first thing’s first
what is a demo reel?
In editing, demo reels are also commonly referred to as sizzle reels, showreels, or simply video reels. These are short-form videos that cleverly compile a creative professional’s work to showcase their skills and previous experiences in a couple of minutes:
- Think of a demo reel as a carefully curated, highly polished portfolio or even a type of trailer used to promote a person’s experience and expertise within a certain field, usually those relating to acting, video editing, filmography, photography, and advertising.
first thing’s first
The optimal length for a demo reel in 2022 is around one to two minutes long. However, it’s still acceptable for reels to run up to a maximum of three minutes.
our top tips
how to make a demo reel
As an editor, there are a few things to consider when you’re ready to sit down and make your demo reel, like what the story you want to tell about yourself is, how you can use different techniques to tell your story and the things you should avoid when making your demo reel.
Additionally, how much of your story you should tell depends on what you think truly captures your professional strengths while sharing a little bit about your personality. Naturally, the editing techniques you use to edit your demo reel will be telling about your skills and style, so it’s crucial that you demonstrate your strengths in your demo reel. These are our top three aspects to pay close attention to when making your reel:
In our article on how music can give life to a movie trailer, we cover why music plays a significant role in achieving the ideal tone to complement the story or message you’re trying to convey, and it’s the same for demo reels. We advise that you start by searching for the perfect soundtrack to set the scene for your reel.
In addition to keeping your reel on the shorter side, ensuring that only the work you’re proud of is included in your reel is a best practice. While this may result in your reel being a little bit shorter than you might have anticipated, resist the urge to reuse any footage as this may reflect negatively on you.
The key to making a demo reel that truly stands out from the rest is focusing on showcasing your story and what you’re capable of through carefully selected and placed shots, rather than in a florid montage. You can increase recognition in your demo reel by including your name in titles and closing with your contact details, together with the text descriptions specifying your role for each project shown in your reel.
There are also a handful of beginner mistakes you’ll want to steer clear of when you’re making your demo reel. In this Adobe guide on using Premiere Pro to edit your reel, they cover why you should never attempt to “beef up” your reel by recycling footage or, in general, using footage that isn’t your best work, among other things to avoid.
from the experts
On the topic of what makes a demo reel truly stand out in a sea of competition, we asked Kelly Lacroix, a Trailer Editor at Once Upon a Time Marketing, what her thoughts were:
- “My advice would be: don’t try to cram too much in as you risk losing the viewer’s attention.”
- “You need to build a narrative with a start, a middle, and a big finish. Look out for match cuts and connections between all your various footage and dialogue lines.”
- “You can craft a story from multiple stories (is there a common theme you can see emerge for example?).”
- “Sound and music are what will carry your audience through the piece so pick wisely – I would advise spending a lot of time on this aspect as it will inspire you and start giving you ideas for your visuals too.”
- “Resist making it too long.”
For a sizzle reel, think variety and breadth but always with meaning. Don't drop random shots in just to include a project. Instead, try to think how you can weave it in in a clever way.
“The piece needs to feel organic and tell a story. Test it on people who know nothing about the work and see if the reel makes sense to them.”
Kevin Matluk, a Senior Sizzle Editor at Warm Springs Productions, also emphasizes the core purpose of reels and trailers, and briefly explains what makes up that core purpose – music, dialogue, footage, or a combination of them all, Kevin says that there’s a “constant barrage of something new, with more information to digest, that makes you excited for what you’re about to watch.”
Can I grab your attention in the first 5 seconds? Now that I have it, can I keep it? The best demos, sizzles, and trailers all seem to grab this idea early on and make sure your attention doesn't drift.
So, in summary, these are some guidelines for your demo reel:
- Resist making it too long, and only include your best work.
- Build a narrative and craft a story using cuts that highlight your strengths.
- Dedicate enough time to finding or even mixing the perfect soundtrack for your reel.
Best of luck making your reel!