Three underrated tips for nailing your demo reel

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

The video production market is as saturated as an Andy Warhol painting dipped in fuschia or your Aunt Ida’s favorite Snapchat filter. Your only chance of becoming a client’s go-to crew is to rise above it all with images and storytelling on par with Pixar. And, by the way, you have 30 seconds tops.   

No matter how gifted you are, nobody picks up a camera or sits down at Premiere and produces Pixar-level work (not even Pixar) in the first hour—or even the 100th hour. Practice makes perfect. If you want a demo reel that stands apart from the crowd, you already know that you need to put in the time and work hard. So we’re not going to focus there. Instead, we’re going to share three underrated tips to make sure your demo reel knocks out your competition.

Highlight Your Strengths

Your demo reel is like your resume. Use it to show off your highest quality work in the shortest amount of time possible. There’s no formula, but thirty seconds seems to be the sweet spot for highlighting your skills without boring clients.

If you’re vying for a DP role, your reel simply must be packed with visually diverse and absolutely stunning images. Demonstrate your macro lens with up-close nature shots or use a slider or dolly to demonstrate your signature camera movement.

If you’re trying to get an editing job, you must go beyond stringing pretty pictures together and use footage and scenes to demonstrate your editing and storytelling strengths. Consider including a shot from an interview as well as a fast-paced action scene. If you’re more of a director, make sure the performances in front of the camera demonstrate that you can run the show and get the best out of the people. If you offer drone photography, it’s worth having a demo reel exclusively for sweeping landscapes and overhead action photography.  

Use Royalty-free Music

The rules around music licensing are anything but simple and while you probably won’t get in trouble for using popular music when you’re not selling your demo reels, royalty-free tracks are a simple way to show your professionalism. And while Pharrell’s “Happy” might be a lot of fun to edit to and watch, popular music could actually end up distracting clients from what you’re trying to accomplish.

Keep it simple and stay way above board by purchasing a royalty-free track in keeping with the tone and pace of your video. Choose a track that doesn’t distract from the images, story and performances on screen., PremiumBeat and Getty are great resources.  

Test, Test, Test  

Conduct your own market research. Ask trusted friends in the industry for feedback. When you’re close to a subject, you lose objectivity and fresh eyes from people who understand what clients are looking for gives you the benefit of distance from a subject you’re naturally close to. Test the content among this crowd.

Along the same lines, once you have a result you’re happy with, test the videos themselves on the platforms where audiences will view them. No matter how badass your work or your reel may be, it won’t do you any good if potential clients can’t easily access it. Make sure your demo reel is optimized for mobile viewing, desktop viewing and anything in between. Post it on Vimeo and YouTube so it’s easy to watch and to share. You can also use the learnings from the analytics, specifically from YouTube, to inform future development of reels.

The Bottom Line

Once you have a reel that knocks your clients’ socks off, meet your clients where they’re already searching for your skillset by setting up a profile on a variety of online media matchmaking platforms. 

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About the Author

Crew Connection
Crew Connection
Crew Connection puts a suite of marketing tools at your fingertips. Get your demo reels, stills, gear, awards, and more in front of the biggest clients all over the world—for free. At Crew Connection we pay video and post production providers within 30 days of receiving your invoice so your work and your life are never interrupted. Need live assistance or want to add quality jobs to your pipeline? Our crew coordinators are on call around the clock. Sign in to Crew Connection, call 303-526-4900, or email

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  • Production Account said…
    Tuesday, May 8, 2018 9:07 AM
    Nice points. I'll add these:

    - When I review reels, 30 seconds is absolutely not long enough for an editor or director's reel. I need to see how you put a scene together.
    - At the same time, if you haven't grabbed my attention in 30 seconds, I'm out.

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