What is a sizzle reel?

So you have a lengthy video resume and all kinds of experience, but how do you show that to a potential client? In order to wow them with your skills, you need to present something that does two things. Firstly, it shows off your video production skills. Secondly, it shows them whether or not you are a good fit for their project. With that being said, how do you show off your experience quickly and effectively? You do it with a bang. No, with a sizzle reel.

What is a sizzle reel?

A sizzle reel is the most attention-grabbing type of video portfolio/resume, more or less used by creatives in their careers. The sizzle reel goes by different names such as; demo reels, promo videos, teasers, pitch tapes and various others. Sizzle reels are intended to show a select audience a project and someone’s creative skill through a short introduction video. Typically, they range from two to five minutes. The shorter the better, as people’s attention can only be kept for so long. Sizzle reels provide proof of concept. The word “Sizzle” is supposed to incite the excitement someone should feel after viewing it, leaving them wanting more. 

What are they used for?

Sizzle reels may be used for various scenarios or projects. For example, they can be used to pitch a new television series to networks. In this scenario, a pilot episode would be edited from selected copacetic scenes and introduce the logline of the show. Sizzle reels are also often used as someone’s personal showcase to highlight their work for a job or project. These types of reels can exhibit skills such as editing, animation, reporting, lighting, acting and other audio-visual work. You can think of the two types as sizzle reels as “a taste” or “a meal”.  A “taste” would be the pitch of a new idea, like a tv show or film. While a “meal” would be the overview encompassing an individual’s work. Sizzle reels can be used once or multiple times.

What footage is used to make one?

When the goal of the sizzle reel is realized, it is time to gather the necessary materials needed to create it. If you are using your reel as a pitch, then you will need to shoot the first scenes of your project to introduce your characters’ key traits and the setting in which they are. If you are using your reel as a showcase of your work, you will need to gather your best assets from past work. Gathering your best work is one thing, but putting them into an enticing structure is another. Although your past work may not be a synonymous story like the pitch type of reel, it can still tell a story. You can do this in many ways. You can organize footage by the type of feeling they represent, use music to undertone your shots, or use the speed of movement in scenes to build up anticipation. 

Something to keep in mind when bringing materials together is to clearly identify work that is yours and work that is not. If you worked on a film and did the costuming, be sure to identify that to avoid confusion with your audience. 

What makes a successful sizzle reel?

Success is not going to fall into your lap. You will need to set time to make sure your reel is up to par. Plan to edit accordingly, study your audience and keep your content on the topic. 

Success is not going to fall into your lap.

A successful sizzle reel relies heavily on the maintained attention and reception of the audience. You must cater to what the audience wants because they are deciding the outcome of the reel. Ideally, success means that the pitch was picked up by a network or an individual got the job. Your reel should leave the audience wanting more, enough to invest their energy or money into it. 

How do you cater to your audience?

Giving the audience what they want does not mean losing sight of your original vision. Yes, you may have to reevaluate the contents of your reel and change a couple of aspects but, the sizzle reel is not for you. It’s for the audience. For example, although a filmmaker can be skilled in many areas of production, if they go out for a job to be a cinematographer they should use their sizzle reel to highlight picturesque scenes they’ve created. Sizzle reels can be broad as well, a filmmaker could show their range of production skills to get into an intensive educational program. It’s all about knowing your audience.

The sizzle reel’s sole purpose is to tell a story in a condensed manner. It should be something you’re proud to show. Every sizzle reel is different. Some may be abstract and some may be straightforward but, they all hold value. Being authentic with your sizzle reel could set you apart from the rest.

Jo Mayer
Jo Mayer
Jo graduated from CSU-Chico with a degree in Media Arts Design & Technology. She loves live event photography, as well as music and the outdoors and is an amateur skateboarder.

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