5 Things We Can All Learn From The Best Reel On The Internet

5 Things We Can All Learn From The Best Reel On The Internet

Excuse me a moment while I try and reassemble my brain, it’s kind of just been blown by the video reel I’m about to talk about. While I collect my senses, feel free to join me as I showcase this piece of artistic genius and the talent of the young lady who put it together. This might just be the most insane, joyous 50 second video you’ve ever seen.

As photographers we use our portfolio to get work. It should show our work, our style and our aesthetic. For those of us who shoot video, our reel does exactly the same thing.

Earlier this year I put my own reel together of my fashion and commercial work, which you can see below:

As I spent the final moments finishing it up and exporting it, I felt pretty good.

Then I came across this reel, showcasing the work of an agency, Digital Kitchen. Suddenly my own reel seemed like something that had put together by a blind, deaf, dumb antelope that had just spent a week on a healthy mix of hallucinogens and vodka.

 

You may not have heard of Digital Kitchen (DK), the creative agency with offices dotted around the US. You probably don’t know Camille Durand, the editor who cut that reel together. It is quite obvious though that they both do fine work.

I’d never heard of them before either but their work had been showcased absolutely brilliantly in that short 50 seconds of genius. It’s the perfect example of what a reel can – and should – do when designed well. It sells the work of those it represents perfectly, utilizing the concept of aural and visual synesthesia to showcase talent of the agency.

It’s no wonder DK has clients like BMW, Wholefoods, Microsoft and adidas working with them, their client list is ridiculously impressive.

Small selection of some of DK's clients

 

What does this mean for you and how you showcase your own work? I spoke to Camille to find out what I could, and it turns out there are five key areas to focus on if you want to try and bring this sort of vitality to your own work

1.) You Must Hone Your Craft To Own Your Craft

The ability to curate your work – the make selects, edits and sequence it - isn’t something you develop over night. You have to put in time to develop your vision. In Camille’s case, her background and formal training in the arts helped provide a strong foundation, and has spent 5 years working at DK and editing for them.

She received her Bachelor and Master degrees in Art and specialized in video installation She also spent time in Paris studying for a Masters in Design Interface for Web and Interactive Content.

But she didn’t just rely on formal training as she explained:

I explored editing in more experimental ways, using programming to create an editing system that would edit the movie at the same time you were watching it (this project, Bel Mundo can be seen here

Formal foundation can be useful for some, but we all really have to practice and experiment to forge a clear vision. There is a connection between Camille’s earlier work and the concept of motion and synchronicity, and how it’s reflected in the reel she created for DK.

A strong formal education but lots of practice in particular have put Camille (shown here) on the path to success

2.) Collaboration Is Key

 

Whether you are formally trained or not, matters less than who you have around you, and how you work with them. Camille, originally from France, has been in Seattle since 2009. After interning for several months at DK, she ended up on a 9 month apprenticeship with the lead editor, Shawn Fedorchuk, who had a large hand in the creative direction and edited the opening titles for True Blood.

Camille explains this sense of collaborative working:

I love the collaborative part of my job. We bounce ideas off each other and share our points of view. Each collaboration with a different team member leads to a new step of discovery and learning. I can easily wander for hours on details while crafting something. But when you collaborate, you get pushed beyond your own one-sided visions.

My training and experience here at DK shaped a point of view and taste concerning editing techniques. Various collaborations provided me with different skills and allowed me to understand different ways to get around similar challenges. I like thinking about an edit as a sort of organic assemblage of pieces of time and motion that flows together in a choreographed dance. It should be fluid even if fast cutting. I do think I developed somewhat of a certain style unique to me, at least among the editors at DK.

 

Collaborating is key

3.) Have A Process But Stay Open To 'Happy Accidents'

Camille explained her process that helps her structure her work while maintaining an open mind and eye for those moments you can’t plan for, but might elevate the work you’re showcasing.

It is definitively a mix of following your intuitions, trying things, while acknowledging happy accidents. When you do stumble upon them, you have to them inform the rest of your work.

I always make timelines of selects of my footage, then I go through it, reorganize and cut it down in more precise selections and start shaping and exploring pieces of edits. I also learned from Shawn to work on a solid audio cut first and then start to fill different sections of it.

How the video works with the audio is critical for a good reel and engaging your audience.

