You may not realize it, but having a demo reel is essential to be able to show off your work and capabilities to potential clients and employers. It's a quick snapshot of your absolute best footage, edited down in a way that will grab a viewer's attention. You want to make sure it is relevant to your current capabilities, and you also want to have it readily available to send if an opportunity comes up, --a calling card if you will. I'll share some tips below on my thoughts on how to craft a great reel that should grab the eyes of anyone that watches and not let go!
Gather your absolute best shots
The main goal of a demo reel is to "wow" the person that is watching it, so you will want to gather your absolute best batch of work from all of the projects you've done over the years. Pick eye-catching composition, along with a variety of different images and angles. I believe that it's also okay to mix in some motion graphic shots along with live-action, as well as before and after shots, like an ungraded clip with a swipe on of what it looks like finalized. Showing all your different technical skills across the clips will help show that you are well-rounded in multiple aspects of video production.
It's also fine to show work that you have on previous demo reels, as long as you have more new shots than older ones. Just make sure they still fit your overall "feel" and aren't used as filler. And lastly, be sure that you are only using your own footage! You never want to mislead a potential client. If you were only a PA on a music video, then it might not be appropriate to include that on your reel, as it will insinuate that you had a major role in the video's creation. But if you are just starting out and all you have is PA roles to credit, then it can be okay to use, as long as you make sure there is clear text on the reel showing that you were only a Production Assistant. Be honest about it!
Show the type of work you want to get
I said above to include different shots to show you are well-versed, but if you are trying to get work for a very specific line of work, like a cinematographer, or motion designer, then you will want to put more focus on including shots that highlight those roles. If you want to be known as a generalist, then include a little bit of everything, but if you want to be a colorist, focus on shots of footage that has impeccable color correction and grading, including a process shot or two. The same goes for graphics and VFX. If you are looking to get into post-production, make sure that you have a heavy emphasis on showing work in green screen, Mocha tracking, background replacement, rotoscoping, and other similar skills like that.
It is even encouraged by some experts to create multiple demo reels from your portfolio. If you have enough footage to go around, then a possible portfolio could include your primary overall demo reel, one for weddings, one for brand/lifestyle footage, one for motion design, one for sports, etc. This is smart if you live in a city with a specific niche market, like sports, and know that you might stand out if you have a dedicated sports reel to show a potential gig. So, gauge what type of work you are trying to attract, and you might feel the need to separate out your reels for a better chance at securing the job.
Find a song that fits the style of your video
Selecting an appropriate music track for your reel is another piece of the puzzle. Pick one that fits the same mood and speed as your footage. You don't want the music to clash with what is being shown and feel "off". If 80% of your reel is slow-motion landscape shots, then a slower tempo, Explosions In The Sky-type song may be the best complementary track. I personally picked a high-energy song because my cuts are fast, and with vocals, in hopes that it might get stuck in your head after watching the reel.
My favorite site for royalty-free music is www.PremiumBeat.com. The tracks cost about $50 each, but the quality is the highest for what's available (in my opinion), and the site is easy to navigate and filter what you're looking for. www.Artlist.io is another popular option, which costs $300/year for a subscription and has very high-quality music. The only reason I suggest not to use music from here if you can is because so many people use the service, that a bunch of other creatives are probably picking the same songs you want, and you might hear the song somewhere else. Again, this is just my personal opinion, but if www.artlist.io is all you have and you don't want to spend more money on a demo reel, then it would still work perfectly fine. If you have no budget for music, then YouTube has an audio library that is royalty-free to use too. The songs aren't bad at all, but they are definitely overused in videos that you see online because of the $0 price point.
And speaking of audio, don't forget to add sound design to your reel! Bring it to life with some appropriate SFX, and it will really help make it stand out above the rest.
Keep it short and concise
With demo reels, you don't want to overstay your welcome. There's no need to include every single decent clip from every production you've ever been a part of. You want to be as selective as possible with what you show, and only highlight your golden work. The known industry standard for a demo reel is between 45 seconds to a minute and a half. Prospective employers or clients just want a brief, to-the-point visual montage of your style, energy, quality, and experience level.
Take your viewers on a quick ride by beginning your reel with your strongest shots. Start off with some imagery that will grab their attention and not let them go, and then end with similarly powerful shots that the viewer will remember and walk away with.
Also, some people recommend putting your name and email at the end, but I prefer to keep it as clean as possible. If someone is serious about trying to get in contact with you, then they should be able to find that info on your website or social channels, so no need to clutter your end frame with all that extra text. With my current reel, I do put my name at the end, but only because it is part of my brand and logo, so just do whatever looks and feels right to you!
Make sure you keep it up-to-date
I'm guilty of not keeping my reel completely up to date. My last reel was from 2018, and it is now 2021. Despite admitting that, I still think it's important advice to pass along. Having a current reel and releasing a new one once a year showcases your growth as a videographer, your current styles and influences, and that you are staying active and creative. Having an up-to-date reel could make the difference in landing a video gig, compared to someone who has a reel that's outdated.
A personal suggestion for the long run would be to always keep a demo reel project active, and add to it each time you complete a project. This will make your life so much easier when it inevitably comes time to gather your footage and create your yearly reel.
And make sure it represents you!
I'm not trying to get too meta with this one, but making sure that your demo reel matches your personality is a must. Like I stated, you want to show the type of work that you want to make. Clients will usually only give you a chance to produce work for them if you have previous work that fits the style they are looking for. So, if you haven't actually produced something for a certain style of video that you want to show, consider making a spec piece for a company. I actually did that with a few clips on my reel. I never worked for Goodyear Tire or Major League Soccer, but I created a few double exposure animations in After Effects around the brands' colors and designs, and still added it to my reel. If you are ever asked about why you did that in a job interview, just be honest that they were created as personal projects to develop your body of work and that you wanted to show that you can mimic that style, and everyone should be able to understand that!
Hopefully this article highlighted the importance of having a demo reel with all of your latest work to show off. You never know when that opportunity of a lifetime will show up, and when it does, having your reel handy to share could be the key component to landing that dream client that you've been chasing.
Here is my latest 2021 Demo Reel for an example. Let me know what you think of it, and connect with me on my social channels below!
If you want to connect, here are my social handles:
Portfolio Site - www.jhmotion.com
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnphansel/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/jh.motion/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/jhmotion1/