The reel is everything. Whether you're an independent rep hoping to get your future star on an agency's radar or an executive producer with a director or editor ready to tear up the awards circuit, the first step is getting agency producers or creatives to take notice. And that means you need a showreel. But how do you make your showreels work harder and cut through the clutter amidst so much competition? We'll help you make the most of your work by making the most of your reels.
A Digital Foot in the Door
When you first approach an agency or client, you often don't even get the chance to talk to anyone. It's only after you've sent a reel and they like it that you get to have an actual conversation about the talent you represent. So your reels have to do the talking for you. Think of them as a digital foot in the door.
Use Advertising Tactics To Cut Through the Clutter
Since a showreel is essentially an ad for one of your creators, it can be helpful to think of showreels in terms of both reach and frequency. On a basic level, reach refers to how many different people see your ad, and frequency is the average number of times each of them sees it. Most people just think about getting their reels in front of prospective clients, but that's only part of the equation. Unless someone watches it two or three times (and preferably more), there's a pretty good chance that they're not going to remember it well enough to reach out to you and take the next step. So you've got to think about ways to get them to watch the reel more than once if you want it to bear fruit. That may be a matter of following up and asking questions about what they thought of particular spots so they watch them again while engaging actively. Or it may even mean sending the reel more than once and tracking whether or not it's been viewed. This requires a bit of extra effort, but it's critical to getting creatives to remember the reel you sent and who did the work.
There is a limit: you want to avoid inundating them with the same stuff over and over. But you'd be surprised how quickly the details disappear after just one viewing. So if you sometimes feel like you're just sending reel after reel into thin air, keep in mind that finding ways to increase your viewing frequency could help crack the code.
Timing Is Everything
Sometimes getting people to react to your reel isn't just a matter of having them watch it enough times. They also have to watch it at the right time. Say your reel showcases a lot of motion graphics; unless the viewer has an immediate need for motion graphics work, they may not respond to it, even if they like it. The fact that they viewed it is great, but you'll still want to make sure that it's fresh in their minds when they have a project that the work is a good fit for.
If you've done your homework correctly and have seen to it that people are viewing your reels, the next step is to do what you can to increase the likelihood that they're seeing them at a time when they have a need and can take action. Otherwise, you'll want to keep in touch and maintain an ongoing relationship until they do. Even if they don't have a need now, they may talk to someone who does, and if you're top of mind, that can turn into a new project.
Talent Alone Isn't Enough
It's a familiar refrain: "We need to see it on the reel." No matter how talented, experienced or smart your director, editor, colorist or VFX artist may be, no one is ever going to just take your word for it. Prospective clients almost always want to "see it on the reel." And by that, they mean that they want to see not just the flashiest or funniest work on your showreel but also things that are very similar to what they're hoping to produce. This helps reassure them that your person can do the job. If you have a very similar project available to show, then by all means, include it. But sometimes, that kind of thinking is really a trap. Making a great reel requires more than just showing stuff that's really similar to what the client is hoping to produce, even if that's what they asked for.
It's a Trap! (And How To Beat It)
While there are obvious reasons why agencies and clients often seek out reels featuring work that's as similar as possible to their proposed ideas, there are also a number of drawbacks to this approach that they are usually unaware of.
Generally speaking, creative professionals take on jobs for one or more of the following three reasons:
- The reel: They love the creative idea and think that the end result is likely to end up on their reels, where it can bring in new work.
- The relationship: They want to start a working relationship with an agency or client in the hopes of establishing an ongoing flow of projects.
- The money: The job is lucrative enough that it's worth doing just for the paycheck.
In the best-case scenarios, all three reasons will be at play. But in the real world, that's rare. More often, only one or two of these conditions are met. Generally speaking, agencies and clients hope that the creative merits of their idea are strong enough that a talented creator will want it on their reel. But creative professionals are a restless lot, motivated by variety, excitement and creative innovation. So if a client seeks out someone who has work just like their project already on the reel, chances are that person is only going to take it on for the money or to get in with the client for future projects. After all, if they already have something just like it on their reel, they don't need it for that. And if they don't need it for their reel, that means they're doing it for one of the other two reasons. The risk in such cases is that they may just "phone it in," creatively speaking. That's why the practice of looking for reels that are just like the proposed project is a trap.
But all is not lost. The best creative agencies and clients are savvy enough to be aware of this and are frequently open to finding talent who can demonstrate the general skill set to do a great job, even if they don't yet have an exact clone of the project on their reel. Those clients know that the added bonus of having someone really excited and creatively stimulated by their project is well worth any perceived risk in trusting it to someone who hasn't done one just like it before. And that's where building just the right showreel can help crack the code.
Picking Your Spots
So how do you decide what to put on the reel? The first thing to consider is what skills the client will be looking for rather than just what the finished product will be like. Will they be concerned with actor performance, how good their food looks or heartwarming storytelling? Does comedy or tone matter to the project's success, or does gorgeous composition matter more? While you may not be able to show them their exact piece on your reel, you can show them things that required the same skills in their creation. Whether it's for an insurance company or a delivery service, funny dialogue is funny dialogue. If the project requires that, try to include something demonstrating the ability to achieve that result.
