April 1, 2014

How Rethinking Your Demo Reel Could Help You Land a Dream Job

If you're involved with the dark arts of video in any way, there's a good chance at some point that you've created, or at least come across, a demo reel. While traditional demo reels are usually your best video pieces cut to music, how can you really stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way if they're all pretty much the same? Nora De tackles that very subject and shows off her "remixed" demo reel, talking about how it landed her a job, and how rethinking your reel could help you land your own dream job.

This is a guest post from Nora De.

Rethink Your Reel

That demo reel you’re reworking today (or cover letter for that matter) should show off who you are, not just your abilities and “what you shot." It should be personalized for your prospective employer, it should be short, and it should reflect your personal brand: your personality and what you’re best at doing -- for them.

I saw a job posting on Indeed for a videographer at Refinery29, a lifestyle brand based here in NYC. As an avid style/beauty nerd shooting DSLR (that was my brand), I thought, "I’m going to get this job." How? Well, I’ll make a video of course. But one that goes beyond the traditional “reel." I’m not cutting film here, so I don’t have to limit myself to a montage. Instead, I’ll focus on showing off my concern for whom I’m targeting, with specific clips tailored to that prospective employer.

Every business, director, and client looking to hire for video or film has their own brand even if they’re unaware of it. As a DSLR shooter, you may even be petitioning a business that is open to suggestions for ways to incorporate video into their growth strategy. A common expectation of cinematographers is that they will create a feeling -- a look. Chances are, even as a well-known or respected DP, you’re responding to the need of a director or producer responding to the expectations of a client, responding to the need of a brand. The brand, by extension, IS a feeling and look. Why not address those needs in your reel?

Personalizing Your Visuals

The problem with any reel, or resume, or cover letter, is that your visuals, or abilities, aren’t you. You cannot convey in one montage that you’re great to work with or that you show up on time. This isn’t a new concept in hiring. You can greatly improve your chances of being noticed and getting hired by adding personality and understanding.

What should your video cover letter look like? Well, what does your prospective brand look like? The company I was pitching curates things -- from DIY life-­hacks to clothing boutiques themselves -- with integrated shopping options built into articles. So, I did what they do. I literally curate my own work. I show them I can DIM by creating a stop-motion video akin to their style of their content. I make my name and contact info an integrated “shop” by making it the last thing the viewer sees.

Creating the Nouveau Reel

I shot this using my Canon 5D Mark II, on a tripod, with a timer. After storyboarding a bunch of ideas -- from photoshopping myself into a series of life events, to animating an homage to the company -- I got frustrated and wrote the simplest script I could. What could you say, no holds barred, to the business/person you’re interviewing with? “Hi, I’m Nora. I want to work for Refinery29…”

Once I realized the script was so simple, I knew the visuals should match. I cut a piece of cardboard to mimic a small display -- about 20 inches. From there, I presented visuals from projects I worked on in an interesting way. They would be smaller than the screen itself, so the format was different from traditional reels. They would feature my face and hands interacting with them, to show I’m engaged with my own content.

Using the rescaling tool in Final Cut Pro 7 and manually tweaking each frame to be slightly different from the next, it made my holding and exchanging the “frame” for the next video seem real. For the main portion of the clip I steadied it, so the integrity of the motion was preserved. I recorded VO with a Sennheiser G2, and set that over the clips with the pacing of a commercial. “Hi, I’m Nora” should have weight since it’s my handshake. A couple extra seconds went to that part. The hook is showing the company’s name “in lights” as the next visual, so they know I’m thinking only of them. This is the crucially important part, as a traditional reel is general and not specific to a particular business or director/producer.

Being Brand (You) Specific

There are limitations with a traditional demo reel. It isn’t generally used to pitch just one company or individual. You make it, send it to a bunch of people, and hope someone likes your work and hires you. A reel is supposed to be expansive, but also specific to the kind of work you want to be associated with. I decided to make a me-specific reel because I knew that in doing so, I wasn’t just pitching Refinery29, but also anyone I gave the link to. “Hi I’m Nora. (I work in fashion, but I also do other things well.)” From there, I took the job description soft skills (“one who plays nicely with others”) and accented the qualities they were asking for. This formed the script.

It’s important to remember that it’s not just big companies that have brands. Production houses, agencies, director/producer teams, even guilds, are composed of individuals with common values. What are those values? Figure out what theirs are, and recreate your reel to feel like a commercial, not a montage. Explore those ways to visualize yourself and your work.

Also, less Dubstep.

