that your reel has quite a snappy pace to retain interest and in terms of structure it is best to front load it, start with your strongest piece and go from there. There's no point saving your best work for the grand finale when the majority of your audience will have switched off three minutes ago.
Many showreels are often flabby and indulgent. There can be a tendency to try too hard, and attempt to cram in too much. Restraint is one of the best qualities to have whilst editing, editing by it's nature is the assembly of something to serve a function, which often means paring it down.
A lot of showreels make use of montage and whilst this may not actively harm you, it is unlikely to do much to your advantage. The same is often the case for still photography, a good tip is to look at this from the casting director's perspective. If you can't tell what the director is gaining from it then it is probably best just to leave it out.
With time being so vital it is very important to select the right clips. Just make sure that you are at the centre, that the clips show you to your best ability. Don't worry too much about the camera, the quality or the other actors, as long as the clip shows you to your best then it is perfect for your reel. From then on, it is good to follow it up with a piece which contrasts your first. Just as you would with a theatrical monologue, something diverse which shows your range.
The two minute mark means that the majority of your showreel is taken up with two or three clips so it is crucial that they showcase you to the best of your ability, as that is what the casting director is hoping to see.