Tips For Making A Better Video Demo Reel Which Can Get You New Clients (Part 1)

Tips For Making A Better Video Demo Reel Which Can Get You New Clients (Part 1)

If you’ve ever struggled to put together a video demo reel, or you’re planning to make one in the future, this post is for you. Below, I’ll share some tips that will help you be more efficient in your process to prepare for editing hours of your footage down to a montage of a couple of minutes.

This is part 1 of a 2 part post. If reading lengthy articles is like having 2-day-old Panda Express leftovers and you can't stomach the entire thing, scroll down for the TL;DR version. Otherwise, heat up that orange chicken, grab a few Tums, and let's go.

Any videographer who has entered the freelance world and attempted to get new clients knows the value of the all-important Demo Reel. For those who haven’t made one before, typically a demo reel, or work reel, is a short montage of clips that is meant to represent your best work. Think of it as a motion portfolio. Editors, motion graphic artists, and directors will almost always have a demo reel. To properly get us in the mood, light some candles and break out the massage oils. To get ready to read about video demos, here are some great reels to check out.

So what makes doing these so hard?
With video, most projects are not connected to each other (unless you’re using Final Cut X. Additionally, if you're on FCX, we're not friends) so going through multiple project files and sorting through footage is something that takes quite a bit of time. The other issue is that video projects can sometimes be completely unrelated, where rap music video footage might not edit well with a corporate promotional piece. Sometimes they can work together very well, however.

1. What kind of a reel are you making?

Most of the video guys I know wear many hats. They shoot, edit, direct, light, mix sound in post, do timelapses, etc. That’s great, but for the purposes of a personal reel, it can be hard to present all of these things. In the case of making a reel for a creative group or company, then it might be appropriate to include different examples, but for the freelancer or one-two person business, I'd suggest focusing on one specific area for a single reel. If you want to show off both your motion graphics and cinematography skills, then it might be worthwhile to make a reel for each.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll focus mostly on examples that would apply to a footage reel, or cinematographer’s reel as some call it. In my opinion, I don’t think editing reels are very useful, as I don’t feel they are a good judge of editing skills. Editing is all about telling a story creatively, and taking snippets from various projects just doesn’t support that concept. Anytime I’ve been asked for examples of my editing, I’ll provide a single finished edit that shows off my post-production skills and ability to craft a story.

Once you’ve settled on what skill you want to highlight in your reel, it’s almost time to start picking out your best footage.

2. Who is your audience? Or, what kind of clients are you after?

Even for a demo reel, this is an important consideration. You might have some great clips from wedding videos you shot last year, but if your goal isn’t to grow that part of your business, why promote it? Think about the kind of projects you’d like to work on, and build your reel with clips that will help you secure that kind of work in the future.

For example, if in the last 2 years you shot 30 weddings, 10 corporate promo videos, 2 porno movies, and 3 mini-documentaries, you'll have a diverse collection of footage from very different projects. If you’re getting burned out on wedding video projects, and want to add more corporate clients, then use more clips from the corporate promos you have done. Maybe even consider taking a few days to shoot a couple of clips specifically for you reel that focuses on corporate video? That way if a potential corporate client views your reel, they aren’t wasting time looking at wedding footage. While some clips might not be your “best” shots, I’d suggest that having good clips that match the projects you’re after will do more for you than great clips of something completely different.

In the reel above, you may notice that many of the clips feature outdoor locations and athletes. This is my reel, and it was put together with the goal of getting more projects like these. I have cable ads, wedding montages, corporate promos, music videos, and all sorts of other projects where I’ve shot some great footage, but I didn’t feature much of those since they don’t represent the work I’m trying to get now. I made the conscious decision to cut out clips that I felt were better than some of the ones included in the final edit, just because they weren't relevant to the kind of jobs I'm after.

So by this point, you should know what skill you want to feature, and if there's a niche industry or type of client you're wanting to focus your business on.

