Building a Demo Reel: Do’s and Don’ts for New Videographers/Filmmakers

In the creative world, a portfolio of work is usually preferred over a standard resume. It helps employers and clients see whether an artist can do the job. Portfolios provide proof of skill. They also show the artist’s style and taste. Potential clients and collaborators usually have a list of other artists to consider and may not have time to review all of your work. It’s common to provide a preview of your work with a demo reel, which is a compilation video featuring highlights from your very best work. Here are some things to consider when making your first demo reel.

For a Successful Demo Reel, Determine Your Target Audience

Think about the type of work you want to do in the future before making your demo reel. People who hire are most comfortable choosing a candidate with experience in their field. Is your wedding videography your passion? Are you happiest filming interviews or marketing videos for corporations? Or are you a filmmaker who wants to focus on narrative storytelling? Once you decide on a field, narrow it down even further. Want to work for businesses? Ask yourself which industries you want to focus on. If you’re a filmmaker, do you see yourself making horrors or comedies?

If Your Portfolio is Very Diverse, Consider Multiple Reels

It’s common to work in more than one field. If you do corporate videography during the week and weddings on the weekends, how can you best represent the two markets in your reel? It might be a good idea to have a separate reel for each client type. This way, potential clients won’t have to sort through your demo reel for patches of content that are useful to them and you’ll give the impression of specializing.

Here’s an excellent example of a corporate demo reel by Beryllium Pictures.

Design Your Reel for Your Role

If you’re not a solo videographer and plan on collaborating with other filmmakers, you’ll need to narrow the focus of your reel(s) to specific roles and design them accordingly. For example, a montage video depicting beautiful imagery and demonstrating involvement in high production value projects would be useful to a cinematographer.  It’s also helpful to a director who works in short-form mediums, such as commercials and music videos. However, a simple montage video does not effectively show a narrative film director’s ability to shape a performance or an editor’s ability to craft a story. For these roles, it’s good to have a reel that depicts selected scenes in their entirety to show strong performances or unique edits.

Sean’s editing reel features natural transitions between segments of music videos that he has worked on.

If You’re Lacking Demo Reel-Worthy Projects, Create Spec Work

Some clients want to hire people who have already done the type of work that they’re looking to complete. How can you create work in your desired field if no one hires you? You can easily get around this by creating speculation work, or “spec work” for short. Spec work refers to “fake” projects that you make specifically to show possible clients. It shows you are able to create what they are looking for. Spec work can also be used as a proof of concept to sell a project to a potential client or company.

In the commercial world, where risks are seldom taken, it’s common for directors and cinematographers to create spec work that reflects a higher budget than they are usually given. This can help them rise to the next tier in their careers. While spec work is considered an investment, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank. Pull in any favors that you may have collected throughout your career and rent equipment instead of making expensive purchases.

How to Construct Your Demo Reel

Keep it Brief and Only Show Your Best Work
It’s difficult to reduce your entire body of work into a short highlights video. It’s very tempting to include bits from all of the projects that you’ve worked on. Keep in mind that you have a short window of time to grab the attention of collaborators or clients. Most reels clock in at around two minutes and people can form their opinions of your work even sooner than that. Be highly selective with your content and be strategic with where you place your strongest footage within the reel.

Avoid is having too much footage from the same projects. Featuring clips from a variety of projects will not only reflect experience level but will also keep the audience’s attention.

Finding Your Flow
A well-edited demo reel has very similar characteristics to a well-crafted joke. It must hook you in from the beginning, take you for an engaging ride, and leave you with a lasting impression. There is no hard and fast rule with how to create an engaging demo reel but you must carefully consider content, structure, and pacing. Don’t cut and paste your favorite footage into the timeline. Tell a story, if you can. For example, if you’re a cinematographer who’s featuring a shot from a dialogue scene, consider including multiple angles. Compiling a sequence of shots from a scene will better show your lighting design as well as consistency between the shots.

Patrick O’Sullivan demonstrates lighting consistency and an understanding of shot sequence throughout this cinematography reel.

Feel the Music
Don’t overlook the importance of music! It is the backdrop that dictates the pacing and atmosphere of your reel. It is tempting to use your favorite songs but be wary of choosing music that’s inappropriate for the industry you want to work in. For example, it may not be wise to use an artist like Björk to accompany interview footage of business executives for your corporate demo reel.

Whatever song you choose, pay close attention to pacing and speed. Cutting to the beat of the song can give your video a natural-feeling flow. If you’re using a song with a very fast beat or has a constant speed or energy change, it could distract from the content of your reel. Be sure to check out websites like the Music Bed or Premium Beat for songs that best fit your reel!

To recap, specialize by making several industry-specific reels. Choose scenes that highlight the space you want to work in (are you trying to get work as an editor, a cinematographer, an art director, or something else?). Maintain variety in your reel, even if you have to invent projects to give the illusion of experience. Lastly, be mindful of the type of music and branch outside of just the genres you enjoy.

I hope this helps you get on the path toward gaining frequent and creatively fulfilling assignments!

Mike Sun is a Video VIP Quality Control Technician Lead at BorrowLenses and a freelance cinematographer and photographer.


  • Raeshelle Cooke

    Wow, I was looking at this because I’m making a director’s reel and I didn’t realize who wrote this article. When I say the name I was like hey, I know him! lol.

  • Marc Weintraub

    Aloha from Hawaii,
    My name is Marc, a locally born and raised resident of Honolulu.
    I had an idea of how I wanted to put together a demo reel but this article has shed more light
    on what I need to do.
    My background is ENG video with local news stations, and production work with multi camera crews as well as being a self taught 25 foot jib operator.
    I have ENG gear and after reading this article I see what I need to get a good reel developed and out there. Keep up the great advice…Mahalo ( thank you )

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