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The art of making the perfect show reel
- By Demis Lyall-Wilson
- 16 Dec 15
Confession time: I talked my way into my first post-production job. No show reel, no nothing. It was a lucky break, but looking back I feel foolish. Why did I take such a risk? Why did I feel like too much of a beginer to put a reel together?
Now, having reviewed hundreds of show reels over the course of my career in features and commercials, I know I shouldn't have been intimidated. That job experience of those amazing artists? It doesn't guarantee a fantastic reel. I've seen industry veterans with truly horrendous reels, and high-schoolers with humble, minute-long YouTube clips causing supervisors to scream 'hired!' without a second glance.
So what's the magic formula behind this mysterious art? Truth is, there's no 'one way'. We're all unique. No single cookie-cutter solution can capture all the different ways we work, our skills, or personalities. However, there are a few easy guidelines that, when mixed with a pinch of common sense, might help you land that next gig.
Keep your show reel short, putting your best stuff first
Attention spans are slim in our post-BuzzFeed world. Don't save anything for last; let your greatest triumphs blaze during the first few shots. Linger on each example long enough to give the general idea, but wind things up as soon as you've made your case. Don't rush, but don't let it drag either – or give anybody reasons to click away.
Showcase the skills they're looking for
The most common mistake I see is people punching too far above their weight. If you're a junior, ensure your reel is packed with perfect examples of junior-level skills. By all means sell yourself, but the last thing you want to do is highlight areas you haven't yet mastered. You ain't fooling anyone!
Pick music that complements your footage
Cutting your reel to music is a great way to create rhythm and flow, but ensure that your audio choices fit your work, and vice versa. I once saw a reel full of children's television clips cut to death metal. Hilarious, but only until we realised he wasn't being ironic...
Tailor to your audience
One trick that works for me is cutting different reels for different job types, even for individual companies. It certainly takes more time, but doing your homework and presenting the exact reel a company is looking for might make all the difference.
Don't brag too much, and never lie
Spending hours on a complicated animated introduction for your name might seem cool, but can often produce a cringe at our end. Keep things simple; show us your work. And I do mean your work. That time my shot appeared on someone else's reel? Guess how fast that application found the bin…
No lightsabers, ever
Just don't, okay? Not unless you worked on a Star Wars movie. It drives reel-reviewers nuts. Search your feelings… you know it to be true…
One last thing to keep in mind – remember, your work is the star. Practise hard at your craft, and all that passion will shine through in the finished reel. Good luck.
Demis Lyall-Wilson is a writer, digital producer, self-styled prankster and Hollywood visual effects artist currently based in London, UK. His recent projects include Spectre and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Follow Demis @demis.
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