Building a Demo Reel: Do’s and Don’ts for New Videographers/Filmmakers

Building a Demo Reel: Do’s and Don’ts for New Videographers/Filmmakers

In the creative world, a portfolio of work is generally preferred over the standard resume because it helps employers and clients better determine whether an artist has the ability to execute a job. Not only do portfolios have the advantage of providing tangible proof of skill, but they also reflect the artist’s style and taste. However, it’s likely that a potential client or collaborator has a list of other candidates to consider and may not have the time or attention to review a series of your top work in its entirety. It’s common practice to provide a preview to your body of work with a demo reel, which is a compilation video featuring highlights from your very best work. Here are some things to consider in order to design and construct an effective demo reel.

For a Successful Demo Reel, First Determine Your Target Audience

You want to think about the type of work you want to do in the future when deciding what to put in your demo reel. The people who do the hiring are most comfortable when they know the chosen candidate already has experience in their field. Is your passion in wedding videography? Are you happiest filming interviews or marketing videos for corporations? Or are you a filmmaker who wants to focus on narrative storytelling? Once you decide on a field to focus on, you can narrow it down even further. If you want to work for businesses, which industries do you want to focus on? If you’re a filmmaker, do you see yourself making horrors or comedies?

If Your Portfolio is Very Diverse, Consider Multiple Reels

It’s not uncommon to work in more than one field. If you do corporate videography during the week and weddings over the weekend, how can you best represent the two markets in your reel? In these cases, it may be a good idea to have multiple reels with each targeted at a specific demographic of clients that you want to attract. This way, potential clients won’t have to scour through your demo reel for patches of content that pertain to them and you’ll give the impression of specializing in a specific field.

Here’s an excellent example of a corporate demo reel by Beryllium Pictures.

Design Your Reel for Your Role

If you’re not a solo videographer and plan on collaborating with other filmmakers, you’ll need to narrow the focus of your reel(s) to specific roles and design them accordingly. For an example, a montage video depicting beautiful imagery and demonstrating involvement in high production value projects would be useful to a cinematographer and even a director who works in short form mediums such as commercials and music videos. However, a simple montage video does not effectively demonstrate a narrative film director’s ability to shape a performance or an editor’s ability to craft a story. For these roles, it’s not uncommon to have a reel that depicts selected scenes in their entirety to showcase a strong performance or editing decisions.

Sean’s editing reel features natural transitions between segments of music videos that he has worked on.

If You’re Lacking Demo Reel-Worthy Projects, Create Spec Work

If clients prefer to hire people who have already done the work that they’re looking to complete, how can you cultivate a body of work in your desired field if no one hires you? Fortunately, you can easily circumvent this catch-22 by creating speculation work, or spec for short. Spec work refers to “fake” projects that you create to show potential clients you are capable of creating similar work. Spec work can also be used as a proof of concept to sell a project to a potential client or company..

Nikolas wrote, shot and edited this spec commercial himself using equipment that he had on-hand back in 2010. Brute-Addidas ended up purchasing the commercial from him and gave him a budget to shoot the official commercial.

In the commercial world, where risks are seldom taken, it’s common practice for directors and cinematographers to create spec work that reflects a higher budget than they are usually given. This can help them rise to the next tier in their careers. While spec work is considered an investment, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank while creating one. Pull in any favors that you may have cultivated throughout your career and rent equipment instead of making expensive purchases.

How to Construct Your Demo Reel

Keep it Brief and Only Showcase Your Best Work
It can be a difficult task to paraphrase your entire body of work into a short highlights video as it’s very tempting to include bits from all of the projects that you’ve worked on in the past year. However, keep in mind that you have a short window of time to grab hold of a potential collaborator or client’s attention. Most reels clock in at around two minutes long and people can formulate their opinions of your work even sooner than that. Be highly selective with your content and be strategic with where you place your strongest footage within the reel.

Diversify
One thing to avoid is having too much footage from the same projects in your reel. Featuring clips from a variety of projects will not only reflect experience level but will also keep the audience’s attention.

Finding Your Flow
A well edited demo reel has very similar characteristics to a well crafted joke. It must hook you in from the beginning, take you for an engaging ride, and leave you with a lasting impression. There is no hard and fast rule with how to create an engaging demo reel but you must carefully consider content, structure, and pacing when planning your edit. Don’t just simply cut and paste your favorite images into the timeline. Tell a story if you can. For example, if you’re a cinematographer who’s featuring a shot from a dialogue scene, consider including multiple angles. Compiling a sequence of shots from a scene will better showcase your lighting design as well as consistency between the shots.

Patrick O’Sullivan demonstrates lighting consistency and an understanding of shot sequence throughout this cinematography reel.

Feel the Music
Don’t overlook the importance of music! It is the backdrop that dictates the pacing and atmosphere of your reel. While it is tempting to use one of your favorite songs, be wary of choosing music that may be inappropriate for the industry that you want to work in. For an example, it may not be wise to use an artist like Björk to accompany interview footage of business executives for your corporate demo reel.

Whatever song you choose, pay close attention to the pacing and speed of the music. Cutting to the beat of the song can give your video a natural feeling flow so if you’re using a song with a very fast beat or has constant speed or energy change, it could distract from the content of your reel. Be sure to check out websites like the Music Bed or Premium Beat for songs that best fit your reel!

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Mike Sun is a Video VIP Quality Control Technician Lead at BorrowLenses and a freelance cinematographer and photographer.

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