Working as a sound editor can be an amazing way to make a living but there are a few parts of the gig that I really don't look forward to. Certainly making demo reels falls in this category. Making a demo reel is not easy. Producing a coherent, tight reel for myself is one of the hardest jobs I've been tasked with as a sound editor. Demo reels are a major time commitment - from tracking down copies of projects I've worked on, to picking good clips and then editing them together - the process seems unduly laborious. I bring all this up because I have recently embarked on updating my demo reel for the third time in my career.
I put together my first reel in my last semester of film school in ’97. In retrospect it was pretty easy, but it seemed like a pain even then. I only had student films to use in the reel and to pick clips from, so rounding up the content was easy - I only had a few credits to my name. I also had access to video editing equipment through my college. After all the effort to put the reel together, I got hired at the post audio house where I interned and never really had to shop around that version of my reel. I don’t even have a copy of it anymore.
After working at that facility for 6 years I moved to a different studio for a year and then decided to go freelance full-time. In order to secure some new clientele I needed to put together an up-to-date reel. By then I had quite a bit of material to draw from after 7 years in the business. The problem was actually tracking down copies of the material; this took weeks and a lot of phone calls. Also, I had to figure out a way of editing it all together. This was in 2004 and home-based video editing was not as cheap or accessible as it is now. Suffice it to say I did not enjoy the experience.
Now, eight years later, I need a current reel and I can't put off the big job any longer. I am again going through the process of updating my reel. Updating is not really the right word since I am basically starting from scratch. Since I'm approaching this as a completely new project, I have been doing a lot of research online. I've watched a ton of other professional sound editors' reels and read a bunch of articles on how to make an effective reel. The information I have collected with all this research has not been very conclusive. Just about everyone offering advice online has a completely different take on the best way to go forward. There is no consensus on how long a reel should be or how many clips should be used.
There are smart arguments for both longer and shorter reels. Shorter? Ah, but if you want to show multiple clips with any kind of context you need time let them play out. OK, then - longer... Yeah, but seriously, what prospective client is going to take the time to watch 7 minutes worth of material for every editor they are considering for a project? Is it better to show 2 or 3 clips in longer chunks, or go more of a montage route and throw a lot of short clips together?
I guess the answer is that it depends on the situation for the person making the reel and to a larger extent the person you expect to be watching the reel. After a lot of thought and discussion I made a few decisions that I hope will work for my situation....... but first off, a little background.
Early in my career I did a lot of post-production work on corporate videos. Then I moved into documentaries and lifestyle/reality programming. Then when I went freelance I changed my focus to concentrate on animated series work. Finally in the last few years I have been doing some feature-length projects. Obviously no single demo reel can cover off all these bases. So I am making 3 different reels. I am not looking hard for corporate work these days, so I am going to focus one reel on animation, another on documentaries and the third on live action/scripted programmes.
The one I'm starting with, because it's currently the most important for me, is the animation reel. I've been lucky enough to work on a lot of animated series over the last few years. In fact, to date I have cut SFX, and sometimes Dialog, Music or Foley as well (in some cases all of the above on one project), for 393 half-hour episodes of animated television series, plus a bunch of animated features. With this bulk of work I have a lot of clips that can be showcased. In order to convey the amount of work I have completed I am opting to go the montage route for this reel. Each clip will be around 20 seconds long and feature the standard labeling convention of a lower third graphic listing the show’s title, production company, my credits on the production, and how many episodes I worked on for the series. I also decided to give myself a 2.5 minute limit for the final running time.
One of the main reasons I settled on this format is that I feel that for animated series at least, post-production supervisors are looking mostly for 2 things: quality audio work and a track record of accountability. Obviously they are looking for someone who can make their show sound great, but I think they place a lot of value on knowing they are getting someone who can handle the pressure and scheduling demands of the animation world. So I am hoping to walk that fine line, showcasing some of the stronger work I have done and at the same time giving a strong impression of the volume of work I've completed - hopefully letting prospective clients know that I have been through the wringer many times and have always delivered.
Once I decided how I wanted my reel to look (i.e. montage-style and 2.5 minutes), I had to pick the best clips to use. With around 200 hours of footage to potentially choose from, this is a bit of a daunting task. First thing is to get copies of the shows. Some of the shows I've collected on commercially-released DVDs, others I received as screeners from the production companies, most I still had on drives from when I was working on the projects. An element complicating this process is lost data. 2 years ago my studio was broken into and cleaned out (you can read about that experience in this post). Lost in that robbery was my archive of finished work. I know it was stupid to have the archives on-site but there's nothing I can do about it now. (Let my mistake be your warning, get a bullet-proof back-up and archive protocol.) Since I had no access to my original edit sessions for anything done prior to the robbery, my options started to narrow. I got DVDs of some of the shows but I found a lot of the final mixes have music mixed loudly and I couldn't really showcase the SFX work I did with the music competing for the listener’s attention. I wanted as often as I could to use clips without the music stem. In some cases this was not possible, so I'd pick a sequence where there was no score or where the SFX were mixed prominently.
Once a bunch of clips were picked and I'd made a first assembly of my reel, I was faced with a couple of problems. First, I was way over my 2.5 minute self-imposed limit. It was coming in at 5 minutes. Secondly, when I played it for a select few people they all had a similar response: it was too aggressive. I had picked a lot of showy clips featuring huge action sequences with explosions everywhere. I had done some good work on all those explosions, but when they were all put together it was too much to watch all together. It was like being hit in the face with a frying pan for 5 minutes. I had to find some peaceful moments to slip in to give the listeners' ears a rest. I also cut out a lot of material to get it down to my 2.5 minute limit. That is always a difficult task for me. I put a lot of work into each of these projects and deciding that a bunch of shows were not going to make the cut was tough.
Now that the reel was down to my desired length it was time to polish it up. I added a few subtle transition sounds to help move from clip to clip. To give it a little extra twist, I called in a big favour at one of the studios where I often freelance. The studio has a visual effects department and I was able to convince one of their best graphics guys to animate my logo, something to jazz up the opening of the reel. What he delivered was above and beyond my hopes and expectations. I now have a really cool motion graphics intro that I love.
So now after way too much thought and effort, and without further blathering is the premiere of my Animation Demo Reel:
Let me know what you think.