Media Production

Filmmakers: Stop Using “Compilation” Reels to Showcase Your Work

OK – filmmakers, producers, directors, editors, and everyone else in the film, TV, or media business. Stop producing demo reels of compiled shots of your work edited to a hip, cool song. I’m not impressed, and here’s why:

– I want to know if you can tell a story. A compiled list of shots from the last 5 years of your career tells me nothing. It doesn’t show me your sense of pacing, tempo, or storytelling ability.

– I want to see how your directing, editing, or shooting fits together. Is your lighting consistent from scene to scene? What’s your shooting style? Do you approach different projects differently? Does your creative approach match the story you’re telling?

– With a compilation, I have no idea what you actually did and didn’t do. Did you design the animated titles? Which shots did you shoot, edit, or whatever? Why are there scenes from promos of major movies there? I know you didn’t do those. You may think it jazzes up the demo, but it just makes me skeptical.

A compiled demo is like an architect showing me individual bricks, windows, or doorways from different buildings he’s designed. I’m not interested in individual parts, I want to see the whole thing. Does the film, program, or commercial have symmetry? Does it work together? Does it make sense?

With Vimeo and other platforms you have the ability to show me a wider range of you work. I want to see finished – and complete – pieces. I might not view everything in it’s entirety, but I want that option.

A compiled demo reel is for amateurs who don’t have real work to show.  Shooters and editors are a dime a dozen.  Storytellers are much more rare.

Don’t show off to me.  Move me.

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  1. I TOTALLY agree! I’ve been beating that drum for the last few years. I also think it’s a waste of money to come up with a sizzle reel in order to sell a feature. I say, pick out a section of a feature and make that into a short film, so you can enter it into fests. That worked for Napoleon Dynamite and Sling Blade.

  2. great post.  greatest issue out there is to make me care – why can you do that?  how can you that?  move me is exactly right -thanks Phil!

  3. Agreed Phil very true Demo reels use to be the requirment when we had VHS, now I want to see a vimeo or youtube page. And if you dont have one, that in itself is a very bad sign.

  4. Yep. When I see a demo reel I always have to ask the person submitting it, “Now, tell me exactly what YOU did on this reel?…”

    An exception might be a DP who shows me a range of his abilities (how he lights an interview, shoots action, captures nature, how he composes, moves the camera– or not, etc.) But I prefer a reel (online) that gives me some context, as everything we do is in some context, and that is the only way to determine of the person has good visual storytelling abilities. The comp reel can be an appetizer for that, but often not much more than that.

  5. We just hired an editor/shooter. Received about 40 demo reels (links to Vimeo etc) 

    When the rubber met the road, I found out 75% of work was not created by them.  I finally did a frame grab from each reel and I asked them what they actually produced or edited.

    Because this was an editor position, I grabbed frames from high-end animations.  Turns out, they sub-contracted much of the work but they produced and/or directed it but not edited. 

    Using this process, I ended up with a very high-end editor that is kicking bu**. 

  6. This is really good to see. I’ve always found myself sending out completed pieces as my demo reel, but I also always thought that was the wrong way to do it since everyone else has compilation reels. I had been considering cutting a new reel to pick up freelance work, but this only confirms that I’ve been doing it the right way all along! Thanks for these notes, Phil!

  7. Time ago I read an article like this, and I guess was from you, it helped me to make my reel the good way, so what I did, was to
    Place the pieces together and to indicate in each
    One of them what specific role I take on it, if I directed or edited, or whatever exacly I did, gotta admit that still use the compilation as a small intro.

  8. This was something I wrestled with when I put together my demo reel. I really wanted to show full projects for all of the reasons listed above. I have also been told that some people will stop watching a demo reel after 30-60 seconds if you fail to grab their attention. What if they choose to watch a full piece that is in the exact opposite of the style they are looking for? Do I lose the gig? Are they willing to sort through a couple dozen examples until they find the one that convinces them I am the guy for the job?

    Fortunately, I have a full-time job and my reel exists simply to supplement my income. Also, my work has changed over the years and I almost exclusively work on motion graphics now. While I am still telling stories much of the time, I am guessing that compilation reels are a little more appropriate in the field of motion graphics. Am I way off?

    Due to lack of time and urgency, I ended up posting a compilation reel. My desire to tell the viewer more resulted in a reel that is longer than it probably should be. That said, this article confirms what I have been feeling and I will probably go back and post a few full contracted projects.

    With all that in mind, it would be great to know if anyone thinks I have come close to a happy compromise with my reel. Phil- I know you are busy and get tons of stuff to look at, so you get a free pass. Thanks for the article!

    1. Great stuff Jim. Actually when it comes to a speciality like motion graphics, I don’t hate the compilation approach. Mainly because I would be hiring you to illustrate an existing story – not make it from scratch. So this reel shows me the range of work you’re capable of. If I want more, I could ask to see some of your finished shows, spots, or clips.

      1. Thanks, Phil. Update: As of yesterday my employment with the church has ended and I am available for freelancing. Not sure if anyone here would even need that type of thing, but the timing of it all made me think I should come back and amend my post! Smart people hang out here, you know…

  9. Phil, that makes total sense for the people creating the art: directors, DPs, sound engineers, composers, editors, animators, etc. But what does a demo reel or promotional reel for a video production company look like? How do you sell your work as a company that produces videos? Compilation or one really good story?

    1. Great question Russ. Today, there are plenty of website templates that allow you to post a wide number of complete videos on your company site or freelance site. It can also be done with Vimeo or YouTube. That’s the way I’d do it – and just send them a link. However, on occasion I will narrow that down and send individual links to productions we’ve done that apply directly to a potential client. In any of those cases, I would vote for sending them full programs, videos, or movies – and let them have the choice of watching a few minutes of each or viewing the entire project.

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