Mediaworks- Creating Demo Reels
- 1 Keep it Short
- 2 Make it Specific
- 3 Collages or Samples
- 4 Put Your Best Foot Forward
- 5 Your Work Only
- 6 Slate It
- 7 Showcase Your Involvement
- 8 Emphasize Your Technical Ability
- 9 Be Mindful of Aspect Ratios
- 10 Do Not Use Copyrighted Music
- 11 Cut to the Beat
- 12 Don’t Repeat Footage
- 13 Quality Control
- 14 Access
- 15 Timely
- 16 Show Off Your Personality
- 17 Ask a Critic
Keep it Short
The purpose of a demo reel is to highlight your best work and shouldn’t be a sampling of everything you have done. Aiming for 60-90 seconds is a good goal. Do not go beyond 5 min.
Make it Specific
When applying for a position, artist residency, graduate school, etc. ensure your demo reel is targeted specifically to an individual skill, job function, or audience. This may mean you will need to create multiple reels, but you will benefit from it appearing focused.
Collages or Samples
Demo reels often are divided into two types—the rapid-fire collage that shows quick shots cut to music or the segmented scene-based reel that shows short sampled of clips cut together in some context—for example, several 20 second scenes with multiple shots each. To determine what is right for you, it will depend on your purpose. Often collage type reels work best with spot/commercial/short-form work while scene reels might be more appropriate to spotlight narrative/documentary/ journalism-based projects.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Although the old saying “save the best for last” may be true in some scenarios, for demo reels this is simply not the cause. Make sure you lead with your strongest work, you only have a few seconds to grab the viewer’s attention.
Your Work Only
Whatever footage you show in your reel, make sure you had some part in it.
Include your name and contact information on a quick slate at the start and end of your reel. Stick to basic contact info: name, email, and website.
Showcase Your Involvement
One way to convey the specific roles you had in your showcased clips is to include short descriptions in your reel. For instance, if you’re an animator who did the modeling for a particular scene, include that over the video footage (i.e. “Lead Modeler”). This will not only keep you honest about your involvement but it will give the viewer a better sense of your abilities. You can also include the software or tools that you used (i.e. “Premiere Pro Editor” or “Steadicam operator”) as lower thirds or as small text in the corner of the frame.
Emphasize Your Technical Ability
You may want to use your demo reel to show off your work process. Sometimes folks show “before” and “after” shots of their work, and to great effect. In such instances, do a split screen or quick shot sequence to show the different “stages”. This is an especially effective technique for compositors and designers.
Be Mindful of Aspect Ratios
You may have done some projects in both 4×3 and in 16×9 and you should showcase both if they are examples of quality work. When you combine aspect ratios in the same program (or demo reel) be cognizant of it. This shows an added level of professionalism.
Do Not Use Copyrighted Music
Not only is the unauthorized use of copyrighted music illegal, it will likely turn off potential employers. As tempting as it might be, don’t risk getting your reel quickly tossed aside due to this technicality. Instead, use an energetic royalty free music track to make your reel dynamic.
Cut to the Beat
A quick way to separate novice editors from the more experienced is to see how they utilize music in their projects. A common rookie mistake is just slapping music under a video track. Instead, present yourself as a professional by cutting to the music and use it to give your demo reel energy and drive.
Don’t Repeat Footage
Repeating footage in your demo reel may lead others to believe you have a very limited body of work. Instead, err on the side of briefness by leaving the viewer wanting to see more.
Check spelling, check for technical errors (glitches, noise, etc.), and audio mistakes. Misspellings or an unintentional jump in the video is a fast way to have work passed over by potential employers. Check, double check and then have a colleague or peer check too.
Your demo reel should be online and easily accessible. Upload it to a video sharing site like Vimeo. Hosting on Vimeo insures that it’s viewable by the overwhelming majority of computer users, whereas sending a specific file type (WMV, MOV, etc.) may prove troublesome if the viewer doesn’t have the right software installed on their computer. You want to ensure that it is quick and easy for a potential employer to view it. Also, by putting your reel on Vimeo you can quickly swap it out when you need to make modifications or additions.
One of the benefits of keeping your reel(s) online is the ability to keep it contemporary. Your demo reel should showcase your best and recent work.
Show Off Your Personality
Use your reel to showcase you. When putting together your demo reel, use your best judgment in how you want it to highlight your personality.
Ask a Critic
Before showing it to a potential employer, graduate admissions, grant committees, etc., give your reel a few rounds of critique with your acquaintances, faculty, etc. Editor / producer / director friends make great critics. What does your reel say about you? Would they hire you based on what they saw? Where are areas for improvement/what’s missing? Take their feedback and improve.