Links:


Nora De - HeadshotNora is a new media filmmaker and strategist. She specializes in branding and product, building content strategies for businesses she thinks are unstoppable. She currently works on the marketing initiatives of Modern Guild and Earthsharing, and has created data-informed video content for The Wall Street Journal, Refinery29, and NBC. In past lives she studied and worked in engineering, philosophy, and legal theory.

Your Comment

61 Comments

fun creativity, but your works are average in this reel. that's all that I can say. producer/director hires you because of that you do. it would work if you would be a "creative manager" at the agency, not for dp, vfx, etc...

April 1, 2014 at 11:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Pete Polyakov

Obviously her approach worked. And the post, which it seems you may have overlooked, is about more than her reel. So what have you accomplished by trying to tear down her work in a public forum? Besides just being a dick, I mean.

April 1, 2014 at 11:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shawn

Preach.

April 1, 2014 at 12:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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adam

I agree with Pete. It's a fantastic idea, but it falls a little flat due to the execution.

People on this forum need to relax about the "tearing people down in a public forum/at least they did something/you do it better" approach. If you're not ready to be judged and don't want people's honest opinions, don't share your sensible attempts to be recognized with the rest of the internet.

April 1, 2014 at 12:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jesper

Hear hear!

April 1, 2014 at 3:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JR

You make a fair point, and I agree. But there's such a thing as tact and tone. Your response is a great example of how to do it right without coming off dickish.

April 1, 2014 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shawn

You make a fair point, and I agree. But there's such a thing as tact and tone. Your response is a great example of how to do it without coming off dickish.

April 1, 2014 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shawn

My thing.. work on your portfolio, analyze why people don't' pick you.
Marketing is important, but at the end of the day, your business card - your works.

To Shawn: I said that I think. You can agree or disagree. About manners.. my contacts are public, always welcome.

April 1, 2014 at 5:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Pete Polyakov

I thought Pete came across as honest and unbiased.

April 3, 2014 at 6:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Christian Anderson

@Pete Polyakov
I don´t see where she was stating to be a DoP or doing VFX.
On the other hand, I don`t see anything special about the reel, well besides it being a reel. This is kind of a normal application for "creative jobs".
What´s maybe new here, is that Refinery29 obviously wasn`t looking for someone, who can shoot box office hits with an Alexa or rotoscope Putin into a gay porn, but an artist/creative who can do slick/edgy/chooseyourenvogueword videos for a company, who see's itself as slick/edgy/aso.
So there may be better DPs, VideoEditors aso than Nora, but she offered the best package of soft and hard skills.
Well done, Nora.

April 1, 2014 at 6:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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SpartaBear

When I see something gimmicky like this my first reaction is that their conventional demo reel isn't getting them much attention, and that implies that their work isn't that good (which is certainly the case here). And most of all I just don't see what's creative/interesting/relevant about "holding" your video projects...am I missing something?

June 5, 2014 at 2:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Don't agree with it, sorry.

April 1, 2014 at 11:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bri

+1

April 1, 2014 at 12:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Alex

humdinger.

April 1, 2014 at 12:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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a cute face can go a long way.

April 1, 2014 at 12:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah, so can talent... ever heard of Woody Allen?

Very ugly, very talented.

April 1, 2014 at 6:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jorge

Extremely overrated, actually. And disgusting.

April 5, 2014 at 1:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Christine

Haha. +1

April 18, 2014 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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TTrain

This reel is great, no doubt.

But let's face reality: it certainly helps to be an attractive, young woman. Nobody wants to see my face.

I'm not knocking this, though. I admire the work and appreciate you sharing!

April 1, 2014 at 12:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ron I

Yep, you're going to have to do it on merit alone... now your'e really screwed!

April 1, 2014 at 6:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jorge

Average looking as I am, this technique worked for me back in 1999.
No compositing back in those days though - all handwritten boards and done in camera (DV was pretty cutting edge for a newb back then).

June 5, 2014 at 2:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jerry the carpenter

I have to say, this has me completely rethinking my reel. Rather than sending out a montage of videos I have worked on (though I can always have that as backup) imagine your prospective employer "discovering" your work by exploring.

April 1, 2014 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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zac

Fun idea... if you're submitting specifically to one or two productions. In no way is this practical for a lot of people who submit to many different productions on a regular basis or need to have a general standing reel prepared for anyone who may ask for it. But like I said, if you're submitting specifically to one place, excellent idea!

April 1, 2014 at 12:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael Solomon

Hello Everyone! My name Is Tyler and i'm looking for CREATIVE and PASSIONATE filmmakers who's willing to start a Production Company.

