10 Tips for a Powerful Showreel Edit

Our good friend Daniel Johnson is a renowned screenwriter, film director and author and he has years of experience across all corners of the industry. He is constantly looking at ways professionals in the industry can showcase their talents in the best possible way, and here he has outlined 10 ways you can make a powerful showreel.

Use your strongest material. 

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but far too often actors try to stuff their showreels with as much material as possible. Often, when insecure about reel material, an actor will think it’s better to shove lots into the edit. 

This never works. 

Two solid scenes are better than 5 average scenes. 

Don’t be obsessed with showing your TV work.

If you have TV credits to add to your reel, that’s great. But don’t over-prioritise them just because you were on TV. Be sure to objectively look at the scene and what it says about you as an actor. 

If you have a clip from a short film where your character has a really memorable, natural moment, that is likely more helpful for casting directors than seeing you say one line as a nurse in ‘Casualty’.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it on your reel - but don’t put it at the beginning just because it was on TV. 

Casting Directors are not stupid, they know what type of role you have been cast in, so don’t make the TV piece bigger than it is. 

That being said, if you were a guest lead on a big Netflix show, of course that will come first! But if you play a character who says one line while handing a coffee to the main character, it’s not going to be as essential. 

Each scene should do a different thing. 

If you have three different scenes and they’re all you breaking up with a partner, chances are we don’t need all of them. Just once is enough.

Your reel needs to show different sides of you. 

Find a balance between versatility and what naturally suits you.

Of course you want to show that you can play numerous types of characters, but don’t bust a gut trying to show you can do everything, nobody can do everything. 

Okay maybe Meryl Streep can do everything, but for most actors, it's best to find what suits you. 

As you get more experienced, you’ll learn what you’re strongest at. Might be comedy, might be intellectual characters, might be criminals. 

Whatever it is, the best showreels show you playing these different sides of the same coin. Versatility, but not complete contradiction.

By the end of the reel, we want to feel like we know how to cast you. 

Make sure your Showreel from Scratch Scenes have a point. 

Showreels from scratch scenes are a very useful tool, but they need to be done in the right way. 

The only reason to get a showreel from scratch scene is to demonstrate the roles you can play. Too many showreels from scratch feel generic - two characters having a chat about something quirky, like a bad date.

But your reel needs to be specific. You need to show that you can play specific roles and types. 

It feels good to have a nice, well-filmed scene, but make sure it is produced to do the specific task of guiding you towards work that suits you. 

Keep the content current. 

It’s important that your showreel looks and feels like you as you are now. Showreels are not period pieces. If it was filmed 9 years ago, it doesn’t belong on your reel. 

This doesn’t mean replacing your entire reel every year, but much like how a comedian might built a new set of jokes — you should be gradually phasing out old pieces and bringing in the new. 

Don’t show us a scene more than once. 

If you have a great three minute scene and you want it on your reel; choose the best 30-40 seconds, and just show us that. Don’t commit the sin of showing us 40 seconds then coming back to the scene AGAIN at the end of the reel. 

Here’s why this is one of the worst mistakes you can make. 

As soon as you return to a scene we’ve already seen, you are telling the viewer ‘this is all I have’. 

It’s much better for the viewer to feel ‘this is what you’ve chosen to show me’ rather than ‘this is all I have’. It may seem like a subtle distinction but psychologically the difference is huge. 

No scene is worth being repeated in your edit. Use one clip, then move on. 

Don’t overload your reel with multiple accents. 

It often occurs to an actor that it would be great to show casting directors all the accents they can do. I had a showreel from scratch client recently who wanted to do RP, Australian, American and Northern Irish. 

Sounds fun, but the problem is, you’re going to confuse casting directors - because when they watch the reel, they’re going to be fully aware that you are playing with accents, and they’ll distrust what they’re hearing. 

Don’t get me wrong, accents are an important tool for actors. And there’s a strong argument for maybe having an American accent on your reel, or maybe if you’re from London you want one scene to lean into RP and another to lean into a more cockney accent, that makes sense. 

But if you want to flood your reel with multiple accents, I’d highly encourage you to not do that. However….

If you speak other languages, hinting at that your reel can be useful.

If you’re an Italian actor whose material is all in English Language, it can be very helpful for us to hear a snippet of you speaking the Italian language.

Many international actors worry that their accents will hinder them in the UK - but the reality is, the things that make you different can be a real strength. To demonstrate your ability to speak another language can be beneficial. 

It doesn’t need to be a whole scene; but even if we see 10 seconds of you speaking a language you’re comfortable in, this will make your reel stronger. 

Limit having people in your reel who look similar to you. 

This is especially true at the beginning of the reel. 

You know what you look like, and your family and friends know what you look like. But most people in the industry have never seen you. 

If the beginning of your reel is two blonde female sisters talking, we won’t know which one is you. 

Even if we’ve seen your headshot, we still don’t know you very well.

The beginning of your reel should make it EXTREMELY CLEAR who you are. 

This is the most common showreel mistake, and the most crucial to rectify!

We hope you found Daniel's expert guidance useful! For more showreel advice from the expert himself, you can purchase his e-book on this topic here. You can create an account on The Mandy Network here. We are the world's largest online directory of creative professionals, with more than three million members globally.