6 Things to Avoid When Building a Video Reel

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

These are the things that can keep you from getting hired. Don’t make these 6 crucial mistakes with your reel:

DON’T Only Have a Director Reel

Reel is a tricky word. It can mean a collection of clips from projects strung together for viewing. It can refer to a portfolio of work on a site or in a streaming album. Or it can mean a director reel: a 1-3 minute video of shots from your projects set to music.

For most positions, there is nothing wrong with having a director reel. If you’re an editor and you have one, I want you to stop what you are doing and send it to the big trash can in the cloud. But it gives a good overview of work for positions like cinematographers and it is extremely helpful for motion graphic and VFX artists to isolate their work in a fun, engaging way. The problem is when you ONLY have a director reel. Potential clients can’t see any context- they don’t know why you shot flat or how you serviced the story with that dark, moody shot. And in video, context is everything.

DON’T Have One Generic Reel

While showing a bit of range in your reel is nice, if you have to many different types of projects you begin to look unfocused and dilute your perceived capability in a particular area. Particularly with corporate and commercial projects, clients like to see work that is exceedingly similar to what they’re considering hiring you to do. 

You should create a way for potential clients to view work that has been curated solely for their type of project. Whether you do this through a website landing page, a vimeo or youtube album, or a video for each category with selections from different projects, it doesn’t really matter (although I tend to find web pages and albums easier to navigate), so long as you have the ability to send a tailored reel for each type of job you apply to.

DON’T Include Personal Projects

This one stings, I know. Personal projects are the work that is the most authentically you. And the bias doesn’t make much sense because it starts to weed out people who are most passionate about their work. But if some your work even smells of being done for solely creative benefit, you start to lose credibility as a professional. Luckily there are some exceptions:

-It is extremely similar to the type of work you are applying for

-It has won awards or was optioned by an established company or studio

-It is head and shoulders above all of your other work

-It is literally the only work you have

DON’T Include Projects that are Noticeably Outdated

The phase ‘You’re only as good as your last film’ is thrown around a lot in the industry. I don’t personally see any problem with including some of your older work, but still recommend looking out for the ‘What have you done for me lately’ attitude. 

You can slip some older work into your reel without an issue so long as it is not easily identifiable as old. Projects for defunct companies, footage in SD or 4:3, or work that contains dated topical references or lexicon will cause raised eyebrows and clutched pearls among viewers, regardless of the quality. And, of course, you’ll want a good mix with newer work even if no one can tell exactly when any particular project was produced.

DON’T Leave Viewers Wanting More

Normally, it’s a great to have people want to see more of your work. But if a producer or potential hiring manager gets to the end of your reel and doesn’t feel like they’ve seen enough to make a decision, that’s probably it for you. They’re not going to contact you to see if you have more work to show, even if you say you do on your cover letter or website. They’re just going to move on the the heaping pile of reels they still have waiting.

DON’T Ever Finish A Project Without Getting a Copy for Your Reel

It doesn’t matter if you think it sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the sort of thing you usually do. It doesn’t matter if it’s painfully dull. There is going to be a moment in your career that someone is going to want to see something just like that project you just finished and you didn’t keep it because you wanted to save 20mb of disc space. Don’t let it happen- buy an extra external HD if you have to, just save a copy of everything.

About the Author 

Dave DiVerniero has been a producer and editor for over a decade, serving an array of clients in doc-style TV (Discovery Channel, TLC, Curiosity Stream), advertising (Facebook, Marshals, Audi), and is currently the Executive Producer at Black Chip Collective. Black Chip Collective saves clients time and money by providing hand picked, expert vetted video crew  at no added cost. No exhaustive search, no staffing fees, just great crew. 

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