Table of Contents
Introduction to Reels
It’s a ubiquitous request across all creative industries — “send me your reel”. Production companies, directors, creative agencies, post houses, even marketing and brand teams are expected to have a “reel” to showcase their best work. There’s no way this one word covers the full spectrum of needs and uses for a creative showcase of work, so why is it that you need a reel? And what do you do if you don’t have one?
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the many names, types, and uses for reels, and 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?
In its most simple definition, a reel is an edited video highlighting the best examples of your work. As you can imagine, depending on who you are and the kind of work you do, that could look like a lot of different things for a lot of different people. In creative industries like film production, media, advertising, and post-production, a reel serves to give a potential collaborator or client an idea of the type of work you do, and your specific level of skill. For a professional with years (or even decades) of experience in a given industry, a reel is a great tool to highlight the best of the best of your creative portfolio. While there isn’t a specific difference between them, in creative industries you may see these referred to as a demo reel, sizzle reel, showreel, or director’s reel.
Reels are also growing in popularity in 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 this context, you might see this type of video referred to as a highlight reel, promo reel, or brand video, but the end result is the same.
You don’t need to tell your audience everything about who you are and what you do, but you do need to get them interested.
No matter your specific use case or industry, think of a reel like a trailer for you and your work. You don’t need to tell your audience everything about who you are and what you do, but you do need to get them interested. In a competitive arena, a compelling reel is often the difference between you getting the job or closing the sale, and someone else beating you to it.
Reel Use Cases
Because the topic of reels is so expansive, we’ll be splitting up our examples into two distinct categories — use cases for promoting a company or brand, and use cases for promoting individual creatives. While all reels generally serve the same purpose, the strategy for representing an entire brand vs representing only your own work can be quite distinct.
Reels for Companies
Whether working in media & 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, narrative reel, and documentary reel for example. Be careful about spreading yourself too thin, though. Be true to your strengths and what it is that your company does better than anyone else.
For an advertising agency, the power of your reel comes from the power of your creative. Maybe you have technical proficiency in one area or another, but what brands are really looking for when hiring an agency is a representation of your ideas. 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 “too much of a good thing”. With hundreds (or more) spots to choose from, how do you best represent yourself in the course of just a few minutes? The good news is that the editing of a reel is just another opportunity to flex your creative muscles, and show off not just the reel itself but the work contained within it all at the same time.
You might not think of a brand having a “reel”, but with the unmatched power of digital and online marketing campaigns a video reel for your company is a very good idea. A brand reel allows a potential client or customer to immediately understand not only your company and your product(s), but your values and vision as well. For B2C companies, there are several approaches to explore. Maybe you want to focus on a specific product, or a successful marketing campaign that your customers might recognize. It’s all about being quick, easy to consume, and trustworthy.
For a B2B brand reel, you might want to focus more on the story and identity of your company. What is the value 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? A brand reel is often more of an undertaking than a more traditional reel, as new footage, voiceovers, or specific messaging is often needed in conjunction with clips from existing campaigns.
Specific Skills (Animation, VFX, etc)
This is a wide arena shrunken into a very small box, but if your company specializes in a certain discipline such as:
- 2D or 3D animation
- Video game development
- Dancing and choreography
- Costume design
These are just a few of any number of visually creative endeavors for which a reel is an invaluable tool for your business.
When production companies or brands are looking to hire out for a special skill, they often have something very specific in mind. It helps to show as much as you can from your range of experience. Think about the capabilities you get out of an edited video that you can’t show in photos or other mediums, and take advantage of that.
Reels for Individuals
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 yourself and your work. You want it to show your skill, your experience, your creativity, your personality, and your range all in one.
A director’s reel is an incredibly personal representation of yourself and your work. You want it to show your skill, your experience, your creativity, your personality, and your range all in one. You want to show them what you can do, while not showing them exactly what they want to do, which can be a tough balance to strike. While some directors choose to go niche (becoming “the car commercial” guy), others want to show a wider variety. There’s also a decision to be made between a traditional “sizzle reel” (a variety of clips cut together with music), versus a compilation reel showing longer clips or entire spots strung end to end, and the benefits each would serve in communicating your vision. The competition is tough out there, so no matter what you show on your reel you’d better make sure it cuts through the noise.
