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Tips on cutting your cinematography reel?

Joshua Jones

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Any advice on the structure of a reel? Is it best to lump footage from one project next to each other or sprinkle it throughout? I have heard little tips like start out with a shot of a beautiful girl to show you know how to make an actress look good, etc. Any other good rules of thumb?


Thanks guys,


Joshua Jones

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The only thing I've heard is to include scenes in continuity, as opposed to just making it a collection of individual shots. After all, anyone can make one setup look good; making half a dozen in a row look both good and consistent is the difficult bit.



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American Cinematographer did a great article about cutting reels. They interviewed agents and asked what they look for. As well as DP's to get their reported feedback about reels. This is from an issue going way back and I don't remember the specific edition. Just some of the more interesting points which is to stack the best stuff in front cause people don't usually go through the whole thing. Also tailor each reel specific to the project. If you're going after food tabletop work, only send food tabletop. Don't send a montage of car commercials. etc.


One point mentioned was about adding mediocre or average shots but doing so because you know it was a difficult shot to get and it shows you solved a hugely difficult technical problem. That is something they said one should avoid because at the end of the day, it just looks like a mediocre shot. What you know to be "technically brilliant" cause you were on set and responsible for it, will not translate to anyone else who doesn't know how difficult it was to get the shot or that you used 1000 lights as opposed to available light. From the agents perspective, just go by what's "pretty" cause that's all anyone really cares about.


I agree with Phil though on the point of being able to show that you can match light levels, continuity, eyelines etc. in a scene. But this is more important if you're seeking narrative work. I've looked for DP's and been frustrated looking at reels and never seeing a basic example that tells me, that this individual can actually cover a dialogue scene in a traditional way. Cause all that's on the reel are lots of oners, dolly shots, jib moves, steadicam etc. You can have all that but at least show a master and coverage from a scene of dialogue cause that's one thing that shows you have experience in narrative cinematography as opposed to music videos and commercials.

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More to your specific question though, I'd spread the clips out as opposed to going clip to clip. It's a style thing so there's no rules on that. I recommend the shots and clips be spread out cause someone may be bored by a particular clip so you don't want to overstay your welcome on it. Producers now are buried in reels cause everyone and their butler is a "DP". So I'd keep the reel as varied and fast moving as possible.

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Having recently cut my first proper cinematography reel, and having seen a huge bump in the volume of work I've been getting thanks to it, I feel I can offer some advice on this front:


- Where possible, I'd suggest cutting down little sequences of shots that show continuity of lighting and camera movement within a scene (i.e. cut in through your wide/mid/close-up/reverse in quick succession - assuming you can do so smoothly) it shows you can light and block a scene rather than just a single pretty shot.


- Keep it between 2-3 minutes TOPS, you'll have to kill your darlings, and finding music to match is hard, but it needs to be short, sharp and able to hold people's attention.


- If possible, cut the reel to your music, having the cadence of the edits sync in with the cadence of the music just makes a reel feel more polished and complete.


- As much as possible contrast different looking scenes against each other, it looks like you have a broader range.


- And I totally agree with Michael - don't let shots that were amazing technical achievements on set (and that you're therefore particularly proud of) creep into the reel just because you're proud of them. If they don't look great - leave them out.


Hope that helps.

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Just make it look good! And make it personal - it should show off your own unique style and taste. If you cut something together and you don't love it, then start again!


Remember that producers are going to be looking through lots of reels and they have limited time. Definitely put your most amazing stuff at the start. My own reel acts as sort of a teaser to get people to click through to my portfolio, where I have complete projects posted. My reel is 60 seconds long with rapid fire shots - my goals is just to show producers as quickly as possible that I've done a lot of different (hopefully good) stuff. You can check it out here if you'd like: www.tadashi.tv


GOOD LUCK! Share your reel when you've finished cutting it together!

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