breaking down the demo reel

When I started out on this project, I found cutting my demo reel to be a bit daunting.  Not only did I need to decide what footage to show, I needed to come up with a format, make footage selections,  and satisfy myself that it was (is) ready for prime time.  The next gig could be riding on all of these decisions, so no pressure.  While I admit this post will be self-promoting at the core, I hope this conversation with myself about how I developed and cut my demo reel will be of some help when you’re putting your own reel together.

First things first, the reel needed to be a minute or less.  I have no problem asking a minute of anyone’s time, whether they are a Network VP, President of a Production House, or my next door neighbor.  What I don’t want is to present someone with a 10 minute masterpeice.  At a certain point no matter how good my (your) work is, people are going to get bored and move on to something more important to them (like what they’re having for lunch).  Plus, if the reel’s good enough and a bit on the short side, maybe the person looking at it will watch it a second time.  In that scenario, you’ve only taken 2 minutes of their time which hopefully transitions to the “what is your day rate” conversation.

Unless you’re doing a compilation reel (like Stu’s), you’re going to need a music bed.  I’m a story editor  and colorist and compiling any meaningful stories into 1 minute is a bit of an exercise in futility,  so I put the music decision at the top of my list.  I figure the music will drive the montage and if the reel gets a client interested I can always point them to a couple work samples (when / if they ask to see them).  Understand that your music selection for your reel will be, as my high school trigonometry teacher liked to say, indelibly etched in your brain matter.  Equally important to consider is this music could be playing in a meeting room full of suits, a Starbucks, a living room with little kids in it or what have you, so consider your target audience before cutting your best work to The Humpty Dance.

The Sonics

I’d been listening to the Black Keys cover Have Love Will Travel by The Sonics and  felt the song fit me to a tee; editing is what I love to do and I will travel to do it.  Also, my most recent work was all done at the Travel Channel so it fit.  Bonusly, I dig the raw, retro-punk vibe.  And once I started editing the song my first music bed cut mystically landed at 00:59;29.  With a pro-cisely 1-minute duration I figured I must be doing something right, and if not then heck, just go with it anyways.

Then came the task of putting all my work into one project.  Yeesh, this is where I had to come up with an organizational theme.  I decided to group all my work samples into client bins; Richfield Productions and other corporate videos, Discovery New Media, Travel Channel, HGTV, etc.

sequence setting

Next I had to decide what sequence setting to conform all of my work samples to.  Cutting a demo reel is a great example of a project pulling from multiple video sources.  I based my decision on the intended output (Vimeo) and then worked backwards.  A 16×9 aspect ratio would be ideal for my HD sources and an easy conform for my SD letterbox sources.  And then there were the source video codec issues: Apple ProRes HQ, XDCam, DCVPRO HD, Animation, DV NTSC 25, MPEg-2 from DVD, etc.  I decided on DV NTSC for my sequence codec because 4:1:1 720×480 would be a fine mezzanine, or middle ground, codec to conform my video sources to and edit together into a sequence before transcoding for Vimeo.

The trickiest part of the conform would be for my 4:3 SD video sources.  But my most recent work is all HD, my best work is either HD or 16:9 letterboxed.  After some hard thinking and hair pulling I was able to figure on using just two shots of 4:3 SD source video (above) and looked at it as an opportunity to be a little creative and show some options for potential clients.  Ergo,   Additionally, a lot of my SD work is 4:3 letterboxed and some is plain stinky 4:3.  Which all lead me to choose DV NTSC Anamorphic for my sequence setting. For starters, this will be going to the Vimeo with a compression setting of 640×360 at 1.5Mbps or so.  Secondly, it fits all my 16:9 work easily and my teeny bit of 4:3 work creatively.  But thirdly, and maybe just as important as secondly, it meant faster renders for my 3D Motion project.

3D Motion proj end example

I have to start this part of the demo reel dissection with an emphatic GO CHECK OUT MARK SPENCER’S APPLEMOTION.NET.  Mark’s FREE tutorial, how to create the reflection effect and his $99 Ripple Training Motion 3 Deep Dive, were ESSENTIAL to figuring out how I wanted to build my 3D sets and animate my camera.  Got sweep?

splash page w camera

This whole 3D tangent leads to the core of my demo reel: the presentation of skill sets.  Some people are focusing on editing, others on color correction, some on compositing and graphic design.  You get the idea.  I have four major skill sets with solid broadcast credits behind them that I want my demo reel to showcase: editing, color correcting, producing, and training.  What better way to showcase them than to literally put them on stage?  Well, that’s what I came up with at least.

So now I had 4 skill sets that I could outline to music and figured I would have the triumphant Sonics “ooooooWOW” land on a splash page with my contact info.  That means 4 sets over 56 seconds with an end animated camera flying through all 4 sets and landing on a 5th set.  But my english major background told me to follow the tried and true outline aproach of “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, tell em what you’ve told em.”  And this lead to the beginning of my peice with the animated camera zooming to, then sweeping around, each skill set stage.  At the end of the musical intro, the camera zooms back through all 4 skill set stages and lands on the stage for the start of the reel.

Once the camera zooms to Ultimate Spring Break, I gave myself timings to do a few simple cut sequences followed by a 3D camera move transition to the next sequence.  There’s a lot of back and forth out there discussing the best way to showcase colorist work.  Patrick Inhofer’s reel is a really good example IMHO:

I settled on the “before and after” technique to best display my colorist work.  It’s been the most well received piece of the reel (followed closely by the 3D transitions).  But back to the approach, I decided it was best to finish with a 3D camera move landing on my contact info.  Hey, the whole point of a reel is to have people call you up, right?

Hope this write up has helped you with your own brainstorm.  Whether you love it, hate it, feel bleh about it, hopefully now your approach to cutting your own reel will be less overwhelming.

proactively • hope this helps • peter


2 Responses to “breaking down the demo reel”

  1. 1 claudiomanni
    November 19, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Great post Peter! I’m going through cutting a reel right now and this was the perfect read.

  2. December 1, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Just like the previous post, I am also cutting my reel. Mine was originally an epic (6 minutes believe-it-or-not!) but I also prefer to start long & cut back…which is where I am now. I have a hard-hitting instrumental (cleared) & must work out/attack the organization of it now. So, your blog helped in my research. As you mentioned, its hard to cut everything you’ve ever done because its all great, right? Keep up the fine work, Peter!

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