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Should Film and Video Editors Have Demo Reels?

Jonny Elwyn

Plenty of filmmakers and videographers use demo reels to land work. But what about editors, and what should theirs include?

Cover image via recklessstudios.

When it comes to getting work as a film and video editor, should you have a demo reel? And if so, how do you make a really great one?

That’s what someone asked me over email the other day, and it got me to thinking that, actually, showcasing an editor’s skill isn’t the same as doing so for a director of photography, a motion graphics artist, or even a colorist. An editor needs to be able to demonstrate structure, pacing, and emotions — just by juxtaposing one shot next to another, over and over.

I would argue that an editor shouldn’t have a demo reel as we commonly think of one — a montage of your best bits cut to music — because it just shows you can cut a (hopefully flashy) montage but not much else. So the better question might be better “How can you effectively communicate your editing skills to prospective clients?”

Should Film and Video Editors Have Demo Reels? — Editing Demo
Photo via iamwayclick.

First, I recommend that editors maintain a portfolio website that clients can easily access to find what they are looking for, based on the topic or genre they need. Clients almost always want to see that you have the experience they want, rather than just similar projects — if you’ve done a burger commercial, does that mean you can also do a beer commercial? (“But has he done liquids?”)

So build a portfolio site categorized by topic — music videos, commercials, wedding videos, TV shows, animation etc. — so prospective clients can find what they’re looking for.

Make sure you add a little bit of text to explain each project, including your role on the crew. Detail where the project appeared, who directed it, who it was for, and any feedback it received. This helps give context to the work.

One thing to keep in mind when building your portfolio site, just like building a reel, is to showcase the kind of work you want to be doing. Shape your site around this content. When you’re just starting out, this might mean showcasing less work, as you build your back catalogue in your target area, but at least you’re presenting yourself to clients in the manner of your own choosing.

(Adding spec work is totally fine, as long as you’re clear that it wasn’t commissioned by the brand.)

Should Film and Video Editors Have Demo Reels? — Video Editor
Image via Gorodenkoff.

If you’ve worked on a feature film or TV show and, for copyright reasons, you can’t show the whole thing, then see if you can either include a short scene or excerpt instead. This is also true if a full short film is quite long (15-20 mins+) — a client might not have the inclination to watch the entire thing. A 1-3 minute runtime is much more inviting.

If you need to password-protect videos so that only clients can view them, that’s fine too, just make sure you include the password in your résumé or cover letter.

How to Build a Better Demo Reel

Traditionally, a demo reel showcases filmmaking talent in a succinct and entertaining manner. The idea is to stand out in the crowd and demonstrate that you can deliver the specific thing a client is seeking. But this format doesn’t work well if the required discipline in the scene is to hold a single shot for an uncomfortably long time. Would you hire an editor for a 60-second single shot showreel?

I’ve previously shared some tips on putting together a demo reel, but I’ll condense them here:

  • Keep it short.
  • Frontload your best shots.
  • Include only your best work.
  • Don’t repeat work.
  • Add text labels to explain your contribution.
  • Include breakdowns of complex shots.
  • End with your contact details.

But as an editor, I would suggest that you approach things a little differently. Once you have your online portfolio together — with clear navigation and a range of genres and projects on display — then help people into your work with a “personal branded trailer.”

How to Build a Personal Branded Trailer

What do I mean by “personal branded trailer?”

Essentially, it’s a short trailer (60-90 seconds) that sells you rather than your work. You might want to structure your trailer with titles that share your name, years of experience, skill-set, and previous clients. The idea is to shape a presentation of whom they will be working with, rather than just projects you’ve worked on (they’ll have your portfolio site for that). So this is a chance to cut a face-smashingly good trailer that highlights your editing abilities — and beyond.

In terms of communicating your skill-set, find a creative approach to saying you know how to do everything from DIT duties to DCP delivery — or if you’ve got a special talent for VFX or sound design. If you want a masterclass on building a personal brand, this four-part tutorial from Carey Smith of Division05 is well worth your time.

(In this first video Carey breaks down the demo reel (watch the original here) he will then re-build over the duration of the masterclass, and you can watch the immensely improved reel in part four here.)

So think about the tone, temperament, and style you want to use to sell yourself — largely through beginning and ending title texts and music.

You can also ask a friend to help you out or buy a title template you like and use that instead. Just make it look good, and make sure it’s consistent with the rest of your personal presentation.

Jeff Pinilla’s Director/Editor reel comes close to what I’ve been laying out — in that he weaves shots of his work with audio clips from various artists and influencers about the creative process. This gives the reel some structure — which shows me Jeff is a storyteller. And it helps his reel stand out among the “just a music montage” crowd.

For further inspiration check out this PremiumBeat.com curated playlist on Vimeo for more great reels from a variety of disciplines.

To sum it all up:

Create a portfolio site that sets the tone for who you are and what want to do by showcasing only your best projects — and make that accessible with a slick personal trailer.

Looking for more filmmaking tips and tricks? Check these out.

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