Create an impressive demo reel

Put together a dynamic and engaging reel in Adobe Premiere Pro that showcases your best video editing and motion graphics work.

Industry veteran Rod Harlan put together this sample demo reel for the Adobe Studio team. Read on for his expert tips and then check out the links at the end of this page to see how he created the sample.

Show off your talent

Whether you’re trying to land your dream job at a major movie studio or impress potential freelance clients, your reel is your primary sales tool for landing good work. The best demo reels show not only what you can do, but also who you are. By displaying a bit of your personality, your reel can convince your audience that you are the person they want to hire.

Be sure you’re ready

Answer these questions honestly:

  • Is the work you’re showing the result of your own creative efforts? Industry professionals can spot material that’s from a class lesson or an online tutorial.
  • Are you proud of the work you’ve done? Every clip and frame you include in your demo reel should present your very best work.
  • Do you have enough short clips to last 60 seconds?

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. It’s better to not have a demo reel than to present an amateurish one.

Choose the type of reel

There are two basic types of demo reels:

  • Scene-based reels usually contain 15- to 20-second segments showcasing a technique or specific theme. These reels 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 the extensive work they did on the TNT series Mob City.

 

  • Collage-style reels are cut to music and contain many short clips. These reels are best for showcasing short-form commercial work, also known as spot work. The collage-style reel example shown here is by the production company Coyote Post and highlights the studio’s commercial, music video, promo, and VFX work.

Follow these tips

  • Keep it short. Most employers agree that one to two minutes is enough.
  • Grab viewers’ attention. They may focus on only the first 20 seconds.
  • Show your best, most recent work. Replace older clips to showcase a contemporary style.
  • Express your personality. Whether you are serious or a prankster, laid-back or hyper, let it show.
  • Show some emotion. Let people see what you’re passionate about.
  • Add a soundtrack. Cut your reel to music that reflects your personal brand.
  • Show a variety of work. You’ll have a better chance of catching their interest.
  • Focus on the work you love. If you’re excited about editing music videos, cut a reel that focuses on that type of editing. If you don’t have much content of that type, go out and create it.

Stand out from the crowd

  • Open with your name or company logo. Let people know who you are up front.
  • Close with your contact information. This is your call to action. Include your full name, phone number, website, and professional e-mail address.
  • Cut to the beat of your music if it lends itself to this treatment. Novice editors plop any old audio clip onto their timeline. Show that you pay attention to detail and know how to present visuals professionally.
  • Highlight work you’ve done for known brands. Give extra screen time to logos that people will recognize.
  • Show before and after clips. These are key to highlighting your work if you’re a matte painter, colorist, or similar specialist.
  • Show sequence shots. This is particularly important if you build visuals in stages, the way 3D modelers and compositors do.
  • Handle aspect ratios professionally. Frame your 4×3 footage with stylized sidebars when they appear in a 16×9 frame to show not just a level of added professionalism, but also an awareness of how to handle different aspect ratios.

Avoid these don’ts

  • Don’t use unlicensed, copyrighted music. It is illegal and can demonstrate recklessness — or at least 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 speaks to your character.
  • Don’t repeat footage. It gives the impression that you haven’t done enough to fill a reel. Make your demo shorter instead.
  • Don’t forget to check for errors. Misspellings, audio glitches, and squeezed-looking aspect ratios work against you.

Get feedback

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? What would you like to see more of? Would you hire me based on this reel?

Tailor your reel

While this article lists general principles for creating a successful demo reel, there are niches in the industry that have their own specifications.

For example, if you’re seeking a job as an animator at Pixar, you’ll need to pay attention to the Creating a demo reel guidelines on the Pixar website. The studio prefers that demo reels not have any audio and not be in the collage style. It will also consider reels up to four minutes in length.

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.

Check out the full series on building an impressive demo reel:

 

That’s it — you’re done. Tell us what you think about this tutorial.

 

11/02/2016
Rod Harlan