A guide to making a successful showreel
Whether you’re hoping to work as a live-action director or a 3D VFX artist, most filmmakers will benefit from having a showreel. An essential tool in showcasing your skills, work and expertise – and ultimately attracting new work – there are a few components to consider when it comes to putting one together. So how do you know where to start? What should you include, and how long should it be? Here, we take you through some essential tips to create a standout showreel.
What is a showreel and why do you need one?
A showreel is like a trailer for your work that you can send out to potential employers, partners or collaborators.
Whether you’re applying for a job, a residency, or for funding for a self-initiated project, a showreel is the multimedia component to your CV. The main objective is to provide a one-minute taster of your work to date, and set the tone for what you want to work on in the future.
Typically used within the film and animation industry, everyone from directors, actors and writers to cinematographers, editors, animators and set or costume designers will create a showreel to communicate what they do, and grow their network.
What goes into a showreel?
In an industry as vast as film, and with an endless array of roles, you’re bound to come across lots of showreels for varying purposes.
From actors and animators to directors and VFX artists, every showreel is different – but there are some fundamental elements that every showreel should include.
👋 Opening titles
The opening titles to your showreel contain essential information about you and your practice. Keep this short and simple; it should quickly tell your viewer who you are and what you do. These typically include:
- Your name
- The role(s) that you’re demonstrating, e.g. “Jane Doe, VFX assistant” or “John Doe, cinematography”
Your opening titles can be on a static page, or overlayed onto a moving clip of one of your projects – just be sure they’re easy to read.
🎞 Clips of your work
This goes without saying, but you’ll of course need a selection of work to share! Depending on the kind of showreel you’re creating – this could be a montage of several film projects, or dedicated to your work on a particular film – you’ll want to select only your very best work.
🔚 End titles
It’s a good idea to end your showreel by sharing contact information so that people can get in touch with you easily. This could include:
- Your website address
- Your social media handle(s)
- Your email address
- Any crew and collaborator credits (names and roles of everyone involved)
If you’d prefer to end your showreel in another way, you could always include these details in a covering message or email if you’re sending your showreel an attachment. Just be sure to double-check your information – the last thing you want is to lose out on a potential opportunity over a typo!
How long should a showreel be?
Typically, a showreel should be around one-minute long, but some filmmakers whittle this down even further to just 45 seconds.
You could extend this up to two minutes, but be aware that most people you share it with will likely be looking through lots of showreels, and won’t always have time to watch yours from start to finish. Keeping your showreel concise and compact means you lessen the chances of a viewer clicking away before the end.
Step-by-step: Putting your showreel together
There are a lot of factors and components to consider when it comes to making a showreel, from knowing what work to include and which soundtrack to choose, to working out the transitions between clips.
While it can be tempting to jump straight in, taking the time to make a plan is a good way to get started.
✋ First things first: What do you want your showreel to do?
It might sound obvious, but start by asking yourself why you’re making a showreel in the first place.
- Are you a director with a burning story to tell?
- Are you a colourist wanting to showcase your ability to create powerful emotions through a carefully chosen palette?
- Are you obsessed with the idea of editing documentaries – any documentary! – and want to get a foot in the door?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, and this will likely change throughout your career. But ultimately, knowing why you’re doing this will give you a clear goal to work towards – and will inform all your creative decisions.
London-based freelance director Ramone Anderson’s showreel knits together several projects, completed while at independent music platform Boiler Room.
✅ Find a format that works for you
Once you’ve decided on what you want your showreel to accomplish, the next decision you need to make is what kind of format will best suit this. That could mean making:
- A general showreel, including clips of different film projects edited together or
- Individual showreels for each of your film projects, showcasing a specific collection of skills
For example, directors will likely suit the second option as you’re able to really show off the purpose and narrative of each project, instead of forcing unrelated content to come together. Similarly, if there are two core genres you want to work in – say, dance music videos and nature documentaries – that stylistically do not mix well together, it might make more sense to create two distinct showreels.
However, if you work across lots of complementary areas – for example art, fashion and travel – with some clever editing, you may be able to combine your talents in one showreel that feels like a natural mix of themes.
Whichever route you take, you’ll have to be ruthless about what you include – and tailor your showreel according to the intended audience or type of project you’re most interested in exploring. This way you can get specific about showing the skills and examples of existing work that best reflect the opportunity you’re pursuing.
