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.
Nora 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.