Part 4. GUEST BLOG: Showreels For The Twenty-first Century (part one)

I would like to introduce the amazing and talented Paul Barry here to contribute to the branding series for actors. Paul has been an actor for over a decade, working on film and television. He also taught at the very prestigious NIDA in Australia for many years and (but wait there’s more) he owns and runs Showreels Australia. Who better to contribute to a blog post about branding for showreels! So B.A.B.E. readers I’m delighted to introduce a two part series about what should and shouldn’t go in your showreel by someone who helps actors do this on a weekly basis.


Showreels For The Twenty-first Century – Part One (Making the Choice)
– By Paul Barry
Paul BarryA casting director friend of mine recently, speaking about actors’ showreel scenes, said: ‘I don’t like feeling I’m being told how to cast them’.A casting director friend of mine recently, speaking about actors’ showreel scenes, said: ‘I don’t like feeling I’m being told how to cast them’.This is one of many incredibly telling insights that we have gathered during the years that my business partner, Tristan Kenyon, and I have directed and created showcases for actors at  Showreels Australia. Another telling statement, from a different CD was: ‘I just want to see what you look like and hear how you sound, then I move onto the next reel’.
On a regular basis over the years, clients have approached us to shoot scenes for them from Angels in America, Closer, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, Fight Club, The Hours, Six Feet Under, The West Wing, the list goes on. Casting directors have pleaded with us to avoid such scenes. They are overdone and when done, usually done poorly. And yet, every single drama school showcase in the world will have a scene from Good Will Hunting, at least every two years.

Even if these known scenes were done well, to invite comparisons between you and celebrities is to place yourself squarely behind the eight ball before you even begin your career. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule…

I remember clearly, watching Sam Worthington perform one of the most overdone scenes from Good Will Hunting, between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, at his NIDA graduation. It certainly didn’t hurt his career. I know for a fact though, that the interest in Sam was such, that had he performed the character of Sneezy, from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, he would have still become a star. The scene did not bring about his success, but rather the archetype he chose illuminated qualities in him, which allowed the industry to cast him as they saw fit. In his case: the dark, brooding, enigmatic leading man. But despite our desire to follow in his footsteps, that just ain’t everyone…

As actors, we desire to show the viewer everything we can do. Like it or lump it, this is not the purpose of a showreel. As Australian casting director, Greg Apps, wrote recently, ‘No, we don’t choose on ability. We assess your suitability.’

So what is the purpose of a showreel…? Well, based on my regular grilling of casting directors in Australia and America over the years:

  1. What do you look like?
  2. What do you sound like?
  3. Do you listen well?
  4. Are your thought processes clear?
  5. Do you make interesting choices?
  6. Are you sharing something of yourself in your work?

And for many CDs, the first three points are more than enough to call you in for a role.

Although these nuggets can sometimes be seen in a highly dramatic genre piece, where you grease back your hair, speak in a Brooklyn accent, walk with a limp and hold you gun sideways, they rarely do. They shine through best in clearly directed, well-lit, unknown scenes, where the most interesting things are not the dialogue or even the premise, but you and your choices. Despite regular advice to avoid inviting comparisons between them and Matt Damon, Hilary Swank, or Leo DiCaprio, actors, like flies to the honeypot, are inexorably drawn to them. It is as though they emit a secret ‘success’ pheromone, which actors hope will rub off on them.

Lee Strasberg said: ‘the talent is in the choices’. You are not Robert De Niro. You are not Meryl Streep. You are not Matt Damon or Mark Wahlberg or Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Lawrence or Leo or Cate. You are you. So what is that? Put that on screen.

Help me out though: how can actors be convinced to avoid these scenes and seek out new and unique pieces, which offer them exactly the same qualities they wish to show, without falling into the trap of seeking to prove talent-by-association?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Coming soon: 
Showreels For The Twenty-first Century – Part Two (Making the Cut)

Paul Barry is an actor, director, writer, teacher and blogger. He co-owns Acting 4 Camera and Showreels Australia.  Paul lives in LA, but regularly teaches via Skype, all around the world.

2 thoughts on “Part 4. GUEST BLOG: Showreels For The Twenty-first Century (part one)

  1. Rob says:

    Abi,We are currently wonkirg towards obtaining more audition information and posting more about upcoming casting calls in the UK. As for submitting for these posts, I think it depends entirely on the casting director and the project, if they are willing to fly you in, etc. I believe it never hurts to send in your information if you do believe you are it for the part, because there is always a chance they may think so too!Thanks for reading!Vesta

  2. Pingback: Part 5. GUEST POST: Showreels For The Twenty-first Century – Part Two - B.A.B.E.

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