Description image

Tips for a Better Demo Reel

12.20.10 @ 10:07AM Tags : , ,

This is a guest post by Danny F. Santos.

Looking to make a demo reel? There are a bunch of different ways to create a reel that showcases your talents; here are several things you can do to improve it right now (and several reels to watch along the way).

Start With a Bang

While it makes sense to finish off a story with a bang, in a demo reel it makes more sense to put your best stuff first. Most potential employers won’t even watch the whole thing so try to knock their socks off in the first minute or less.

Specific Content

When you’re applying for work, make sure to match the content you put on a reel to the position. If your applying for a position as an After Effects artist, it doesn’t matter how much you rock as a cinematographer. You can always highlight that on your resume.1


If you don’t have enough content, it’s time to do some pro bono work! The more content you have to choose from, the more likely you are to have some great gems of work to include on your reel.2

Title Cards

Put your name and contact information at the beginning and end of the reel. It sounds like a no brainer, but sometimes people forget to include this. Seriously, just type “demo reel” into YouTube and look through all the reels for contact information. If you’re a VFX artist, don’t forget to detail what you did to each of the clips.

Keep it Short

The longer your reel is, the less likely your potential employer will watch it all. A good time to shoot for is around the 2 minute mark, this will make sure you pick the creme de la creme of your work. You can go a bit longer if you need to, but no one is going to spend 10 minutes on a reel.

Edit to Music

Music isn’t the most important thing in a demo reel — unless you’re a composer — but it’s a great thing to edit to just to give your reel some rhythm.

Get Feedback

Show it to friends an colleagues! Maybe what you thought was your best work doesn’t impress anyone; you won’t know until you ask. Use that feedback and polish your reel, no one takes a demo reel with errors or typos seriously.

Be Honest

Do not try to pass off someone else’s work as your own. If they find out, you are in a world of hurt as it is a small industry and you can be blacklisted by other potential employers who hear about it through the grape vine. Just don’t do it.

And there you have it, some tips to improve a demo reel. If you have some suggestions or tips that worked for you, leave them in the comments section!

Ed. note: and here is a demo reel that breaks many of these rules. I’d hire this guy, but maybe it’s just me…

Danny F. Santos is a freelance director, editor and social media consultant. Yes, one of those things is not like the other. He’s currently developing his first feature film with his scriptwriter and producer. He’s kicking ass and chewing gum and you can follow him on twitter here.

  1. Ed. note: If you have enough material, you can always create different reels for different positions… []
  2. Or just create material — shots, animations, etc. — specifically for the reel. Fake it ’til you make it. []


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 34 COMMENTS

  • Sweet I’m glad this is up here. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fairly constant flow of freelance editing projects through different producers I work for, but I’m looking to do editing full time in post prod / advertising and I am just starting to put together an editing demo reel. But I don’t get how you show your editing skills by editing a bunch of shots to music. It makes sense for animation, vfx, cinematography, art direction but when you actually get to direction and editing, it’s all about your abilities to put a story together as efficiently and clear as possible, and more specifically to editing your abilities to manage vast amounts of data. How are you supposed to show that in a 2min demo reel? It’s been bugging me for a few days, I keep reading all these things about keeping it short, and quick and put your best work forward, but they all seem geared to compositors, mo-graph designers and cinematographers. Should it be longer? Full scenes? or do you suggest using the most beautiful looking shots you’ve had the pleasure of editing and just make an exciting little music video?

    • Maybe do a fast-paced, brief opening, and then transition to a couple of intact scenes? If you’re putting your reel online, you can always embed entire scenes as well, so someone would watch a brief intro, and if their interest is piqued, delve deeper…

    • If you’re an editor looking to work at a post house, this is where a bit of research comes in. If the place your looking at does mostly commercials, for example, 4 thirty second spots hits the 2 minute mark just fine. If you’re putting together a reel for place that specializes in dramatic narrative, you don’t need to put in a full scene, but look for 40 or 50 second clips with emotional or visceral impact.

      You can still make a 10 minute reel with full scenes, just don’t expect someone to watch all of it. I’d make sure you knock it out of the ball park with the first clip if you make a longer reel to generate enough interest in the viewer to stick around for the whole thing.

    • Thanks for the insight guys… somehow I got super lucky today and landed work on a series to keep me busy for some months… without a demo reel (just connections and the right person seeing my most recent video). However I’m still embarrassed when someone wants me to send them a reel and I have to say “it’s being updated” so I need to get it done and dealt with anyway. So with that in mind @Danny I fully understand research is important in finding a job and I will definitely tailor some reels to more specific work, but in such a small industry and you get those chances when you meet someone looking for an editor “for a (nondescript) job” what is the best call for a general purpose editing demo reel to send to them? Is a reel with a bunch of chosen shots wherein they are judging the editing of the reel itself a good way to go (like the Patrick Lawler Cinematography reel you put up) or is it better to stick to scenes/spots (like the Taranyan VFX reel you put up)? Or a little bit of both like Koo suggests?
      Also do you have any examples of good “editor” reels? I’m struggling to find any for inspiration.

