Mike Wilkinson discusses strategies to get your demo reel up to snuff so it can bring in some new business.

Demo Reel

1. What kind of a reel are you making?

Most of the video guys I know wear many hats. They shoot, edit, direct, light, mix sound in post, do timelapses, etc. That’s great, but for the purposes of a personal reel, it can be hard to present all of these things. In the case of making a reel for a creative group or company, then it might be appropriate to include different examples, but for the freelancer or one-two person business, I’d suggest focusing on one specific area for a single reel. If you want to show off both your motion graphics and cinematography skills, then it might be worthwhile to make a reel for each.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus mostly on examples that would apply to a footage reel, or cinematographer’s reel as some call it. In my opinion, I don’t think editing reels are very useful, as I don’t feel they are a good judge of editing skills. Editing is all about telling a story creatively, and taking snippets from various projects just doesn’t support that concept. Anytime I’ve been asked for examples of my editing, I’ll provide a single finished edit that shows off my post-production skills and ability to craft a story.

Once you’ve settled on what skill you want to highlight in your reel, it’s almost time to start picking out your best footage.

2. Who is your audience? Or, what kind of clients are you after?

Even for a demo reel, this is an important consideration. You might have some great clips from wedding videos you shot last year, but if your goal isn’t to grow that part of your business, why promote it? Think about the kind of projects you’d like to work on, and build your reel with clips that will help you secure that kind of work in the future.

For example, if in the last 2 years you shot 30 weddings, 10 corporate promo videos, 2 porno movies, and 3 mini-documentaries, you’ll have a diverse collection of footage from very different projects. If you’re getting burned out on wedding video projects, and want to add more corporate clients, then use more clips from the corporate promos you have done. Maybe even consider taking a few days to shoot a couple of clips specifically for you reel that focuses on corporate video? That way if a potential corporate client views your reel, they aren’t wasting time looking at wedding footage. While some clips might not be your “best” shots, I’d suggest that having good clips that match the projects you’re after will do more for you than great clips of something completely different.

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Part II below:

6. Starting your edit!

Everyone has their own methods of editing, and knows what works for them. Feel free to cut to your hearts content from here, but after having done this a few times, here are my suggested techniques for different approaches to your edit.

Go through each clip you imported into your project, pick the best part(s) and cut them into your timeline. Call the sequence “Pass 1,” or “Edit 1.” Don’t worry so much about grouping things or being too precise at this point. Just get all of your clips onto a single track. When I edited mine, my first pass edit had nearly 21 minutes of footage in it. Yours will likely have too much as well, but once you’ve added everything, play back your sequence completely. No music or effects or anything, just the raw clips. Keep in mind that in the end, these clips should be able to hold someone’s attention for at least a few minutes. After you’ve watched your sequence, duplicate it and name it “Edit 2” or “Pass 2”. Watch this duplicated sequence and…

7. Trim the fat.

ANYTHING THAT ISN’T AWESOME OR VERY RELEVANT TO THE KIND OF WORK YOU’RE TRYING TO GET SHOULD BE CUT. Once you’ve made it to the end of the “Pass 2?, you hopefully will have cut a good amount of clips, but chances are you will still be left with too much footage. Just repeat the process! Duplicate “Pass 2?, rename it “Pass 3”, and keep trimming the fat oink oink.

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