Imagine you’re the news director at a local station. Your day is full just trying to oversee the half-dozen or so shows your team is producing every day. You also have people in and out of your office with new problems and old problems, or they want feedback, advice or a raise. In short, you’re a busy person. Now imagine you also have to hire a new talent and you’ve got about 50 people applying for the job. Their resumes are filling up your in box.
So just how much time do you expect that person to spend looking at demo reels? And even when they are watching, do they give it their undivided attention or are the daily distractions of the job getting in the way?

With that in mind, it should not be surprising my first tip is….

Keep It Short: 

For all the reasons listed above, keep your reel to 4:00 or under.

Punch ‘Em in the Nose: 

If you want to get their attention, and hope to hold it, the first few things on your reel should “punch them in the nose,” so whatever your most creative, best looking, “holy cow” elements(s) is/are, start with those.

Check out how Rob Leth started his reel

I love how Tori Petry started hers with a very engaging montage off the top

Both are different from the typical reel and grabbed my attention.

Hopefully these examples help you get the idea.

In and Out: 

The reel should have a combination of work in the studio and out in the field. Three of each is a good total.

A montage of these elements will show your versatility, but make sure they emphasize your communication and writing skills.

This clip of Rich Donnelly’s reel is a good example. I would have taken a few clips out, like the standup on the beach because of the video quality, but he has a nice mix.

Keep it Clean: 

Don’t put anything on your reel that looks sloppy. If your jacket pocket is half in/half out, if the white balance is off, if the audio is over-modulated, if your tie is crooked or your blouse is disheveled, exclude it. A boss will think you either don’t care about those things or you didn’t notice it, neither of which make a good impression.

Also, avoid using clips that have a snippet of the previous story on the front of it, video that bleeds over, etc. It looks bad.

The Package: 

After about :90 to 2:00 of on camera work, get to your best package. I look at a LOT of demo reels and have seen a LOT of packages. Just about every reel has a package that tells some kind of inspirational story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but usually those packages don’t do much to help the person hiring you learn much about YOU. The story telling and writing aspects of those kind of pieces (and all others) are important, but you are trying to sell yourself. If you have a feature that you get involved in, that shows creativity and personality, as well as the writing and story telling, use that. Again, imagine you’re the boss and you’re going through reel after reel. At some point you’re going to hit that “not another one of these features” wall. A different kind of package will stand out.

Also, even if your station is against putting music under your features, put some music on your feature for your reel. Good music choices can enhance your package a great deal. If your package is full of great nat sound, then you may not want music on it, but music makes just about everything better.

Watch the package on the field painter at the 7:58 mark on this reel

To Interview or Not Interview: 

Unless you did an interview that won some kind of award, leave them off your reel. I see reels that have interviews on them that leave the answers to their questions in, and some who take them out. The flaw in leaving the subject’s answers in is it wastes time on your reel. Most bosses are evaluating you, not the high school football coach and his thoughts on his running backs. If their time is precious, asking them to sit through soundbites might lead to them moving on to the next resume. Conversely, the answer is as critical a part of the interview process as the question, so some bosses might want to hear the answer strictly to see how you responded to it and how the interview flows. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, so just leave the interview out of the equation.

Know Your Audience: 

If you’re applying for a job at a local network, they put less emphasis on highlights in their shows, so don’t include highlight reads, or keep it to a minimum. If you’re applying for a job at a regional sports network, your highlight work is probably more important than a package.

Produce For Your Life!:

This is TV. Your reel needs to be “produced” and look like the person who put it together understands what makes good TV.

Have a nice looking graphic on the front with your contact info. Put a bed of music under it (like Sarah’s reel I linked to earlier).

Put in some kind of transition or title page between your on cams and your package (like Tatum had on her 2nd reel getting to the field painter piece).I’ve seen a lot of reels that go from an on cam to a package and it’s harsh and bothersome as a viewer. You want the news director to enjoy the viewing experience. Don’t have anything on the reel that undermines that. Show the potential boss that you understand TV production.

Don’t Listen to Your Family: 

Or your friends for that matter. When looking for feedback on your reel, go to people who you know won’t blow smoke. Of course your folks are going to think your reel is amazing. They can’t tell you how proud they are of you! Who wouldn’t want to hire you??!!

Find a colleague you trust and tell them to be brutally honest. This isn’t about your feelings, it’s about trying to get a job.

When in doubt, send it to me and I’ll get you squared away.