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Old November 9th, 2010, 07:22 PM   #1
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Demo Reel Madness & Questions

Hello all,
I am currently attempting to put together a new demo reel. This will be only the 3rd reel I've ever put together, and I will freely admit that I hate the process with a passion. For those who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me, I have some questions. Please bear with me, this could get long.

The plan is to start with a quick title (my name & contact info), then go into a montage of around 30 seconds or so with quick clips from various projects set to music (royalty free). Then I will go into 2 or 3 segments, of about 45 seconds to 1 minute each, taken from different projects. It will end with another montage (10 - 15 seconds) and name and contact info again. Sounds like a lot, but I'm making sure it is less than 5 minutes. I've read so many different opinions on length. Some would say that is too long, some would say that is fine, but it seems the majority of opinions I've seen so far say 3 - 5 minutes is the norm. I'm going to make two versions of the reel: one will be more of a business/freelancer reel geared toward attracting potential clients, while the other will be more for sending with job applications.

Anyway, on to the questions:

1) All of the longer clips on this reel will come from projects that I directed, shot, and edited myself. The current plan is to do a reel that is a general production reel and encompasses the roles of director, editor, and camera operator. Is it better to keep roles separate in reels? For example, should I do a camera reel and an editor reel instead? If so, why should I keep the roles separate if I filled all of them? And is "camera operator" even the right term to use? I could use "videographer" instead, but I'm afraid certain people might look down on that term as being less "professional".

2) I've seen lots of demo reels online for editors that are entirely set to one piece of music and are basically a 3 minute montage of random clips. On one hand, that does show editing skills if the montage is well put-together, but on the other hand, it just seems so random to me. If I was hiring someone as an editor, I would want to see segments from finished productions, because a montage doesn't really tell me anything. Is that type of reel the norm? Am I taking the wrong approach by NOT doing mine that way?

3) The majority of my material is 16x9 aspect ratio. There are a few clips in the montage that are coming from 4x3 projects. Which is better: crop the 4x3 clips so that they fill the 16x9 frame, or show them 4x3 with black bars at the sides? I'm thinking the former is best, but it doesn't hurt to get some other opinions.

4) This sort of relates to my 2nd question. Most of the projects I've done are not terribly exciting. The main projects that will be represented in the reel are: a commercial for a local community college, a documentary about the history of a local community, and a how-to video about making biodiesel. The montage will have clips from some other projects, but those three are what I consider my best. My only concern is that there won't be a lot of fast cuts or music in the longer segments after the montage due to the nature of the projects (except for the commercial), and I'm afraid the segments will seem too...boring, for lack of a better word. They will be short, and I think they are interesting, but it's just not going to get anyone's blood pumping any faster. Should I be worried about this?

5) Is it okay to partially re-cut part of a finished project that is shown in a reel? For the historical documentary segment, there are two parts that I want to use which have some unnecessary stuff in the middle (unnecessary for this reel, that is). I've cut out the middle part, and joined the ends. Doing that resulted in two similar shots ending up almost back-to-back, so I've also replaced one of those shots with another one that fits. It plays better on the reel, but does not represent the original editing 100%. Should that be a concern, or is this done often on reels?

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading my long-winded post. I probably over-think these things WAY too much, but I take demo reels seriously and I want to do them right...if there is a "right". My previous demo reels were never seen by many people, so I don't know how effective they really were. I got most of my projects since I made the last reel by word-of-mouth or just by showing a couple clips from previous projects (not assembled into a formal reel).

Thanks in advance,
Doug Chambers
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Old November 9th, 2010, 10:25 PM   #2
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I have no idea what other people are doing these days, but my "reel" has gotten me some work, so I'll chime in.

I don't even have a proper "reel" anymore. With DVDs/Internet, etc. why bother?

I have a page on my site devoted to my camerawork. There's a quick montage (a minute or so) of my best clips, and the rest of the page is samples from my best stuff (or the best stuff to date that I could get ahold of or was allowed to show). This is generally what I point people toward. I guess the whole page is my "reel" then?

If I were mailing out a DVD, I'd do the same thing. . .I'd have a main menu with a montage selectable, and then various sample clips also selectable. If I had enough material (I really don't), I mean even make separate menus/pages for corporate, movies, etc.

