What goes into a great student demo reel (or show reel)? This is one of the most comment questions that I get asked by students; and for a good reason. Putting together a great demo reel is the single most important factor in whether or not a student will get hired, as it is a direct showcase for their work. So what goes into a great reel? I think that there are 12 rules for success…
Rule 1: Start strong, and create a great first impression
Put your best work first and last. Most studios will likely invest about ten seconds into watching your reel. If they see weakness at the start, they won’t keep watching! So start strong, and be sure to grab their attention.
Rule 2: A great demo reel should have no mistakes
If in doubt… leave it out! If your demo reel has mistakes in it, the studio will notice, and they will throw out your reel. Why? Because they will assume one of two things: either you saw the mistake but could not fix it, or you didn’t see the mistake at all. Either way, your reel is in the bin.
Rule 3: Customise your reel for the job
Don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ demo reel. Re-edit your reel to suit the job you are applying for. If you are applying for a job at Pixar, your reel will be very different to the one you show FrameStore. Why? Because Pixar specialise in cartoony animation, whilst FrameStore tends to do photorealistic creature work. Customise your reel to suit the studio.
Rule 4: Submit your work digitally and online
DVDs and paper portfolios went out with the pigeon post. Your reel should be easy to find; hosted at your blog or website.
Rule 5: Polish your work and learn Premiere or Final Cut
You are representing yourself to the studio. Presentation is important, so make sure that the edit looks nice. Learn Premier so you can cut and re-cut your own reel.
Rule 6: Gather opinions from people you respect
Find people who understand the industry you are applying for to help you review and critique your own demo reel. They’ll likely spot things you may have missed, and be able to offer a fresh perspective.
Rule 7: Remember that you and your friends are not the best judge of your own work
You’ve probably looked at it so many times that you replay it in your sleep. Your friends may say they like your reel because they like you and they do not wish to offend. So get impartial advice from a pro – and take it! Tough love will help you in the long run.
Rule 8: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity
A short reel with a few good shots is much better than a long reel with many weak ones. Remember that studios will not look at a long reel, at least not all the way through. Polish and perfect what you have, and discard the rest.
Rule 9: Show your name and contact details at the front and end
This will include your full name, your website or blog, your email address and your telephone number. Make yourself easy to find. Email addresses should always be professional; avoid things like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rule 10: Keep it short
Students should have a one to two minute demo reel. Remember, quality over quantity.
Rule 11: Include a reel breakdown list on the reel at the end
If there is anything on the reel that you didn’t do, make it clear at the end, and give full credit to the creator. Don’t ever take credit for work which is not your own. This is a small industry, and you will get found out.
Rule 12: Don’t use copyrighted music on your reel
You will want to host your reel on YouTube and/or Vimeo. If you use music which is owned by someone else, your reel will be deleted for copyright violations.