How to attract more interest from casting directors

If you’re an actor and you’re not working, the days can pass really slowly. Grinding you down. You check your email, you do some more social, maybe you sign up for a course, check in with your agent (if you have one)… and go to bed hoping: Tomorrow, something will happen

So many times I’ve gone to a major casting website like mandy.com and flipped through profile after profile of actors in their mid-late twenties who have no showreel or barely any watchable material on their showreel, and I think, What the hell have you been doing for the past 10 years?

Sometimes getting the good auditions can seem like a Catch22: you don’t get considered for good parts because you don’t have good material on your showreel, and you don’t have the good material because you don’t get called for the better parts. So what’s the solution to that? Well, you could write, produce and direct a short film with a strong part for yourself. But even with today’s cheap video hire, that’s quite an undertaking. An expense…

But here’s the thing, Indie directors generally don’t get excited by production value, they get excited by raw talent, and that raw talent will jump out at you even when the production value is way short of a TV show.  Your showreel is just a collection of scenes, so that's where you should drive your efforts: adding one more scene to your reel. More on that in a minute…

Tips on self-taping


Strange we still call them self-tapes, given that tape was already pretty much dead by the time the internet got going and we could send mp4s through the internet. Anyway, these self-tapes that you are asked to do and email to a casting director – it’s likely you have, like, 5 minutes to learn your lines and shoot one, so it could be girlfriend or boyfriend who’s helping out… Just make sure they get you in close up, not far away and drowned out by the sound of the fridge.  

When it’s done, and you’ve downloaded your self-tape as an mp4, play it back. Camera shake, bad sound? No producer’s expecting studio quality, but buzzing noises, popping mics and lots of blur will interfere with anyone’s appraisal of your audition, so it’s worth doing another one if you find yourself cringing as you watch it back.

In a lot of self-tapes I see the actor hasn’t given much thought to dynamics. Make that first line really count, and mix it up as you go through the scene. Don’t approach the scene trying to double guess your casting director, do it as you see it and feel it.

What to put on your showreel

If you’re applying for, say, a dark modern thriller, and your showreel is mostly full of comedy or costume drama, you might want to rejig your reel, or remove some of the comedy, unless it’s very edgy.  Sometimes sending in one good piece is better than sending in one good one and 2 or 3 weak ones.

It’s the easiest thing in the world for an actor to scream, cry or roll around in the mud, dying. This is not what a producer wants to see. In fact, it’s such a cliché, your producer is likely to fast forward through the entire scene and onto the next, already quietly desperate to find a scene that shows you can act opposite another actor.

Think of your reel as a stall. You want your best, most attractive fruit and veg right up front. So don’t start your reel with clips which start with other actors and 15 seconds later have you appear. Get rid of the wide shots, the commercials, the music videos, any scenes that don’t show how well you act. Remember, it’s your reel, so you can cut it how you want, you don’t have to worry about offending the director or any of the actors you were working with, make it work for you as a sales pitch – This is me, as an actor, at my best.

Don’t include scenes that show you playing unlikeable real life characters unless they are compelling. If the only scenes you have available to you show you playing some whiny or lackluster character, add at least one scene on your reel that shows you in a more compelling light.

Make sure your scenes show conflict. If you don’t have a scene that shows conflict go out and make one, even if it means shooting on a smart phone. Which brings me back to...

How to strengthen your showreel scene at a time

Late last year my actor son, Jay, like most actors was getting a tad desperate for good parts and one that he could land. Maybe this was because his showreel was not as up to date as it could be… So I wrote a scene, loosely inspired by a strong scene I'd seen in a feature film, and I structured in such a way so as to challenge his acting talent and hopefully give us something powerful to watch.

Too many showreels show scenes of two people sitting on a bench or a wall talking to each other. So this one was going to have words with action – a boxing scene. Location? Our back yard. Camera? I was lucky enough to have a daughter who is competent with a Canon 5D, but really this wasn’t a difficult scene and could have been filmed on a smart phone.

What I was mindful of, however, was sound. For that I used a couple of Senheiser radio mics. After a few rehearsals, we were ready to shoot. I cut the scene myself and Shiona graded it in Premiere Pro. Job done. We never set out to shoot a great short film – we set out to produce a strong scene that showed a casting director that Jay can deliver a watchable interpretation of ‘the troubled teen’.

If there’s only one thing you take from this post, it’s this: focus on creating a good 2-hander scene that builds to some kind of a climax and tests both actors, and creates some emotion in the viewer without relying on hysterical outpourings of grief or terror. Aim for 2-3 minutes, that’s all you want. If you don’t have mates who can direct you or do the sound, edit and grade, etc., find some people who will agree to help you do this for a low fee. But get it done. ASAP. Because your agent might not call you for a month. Or longer. Without fresh material being added to your showreel every few months, it’s going to be hard going getting the auditions you want. This is one way you can take control of the kind of acting you feel you’re born to do. So, no more excuses, just shoot that scene. It will also boost your morale.

Take a look at the scene we shot for Jay. And if you think that kind of scene could add value to your reel and you live in or around London and would like to find out what we could do for you – a scene that shows you at your beset – get in touch. Maybe we can work something out.