5 Things That All Great Demo Reels Have

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Credit: Dollar Photo Club
Here are some tips on how to put together a great (and effective) demo reel.

We're so fortunate as filmmakers to work in an industry that doesn't require a formal education, but like all other professions, we must prove to our potential employers and collaborators that we are capable of doing the job we want to be hired to do. This is where the demo reel comes into play. Demo reels are to filmmakers what degrees are to doctors/lawyers/engineers/etc.: they showcase our ability to perform certain necessary tasks, but instead of getting a printout of a piece of paper, we have to cut together a 2-3 minute video that somehow captures who we are as an artist. How the hell do you even get started? Well, director Zach Ramelan has five tips for you in this insightful video.

Even though there is no right or wrong way to put together a demo reel, there are certainly some areas you might want to pay close attention to when editing yours. According to Ramelan, great demo reels have the following:

A theme

Over the course of your career, you've probably shot a wide variety of films and videos with different looks, feels, and genres, which makes choosing which shots to include a real challenge. Instead of making a 2-minute video of your best shots, incorporate a theme so your audience has something that guides them through from start to finish.

Bangs and explosions

Very simple: demo reels should "open with a bang and end with an explosion." You may only have a few seconds to wow someone with your work, so make the first shot a real attention-grabber. And to ensure you leave a lasting impression, make the last shot memorable/epic/super duper beautiful.

Music that compliments your work

Not all demo reels have music, but the vast majority of them do. If you're including some in yours, make sure it communicates exactly what you want it to. Experiment with different styles and genres. See if that classical piano piece works better than that death metal jam. I've found that using music that speaks a little bit about who I am as a person/artist works pretty well when you're stuck.

A reflection of the artist

In the end, a demo reel is all about you, honey! It's not only meant to show people what you can do, but also who you are creatively. So, be sure to infuse a bit of your personality/philosophy/cinematic proclivity into your reel, because you're not just trying to sell your skills, you're trying to sell yourself. (That sounds...kind of bad and weird. Bad weird.)

A story

Ramelan cautions you to not just throw all of your best shots and sequences into a timeline and call it good. Many, many, many filmmakers do this thinking, "Oh heck yes, they're going to see how frickin' dope I am," when really it comes off as creative masturbation. Our job as filmmakers is to tell stories, so tell a story with your demo reel, and choose the shots that serve this story.

What are some other tips you could share when it comes to creating a demo reel? Let us know in the comments below!     

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Great tips. Just made myself a new reel some months ago. Check it out: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=A5p20NnpD7Q

May 20, 2017 at 1:13AM

Christer Runde
Director of Photography

I always enjoy your articles. Just wanted to comment and say thank you!

May 20, 2017 at 3:20PM, Edited May 20, 3:20PM


Just released my demo reel for the first time in years and did it in a way that shows our personality. https://tarproductions.com/our-story-reel/

May 22, 2017 at 8:43AM

Tim Ryan

The most important thing to put on your demo reel: your name and how to contact you. Put at least those two pieces of information on your demo reel. Do it now. (If I watch a "demo reel" and it lacks these 2 things, then I just consider it eye candy from someone who doesn't want a job or recognition).

Also, add credits/make explicit what work is yours. Creating topical reels or reels categorized by your specialty makes sense. Another approach is using excerpts of your work with appropriate titles that point out your involvement in what we're looking at. You're selling us on what you've done; don't oversell by claiming expertise you don't have.

Online reels (YouTube, Vimeo, etc) are great, but also keep current version on thumb drives / DVDs to give away; some potential clients/employers are blocked from watching media sites at work.

May 22, 2017 at 9:19AM, Edited May 22, 9:34AM

Philip Luckey
Communication Generalist

I agree with Tim. Since nowadays Filmmaker can do everything now, I understand to add everything your reel (I do it as well), but make explicit what you actually did.
Here is e.g. how I did it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O14KkYG3XFY

May 25, 2017 at 7:59AM

Sandeep Abraham
Director, DoP, Editor

Anyone knows if there is a list with professional demo reels to watch online?

September 23, 2019 at 2:41PM

Emilio Parij