Be Proud Of Your Reel

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Three Ways To Make Your Demo Reel Stand Out

reel - cover photo

By Drew Gula
 
 

My guess is that you already know what a demo reel is and how it can help you find work. But the problem is that every other videographer out there knows the same thing.

 

Finding freelance gigs can feel just as cutthroat as working for an ad agency in New York City. But I’ve got good news: Not all demo reels are created equal!

 

You have the opportunity to make your reel something special, something that can help you stand out from the competition. Whether that means a great song choice or a clever bit of storytelling, you can absolutely deliver something that will blow people away.

 

Before I dive into three tricks to make your demo reel stand out, here’s a quick recap on why you need a reel and how they help filmmakers find work.

Your TL;DR Guide to Reels

In case you aren’t familiar with demo/film reels (or maybe just want to make sure yours is up to “industry standards”), I’ll give you a super brief synopsis — the least you need to know.

 

A demo reel is basically an interview process, audition, and resume all rolled into one. Creating a montage of your work gives you a chance to show off your best projects, your editing chops, and even your ability to choose appropriate background music and sound effects.

 

Remember that potential clients are going to watch your reel casually, and it might be one of a dozen different reels that they watch in a row. If this is your first time finding work through a site like Staff Me Up, the whole process can come across as a little intimidating.

 

Think of it like submitting a short film to a festival or trying to generate some buzz with a YouTube vlog. Focus on making your reel the best it can be, and trust that the stuff you’ve shot and edited will attract clients who like your vision and style.

 

Once you’ve thought about which clips to use and how you’ll edit them, it’s time to actually start putting those pieces together. This is where you’ll want all the tips and tricks you can find to make sure your demo reel is something that prospective clients can’t forget.



Don’t Reuse Projects

 

Using your best work is a no-brainer. We all have our favorite projects, the ones we’re proud of and secretly revisit when no one’s around. (It’s okay — I’ve done it too.)

 

That’s the kind of stuff to include in your reel. On one hand, you want to feature the stuff you’re passionate about in case a client wants to talk about a piece. On the other hand, those projects are probably the stuff you want to do more of in the future. It’s a win-win situation for you.

 

But one trap in clipping something you love is that you’ll be tempted to rely on it too much.

 

Many filmmakers sell themselves short by including the same project in their reel more than once. Remember, a reel isn’t just a way to highlight your best work — it can also be a way to imply you haven’t worked on enough videos to fill out a 2-minute demo.

 

Limit yourself to using one-shot or moment from any project. Even if that forces you to use footage you don’t especially love, it’s better to show you’ve got a diverse backlog of experiences.

 

That makes you a more attractive candidate (most of the time) than someone who only works in one specific niche. And who knows, maybe spending a little more time with those projects will help you feel more confident about them.

Don’t Oversell Yourself

Your demo reel is also a way to present a little bit of your personality and style. That can be difficult in any montage video, let alone something that’s only 2-3 minutes long.

 

Your goal is to show the best side of yourself as a visual storyteller. But as creatives, we all have a tendency to, *ahem*, exaggerate some things.

 

It’s perfectly normal to highlight your best skills, whether that’s color grading or movement between cuts. But it’s not great to sell yourself as a short film specialist (with a demo reel that is 90% film clips) if most of the client work you do is for classroom explainer vids.

 

Sometimes showing off a diverse group of projects is better than focusing on one particular style. You’ll never anticipate every prospective client’s needs, so make sure to create a reel that shows off your entire project portfolio.

 

And if you’re upfront about yourself and your style, you might even get more work than if you only focused on one specific project type.


Don’t Forget Music

 

You’re a filmmaker. Video is kind of your thing, I get it. But you wouldn’t release a vlog without background music or a feature film without cinematic music.

 

Sound design plays a pretty important role in storytelling. It’s also a way to fill in the “space” around what’s on-screen and give context for what the audience is supposed to feel.

 

Use the same logic with your demo reel. Storytelling is an art, and part of making a strong impression is affecting the audience’s emotions. In this case, you’re trying to convince your audience to work with you on projects they care about.

 

You need to show potential clients that you understand how to capture emotion. And music can be the ace up your sleeve.

 

Finding the right song can be an easy way to highlight the cuts in a reel. It’s how you’ll merge the video, the editing, and the audio into one cohesive concept. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to find stock music you can use in your videos.

 

Do you need a single song for your reel? Or maybe you could use a service that meets all your music needs with a single monthly subscription. Either way, you’ve got options on where to find royalty-free music that actually fits your budget.


Applying For Jobs

 

Once you’ve got a finished reel, sites like Staff Me Up help you get used to the process of finding work. You need to upload the video file so people posting jobs can find you and your reel. That way, they’ll start considering you as the filmmaker they want to work with.

 

To get started on Staff Me Up, login and click on your avatar in the upper-righthand corner and select “Edit My Page” from the dropdown.

 

On your page, you’ll find a “Media” section and a button to start making your edits. This is where you can add a YouTube or Vimeo URL. (Make sure you double-check the privacy settings on the video.)

 

Name your reel in a way that potential clients will know what it is — something like “DP Commercial Reel” or “Sound Mixing Digital Spots.” And if you want this one to be the first reel listed on your profile, click the box to feature it.

Be Proud Of Your Reel

At the end of the day, your demo reel is a way to show who you are as a filmmaker. It might not include your favorite shots or your most creative ideas, but — hopefully — it gives a good picture of your personality and style.

 

I only listed three ways to make your demo reel stand out. You might have your own tricks to add to that list, which is great. The goal is to make sure that when you submit your reel to potential clients, they’ll be just as interested in your work as you are.

 

And if you can do that, then you’ll be on track to start pulling in work left and right.

 

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