I’m fascinated by the number of businesses there are offering to make (as opposed to edit) actors showreels. Obviously there are many actors just starting out that don’t have a screen track record and therefore no access to professional footage of themselves to share so, of course, the only answer is to manufacture what you need. I am falling into this category – although I am an experienced actor, I am returning after a longish gap and any screen footage of me there may be is inaccessible and out of date anyway. So, when a showreel is seeming almost as essential as a headshot, what do you do?
Enter the tailor-made showreel company. There seem to be many of them. I’ve looked at a lot of examples and I don’t like what I see. What come shining through is the fact that – to put it mildly – not everyone can direct.
I’m not ducking the responsibility of an actor to bring the performance to the screen but being able to SEE what works and what doesn’t, what’s believable and what isn’t, isn’t always easy for the actor. In film and television – more so than in theatre – the director has to have an eye for what’s real, what’s believable and what’s in balance. The way it occurs to me is that many actors come off quite badly from paying for filmed scenes and not having an experienced director behind the camera. To me it sticks out like a sore thumb and scenes are just unwatchable – not because the actor is bad (nescessarily!) but because they’ve received no direction.
Context is very important for performance. It’s the hardest thing in the world to bring reality to a bit-part, to take the extreme example. To do so, it’s important to manage your own psychology. Film and tv sets can be daunting places if you’re inexperienced. Slotting your one-liner into a complex take involving a major star with helicopters above and cars burning (my first tv experience!) – even with all that going on, screaming at you that there are slightly more important things than you on the set – it still occurs that it’s all about YOU. Yes, you are important, but you are not the important thing. Your job is to deliver what is required to make the whole thing work – not to be GREAT!
I guess what I am saying is that, even though the scene you do for a showreel may star you, without the context of the greater whole – the context of the story, the bigger picture – it is so, so easy to fall into the trap of manufacturing performance to show that you can act, rather than using your skills to present a believable character and make the screenplay work. In order to avoid that, my opinion is that it takes a huge amount of work to create a context for you and for the scene and that work is, most successfully, a collaboration between actor and director. That, I think, seems to me to be the huge missing from scratch showreels I have seen so far and so obviously sets them apart from clips that have been taken from full productions.
Now, the question is – does that make a difference as far as casting directors, directors and producers are concerned? What is important? Simply that you are seen to move and speak words on a screen and that your essential qualities are apparent? How much is craft and professionalism important? If I pay good money to have one made will I, despite my best efforts and intentions, fall into the same traps that I think others have?
I really would like an opinion from the casting department’s side on this.