A demo reel (AKA demo tape, demo disc, show reel, etc) is a video or audio presentation designed to showcase your talents to a potential employer.
The idea is that the employer can see what you are capable of based on the examples you have supplied. Depending on your area of experience and the position you are applying for, your demo reel may include examples of your camerawork, editing, graphics, sound mixing, presenting, etc.
One of the most common questions about demo reels is "How long should it be?". You may be shocked by the answer but it is absolutely imperative that you understand this....
You have 30 seconds to make your impression!
This is how it typically works: Your disc goes in the machine and the employer presses play. Your best case scenario is that the employer is still watching after 30 seconds, at which time the tape may be ejected and placed in the "Maybe" pile. If the employer hasn't seen anything which stands out from the other contenders, or if there is the slightest hint of any substandard work, your tape goes straight in the "No thanks" pile. No second chances. This is not an exaggeration—it is the reality of the industry in which you are seeking to work and this is a good time to get used to the ruthless rules which dominate.
Anyway, 30 seconds isn't as bad as it sounds. After all, 30 seconds is the standard length of most television commercials. This brings us to the first piece of advice regarding the structure of the demo:
Make the first 30 seconds a TV-style commercial in which the product is yourself. Make this self-contained so that the employer gains a good understanding of your abilities and experience. At the conclusion of the commercial, invite the employer to watch the next section of the demo which contains more examples and details.
Content to Include
- It's important to match the content to the position you're applying for. You might like to make multiple versions of your demo so you can provide a tape specifically for a certain position. Of course if you're using non linear editing to cut your demo it's not hard to juggle things around to get the most appropriate parts at the beginning.
- If you are using an interactive format such as DVD you can give the employer a choice of content. The example on the right is the menu screen for a demo DVD.
- Don't include any substandard work. You need to know the standards your employer is looking for and your demo should flawlessly achieve it. If possible, have your demo evaluated independently first (you could ask for comments in our video forum). Be ruthless with yourself because the employer will be even more ruthless. One dodgy shot or edit will ruin your chances. If you don't have enough material you need to do some volunteer work so you can get it.
- Don't include amateur footage such as family home video. It's not really a professional look.
- Never take credit for someone else's work, even implicitly. Sometimes your demo will include segments in which a number of people were involved—make it clear what your role was.
Include Contact Details!
It sounds obvious but, believe it or not, some people forget to include these details in their demo reels. Don't assume that because you shipped a business card and CV with the reel that this is enough—you must assume that the reel will be watched by someone who doesn't have any other information about you.
1. Make it relevant.
2. Make it short.
3. Make it good.