No matter which creative industry you are in, you likely often hear, “Send me your reel.”
Production companies, directors, creative agencies, post houses, and even marketing and brand teams are expected to have a demo reel to showcase their best work, much like an artist, model, or photographer has a portfolio.
But in different subsets of the creative industry, there can be different meanings or expectations for what the demo reel actually includes.
So what exactly is a reel, and what can you do if you don’t have one?
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the many names, types, and uses for reels as well as some best practices for how to make and share one with your clients and collaborators.
What is a reel and why do I need one?
Borrowing from the old way of storing film, a reel is an edited video highlighting the best examples of your work.
In creative industries such as film production, media, advertising, and post-production, a reel is a great way to demonstrate your vision or past work to a potential collaborator or client. For an experienced professional, a demo reel can be a great way to highlight the best of the best of your creative portfolio.
Taking inspiration from other creative industries, the concept of reels is beginning to make its way into B2B and B2C marketing and sales, with companies creating a reel of their products and services to give customers an overview of their brand identity and specific offerings. In these situations, this unique video could also be referred to as a highlight reel, promo reel, or brand video.
"No matter your specific use case or industry, think of a reel as a trailer for you and your work."
No matter your specific use case or industry, think of a reel as a trailer for you and your work. Similar to movie trailers, you don’t need to tell your audience the whole story, but you do need to get them interested in seeing more.
What are some different use cases for reels?
While companies, brands, and creatives can have demo reels, the ultimate finished product can be quite different.
Whether working in media and entertainment, advertising, or both, a strong demo reel is a must for any production company.
For a producer, brand, or agency looking to begin a new production, a company’s reel is the first place they will look to make their hiring choice. What these decision makers are looking for is a company that they feel will fit the right creative style and artistic tone for the project at hand.
A challenge for many production companies is how to show a wide range of styles and skills in a single reel. It is not uncommon for a company to produce multiple reels to show different skill sets—a commercial reel, a narrative reel, and a documentary reel, for example.
In any of these cases, be true to your strengths and what your company does better than anyone else.
For an advertising agency, the power of your reel comes from the power of your creativity.
What brands are really looking for when hiring an agency is a representation of emotions or ideas that are often hard to articulate quickly and clearly. They are also looking for individuality. Do your spots look the same as everything else they’ve seen so far? What sets you apart from the rest?
Similar to production companies, agencies also often have the issue of choosing which spots to include in their reel. But don’t be intimidated; editing a reel is just another opportunity to flex your creative muscles while showing off your distinct style.
You might not think of a brand having a “reel,” but with the broad reach of digital and online marketing campaigns, a video reel for your company can give you a competitive edge.
A brand reel allows a potential client or customer to immediately understand not only your company and your product(s) but also your values and vision. For those advertising directly to customers, brands can also choose different levels of focus, such as on a specific product or even a popular marketing campaign that your customers might recognize. For those with specific skills, such as animation or visual effects, reels can showcase the depth and breadth of your capabilities.
For a B2B brand reel, you might want to focus more on the story and identity of your company. In these cases, you want your demo reel to focus on answering questions such as:
What are the values you serve and the morals you represent?
Can you align yourself with one of your more recognizable users and tell the story of your success through their success?
However, a brand reel in these situations often requires more work, where new footage, voiceovers, or specific messaging is often needed in conjunction with clips from existing campaigns.
For a commercial director, your reel is your calling card.
Whether you work directly with an agent, sales rep, or are a freelancer, you cannot book work with a new client, brand, or company without a reel that stands out. A director’s reel is an incredibly personal representation of your personality, vision, and work. It should show your skill, experience, creativity, and range all in one presentation.
As with other use cases, commercial directors can take different approaches with their demo reels. Some can choose to make a traditional “sizzle reel” made up of a variety of clips cut together with music, while others can create a compilation reel showing longer clips or entire end- to-end spots.
The approach you take depends on your audience and the type of commercial (i.e., automotive) that is your main focus.
While there is a lot of overlap between commercial directors and film directors, a main distinction is the end goal of their reel. A commercial reel is all about sales, using creativity to sell a brand. For a film director, you have more flexibility to tell a story; capture a performance; and play with style, color, sound, and emotion.
Director of Photography
Of all of the examples we’ve discussed in this guide, a director of photography is the person who gets to have the most fun with their reel.
For a director of photography, their art is 100 percent visual, and there is no need to worry about the actor’s performance or the scene’s sound design. The main focus is capturing beautiful shots and jaw-dropping camera work. It is also a way to showcase an eye for composition, lighting, and layers of storytelling through exceptional camera work.
An actor’s demo reel is about creating a collection or montage of your best performances so directors can see your range and abilities.
That means you should work to keep things simple, using copies of the footage from your previous work and weaving them together to show your abilities, beginning with a high-impact scene to grab attention.
In this case, don’t worry about production quality or camera work. A great performance will shine through even if the shot doesn’t look very cinematic.
How do I share my reel?
Once you have created a reel that best represents you, your work, and your audience, your task is still not done. Your approach to sharing it can also reflect your specific tone and style.
It’s important to be thoughtful about how you choose to send your demo reel to show that you understand the best and most effective way for the viewer to engage with your content.
For example, you can host your reel on YouTube or Vimeo and send a link to anyone who requests it. While this is a simple and straightforward option, it does not allow you to tailor the viewer’s experience with your content or customize your presentation. At the same time, the content around your video can be distracting or deflect from the message you want to send about your brand and individual identity. Finally, if your reel contains sensitive or confidential content, these platforms offer limited security features.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are asset management and presentation platforms such as Shift that give artists all the tools they need to organize, update, and beautifully display their reel on a secure and customized page.
Shift's intuitive presentation tool, Spotlight, allows artists to easily build a custom landing page for their video and include additional links, information, and branding. There are also prebuilt reel templates so you can publish content in a few clicks. Or there’s the option to build something entirely from scratch that suits your specific needs.
You can also choose to share your demo reel with others while it is still in development and use Shift to get time-coded feedback, comments, and on-screen annotation from your collaborators.
When your reel is completed, it can be launched on your Spotlight page and easily shared using a variety of secure and private or public viewing options. Once your reel is shared, Shift’s comprehensive analytics dashboard lets you see exactly which videos are getting the most traction and who is engaging the most with your content.
When should you not to use a reel?
Although there are a lot of use cases for demo reels, they aren’t always the answer to your content-sharing needs.
For example, rather than sharing a reel, many creative professionals will choose to create and share an online portfolio that showcases their best work. Editors, in particular, may benefit from a portfolio over a reel because specific skills with timing, pacing, and tone are really best shown over a full scene, spot, or short film. Many directors, agencies, and brands also prefer a portfolio to show a wider scope of work.
In other cases, you can combine a reel with a portfolio, which can be a good compromise if you do not know the preferences of the audience, but you would still like to prioritize which specific pieces they see.
Whether you are sharing a reel, portfolio, or both you can easily make a branded presentation page for all of your work using Spotlight.
Bring it all together.
Reels represent a creative way of expressing ideas and are a powerful way to communicate an artistic vision.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a reel that works for you, your business, and your audience, so take the time to try different options until you find the best way to showcase your work and talents.