How to make a valuable demo reel

The purpose of a demo reel is to get you more work right? It should be. Well, there are a bunch of bad reels out there. Lets get to it here’s how to make a valuable demo reel.

My Top 5 tips on making a good (and valuable) demo reel. 

(use links below to jump to tips as you like)

  1. Don’t ever show bad work… EVER
  2. Show depth, not breadth
  3. Build a reel with purpose
  4. Show the work you want to do more of
  5. Always be building it

So many years of being in the video production world and having somewhat of a visible website on Google, we end up seeing a lot of demo reels… And by a lot I mean 2 to 3 a week. Now for all of you who have submitted a demo reel to us please understand that we watch every single one of them. And we do make judgments within the first 10 seconds of watching.

If your portfolio is good we watch the whole thing, but if it’s weak we skip through it looking for good shots. There’s just not enough time to watch most of them all the way through. However, we will provide a demo reel critique if you are brave enough to submit one and ask.

1. Never show bad work

Probably the most important is to never, ever, ever, ever show bad work. You are going to be judged in the first 10 seconds. Show your best work first and get my attention, don’t hold out until the end or when the music builds up. Show your best stuff and end it. Short is better than bad.

The fact of the matter is, we have all made bad work. You know, the stuff you won’t show anyone. We have all had that client or that project that just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. We’ve all screwed up a really good opportunity. It doesn’t mean you need to show the world. If it’s a bad project keep it in your personal archive. You’re going to be judged by your weakest work. My advice is just to leave it out altogether even if it means your reel is 30 seconds long.

2. Show Depth NOT Breadth

Secondly, the majority of demo reels we get (especially from young people) are essentially a compilation of projects trying to show off that they can do everything. I don’t care if you can do everything. You know what “everything” says to me? Production Assistant. I find these demo reels the least effective of all. A demo reel with one well lit, nicely composed frame followed by an animated graphic sequence, followed by a dialog scene. What do you want to be? It’s confusing.

This is especially true when there are labels on top of the shots that describe what it is. Most of the time they say something like “ lighting“ “motion graphics“ “directing“. Hopefully, in the time that you are in school or early in your professional career, you realize where you want to fit into the video production pipeline. If you want to be a DP, then make a fantastically beautiful collection of shots, that show me you can make beautiful images… there’s no need for dialogue. No need for labels. The only thing you need is your name and phone number at the end. Don’t make a sizzle reel.

3. Build a reel with a purpose

That brings me to the third point. Have different demo reels for different purposes. There is nothing wrong with having a few reels if you’re so inclined. Just be specific with what you show. Have a DP reel that shows great and beautiful frames. Have a director’s reel that is a compilation of great storytelling and vision. Your director’s demo reel should be a collection of stories show your vision. If your motion graphics artist and there’s no need to show anything but motion graphics and maybe a bit of green screen composition.

4. Show the work you want to do more of

If you show me a motion graphics reel, don’t expect me to call you for a DP gig. You’re going to be getting a call to animate graphics. There are a bunch of people who are good at something, they just don’t know it… and when I call them to ask if they’re interested in an animation job, they are surprised and tell me they want to direct. Problem is, they have a really bad director’s reel and a really great motions graphics showing. Funny. The point here is, read number 2 again. I don’t care if you can do it all. I’m interested in hiring experts who can do something better than I can, or show the ability to grow into it.

5. Always be building your reel

If you’re not always striving to build your reel, you’re wrong. If your demo reel is NOT where you want to be right now, congratulations, you’re normal. And you’re just like all the rest of us. Everyone is looking to add something better to their reel. If you’re somebody who doesn’t know exactly what you want to do yet, or you want to change what you’re doing, and spend some time building a reel to reflect that. It’s also great to make spec ads, as long as they look legit.

A word of encouragement

Here’s some encouragement, specifically to those people who just recently graduated from college: you have a demo reel. There are lots of people out there don’t have a demo because they’re too lazy to put together. They wasted all of their time.

Your demo reel is your calling card to the rest of the world. The fact that you have one and you’re willing to put it out there, means a lot. So be proud of it and understand in five years from now you’re gonna look back at it you’re gonna be embarrassed. Been there. Just do one thing… keep going. Keep making the best of every opportunity you have and take the time to get that extra shot to add to the reel.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to join a fantastic video production company, and want to be a part of projects you will be proud of, feel free to submit your information either on our careers page or internships page. We really love seeing the work that’s out there and making connections with other people. Or you can read our FAQ page here.