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Reels and Resumes

Cris Moris

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Hello all,


A few questions about putting together a reel.


1. How long should a reel usually be?

2. What kind of editing structure is mostly used/acceptable? i.e: should I take a couple of shots from each film and ad title, format, etc..? Or should it be a vast combination of different shots in no perticular order?


3. What should a DP's resume look like? I have a lot of experience in other non-film related jobs- should I bother with these at all?


4. What's the story with AGENTS?



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Well, as with all things a reel can be almost anything. I would keep it on the short side. The longest one I've seen was 15 minutes. 15 minutes of very strong material, which is the main thing to put in a reel. Put your strongest stuff right up front. Also an actual 35mm reel is obviously going to include different things than a DVD reel. The best DVD reel I saw was 10 minutes long and was organized into sections titled; Features, Documentary, Commercials etc. each section played its own music over the visuals and would occasionaly cut to actual production sound when there was some cool dialogue or an explosion or something. It was very effective but it required a lot of good material to pull it off.


My current reel is only 8 minutes long because I had to chop some old stuff that I just don't think works anymore. It has a title card with my information then another that introduces a full length (4 minutes) music video that is very upbeat and happens to show a variety exteriors and interiors (lit with hard light, yes!). That seques into a 2 minute trailer to a documentary film. Then it has another title card that shows a two minute scene from another documentary. It ends with the same title card as the front. On some of the DVD's I include a gallery of my stills work because I come from that background.


I keep my resume related to film jobs. I segment my resume into things I've DP'd, Directed, shot stills on and a various category for anything else. I also include my publishing credits for stills pictures and articles I've written when I'm not going for a DP job in particular because it has landed me a couple of gigs in production offices. I'm a beggar not a chooser.


I can't tell you anything about agents except they usually won't talk to you unless you have a lot of experience or land a high-profile job.


One tip I can give you related to your other post about getting a job. The resume fax assault is very effective. Get a directory of production companies and fax your resume to every one of them. Then call them a week later. It's best to fax at the first of the month then fax again two months later and keep up this cycle. Of course keep up with who hates you for faxing stuff to them and cross them off the list. This will dredge up a few jobs, maybe not what you want, but it will get you in the door.

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For music videos - keep it short. Nobody sits through 6 of them at full lenght. Make it steppable so that they can skip to the next promo with the chapter button. Cut

them down to about 30sec-60sec. The nice thing with DVD reels is that they can have

the option of watching them full lenght if it's something they really like.


I've recently done some research for a producer friend of mine - logging reels and production companies into a database. And I can tell you there's a big difference between european reels

and american reels. In America they include everything - it's literally like 20-30 commercials on every directors reel. In Europe the reels are much shorter, maybe 3-8 commercials.


Generally, I'd say less is more, but if you have 20-30 clips that are really strong, why not include them? Never put anything on that's just a filler - kill your darlings. Best up front, short, to the point, never boring.


Montages with music to them are either hated or loved. I try to avoid it, but I do have a history reel or history segment on my reel that's a montage of a lot of earlier stuff set to music. The nice thing is that you can include just the images you like, but the bad thing is that if you ONLY have that, nobody thinks you can do anything coherent. It makes it cheap. It's a fine balance. I'll probably scrap it for my next reel.


My earliest reels all had like music and animated menu's and poop, but just like you hate websites with flash intro's and music playing on them these days, so do people that have to watch reels. Minimalist, ease of use and to the point is better. I have this straight from the people who had to suffer through my earlier reels.

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As a DP reading other people's resumes, it always bugs me when they put everything in one pile and don't clearly indicate what they actually did on a project in an attempt to make themselves look more experienced than they are. If I am looking at a gaffer's resume, I don't really need to see their grip and AC experience listed as well, but if they feel so inclined, at least they can put it in a separate column. Sometimes you get this big list of feature credits but if you read between the lines, you find out that they day-played one day as an electric or something.


It's just when a resume looks deliberately misleading, you wonder what else they are trying to hide.


As for a narrative DP reel, the general rule is short and great (like 5 minutes) is better than long and comprehensive. You can always put longer clips at the end of the reel for people who want to see more than a montage. It's probably different for commercial & music video reels, but since I don't shoot those, I don't have any to put on a reel, but I'd probably put the entire thing if it were short enough.


My reel is now something like five years out of date (!!!) and my agent is ready to kill me for not updating it, but I haven't had the time nor have gotten all the clips from people. Right now, I just send out a DVD of "Northfork" along with my old reel.


My resume now is so long with low-budget features that I'm having a hard time putting it on one page unless I use really small type or drop the info next to the title (production company, producer, director, etc.) I may have to keep the info on the same text line as the title or start dropping titles, but that almost feels wrong or misleading to start dropping titles that I'm less proud of.

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Hi Cris


Alot of this depends on what you shoot and market you are in. Since Mr Mullen answered for Narrative I'll weigh in on commercials and music video's in LA ( but probably this would apply to another market where there are 100's of DP's to choose from. NY or London ? )


How long sould you reel be... Really only as much top compelling material you have, if this is only one shot, just put that on. Directors who are watching stacks of reels are typically looking at 10-20 reels to narrow it down to 1-3 selects. Try going to a production company and watching DP reels and experience first hand what works and what is memorable. Boring = Death.


Many directors are looking at other directors work when they look at your reel and not necessarily your cinematography. Your work ( from a directing perspective ) needs to excite them in some way in addition to being well shot. I'm not cynical about this but in the background of every D.P. cinderalla story there is a lot of clever positioning.


What should be on your reel? a montage with music makes your reel look more like a starter reel, recognizable spots and video's are good as long as they don't suck. music video's are usually cut down to .30-.60 seconds unless they are award winning and famous.


Resume: In the commercial world you don't really use one. There is sometimes a list of the directors or clients you've worked with... Really it's your reel that goes out.


Agents are misunderstood, they don't get you work, they get your reel infront of directors who either hire you or not. They help greatly in negociations with production companies, they often give great career advice, but they don't get you work!


An agent will take you on based on a combination of how excited they are about your personality and your reel, and how much billing they think they are going to get a percentage of.


Hope this helps


Matt Uhry



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I appreciate everyone's comments. Thank you for the useful information.


One more question on reel:


How do people feel about a reel that has a voice over track, not to heavy handed, but sort of to explain what the DP was working with and what he/she was attempting to do? I know that the images should speak for themselves. However, like someone said before, the acting is usually so awful that it is a distraction. And cutting it with just a random soundtrack seems a bit cheesy.


Any comments?

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Well Cris, it looks like most people are saying to avoid the music montage thing. I've seen one like that before that was really good but now that I think about it, it's probably just good to me because it's all stuff that is well known in this market. I didn't use it on mine but I also didn't cut down my music vid. I feel it's a special case though because it is a linear story, not MTV repetitive stuff. If they get tired of it I'm sure they'll hit chapter advance to the next thing.


As far as the voice over thing, I remember reading in AC about an Italian cinematographer that is blind in one eye and part of his reel just shows half an image. I took it to have a voice over explaining his condition, but that is a special case. He shot that Vegas movie with Johnny Depp I can't recall the title or his name. (smacks self in head to make brain function....)

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