In addition to demonstrating specific skills, you may want to consider budget and scope. Having worked on large-scale projects with lots of moving parts may be reassuring to a client with a complicated project. Meanwhile, flashy-looking locations and sophisticated visual effects may scare a client who knows they are playing with a limited budget. You may want to show work that managed to achieve a lot of impact without huge production investments. In the end, what you choose to put on the reel is about reassuring a prospective client that you have the knowledge and skills to make their project great, even if you haven't done that exact thing before. You can also use a showreel to balance out or address any concerns you know the client has going into the project. Having your work do the talking is always better than just verbal reassurance.
While you don't want to scare clients with scope or make them think you are only good with huge budgets, it can be very powerful to show them what their work could be like. Especially with agencies and clients who are new to the game, you want to show off work that might be aspirational to potential clients. Make them see that you can take their work to the next level. So if you've got a spot that's next level for them, use it to show them how good their work could be if they hire you.
Leave Out the Kitchen Sink
Building a great showreel can be a bit like building a great meal. You want enough courses to make everyone satisfied, but you don't want to overwhelm with volume. And if every piece you choose to include is great, you'll leave a fantastic overall impression. But if one piece is notably weaker than the others, that is what the viewer will remember. Better to have fewer and know they're all good than to include a "weak link." Leave them wanting to see more. Especially with new and developing talent, having a short reel is fine and far preferable to a reel of mixed quality with some flawed pieces that aren't up to standard. As a guideline, people will assume you're as good as the worst work they've seen from you.
Put Yourself In a Box (or Boxes)
While most creative talents crave variety and new challenges, this sometimes works against making the best showreel for agencies and clients. When seeking creative professionals for a project, ad agencies and clients usually have a specific vision in mind and want to find someone who's a perfect fit for that particular job rather than a talented generalist. They'll be looking for very specific skills, as well as genres and sub-genres of work. So having a really broad reel, while seemingly impressive, can be confusing or make them concerned about whether you really understand what they're after. If you're strong in multiple genres or styles, creating separate reels for each is fine, but it's often a good idea to refrain from putting it all on one showreel (unless specifically requested). It may take more thought and resources, but if you're truly multi-talented, try making distinct reels that demonstrate each of those disciplines and marketing them separately.
Make It Bespoke
Of course, every client and project is different. That means the best showreels reflect not only the general category they're in but are customized for the particular client or even specific aspects of the project. The reel should demonstrate what you can do for their exact needs at the time. That connection between your work and the client's needs is what gives a reel the best chance of getting you in the door. So the more customized you can make the reel, the better your chances of winning the job. The top people in the business make custom reels for each job they pitch on, despite the time and cost this may incur. And creating custom showreels professionally can get very expensive quickly: as much as $10,000 per minute of finished video once you've factored everything in.
Look the Part
Because your reels are the first impression you will make on many clients, it's a bit like your resume or a first job interview. You want it to have a professional look and feel. You wouldn't show up to an interview in your gym outfit or hand them a hand-scribbled resume. So make sure your reel is polished and professional-looking. Include company graphics or animation at the head and tail, and make the hosting page or presentation look good. If possible, you may even want to include their logo or customize the reel with a mention of the project. This is all part of making it feel like it's the perfect fit for them.
Managing Your Stable
Most companies in the creative world manage work for a number of people. Whether you're a production company, editing company, independent rep, post house, music house, color grading or VFX facility, or involved with other parts of the creative pipeline, chances are you've got a lot of work to pick from and a lot of assets to manage. Add to that the need to demonstrate a variety of skills and customize your reels for specific jobs, which means you'll need to handle a lot of materials and keep track of them all. Having a reliable system for managing all of that is essential, or things can get messy pretty fast. It can also be a big time suck, so organization is critical when setting up a reel-building process.
Mitigating Costs and Time
While it's clear that creating custom showreels is the best strategy for winning jobs, not everyone can afford the time and money it takes to do so. On one hand, a reel made just for the project you want to pitch will be far more effective and ultimately win more jobs for your talent. On the other, it's a big ask to professionally create a bespoke showreel each time when you have no idea whether it will even get viewed. And the more projects and samples you have to choose from when building reels, the greater the challenge to managing the process efficiently.
If you're going to be pitching on a lot of projects with a variety of different parameters or styles, it often makes sense to scale up your reel-building capabilities internally rather than relying on outside vendors. Doing this will allow you to be more proactive, respond more swiftly to reel requests, reduce the expense of customization, and, most importantly, increase the "at bats" your company gets by pitching as many projects as possible. Fortunately, there are now tools and options available that let you build reels quickly with the existing staff and resources you already have, using the content you've already created rather than going to outside vendors.
Read about how to optimize your reel-building system in our next installment.
For tips on post-production, check out MediaSilo’s guide to Post Production Workflows.
MediaSilo allows for easy management of your media files, seamless collaboration for critical feedback and out of the box synchronization with your timeline for efficient changes. See how MediaSilo is powering modern post production workflows with a 14-day free trial.