There is a lot of overlap between commercial directors and film directors, and a huge population of directors often dabble in both. When thinking about the difference between your film reel vs your commercial reel, think about the end goal for each of those products. A commercial reel is all about sales, it's about creativity and ideas and (above all) it’s about the brand you are selling.
For a film director, you have more flexibility in terms of your style, tone, and personality. What kind of director are you, and what kind of stories do you want to tell? How do you work with and capture the performances of your actors, how do you use the camera as part of the narrative, how do you play with colors and contrast and sound to build the emotion of a scene? As always, the creation of the reel is an artistic expression in itself, so really make it your own.
Director of Photography
Of all of the examples we’ve discussed in this guide, a cinematographer is probably the person who gets to have the most fun with their reel. For a director of photography, their art is 100% visual. They don’t need to worry about the performance of the actor, or the sound design of a scene, it’s all about the most beautiful shots and the most jaw-dropping camera work.
A trained viewer will be looking not just for amazing shots, but an eye for composition, lighting, and layers of storytelling through camera work.
Cinematography reels are a feat of imagination, but don’t get too swept up in the grandeur. A trained viewer will be looking not just for amazing shots, but an eye for composition, lighting, and layers of storytelling through camera work. Don’t forget that not every film or commercial benefits from a sweeping drone shot, and showing a skill set that includes everyday simplicity will be a welcome addition to any DP reel.
The good news about an acting reel is that you can keep it very simple. Make sure you always ask for a copy of the footage for your reel anytime you work a job, and an uncomplicated montage of your best performances is all any director needs to see.
You might want to tinker with the order of clips in your reel, starting with a high-impact scene to grab attention and showing a wide range of genres and abilities. Don’t worry too much about production quality or camera work, a great performance will shine through even if the shot doesn’t look very cinematic.
How to share my reel
Once you have the reel you feel best represents you and your work, it’s time to share it. When that ubiquitous request inevitably comes in — “send me your reel” — you should be thinking about what kind of experience you want that viewer to have when engaging with your content.
A popular choice is to host your reel on Youtube or Vimeo, and send a link to anyone who requests it. This is a simple and straightforward option, but doesn’t leave you much room to cater your viewing experience. These video pages can be distracting, and don’t speak at all to your brand and individual identity. Not to mention security — if your reel contains sensitive or confidential content, a private link or simple password may not feel like a safe option.
An asset management and presentation platform like Shift gives you all the tools you need to organize, update, and beautifully display your reel on a secure and customized page. Our turnkey presentation tool Spotlight allows you to easily build a custom landing page for your video, and include not just your reel but additional links, information, and branding. Use our pre-built reel template to publish your content in just a few clicks, or build something entirely from scratch that suits your specific needs.
Still in the process of editing your reel? Share it from your Shift account to get time-coded feedback, comments, and on-screen annotation from your collaborators. And if you want to update the final video on your Spotlight page, easily swap it out without having to send a new link to your audience!
When NOT to use a reel
In this guide, we’ve gone over several use cases for when a reel might be valuable to you or your company. But are reels always the answer to your content sharing needs? Of course not!
Not every individual or company can show their best work using a reel, and a portfolio page of a handful of work examples works just great for them.
Rather than sharing a reel, lots of creative professionals will instead opt for an online portfolio or (even better), a combination of both! Not every individual or company can show their best work using a reel, and a portfolio page of a handful of work examples works just great for them. Editors, in particular, may benefit from a portfolio over a reel, as 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.
Beware, though — asking someone to watch several full-length videos in a portfolio can be a lot to ask, and you lose the control of showing them exactly what you want in exactly the order you want them to see it! Sharing a demo reel alongside other full-length examples of your work is a good compromise if you aren’t sure which route is best for your needs.
Whether you are sharing a reel, portfolio, or both you can easily make a branded presentation page for all of your work using Spotlight.
At the end of the day, reels are a creative expression and the communication of an artistic vision. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making a reel that works for you, your business, and your audience. Try out a few different things, and find what works best for you. It’s all about presenting your best work, and putting your best foot forward. A good reel can be an invaluable asset to your brand, company, or personal career.
Want to see how Shift can help you create and showcase your demo reel? Get started with a free 14-day trial today!