Demo Reel Debate: What’s the Best Practice? MY not-a-reel strategy.
A topic that always seems to create a big debate: the demo reel. Specifically, an editor demo reel. On one hand, it needs to be short right? So people will watch it? So string together some cool sequences and set it to a wicked techno track. But wait, no. You need to showcase your editing skills. Ok, so it’ll be long. Grab some 2 minute sequences and slap them together. But wait, it’s like 8 minutes long. Who will watch any of that? I’m doomed, DOOMED!
The funny thing about this topic is that there doesn’t really seem to be a 100% right or 100% wrong answer, though everyone feels their answer is the definitive one. When I was in college, I was given some advice about building a demo reel that I would consider to be a lot closer to the 100% wrong than anything else: pull together a bunch of cool looking shots, and edit them creatively together to a beat. “Your reel itself is your showpiece, it shows that you can edit.” Meaning, the reel itself is demonstrating your editing ability, not what’s within it. I completely disagree. It shows that I can edit a sizzle reel for a great DP and nothing else. What’s the point of that?
And of course there’s another whole subsection of editors that don’t even have a demo reel. “I haven’t needed one in years. People ask for me by name, or know me by reputation!”
That’s super, but realistically there’s a whole lot more of us still clamoring for gigs that need a solid reel.
So where do we meet on this? I’m going to tell you the strategy I’ve adopted for the time being. I don’t know if it’ll work for you, or if it even works for me, but I think it’s an interesting approach to marketing yourself, because it applies some basic web video marketing techniques. Instead of marketing a product, you’re marketing YOU. If nothing else, hopefully it’ll make you think about how you brand yourself online.
I don’t actually have what I would consider to be a reel. Ok, well I do, but it’s like the long one I mentioned, and I save it for special occasions and Bar Mitzvahs. The “reel” I have on the front page of my website is not a reel. It’s basically a one minute video that introduces who I am, creates a personal connection (whether the viewer wants it to or not), and quickly showcases in quick succession the types of videos I’ve worked on by showing very quick samples. The point is not to show “hey this is how I edit” but to say “hey I have experience in these things, look at these shiny objects, also I’m a good person, I have these great skills, and you love me already now go watch the other stuff!”
At the end of my non-reel, I have a call to action that points the viewer to a sidebar next to the video. Here, I have links to 4 of my better or more interesting projects. This leads into a rabbit hole of portfolio work, where viewers can watch longer samples of my work. If they saw something they liked in my non-reel, they can find it in my portfolio.
So my reel blends both of the two big sides of the debate: it provides a super quick introduction into my work, showing some flashy images and motion graphics. Then it provides a way to watch the long forms. It’s quick and compelling (I think or hope) and draws the viewer in, and they make their own decisions on where they go next with a little shove from me. It’s a reel in some sense, and it’s not in another. It just serves as a point of intrigue, to hopefully make the viewer leap from mildly interested to full-on looking within your website. In web marketing terms, making a conversion.
If you take away the call to action and make it a stand-alone piece, it’s the kind of reel I mentioned above that I feel is pointless. The engagement and utilization within a site is what makes it different.
I’m not saying my “reel” is perfect, or my website couldn’t use some updating. I’m saying this has worked as a great solution to the debate for me. It lets me tell a story and provide an experience to the viewer. And isn’t that what we’re usually hired to do?
Of course, it makes me really nervous to draw attention to my reel, as I know there are a lot of improvements I could make. Some suggestions I’ve had are things like replacing the software text with graphics, adding graphics for clients I’ve done work for, making the text more kinetic, adding lower thirds to describe videos as they pop up, showing some before/after comparisons for comps…and of course, getting better video to feature. That last suggestion was mine, though. Ugh. My own worst critic.
In the age of web marketing, it seems to me a proper step forward to stop thinking in terms of “reels” and start thinking in terms of web video marketing for one’s own self – using all the tools at your disposal together to create a full package.
I’m always curious to hear what everyone else is doing. How are you using the internet to your advantage? Do reels truly even matter at all anymore when people can just go on your website and watch the whole thing? Or are they vital to your hiring? Do you get asked for one?