We here at Clipland have seen a lot of Showreels over the years. Hundreds of reels. Stemming from this experience, this here is a short (and probably opinionated, incomplete, even silly) guide on how to compile a showreel to make a lasting and successful impression with your "video pitch".
Three things upfront:
Sending out showreels as a short showcase of your work, as a reference of your style (your voice) and experience is pretty much standard today. And: don't get embarrassed when your reel gets turned down - film is a creative medium in which visual style is a question of individual taste. You can't hit the mark on every job.
The first thing a potential client has in hand is your paper (mail) package - so this is your first chance to make a good impression. But don't put too much effort into this. Make it clean and tidy. No scratches, no dog-ears and you're on the winning side. But most people know how to do a good mailing. The other thing is presenting your showreel online. As it seems, handling HTML to make a solid impression is a big project on its own. Many artists, filmmakers and such do great films but fail at compiling a clean, easy-to-navigate website. So, if you feel you can't do it yourself seek someone to help you get the reel online. Of course, a good way of solving this is to use a professional service that specialises in putting showreels online. These days you'd use a portfolio service or host your video at one of the big social video platforms.
If you decide to add a few lines of writing to your showreel, do it just as you would when applying for any other job in the world: Be honest and clear. And most of all, don't forget to tell your future client what your expertise is and why you are the right person for the job. Narrow the image of yourself down to fit the job. As with your reel it is the best thing to show your experience in one specific field, than to show every aspect of what you've ever done. Be an expert! Not a generalist.
Most reels, in fact probably all, start with an opening slate inserting your name and your main profession. But as easy as it is to insert a few characters in a video image, just so easy is it to do it the wrong way. Please make it clean and simple - as with everything in your showreel. Forget all those fancy video effects, wipes, dissolves, color filters and such. No 2D or 3D effects, no demonstration of your VFX skills and please - no lens flares! Especially when your reel is full of VFX-work. Maybe you want to apply as animator or similar, contrast this with a boring black and white slate of your name and leave it like this. Let your work speak. It will be enough and after all, this section of your demoreel is just a caption. It tells people which reel they are watching right now. Nothing more.
That's the hard part. Think of your showreel as a showcase of your skills. And remember what your aim is with your reel. Do you apply for a specific job? Then the best thing to do is to show your skills at just the type of things the client looks for (you can mark these customized reels with a date or a keyword: "beauty shots reel", "fight sequences reel", etc.). And if you do a general showreel, try to provide a complete picture of your work and skills. A good anecdote is that Tony Scott was just hired for "Top Gun" because he had a bit from a Saab commercial in it that featured a fighter plane. And guess what: Bruckheimer/Simpson were looking for a guy who could handle jets... It may not be so high-key but try to compile good stuff and give a good average of your broad spectrum of work. A sure way to bore your "boardroom audience" is to put long unedited (pointless) excerpts from one or two of your works on the reel. This will surely sound the rookie alarm.
Try to be consistent in your showreel. Do a good editorial job, and if you can't do it yourself - again: get external help. Try to arrange a steady flow of interesting imagery and avoid hard gaps in lighting, tone or speed - unless you want to get this effect. Also with music. Try to get a matching track but keep away from mainstream music, it may appear cheesy and it shows that you might not care about the intellectual property side (or legal side) of things. See below for that.
Yes, you've got a lot of material and surely most of it is great. But, keep it short! 3 minutes are enough to get an impression of your work. Nobody will ever watch an 8 minute reel all to the end. Even 5 minutes is too much. If you don't believe it. A few years agon, when Clipland was still offering people to host their Showreels here, we had this interesting statistics feature of measuring if users kept watching a reel and when they hopped off. Our overall statistics back then reveled that most reels are watched for about 200 seconds, that means about 3 minutes - learn from that!
Compiling a showreel and exhibiting it to a group of people or even over the Internet raises a lot of legal issues. Every usage that leaves the limits of your house or the sphere of your family is public performance and has to be treated as such. So be a clever camper and get the rights to put excerpts from films, commercials etc. on your reel and show that you did so. Also it might be that your original contract contains a passage that regulates the usage in demo reels but be sure to check these releases! Same for the music. You need the permission to use that "Top 10" track on your reel! A great way (and the more creative one) is to compose (or let somebody compose) music just for your reel. This will guarantee for a great fit. An alternative might be to use royalty-free music you might obtain from special online sources, or old-school from royalty-free music compilations, etc..
VHS tapes were yesterday! Today, the format of choice is a removable media like a USB stick, or maybe a DVD. If you do it all online (yes, you do), your best bet is to use a video sharing platform. If you embed a video yourself, you'll run into all sorts of cross browser playback issues. Get that right, or don't try it. Just make sure that the video is embedded properly on your page and will start in the client's browser.
All rules, all recipes, all good tips can't hide the most important rule of all: break the rules if needed. But be careful. You don't have to and sometimes a reel by the book will get you the contract. But if you got an idea for a great concept - try it! After all, the demoreel is a creative medium.
That's it with our short hints. We hope these thoughts about showreels help you get the next job. And tell us your great anecdotes about the pitch and showreel process!