It's a big + if you could spend a lot of your time on developing the production company.
It's a big + if you live somewhere in Studio city, North hollywood, Hollywood , etc.
It's a big + if have any gears

Let's do it! text me at newcinemacrew@gmail.com

April 1, 2014 at 1:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marvin Wait for...

This sounds amazing I want to sign up!!!

April 3, 2014 at 9:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brian

Suitable video application for a fixed, one-man corporate video department position. Won't work for the freelance crowd.

Refinery29 has some quality content, and those sorts of sites prove day after day that flashy, and super high production value isn't necessary to deliver great concise content for digital and mobile platforms.

April 1, 2014 at 1:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Pat

I used a AE template that I thought looked pretty neat, tweaked it to my standards, made changes, and created a demo reel for me that I have since swapped all the content for new content. I think it is pretty neat and different than others, though I know it could use some work! Anyone have thoughts on it?

https://vimeo.com/90364497

April 1, 2014 at 1:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Too long, you need to highlight one specific thing, can't be a jack of all trades. Music, video, and photography is overkill for a single reel.

April 1, 2014 at 3:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Filmpunk

Thanks for the input! The length is one thing I don't like about it, I need to cut it down some. As for it being kinda all over the place, I actually like that idea. Again, I was distinctively trying to create something that looks different than the normal demo reel. That said, I have a full time video day job as well as a ton of consistent side jobs so I don't need my reel to land me every single job. I think I would go more traditional if I was a freelancer.

April 1, 2014 at 4:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You should not attempt a "different" demo reel nor a "traditional" demo reel nor an "insert fluff here" demo reel. You should attempt a "good" demo reel. Anything good does what it is supposed to do. What is a demo reel supposed to do? Get you the job. If the demo reel you posted gets you work great! However, after looking at it, my guess is that it's losing you work. Now that doesn't mean that it doesn't get you some jobs and maybe even more than what you would get if you didn't have it, BUT it does mean that I think some potential clients (probably the higher paying ones who actually know what "good" is for their business) are walking away from you based on that demo reel. It is too long (which you agree with) and as Filmpunk said, there's too much going on.

Your reply is the most annoying type of reply to anyone you ask for a critique. "But that's totally what I like." You should NOT like it because clients don't like it even if they don't know they don't like it. Why don't they like it? Because if you ask them, "Do you like anything that doesn't most effectively sell your product?" their answer will invariably be, "No." Your demo reel is not the most effective way to sell any product because... it's GENERIC and SAYS NOTHING. The demo reel in the article screams creative, cute, nostalgia, etc. Yours doesn't scream anything but I DO MUSIC AND VIDEO AND PHOTOS AND.... Yeah I don't care. A thousand people do that in any given market and you're certainly the best at it. You have no choice but to GRAB me, dammit! And yours does not grab me. I think you should be able to agree with that. Answer this question: Does your reel grab YOU? And be honest. Because if it doesn't grab you it won't grab anyone. My two cents. Take it for what its worth. And no. I DON'T think I can do better. But that doesn't mean I don't know what better is.

April 1, 2014 at 6:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Eric

I don't agree (or disagree) with all of the above but I would say that you can have a generalist showreel if you are selling yourself as a company and not an individual. Case in point

https://vimeo.com/channels/fluxology/

April 1, 2014 at 7:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

Thanks Eric, to honestly answer your question, yes, for me personally, my reel does grab me.

My thing is though, the traditional reel just never "grabs me" and I just wanted to try and make something that looks different. I'm in no way trying to say that I feel mine is superior to other reels.

I also didn't meant to compare it directly to the one mentioned in the article if it came off that way.

Sorry for the "most annoying type of reply," my intent was not to ignore any responses I got, but I disagree when you say that I should not like my current reel.

I appreciate the well thought out response and now have a better idea of how I should mold my next one when the timing is right : )

April 2, 2014 at 8:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JPS

You have some really great shots in there, I especially like the record shots with the red lighting.

My only thing would be, like my reel, I think it is a bit too long. Very purrrty though.

April 2, 2014 at 8:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I would be careful using an AE template in your reel. Personally, I wouldn't put anything in my reel that I didn't make myself, or at least couldn't make myself. If you went in for an interview and the interviewer brought you over to a computer and asked you to make something like the template you used would you be able to? If the job will never require After Effects then maybe it's fine, but if they ever wanted you to do motion graphics and you didn't know After Effects they would probably wonder why you had motion graphics in your demo reel. Obviously you know it well enough to tweak the template, but they might expect that you could build something like that from scratch. Again, that's just my personal feeling, I could be wrong.

April 3, 2014 at 8:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matt V.