Film colourist Nigel Tadyanehondo’s reel offers an overarching sense of his skills as a colourist across animation, documentaries short and feature films to music promos.
Making the cut: How to curate your work
It can be easy to assume that editing your showreel is the hard part, but in actual fact, it tends to be deciding which clips and projects to include in the first place.
Don’t let this put you off, though! This is your chance to curate the version of you and your work you want to present to the world. So the clips you choose should be a combination of:
The work you are most proud of (exciting, beautiful, or technically brilliant)
The kind of work you want to do more of in the future. There’s no point in including clips that look impressive but don’t demonstrate what you’re actually passionate about pursuing!
With that in mind, here are some suggestions to help make the curating process a little easier.
✍️ Make a list of what you want to include
Go through all of your projects and note down a longlist of clips you could include. For now, this can just be a few notes on paper or in a text document on your laptop or phone. Remember that your showreel should be around a minute long, it shouldn’t feel like a feature-length retrospective of all your projects so far!
Next, start cutting clips, keeping in mind what you’re hoping to achieve with your showreel. Create a shortlist of engaging clips that are most relevant to the skills or projects you want to showcase.
✅ Show off your skills
While choosing a few of your favourite clips is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to ensure your skills are taking centre stage, too. At the end of the day, employers and studios are looking for evidence that you can do a job well, so don’t hide your talents! Prioritise clips that really show off your ability, even if they’re somewhat less captivating.
For directors and writers, this might mean demonstrating an understanding of the relationship between story and image, while cinematographers will want to showcase good knowledge of light and colour.
If you’re a 2D animator, have some examples of where you’ve brought characters to life, or transitions of morphs. And for 2D clean-up and colour artists, you’ll want to highlight a range of brush and texture work.
London-based May Davies’ choice of clips highlights her work as a production designer and art director – from wide shots of interiors and environments to actors interacting with props.
🔢 Start storyboarding!
Once you’ve got your shortlist of clips, you might want to create a storyboard. Plan out how you envisage your showreel unfolding – from your opening to your end titles, and what order the clips might follow.
This will help you think about the overall effect of the clips when edited together – as a collection of images and motion, they should tell a story about who you are and what you want to work on.
Editing your showreel
Now that you have a rough idea of what your showreel will look like, it’s time to start piecing it together.
🎞 Start collecting your clips
Start selecting high quality clips that will render well when you export your file. Copy the files into one folder for easy access when editing. Being organised from the get-go and naming your files clearly will make the editing process easier.
🖥 Get to know your editing software
When it comes to actually editing your clips together, it helps to familiarise yourself with some software. Adobe Premiere Pro is a widely used industry-standard software, which most people find easy and intuitive to learn. Plus, it’s recommended that you get to grips with Premiere anyway if editing is going to be part of your long-term practice. When you’re ready to start setting up your document, a 16:9 aspect ratio is the standard.
However, there are lots of other options out there – and if editing isn’t a job you feel comfortable with, you may want to get a friend or even a professional editor to help you create your showreel. Just be sure to set a clear brief and agree on a fixed budget upfront.
🏁 Open and close with your best work
The idea here is to create a strong emotion in your viewer; you want to capture their attention at the start and also leave them with a strong impression at the end. But try not to think of the middle as just filler – every clip should earn its place in your showreel.
In many ways, you can think of your showreel as a standalone project. For example, if you’re a director or editor, the skills you showcase in the making of your showreel will reflect your abilities just as much as the clips you show.
If you get stuck, always remember that simplicity is the best way forward. Tell a succinct, engaging and clear story that matters to you personally and you’ll have the best chance of connecting with your audience.
As an editor, Bristol-based Ben Williams-Butt’s showreel acts as a project in itself. From drama, documentary and wildlife to music and commercials, Ben’s reel demonstrates his ability to tell a story while cutting between a huge breadth of genres, formats and subject matter.
🌈 Create variety
Choose a mix of longer and shorter clips! Think of your showreel as a visual rhythm that will be magnified by sound and music. You should also showcase different scales and perspectives. An up close and personal shot will be all the more effective when paired with another clip viewed from much further away.
Using a mixture of subtle visual and audio cues, cuts and transitions, Bristol-based freelance director Sam H. Buchanan creates a seamless journey between lots of different film projects.
