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Jeremy Parsons

The Philosophy of a Demo Reel

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I'm in the process of cutting a new demo of my narrative work. I am curious on how others consider the presentation of work when cutting a demo reel.

Last year's demo can be seen HERE. It was cut with the intention of drawing in small jobs, shorts and student work. It did ok.


I considered a lot of the basics in this reel: Strongest stuff (the hook) in the first 30seconds. Keep it under 3min. Very few will watch the whole thing...etc. I'm always looking for ways to make it better.

My body of work doesn't have a lot of fancy action sequences, flying jib shots, or slow-mo, but rather Drama, Romance, and Kids. So that's what I tailored it to. I also arranged the edit to be short sequences of well-lit, well-composed, related shots told an emotion or small story. The method made sense to me for a narrative reel.

A year later; I still don't have a lot of sweeping jib shots or slow-mo, and I don't have any music videos either. I'm rather handicapped in the music video world; I listen to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák.

When I look around on the web for other examples of reels. A lot I see a lot that are exciting, but mostly montages of "pretty" shots that aren't really connected or related in a way that makes sense. My shots are ok-pretty, but don't have a lot of that...*umph*.


My instinct tells me to present my work in a way that best represents me. That's what I'm doing. But my instincts aren't always in tune with what a director or producer are looking for in a DP.

What approaches do you usually consider when cutting your reel?

Am I being altruistic in the way I cut my reel?

Does a viewer care about story in a reel?

Would I get better results focusing more on "the pretty"?



Jeremy Parsons, MFA
Mostly a 1st AC. Trying to do more DP.

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Welcome to what every DP goes through when cutting a reel.


My problem, to some degree, is that I don't shoot commercials, and commercials often have really high-end expensively produced imagery that has been post-productioned well -- it's hard to compete with really slick stuff like that.


So yes, like you, to some degree I decided that my reels have to reflect me, my tastes, my personality, my experience, for better or worse, rather than try to suggest that I can do anything and be everything to all people. Right now, I don't even have a generic reel, I just have some montages of specific features I've shot, so in some ways, that gives a more accurate view of my narrative cinematography skills even though it is still silent footage cut to music, but all from one movie so there is some thread of continuity.


I think you have to give up on telling a story in a reel but you can cut it more like a trailer or commercial and creating certain motifs that carry through a section of the reel. Think of it like composing a symphony and having sections that carry certain emotions that flow into new sections with a new emotion.


I think these days, thanks to the internet, you need two types of reels at least, the short and long form versions, so that people who like the short and sweet version can have some longer clips or sequences to watch afterwards.

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Put your best stuff first, and your even better stuff last.

Leave whoever is screening your reel with the desire to see more.

Use the widest array of styles and techniques, do not repeat yourself in the reel.

Try to, if you have the material, to use footage wherein the actors/actresses are known, it gives one credibility.

Remember that, ultimately, your potential employers are looking to see elements of their upcoming project on your reel. That can be very frustrating but it is the reality.

I had a meeting and submitted a reel to a director for an MOW many years ago and he contacted a mutual friend with whom I had worked with and confided in him that he "liked" me but felt that my reel was somehow "lacking". In what, he was not specific. My friend then posed the question, was the director planning on using any of the footage from my reel in his show? The director admitted that no, obviously he had no plans to do so. Then my friend said that he should hire me. I did end up getting the gig.

Getting a job has as much to do, if not more, with past relationships as it has with one's reel.

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Thank you both for your input,


David, It's Interesting thing you mention cutting a reel like a symphony. The reel I'm cutting now has a much darker, faster feel. I named this version Allegro and renamed my old one Andante. This opens up the possibility of an Adagio later on. After hearing what Paul says about using a wide range of styles and techniques as possible, this seems like a good way to show these varying styles conveying a specific emotion instead of the story.



This gives me a more solid direction to take. I'll keep you posted on what I come up with.

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Crazy question: Does a demo reel have to comprise footage that has been publicly released? For example, when I was starting out as a designer, I created branding for fictitious companies until I landed real gigs I was proud enough to include in my portfolio. If cinematography is anything like commercial art, I suspect there are final shots, sequences or even entire films the DP was not happy with but, like all things commercial, he had to comply to get paid. Does anyone go shoot for their own reels? Do potential directors accept these shots or is it considered cheesy?

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