Great Point. I do note that I used a template when I personally send it to people. I am competent enough in the program, but you are correct about providing the wrong impression. If somebody was to stumble upon it, they would just assume that I created it from scratch, so I need to fix the description at the least to reflect that.

Thanks!

April 15, 2014 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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You misspelt 'Business' at the end.

April 6, 2014 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Steve

Nora, thanks for your post and showing what worked well for you. I am glad you were able to creatively harness your resume through a reel that shows your interest in the company you applied for, and in that you did a great job.

NFS forum, Nora was trying to provide a unique look at how we should approach reels. True this wouldn't be very beneficial to freelancers, nor to showing what your craft looks like as a filmmaker. It is geared more towards the cinematic approach of a videographer.

And for those of you talking about "being honest" I ask you to reconsider your reel. Is it really honest to who you are, or are you just throwing up your best understanding of what people in the industry want? I applaud Nora for being creative, and I imagine she has better footage to show if she wanted to present visually striking shots, but this was damn effective for what she wanted to accomplish.

Lets better each other with our criticisms.

April 1, 2014 at 2:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ken

You are right Sir!

April 1, 2014 at 5:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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David

Could be hired for creative approach but definitely not for post production.

April 1, 2014 at 2:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edmond

This is my reel, CHECK OUT my approach!

https://vimeo.com/87244506

April 1, 2014 at 4:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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There is no "approach" in your reel unless it came in the final moments because I watched just over two minutes of it and I don't know... maybe it came in the last minute. No one's watching 'til then. And you know what? You've got some cool shots... and some "bleh" shots. I challenge you to make a 30 second demo reel and I challenge you to tell me it's not better. Kill your babies, people (not your real ones, your reel ones budumchinnnng)! All I got from your reel was that you live somewhere tropical (had a Havanaish feel but not sure) and that you have a camera. I may want you to shoot for me if I need a shot of a banana tree? A lot of your shots feel overexposed to me as well. Regardless. 30 seconds. Do it and make it the best 30 seconds I've ever seen.

April 1, 2014 at 6:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Eric

Thanks a lot! Kill your baby, that's a great advice I lost track of... And, I accept your challenge!! 30 seconds, seems like an interesting study for me, as an editor and as self-criticism. Thanks :)

April 1, 2014 at 11:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This is nice... but to me, it feels more like a cover letter. A creative way to introduce yourself to the client and show you have their interests at heart. Clever, simple approach.

My only super minor critique would be if the actual content came right after. Even a few seconds of some of your work, full screen and it would be perfect (and still under 1:30 which is the aim usually for a reel).

Nice job Nora and congrats on the gig at Refinery.

April 1, 2014 at 4:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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As someone who looks at a lot reels and photographer portfolios and actor headshots for the various projects I get called into help manage there is something to be said for BEING DIFFERENT. 97% of what comes through the door is pretty much interchangeable both in content and presentation, it's pretty much ok and pretty much....yawn. Then someone pops thru with a style or presentation that shows a little thought or "gasp" creativity, or something about themselves.
My client has a venn diagram technique, one circle is the large group of people who could do the job. The other circle is the much smaller group of people with whom we could work with for hours and hours or days or weeks without wanting to fire or poison. Sorry Pete, you may in the first circle but IMO not the second.

April 1, 2014 at 4:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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We tryed something similar and got great respons and new clients, just from the reel itself both times. We try to make fun of our selfs in the process. This is the 2013 version: www.gertrud.se and this is our first http://youtu.be/UxlnSa7Pnz0

April 1, 2014 at 5:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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David

Great,

Some instead of looking at your body of work, I'm looking at your body. What if I don't like your blouse or your hairstyle? Pass! Be judged on your work hun, bad idea IMO. You can all ride the "high horse" till the end of time. We're all hyper critical when watching video, let alone a video resume. Demo, referral and day rate. NEXT

April 1, 2014 at 6:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Clrbars

"...demo, referral and day rate. Next"
Whatever works for you, sounds like buying gravel or hiring a plumber. At a certain level the work meets the standard, the rate fits the budget. So the question is personality, does the person seem like someone I/my client want to work with for long days out on location or in a studio. Can they be part of a team or are they know it all energy sucking downers. If some of you folks act as assholish in real life as online I hope you find eachother cuz I don;t want to work with you. Not for a minute or a day...all due respect.

April 1, 2014 at 9:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Honestly, do demo reels even matter? From my experience, all that matters is that you were referred, or know, the person hiring. You could drop someone a demo reel that looks like clips from Micheal Bay movies but they'll end up hiring some idot that they just happen to personally know before you...