When working on a montage like this one, the audio edit guides you a lot ; where to go, when to accelerate, jump cut and pause. I was aiming to guide the eye of the viewer through various places. You have to leave space to breath, allow the viewer’s eye to rest on something, and then transport them again through another journey across the screen.

 

Everything is allowed but it needs to flows right. Similar shapes and continuous motions help you get there.

 

4.) Hard Work Pays Off

This might be common sense, but what do I mean by "hard work"? For the 50 second DK reel video, Camille recalls she spent about 60 hours of work to get it from start to finish. Yes, SIXTY hours.

I spent approximately a day sourcing footage and getting the project started, then maybe two days cutting and exploring until I got a rough cut that I shared. Probably about 30 hours total. The tone, the feel of it, the energy and the general form were there. We massaged the edit and brought in more elements that could make a better and more balanced mix and that second phase was probably another 30 hours.

 

This effort totally pays off as the end product shows some masterful segues between aspects, like using dance as a link from one clip to another

Snoop Dog dances up a storm...

...which leads beautifully to this clip of a couple dancing in an elevator...

...to this girl dancing in a party...

...which culminates in this dancing animation clip.

Is 60 hours too much? For some, it wouldn’t be enough. Our reel (or book) is our calling card, and not doing out work justice is simply not an option. Put in the work and you’ll be rewarded for it.

5.) See Your Work With Fresh Eyes

Perhaps one of the most difficult things we can do is to look at our own work with fresh eyes. Camille said this was key for her, especially after spending so much time on the work.

One of the hard things for me when editing is that you dive so deeply into a small area of the edit, that you become aware of a different timescale within it that the first time viewer won't necessarily see. You need to step back and try to experience the work with a pair of fresh eyes. The breathing room / pauses and speed ramps are balancing each other and curve the energy/experience of the cut as a whole.  

Great use of speed and synchronicity with sound as this man bites his sandwich on beat...

and this test crash footage follows similarly on beat, with the use of speed ramping to time the action with the soundtrack

...and it even works with obscure elements like this venus fly trap snapping shut on the frog on beat.

She has a few techniques she mentioned that helps her to keep looking at the work in a fresh light:
 

I try not to get too attached to one shot or pairing of shots. I force myself to zoom out of my working zone and consider / watch the edit as a whole every so often.

I let the beat (whether from the music, voices or sounds) inform and guide the cut, but also remember that I can break free from it.

When I review the edit I look for strong / compelling juxtapositions.

 

Final Thoughts

This reel was easily the best example I’ve seen of “showcasing” for as long as I can remember. It begs to be watched, rewatched and studied. I counted over 100 clips in this video, and not one of them felt too long or too short, or even out of place. 

If the job of the editor is not to be noticed, Camille has excelled, and rewatching it delivers the rewards of being able to understand the vision she had for the piece. 

Camille has shown us that no matter what work you’re showcasing, through collaboration, experimentation, tapping into your own vision and being open to chance, we can all showcase the best of our own work. Above all, work hard and don’t settle for showcasing your talents at any less than the clients you want to win would expect, and always, always    take a moment to step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing.

Good luck, and make sure you showcase your own work in the comments below so we can all check it 

 

Special Thanks - Camille Durand and Will Byrne at Digital Kitchen

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34 Comments

Tony Roslund's picture

That was pretty epic. I particularly like Snoop and Dexter. I gotta say, your reel is pretty f'n sweet too!

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Tony, appreciate it!

Geoff Miasnik's picture

Nope. Didn't like it. Don't care for it.

Mike Kelley's picture

That almost gave me a seizure

Colleen Issa's picture

I really didn't like the super-fast cuts from the DK reel.

Absolutely LOVED it! Yes the cuts were super fast, but this reel is what I'd expect from this type of design agency...brilliant, excellnet sound track too.

David Geffin's picture

Yep, it's not to everyone's taste for sure, but it pushed my buttons too.

thought that was pretty weird though creative...honestly liked yours better for photography

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Ken, and yeah they are different types of reel, content and editing. I just felt like when i saw the construct behind the DK reel, it was less about the content and more about the beautiful assembly.

Timothy Logan's picture

I'd say it's a difficult task to compare your reel to that of a super studio like DK. There is work in their reel going back 8+ years that allows for many of the thematic ties you (she) mentions.