The idea of putting a single movie/file together the way you're talking about (don't get me wrong, I guess a lot of people still do this) doesn't make sense to me these days. It's just too easy, again, via web or a DVD, to give a potential client the option to go right to whatever they want to see from you instead of making them have to sit through several minutes of material hoping to see a sample of something close to what they're looking for.

If VHS were still the number one format I'd feel differently.

And yes, I'd separate the reels and create the differently. For instance, I have a friend who posted a "director's reel" online. What it really was was just a bunch of shots from his movies. To music. What does this tell you about his directing? NOTHING!

So for directing I'd make a collection of your best scenes/short films/whatever in their entirety. Same for editing. You want to show of the skill you're promoting to the best of your ability right? This also works for camerawork, as a client can see how your shots fit together to make a coherent whole, but here, the montage thing works okay.

This is all just my opinion though.
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Old November 10th, 2010, 09:23 AM   #3
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I'd start with a montage of your very best stuff. Try to "knock 'em dead" at the very beginning. If you bore them at the beginning, they might not look at much more. Keep it short and wanting more.
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Old November 10th, 2010, 10:05 AM   #4
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I agree 100% with Josh, he nailed it. Also, the length you are using is too long. Who hires you? Either corporate people, other crews or people at ad agencies, studios, etc.? The point is that NOBODY has any attention span anymore. Your reel should be no longer than :90 and if you can make it shorter, that is even better.

Most producers that I work with will watch no more that :30 of a reel. If it doesn't grab them within :30, you aren't going to hire that person anyway. The old entertainment industry saying is to, "always leave them wanting more" and it is more true today than ever before. If someone sees your reel and likes your work, if they want to see more, they contact you and ask if you have more to show them. Then you can speak with them, ascertain their needs and show them specifically what they want to see. I do this all of the time. I have ten pre-edited longer clips up on my DropBox. It takes :10 for me to e-mail the links to the potential client.

All a reel is is a commercial for you and what you do. It is NOT a full scale, epic compendium of every piece of work you have done in the past few years. You are trying to get a potential client to call you and or e-mail you. That is all. The selling comes from you or your agent. Not the reel. Most people in our business hardly ever update their reels because it is such a pain and their reels are so complex and epic that it is a nightmare to update them constantly.

To put out an even more radical idea that never fails to cause controversy, IMHO, reels are rarely used in many levels of work these days. Almost all of the jobs I land are strictly from word of mouth and projects that my clients see that I have shot on TV, they see my name in the credits or they watch pieces I have shot in their Blu-ray and DVD collection at home.

Demo reels are something that many people who don't have connections rely on to try to land work and clients and in today's media landscape, where people are already overloaded from staring at computers and screens all day, 98% of reels are just more noise. You can go on any of the popular boards and see great reels, they are almost a dime a dozen. But many of the people with great reels, in this economy, are starving and cannot land work. Not because they aren't talented, but because they are not good salespeople, lack connections to potential clients and don't get out there and meet people in the "real world".

It is different for everyone, but I land clients and jobs from people I have worked with, worked for and with people that I meed out in the real world. Not saying that nobody needs a reel, but in my opinion, the reel is a closing tool, something to illustrate a specific point you have already my conversationally or something to seal the deal when you know the client already wants to work with you. Reels are close to useless as an anonymous sales tool that is going to cause your phone to ring.

Enough soapbox.

I like Josh's approach too, having a web page with some clips but also with some content that shows who you are and what you are about and your skills at whatever it is that you do is MUCH more important that a lot of random clips slammed together in a montage with some usually not very good music. Meeting people who will recommend you, work with you and land you other new clients is really the way to go, demo reels are, in a way, almost becoming outdated. I only get asked for my reel perhaps once or twice a year lately and usually when I send them the link, they aren't thrilled because I don't have exactly what they are looking for.

