Whether you’re trying to land your dream job at a major movie studio or impress potential freelance clients, your demo reel is a primary tool for landing good work. The best reels show not only what you can do, but also who you are. Emphasizing your unique, creative voice can make you stand out from the crowd. Your reel can help convince people you’re the person they want to hire.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the work you’re showing the result of your own creative efforts? Industry professionals can spot material from a class exercise or online tutorial. The work you produce in school will often look like other students’ work, so leave it out.
- Are you proud of the work you’ve done? Every frame should present your very best creative and technical work.
- Do you have one or two minutes of great material? Keep your reel short. Most people will give you a minute of their time to watch your reel but if it runs over two minutes, it will likely lose their interest. Consider excluding clips that might not be your very best and go for a shorter reel. You can always expand your reel later with newer work.
- Do you have a soundtrack? A well-done soundtrack can move viewers considerably. It’s worth investing
serious time to find exactly the right audio to showcase your visuals in a professional way.
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you’re ready to build your reel. If not, don’t worry. Take the time to build a body of work that you’ll be proud to show to strangers, not just your friends and family.
There are two basic types of demo reels:
- Collage-style reels are often cut to music and contain many short clips. They are best for showcasing short-form commercial work, also known as spot work. The collage-style reel example shown here, by production company Coyote Post, highlights the studio’s commercial, music video, narrative, and VFX work.
- Scene-based reels usually contain longer segments (maybe 15 seconds long) showcasing a technique or specific theme. They are best for showing off cinematography, documentary, or narrative work. The scene-based reel example shown here, from the visual effects team at Stargate Studios, shows their “Virtual Backlot” library of over 200,000 stock footage clips, virtual environments, CG props, and VFX elements for photorealistic scene augmentation.
Whatever structure or style you choose for your demo reel, your goal is to move and engage your audience. Viewers tend to remember the first few moments and the very last shot — so grab their attention.
Visuals should flow together well, connecting themes and ideas. Dramatic scenes should clearly convey key elements of the story to allow viewers to quickly understand the tension and excitement of the moments you included. Let people see what you’re passionate about.
- Include your name or company logo. Let people know who you are, whether it’s at the start or end of your reel — or both.
- Include your contact information. Provide enough information (phone number, email address, and website) so that people can reach you. Either bake it into your reel as a title placed at the end or include your contact information when you post your video on YouTube, Vimeo, Behance, or your preferred social media platform.
- Cut to the beat of your music if it lends itself to this treatment. Show that you pay attention to detail and know how to present visuals professionally. Viewers will feel it if you’re ahead of the beat, on the beat, or after — and it’s worth experimenting with all three approaches to timing.
- Highlight work you’ve done for known brands. Give extra screen time to logos people will recognize. This kind of shared branding is a powerful way to be more memorable. Always confirm that you have permission to use company logos or names.
- Show before and after clips. If you’re a matte painter, visual effects artist, colorist, or similar specialist and your audience is considering your work for a particular project, these are key to
highlighting your skills.
- Show sequence shots. This is particularly important if you build visuals in stages, the way 3D modelers and compositors do.
- Show authentic emotions. If your reel includes dramatic scenes, choose moments with the most genuine performances, as these will engage your audience more powerfully.
- Never use unlicensed, copyrighted music. It’s illegal and demonstrates a lack of awareness of the issue.
- Don’t take credit for work you didn’t do. Clearly label any clips for which you did only part of the work. Adding a simple text overlay that says “3D modeler” or “responsible for motion tracking” avoids confusion and shows you can work as part of a creative team.
- Don’t pad your reel. Repeated footage gives the impression that you don’t have enough to fill a reel. Make it shorter instead.
- Don’t forget to check for errors. Misspellings, audio glitches, and squeezed-looking aspect ratios work against you. These are incredibly easy to miss. A fresh pair of eyes often helps — if possible, get a friend to check the video for you.
Test your reel with audiences who can provide brutally honest feedback. It will save you time and energy later if they give you frank criticism or suggestions for improvements. Tiny adjustments can make a big difference — like cropping out a microphone that crept into a shot or taking more time to perfect the soundtrack.
Get as many opinions as you can from mentors and colleagues you trust. Ask them: Is the reel too long? Is there any clip that doesn’t represent me well? Is the order exactly right? What would you like to see more of? And most importantly: Would you hire me based on this reel?
Some industry niches have their own demo reel standards. Do your research and tailor your reel to a specific company’s preferences, which they may post on their website.
If your reel contains dramatic scenes, demonstrate sensitivity to the pace and flow of dialogue and action. If you edit music videos, cut a reel that focuses on that type of editing. Know what your clients or potential employers want to see and how they want to see it. Most working professionals create several versions of their demo reel to cater to different clients.
If this seems like a lot of work, it is — but it’s worth it. Your reel has to the potential to be the most visually engaging, attention-grabbing resume you can offer.
To learn the ins and outs of assembling a demo reel using clips from your best videos and a matching soundtrack, be sure to read Assemble your demo reel.