🎵 Choose a relevant soundtrack
While not compulsory, you may want to choose a suitable music track to set a distinctive mood and tie your showreel together. You should base your choice of music on the feeling you want to create – one that suits the pace and atmosphere of your clip selection. It might be gentle and soothing or fun and energetic.
Know that your music choices will be restricted by copyright law – you can’t just download your favourite track unless you pay to licence it. Check out Musicbed for paid options. There are also plenty of free libraries to browse and make use of, such as Free Music Archive. Just make sure you always credit the artist somewhere in your showreel.
And even if you’re using just a single track, don’t be afraid to add in additional sounds to accompany the imagery or clips. A variety of sounds can help bring texture to your showreel, whether that’s waves breaking, birds singing, traffic rumbling, or people talking and laughing.
Film director Bethan Seller added a charming and memorable voice over to her showreel that reflects the colourful and characterful personality of her work.
Don’t forget the details: Captions and credits
👥 Who, what, when
If there are natural breaks in your showreel between individual clips, you might want to include the names of the different projects as captions, so people can understand what they’re watching if it isn’t obvious. Adding captions will give you the chance to clearly label the name of each project in your showreel, along with the client (if relevant) and the date it was made.
However, if your showreel is more about an overall mood, you may wish to keep the flow intact and leave it un-captioned.
📣 Communicate your role
If you did wardrobe and styling as well as directing, then let people know using captions or credits. This is particularly important if you’re more of a multidisciplinary filmmaker. Make it easy for people to understand your contribution to each project by listing your mix of roles in your opening or end titles. Clarity is key, so communicate how you’ve worked across different projects and what your approach was.
Bristol-based camera and edit assistant Cameron Reed’s reel showcases a variety of roles and projects, clearly signposted throughout.
👏 Always credit your collaborators
Film is a collaborative art, and it’s important to give credit where credit is due. Credits are also a great way to show who you're working with – your viewers will be paying as much attention to your crew as the film they’re watching. Don’t forget to credit any music you have used, too.
👌 Check your permissions
If you’re hoping to post your showreel to a public platform, for example a free-to-access website like Vimeo or YouTube, make sure you have permission to share all the film clips you have used.
Preparing to share your showreel
Once you’re happy with your showreel, you can start thinking about how and where you want to share it.
⬆️ Add your showreel to your website
While you might occasionally present your showreel in person, it’s more likely you’ll send it as a URL link, or as an attachment to potential employers or collaborators.
Many creatives host a version of their showreel on their website. The advantage of this is that if someone is intrigued and wants to learn more about a specific project in your showreel, they hopefully won’t have to look too far to find out more.
📧 Email it as a link or attachment
It can also be useful to share your showreel over email as a Vimeo link (or series of links). Write a short and friendly covering email to state your role and interests, and introduce your showreel. Make it clear to your viewer what you are hoping for. If you don’t want to host your showreel publicly online, you can also update your settings on Vimeo to keep it private and only share it via email with carefully selected individuals or companies.
If you decide to send your showreel as an MP4 attachment, keep it as small as possible, without losing too much resolution. People need to be able to download and watch it from their phones.
🖼 Consider making some GIFs
GIFs can be a useful additional device to show people your style. They’re really effective at showcasing what you want to achieve quickly, and in an uncomplicated way. Nobody has to click anything – it’s just there!
Any GIFs you create are great assets to illustrate your portfolio on Instagram with – and can be embedded in email covering letters, too.
When you send out your showreel, you’re hoping for someone to connect with your work on both a practical level (“they’ve got the skills I need”) and an emotional one (“their work speaks to me”). And if you succeed in creating that spark of connection, the next stage will hopefully be a conversation about your work and ambitions. So it’s worth investing the time and energy into making a showreel you can be proud of.
And remember: your showreel is always evolving! So you should refresh your showreel as soon as you feel it’s no longer reflecting who you are and what you want to work on. It’s an ongoing project, and will evolve with you throughout your career.
Good luck and happy editing!
Many thanks to Tom Viney at Pundersons Gardens, directors Ben Fitzgerald and Mike Lee Thomas, Jim Campbell and Martin Roker at Ridley Scott Creative Group, Sam Grey at Passion Pictures and Becky Perryman at Strange Beast for generously sharing their insights and recommendations.
This guide is part of a series of articles produced in collaboration with Fully Focused and Today at Apple, designed to help inspire and support emerging filmmakers navigate the industry.