    • I’m assuming you’re talking about editing feature footage or for television, etc…since the same problem doesn’t really apply in advertising. I’ve run into this problem as an editor as well. Unfortunately for me, I’ve displayed an ability to put together a story, introduce a new scene cohesively and effectively, follow basic editing rules regarding orientation of the audience, cut actions on motion (so that you barely notice the cuts), etc…and I wasn’t given a position because the person viewing it was more interested in whether or not the footage I was using matched with their vision. It’s hard for an editor sometimes because the person doing the hiring will look at the footage quality, lighting, direction, or VISUAL style/art direction (basically everything the editor doesn’t do) in determining what they see in the editor. So for you, I’d say find a couple scene-clips that you’ve edited where your cuts really tell the story. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-pace…just gotta get a bunch of different key “editing” elements in there in a fairly short period of time, and not “just because” – I really really know what you’re talking about though. It’s also hard to tell a couple “different” short short stories with one song and no dialogue…and 3 completely different scenes from different stories are almost impossible to play out smoothly in a 2 minute piece because you could be transitioning from a little kid’s birthday party scene to an intimate scene in a horror movie! This has been something I’ve fought myself on several times. Last thing I want is a huge jarring transition between stories in the middle of my demo reel. haha

    • Lookin’ good, Phil! My one piece of feedback would be to cut the two outdoor water shots — they’re a bit jerky and overexposed. Put your best foot forward!

  • Thanks for sharing my reel :)

  • I feel like the only thing that I didn’t follow in regards to this was the title card both first and last in the reel. The people who are viewing it clearly know that it’s you’re demo reel. Plus, I see it as kind of like writing a letter- you wouldn’t say “write to me here” first; you have to prove yourself in so many paragraphs before asking them for any sort of follow up.

    Check it and let me know what you think!

  • Thank you so much for including my demo reel in this article! I was super stoked to see it on here this morning! You guys made my christmas morning awesome!

  • Hmmmmm, I wish I read this article befor I made this old reel –
    Seems there will be a new one for 2011

  • Nice one, I’ve seen one worth watching too, I liked the building drama of it. It’s sort of a small story of random images.
    I’ll post if I find more.

  • Hey Guys,
    Thank you for that helpful tips and your posted reels… I am working for a reel of my 2010 highlights and it helps me a lot!!
    Before starting there is always the same question:
    What music will be best and can I work with music from well known artists?
    Would you use rights free music to make shure youtube / vimeo will keep it?

    • I believe you can use popular music for a demo as long as you are not making an financial gain directly off of the footage included with said music attached. (Basically, you make money somehow off their song – you’re in trouble.) Getting the job doesn’t count…just selling that actual piece. If you want to put your demo on YouTube, etc, they still delete that clip, even if it’s private. Seems a little silly to me, but there it is. Use Royalty Free stuff if you want it to live on YouTube, I guess…

  • whats about good upload quality?

    demoreel in 360p…

  • Intriguing tactic. I’m suprised I couldnt notice this on typically the large news sites first of all. Nicely played!

  • Question about copy written material: An assistant producer allowed me to edit footage of a scene that never made it into the final cut (this was a big film, but he had permission to let me do an edit for him). The edit is entirely mine, but it comes from such a big film – that my question is this – can I include the edited scene on my demo reel (DVD only, not web) and hand it to an employer? What are your thoughts? Thanks.

    • As long as you are not making ANY FINANCIAL GAIN off of the reel itself. (Not selling the edited clip, airing it in any way, charging people to see it, etc.) -because the footage isn’t yours. Anywhere you post it would be at your own risk, probably, too. I’m not a lawyer, but I know that financial gain is a big deal. You get any money out of those clips, and you can end up in deep doo doo.

  • It’s been 5 years since the last reel I made. Just put a new one together. Here it is:

  • What do you think of mine:

  • wow……………….

  • Question: I edit whatever my intern gives me to do… problem is they are mostly interview type jobs. Ive edited some documentary type stuff for his actor friends and an acting reel. Is it possible to not have work thats creative enough for a reel? Thank you

  • What about this one?

  • I followed all your suggestions!

  • Raphael Derungs on 07.19.14 @ 5:12PM

    Great tips, especially about getting feedback. I’d really appreciate a look at my first demo reel