I was asked a few months ago for a reel for EPK, to shoot the press kit for a five million dollar indie film. The producer who asked me asked specifically for EPK so I sent her a reel of my work from Die Hard IV, 24, Prison Break and a few other shows I have shot on. The footage looked good, I thought it was exactly what they wanted to see, name brand work from shows and movies that they have probably seen. The producer then asked if I had any EPK that was much more "artsy" and show with lots of effects and show abstractly. I asked if they knew what EPK was? EPK is never going to be shot "artsy", no studio would want that kind of footage, there is a specific shooting style for EPK that all of the studios are comfortable with.

Watch Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood and see how much of the footage is "artsy". I then offered to show them some narrative and music video work that I have shot that would be considered artsy, but by then, their financing fell through and the film was put on hold. Point is, many clients don't even know what they are looking for, so a reel, for a potential client like this, would have been useless. But the potential client did call me in the first place because of a referral from another client who I have worked with a lot. Connections are what makes the world go 'round.

Dan Brockett
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Old November 10th, 2010, 06:34 PM   #5
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Some good and interesting ideas guys. Thanks! I'm rethinking my plan now. I already have some sample clips online that are just playable on their own, similar to what Josh described. I'm also putting together a new website for myself where I will collect those clips and maybe add a couple more so I can just send a quick link of the relevant clips to potential clients.

I think there is still some need to have a "formal" reel. I have seen some job postings and such online that specifically ask for a "demo reel" (as opposed to "work samples" or something like that) so I would like to have something ready to send out in a case like that. But I will make it shorter.

This is my new plan:

- Demo Reel 1: For main page of website - max 3 minutes long. Includes name and contact info, montage, two short sample clips, then contact info again. Since this is for the first page of the website and may be seen by people who happen to find the site on their own (if anyone does!), I feel like it's better to make it a little longer to give them a better impression of my work in a single package. I agree that people don't have long attention spans anymore, so I can imagine someone not having or taking the time to navigate through a website looking for something either. This may be the only thing on the site they see.

- Demo Reel 2: Short reel - about 90 seconds, give or take ten seconds. Name and contact info, montage, ONE short clip, name and contact info again. I'll make this one so that the single sample clip can be easily swapped out for the most relevant sample. If I'm showing it to someone who wants a commercial, I'll put in a commercial. If they want a documentary type piece, I'll put in a segment from a doc. This one can easily be changed to focus on editing skills, directing, or camera, or all three; whichever is necessary.

- Other short sample clips will be available online, so all I have to do is send a link. I don't really have enough stuff to break them down into categories, so they'll all be on one page, easily accessible to anyone who looks at the website.

- In case a DVD is needed, I'll also make a DVD template that will allow me to put a version of either reel on the disc while keeping the same menu. The DVD may or may not play the main reel automatically when inserted (is this a good idea?) and then go to a menu afterwards with several individual sample clips. I only thought of the auto-play idea because there may be some cases where people doing the hiring are not terribly tech-savvy. I had one client who was not all that familiar with DVDs. She didn't own a DVD player, and she really didn't know what to do when she was presented with a menu of all these choices. She had already hired me at that point and I was at her office showing her a DVD I had done for another client as an example of a finished DVD, so that wasn't a big deal, but had she been a POTENTIAL client and she couldn't get the reel to play...that would not have turned out well for me.

having a web page with some clips but also with some content that shows who you are and what you are about and your skills at whatever it is that you do is MUCH more important that a lot of random clips slammed together in a montage with some usually not very good music.
I agree. I really don't understand those reels that are just long montages of random clips. I've seen TONS of them online, and I don't know how anyone gets anything out of them. I don't even like the idea of doing a montage to open my own reel. Several people I've talked to think an opening montage is the way to go, but when I put one together, it just seems so random no matter how I do it. I wouldn't dream of doing a reel that was entirely a montage.

I will upload the montage as it is now to Vimeo sometime tomorrow if anyone would like to see and/or critique it. I tried uploading it tonight, but something was wrong with the file. Be advised some clips have not been color corrected, and I intend to add a transition of some sort between the title and the first clip. I have been told that part of it looks like something off of PBS (this person did not mean it as a compliment). I guess that's because it's the only thing in the montage that was shot on 16mm film instead of video.

Here's the montage:

The password is dvinfo.

Last edited by Doug Chambers; November 11th, 2010 at 03:21 PM. Reason: Montage added
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