Jul 25, 2021
Making a demo reel is as much an art form as shooting a video or directing a film. That's because a demo reel doesn’t just show what you’ve worked on, so much as it highlights the quality of your work.
Filmmakers also use demos to show off their personal style. It’s a trailer for your work, and like any good trailer, that means cutting and combining clips into a unified piece that is “dressed to impress.” (That's why you call it sizzle reel, after all.)
But what about editors? Where does an editor start for showing off their work in a way that features post-production? How do you present your editing demo reel to prospective clients?
All good questions, particularly since video editors are in high demand with so many businesses doubling down on video production. Let’s look at how you can build an editing-focused demo reel that will impress any client.
When it comes to creating a portfolio, demo real, or showcase, most creatives want to show off everything they can do, even if that includes student films or hobby projects. It’s tempting to sprinkle your best work on top of examples of everything else you’ve worked on.
After all, don’t you want to attract as many clients as possible?
The truth is that “more” doesn’t always translate to “better,” particularly because a really effective demo reel should only be around 60 seconds long. If you pack too much into a reel that's 10 minutes long, you’re more likely to distract or confuse the viewer when you should be blowing their socks off.
Parker Walbeck’s demo reel doesn’t fit that 60-second window, but it highlights how a reel can show off different shooting and editing techniques.
In the case of editing demo reels, the hard part is finding the balance. A lot of clients would rather see a couple commercials from popular brands. It makes their job easy if they can see a familiar brand and think, “Oh, this editor cut a Listerine commercial.”
Like any industry, name association has a kind of built-in level of quality. The client assumes Listerine wouldn’t hire you unless they trusted your work, and that might be enough for someone to hire you on the spot.
But unless you’re already getting hired for that tier of work, your reel isn’t going to feature clips from Nike or Old Spice commercials. That means you need to focus on something else that will still give off an air of professionalism or success, so clients feel confident in your work quality.
Editing plays a pretty important role in video production.
Are you editing video on your iPhone? Or a software like DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere Pro? Having professional footage is important, but what really matters for a demo reel editor is how you reshape and polish the clips in post-production.
Editors are the artists who break down and stitch a project together. In some ways, the editor controls the storytelling and emotional tone in ways that not even a director could. (Just don’t say that to any of your filmmaker friends.)
That’s especially true when you are choosing shots or clips and starting to think about how you’ll edit them together. And you need to treat your demo reel like any other important project, which means putting some thought into coloring and sound design.
The difficult side is knowing how to highlight the editing (or any other specific skill) in a demo reel where people often focus on the shots. Unless you’re showing off motion graphics, GFX, or specific color grading techniques, you may have a hard time directing clients to pay particular attention to the editing.
Most editors need to feature the types of projects they work on. You won’t get that same Listerine-level confidence that we talked about earlier. Instead, the response is more like, “Oh, this editor cuts cool music videos” or “Oh, this editor does a lot of short films.”
Both of those are valuable and worthwhile reactions, especially if you’re looking for clients in a field related to your experience. More importantly, those are things that can focus on you as an individual creator — you shouldn’t have to start a video production company just to get hired.
A good editing demo reel shows off what you do best, whether it’s a commercial for a global brand or super stylized music videos.
A great demo reel for an editor should be a combination of the type of videos you edit, the quality of your work, and any brand or name recognition from past clients. You’re giving an impression of what you’re good at, and compressing the highlights into a 1-minute video.
And if you do it well, your prospective clients will be confident you’ll be a good fit, regardless of how many professional projects you've edited or how many blue chip brands you’ve worked with in the past.
Perhaps the most popular technique for editing demo reels is cutting to music, syncing up each edit with a beat or the emotional “pulse” of your song choice. Music goes a long way in how prospective clients will feel about your demo reel because music helps videos connect with people.
The right song can turn good enough footage into an emotionally impactful clip. Music can also build and carry momentum from cut to cut, which is particularly valuable since demo reels run the risk of feeling “choppy” with all the edits.
Demo reels are less about holding someone’s attention and more about showing off. You don’t want a bumping EDM song that could distract someone from the color grading and composition of the shots in the video — it’s a demo reel of your editing work, not a promo trailer for your favorite song.
Another example from Parker Walbeck's demo reel — you can feature great footage without having to rely on copyrighted music to pull it all together
The good news is that you don’t have to worry about licensing a dozen different songs to spread throughout your video. If you sign up for a royalty free music service like Soundstripe, you’ll have access to an entire catalog of radio-quality songs to choose from and turn your work into a legitimate editing sizzle reel.
And with Soundstripe, you get unlimited downloads too.
Will great music make your editing demo reel a guaranteed success? No, of course not. The only way to attract clients is by either impressing them with past projects or showing them you’ve got experience in their specific field.
You already know that music, sound design, and color grading all play important parts in how audiences connect with video content. It’s your job to remember that and incorporate those post-production skills into your editing demo reel.