To that point though, I think you are on track with being able to curate your own (or more so others) work. Camille may be the editor of this piece, and a fantastic one at that, but she is essentially curating the work of dozens upon dozens of different directors and editors who worked on each of those individual pieces going back at least 8-10 years.

Perhaps one take away that you missed and that many could apply to their own reels is the brevity of the piece. DK has long been the master at curating years of top notch work down to a 60s or less showreel. How many of us with far less experience and far less impressive work feel the need to have reels that span over two to three minutes?

And finally, if you weren't familiar with DK before I'd recommend adding www.motionographer.com to your daily reading list - You will find that DK is just one of many juggernauts in the productions world... and I almost guarantee you'll also find a few reels that blow even that DK reel out of the water.

Miles Bergstrom's picture

I have to completely agree with you on all the points you made Tim. The biggest one being is that peoples reels are WAY too long. I was always taught that a reel should be a 1:30 at the longest. You just can't hold peoples attention otherwise. I see reels that push 2-4 minute and tend to skip through them.

David Geffin's picture

thanks Tim, great points especially on the importance of brevity. Tried to make that connect in the "is 60 hours of work for 50 seconds too much" point? Honestly, brevity and making the point in a short span is one of the reasons I'm sure these reels require so much work. It's definitely something i'll be keeping in mind for my next reel.

Thanks too for the motionographer.com link - had a look and some great stuff there!

Nathan Elson's picture

Who's remix is that of the Nelly Furtado song?

David Geffin's picture

Bassnectar i think

Perhaps I'm not appreciating the craft enough but I felt a little motion sickness after that. I feel the editor is very present. This may be angled toward marketing execs and not the general public. But I don't think I'll watch again. Enjoyed your reel though David.

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Christian, appreciate the nice words on my work and can see where you're coming from. For sure this reel isn't to everyone's taste (see the other comments) but i think it's definitely an artistic piece in it's own right not just a marketing exec piece. The real genius is how it meshes audio and visuals and the interconnectivity between the visual elements and sequencing. For sure, the cuts are a little quick for some, but i think that's why i like it :)

Jon Clayton's picture

Both reels are very good IMO just different styles / objectives. Good article too, not just a skim over the surface there's some good info in there too. Thanks

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Jon appreciate the nice words and glad you got some good info out of the piece.

Both reels are great, but the pacing of the DK one is fantastic and I really feel that keeping it under a minute really whets one's appetite. The demo reel is the business card, once the potential client is intrigued he or she will go to your website to see what the snippets were all about. That's when you present your full-length work.

Great article, I'd love to see more in depth analysis pieces like this one!

David Geffin's picture

Thanks David, glad you enjoyed the piece. 'Pacing' on the DK reel is a great word to describe one of the key assets of that reel!

I personally can appreciate a fast edit, when it is done well. This reel is well made and cut to the beat. The audio is not distracting, and there is just enough visual for your mind to wrap around it. I did something similar with our video here, https://vimeo.com/105076605

but the dk reel was executed in a much more tasteful manner. David your description of your demo reel is delightful, particularly "a healthy mix of hallucinogens and vodka". As far as fashion work goes, I believe your work is amazing. The only recommendation I have is to maybe shorten it up a little. Overall, great read and thanks for the info.

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Nate, glad you liked the article and thanks for the nice words on my reel! Nice reel there too, and thanks for the feedback -I'm definitely shortening my next reel to closer to 60 seconds.

It's good to be at least somewhat critical of your work - it keeps you honest, but I think you're being a little too hard on yourself as I thought it was pretty damn good! Shorter can be better, but obviously it'll mean a selection of shorter shots that provide a greater impact.

Also, whilst i have your attention, what camera do you shoot on? The slow mo looks great!

David Geffin's picture

Thanks Anthony - all on my 5D mk3 :)

Wow, it looks really good! I'm starting to get really tired of the standard frame rates on the Mk2. Strongly considering some upgrade options if and when things pick up this year!

Bob Bell's picture

Wicked!

Douglas Sonders's picture

nice reel DG

David Geffin's picture

thanks dude, appreciate it!

I find your comments quite offensive.. my best friend happens to be a blind, deaf, dumb antelope. Some people...

David Geffin's picture

How dare you come here and make a comment that is actually funny and amusing? Some people.... ;)

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