April 2, 2014 at 12:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bwhitz

Yeah, that's just how it is. I have literally gotten all the camera jobs I had in my life through acquaintances. I mean they all knew my work, and they probably wouldn't have referred or hired me if it had been horrible.
But the point is: I never had to show my work to strangers in a demo reel, because I got all the jobs I ever had through people who know me and who also know how I work.
Because seeing a few cool pictures in a reel doesn't really say anything, they could just have been lucky shots in good situations. But how does a cameraman work under stress, in shitty situations? How will they interact with talent and co-workers? You can't see that in a reel!

April 10, 2014 at 4:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Heiko

I agree with "Mr Hogwallop" - given the level of work Nora is trying to find, you have to stand out and it helps to appear as if people would enjoy working with you. Now, as you move up the ladder of success and your qualifications, skills and experience become more and more important, you'll need to put your best clips forward up to the point where your name becomes as recognizable as your clips. Once you reach the top, people might say, "That Heskell Willis Miranda guys is a bit creepy but what an eye". The industry is known for its a-holes and, generally speaking, there's a single reason why they are working - they're very very good at what they do.
.
PS. With the proliferation of digital signage, to say nothing of the online presence, the type of work shown in her clip will be becoming more and more prevalent ... but, of course, in 4K! (there are LED panels from companies like Silicon Core that can show a 4K video with its 1.5mm pixel pitch - ~ 450,000 mini LED bulbs per square meter - from as close as four feet and the next generation is getting even smaller, down to 1.2mm)

April 2, 2014 at 1:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

For the love of your own work, get aspect ratio of your super imposed footage in the box right. Not squeezed or stretched.

April 2, 2014 at 3:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edmond

Just watched some home made video on R29, they really could use some help to put some production value into their video. Some shot with the window behind, I kept looking for something to happen outside the window. LOL.

April 2, 2014 at 3:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Edmond

This was a clever idea with good execution. Congrats on landing the job, and thanks for sharing your mindset and experiences with the community! Cheers.

April 2, 2014 at 5:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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When you're this cute, you can be this cheesy.

April 3, 2014 at 6:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Christian Anderson

This is just a unique situation that happened to work. In most situations the employer would instantly judge you unfairly by your appearance, the way you dress, your voice, your facial expressions, your age, etc. and not your work. Most people will automatically judge a book by its cover even when they try not to. I would want an employer to see my work first, and then make a personalty judgement in the interview.

April 3, 2014 at 8:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Razor

"Also, less Dubstep."
LOL. True dat. I love dubstep. But it evokes a certain MTV aesthetic, which may not be what your prospective corporate employer is looking for. It's analogous to populating your website with animated GIFs (Hello? 1990s? Are you there?) As a matter of fact, in the corporate world, dubstep in your reel might be the kiss of death. Subtlety is best when you work for The Man.

April 4, 2014 at 2:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ed Hecht

Thanks for putting yourself out there, Nora. For what most of us are trying to do, something more pollished is likely the best call. But setting yourself apart is definitely a virtue we all need to work hard to do. Wishing you fun and success!

April 4, 2014 at 2:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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great article. redoing my demo. except the world needs more dubstep! :-)

April 6, 2014 at 7:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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john novotny

I think she makes an excellent example of a creative way to set yourself apart from the competition. My general demo reel isn't exactly different or going for a specific style. I simply used the bits I felt connected to and wrote a little piano piece that was almost counter to what you'd expect. Take a look if you'd like. Any feedback is appreciated! https://vimeo.com/75112032

April 18, 2014 at 1:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Luke

I thought that was great. It served it's purpose ,which is what all projects should aim to do. It gave a good idea for a job I'm pitching for so I'm glad this was posted. If you don't like it , too bad. She got the job.

June 5, 2014 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This video really inspired us to use pancartes in a similar, but adapted way in our showreel. So yes, very inspirational.... A stepping stone for new ideas... http://vimeo.com/94493804

June 5, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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As a producer evaluating reels to see if I want to hire a shooter, I want to see different kinds of shots in various lighting conditions. I want to see a resume that shows you have experience. At that point, I care nothing about your personality. That will come across if I call you in for an interview, and if you have a great reel, and appear to be someone who'll take direction and be easy to work with, then I'll give you the work.

This seems more like a video cover letter, which is a clever idea, and you do want to let your prospective employer know you understand their business and have a passion you can bring to the position. There's just not enough there (in terms of sustained shots that aren't in a traveling vignette) for me to evaluate if you're a good shooter.

April 19, 2015 at 10:58AM

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