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How to Make a Great Documentary Demo Reel

A demo reel reveals a lot about you. It shows an investor that you have the skills and the experience to make a quality documentary. We'll show you how to organize, edit, and prepare your reel so that you can give the right impression to almost anyone.

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Video Transcript

Representing a lifetime of hard work in just a couple of minutes can be a difficult order to fill but that is exactly what a demo reel requires. Though it can be difficult to know where to begin, demo reels are the only way people will know how much experience you have. That's why it's important to know how to make one that will impress any audience.

Most people think of demo reels as a necessary evil. They need to be updated every year and require a lot of filtering through videos. However, making a great demo reel can be a lot of fun so we'll show you how to research your demo reel, how to choose your footage, give you some tips on what graphics to include, and lastly some extras that you can throw in to make your demo stand out.

Before putting any work into your demo reel you're going to want to make sure that you do some research. Knowing who you will be giving your demo reel to can be the difference between getting funding for your project and some confused stares. Demo reels should highlight the skills that you want to show investors. So even if you're a jack of all trades, you'll need to choose a skill and stick with it. For instance, if you're going to be the editor, you'll want a reel that shows dynamic motion graphics, natural cuts, and appropriate color grading. If you will be shooting the documentary, you'll want to show some of the most aesthetically pleasing shots that you've had the privilege of taking. Even more importantly, if you have any footage from a documentary you've worked on that is similar to your current project, including it can show investors that your crew can get the documentary done right.

Most people who watch a demo reel know within the first 30 seconds if they like your work. As a result, you'll want to make sure you choose your footage wisely and make sure that the first thing investors see in your demo is the best thing they see. No need to worry though. The standard length of a commercial is only 30 seconds long, so you'll have plenty of time to let your investors see what your capable of. Since most demo reels are set to music, your first step in creating one is to find music that is appropriate for the type of work you do. Let's say that your work looks like this. It is grungy, fast, and mostly handheld. If this is the case, a song with a quick, driving beat like this one here would probably work best. On the other hand, if your work looked mostly like this - with a lot of dramatic shots that were slower in nature, you would want to choose a more soothing song like this. That being said, you don't have much time so you'll want to make sure each clip you choose makes sense when edited down to just a few seconds in length and that each song has beats that are quick enough for fast edits. This way investors will understand the importance of each shot in your reel without having to take too much time out of their busy schedules to do so.

With the bulk of your demo reel done, you'll want to make sure that you top it off with some good titles and graphics. Every demo reel should start with the name of either the creator or company in a style that reflects the music in your video. If your music is fast, you'll want a title like this. If it is slower, you'll want a title like this instead. The most important thing to keep in mind is that no matter what, the title should be readable. It should be typed in san serif fonts that are thick enough to see on even a small monitor. If investors can't read your name then even the best reel in the world is not going to help you get financing. If you're not tech savvy, you could either use very simple titles or have a professional editor put one together for you for a fee.

Now that the demo reel is done, it may be a good idea to include some extras on your disc. A two minute demo reel doesn't take up much space on a disc so you should have plenty of room to include bonus items. Sometimes the best way to judge how well a producer can put together a documentary is to simply watch one that has already been done. That's why it can be important to include longer pieces of work on your demo reel disc. This way your demo reel can serve as a trailer of sorts for your full film. If you're a jack of all trades, it would probably be in your best interest to include multiple demo reels on your disc. This way, investors can pick which part of your work that they want to see. Lastly, if your demo reel has on a disc or is online, you will want to make sure to include contact details in the root menu. This way investors will clearly know which demo reel they are looking at.

People view media in a lot of different ways. Now more than ever people can choose to watch video on their TV, their mobile device, or online so it's best to have all of your bases covered. For DVD or Blu-Ray exports, you will want to use the MPEG-2 codec which is the standard for both discs. This codec can be read on any DVD or Blu-Ray player. Blu-Rays can also use H.264 video in the AVCHD format, but it can be easier to stick with MPEG-2 which has been around longer and has more support. Posting your video online has become a necessity for anyone with a demo reel. Having your own website will allow you to add more extra features and a longer bio of yourself than you can do with a DVD. It is also much faster than sending a potential investor a disc to view at a later time. So if you plan to post your demo reel online to video sharing websites or to a personal website, you'll want to use either the FLV or H.264 codec since both do a great job of keeping file sizes small while still keeping the quality of the video. This way, investors won't have to wait a long time for your video to download before they can view it. Lastly, the best way to export a demo reel for a mobile device is to find out the average screen resolution and export to a mobile device format like 3GP or MP4. The trick is to keep file sizes small since most mobile devices have little storage while keeping as much quality as possible. This is why using a variable bit rate, which can keep file sizes smaller while keeping quality can work best.

Demo reels are no walk in the park. They take time and a good helping of discernment in order to complete. Even so, by following the tips we've shown you on making demo reels, you should be able to make a demo reel that can show your skills in a flattering way.