3. Watch your finished projects and take notes.

Rather than digging through hours of raw footage spread over who knows how many hard drives, I’d suggest simply watching your finished videos. Watch them on YouTube or Vimeo since that can be easier than dusting off old project files. *COUGH-FINAL-CUT-7-COUGH* By watching the final edit, chances are you’re looking at 90% of your best footage from a project. Take note the demo-worthy shots in each video (some videos might not have any) and it will keep you from opening every project file on your system and struggling with their sequences. Don’t go too far from these finished videos, we’ll want to reference them in the next step.

4. Break out the old project files!

Now it’s time to dust off your old project files. You might want to wear a headlamp and a bring a swiffer (if you do this, please post pictures in the comments). Some NLEs might need to re-connect footage or render previews, but rather than wasting time to render an entire project for just a few clips, go back to your finished edits, or notes you took earlier. Check the time index of where your desired clips are, and you can quickly find them in your sequence. Use a “Reveal in Finder” command to locate these clips, or whatever the equivalent is in your NLE.


So… what do you do now that you’ve started to pick out clips?

5. Start a new project in your favorite NLE!

There are a few different ways to proceed from here, since it depends on where your footage is currently living.

Option A: If all of your clips are on internal drives and a couple externals that are always connected, then simply add them to your new project from where they currently sit. (You could even import your final sequence from your old project file into your new project if you so desired.)

Option B: If you’re like me and you trip over all the external hard drives you have lying around, I’d recommend picking a single drive that has at least 150GB of space, then copying your selected clips onto it. The goal is to make all of the media you will be using accessible, and in one place. It does take some time, but having your best footage all together will make things easier moving forward, plus it gives you another backup copy of your best clips. Bonus: when you go to make your next reel in a few years, you will have a place to start from. Once you have collected your clips, import them into your new project, most likely titled, ”The Best Demo Reel EVER!”

Congratulations! The tedious part is over. Pour a pint and catch up on Breaking Bad on Netflix for a bit.


In part 2, I'll discuss editing techniques and approaches to taking all of that footage in your project file, and trimming away the fat until you're left with gold!

If you've seen some amazing reels, or perhaps you'd like to share yours and tell us your approach to making it, drop a link in the comments.

TL;DR version:
• Narrow your focus and pick your specialty (motion graphics, cinematography, lighting, etc)
• Determine your audience; Are you seeking work from a specific industry or client type?
• Use footage that is relevant to the audience or industry you identified.
• Watch your finished projects and note on where the best clips are.
• Open your old projects and slice out the clips you noted.
• Import your selects into a new project.


Here is part 2!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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Great tips. Being specific is key. We just released our aerial reel Its hard to not include the beautiful shots from the ground, but it pays off to showcase one thing at a time.

Great stuff on your aerial reel! Loved the shots flying out of the trees and into open air.

That's shot with the phantom? Very nice - first time i see some proper footage from that one. Are you using any addition stabilizers etc. on the Phantom?

thanks, yeah we listed some details here

Ah, you're using the official gimbal. Good to hear it does the job!

Nice work Chase!! I remember watching you shred wake back in the day and now watching your new work is pretty awesome! Keep it up!

Thanks for the tips! As a beginning videoproduction company (1man) I just released my very first showreel!

Although it is not up to the standards you are linking to yet, I'm still rather proud of it!
This article came just a few days too late for it to be incorperated into my first showreel, but I will definitly use these tips in my next one! Thanks!

Ah, the timing of this post. We just uploaded our new reel to vimeo last night:

Too bad I'm just reading this now! Some great tips thanks a lot guys! Will use these when I make a new demo real!
If anyones, whiling to critique my demo real/portfolio that would be awesome! Curious to know what anyone has to say about it!!! :)

Hi guys!,. i´d like you to watch my showreel and get some tips of it.Cheers!

Good tips. I took some of your suggestions:

Bumped! Still relevant today