Promo Workshop

How To Make A Showreel

Nothing demonstrates how far the TV industry has come than the way promo producers produce their own showreels.

There was a time when making your “escape tape” called for the clandestine compiling of your spots; the buying-off of a graphic designer to knock you up some sexy slates on the side; and, the midnight-to-dawn edit shift as you lovingly created a reel that would show the next employer just how fantastically lucky they were going to be by employing you… and just how fucked-up the current employers are for allowing you to slip through their fingers.

These days, that insanely useful invention called YouTube has changed everything. How those wacky nerds make a single dime hosting all that crap is beyond all economic comprehension. But while they seemingly have no problems storing the terabytes of uploads they accept every minute then you should definitely take them up and do this:

use YouTube.

The benefits are seemingly never ending:

• It’s free.
• You can distribute your reel with nothing more than a link in an email.
• It’s immediate.
• You can update it continuously.
• And most importantly, the employer can never lose it.

If you want a comparatively easier and more professional experience than YouTube, then Vimeo is your best bet. In fact, with its flexible, user-friendly features, Vimeo seems to be emerging as the destination of choice for showreelers.

Don't get me wrong, uploading to these services is just as fiddly and painstaking as making a showreel was 20 years ago; but once you're finished you'll find the ability to constantly update your reel indispensable.

Wanna see an example of a smokin' hot showreel?
Well then, check out mine.

You're welcome.

As comparatively easy and convenient as these services are compared to making physical reels, there are still some rules that apply.

don't make me think

An integral part of my Promo Workshop training seminars is the notion of putting yourself in the place of the receiver. In other words: imagine you are the receiver of your own message. Promo producers are persuasive communicators, so it stands to reason that their own showreels would ooze everything they know about persuasive communication, right?

Well, actually, very rarely.

But think about the receiver…
The person on the other end. The Promo Manager.
Promo Managers are busy people. They want to see what you do… how good you are. They don’t want a freaking puzzle.

The rule of thumb is to make it easy for them to start looking at your work as quickly and as easily as possible… for them to easily figure out what they are looking at; and why they are looking at it.

Create a special channel with just your promos on it. Or perhaps use Vimeo for your showreel; and YouTube for your personal stuff. You don’t want employers discovering your personal obsession with Brazilian Face Dancing videos. No sir.

Put a brief explanation of each spot in the text field.

But brief. A couple of lines only.
Good promos speak for themselves. People at home don’t get a detailed explanation of the promo’s subtext and your motivation for using non-additive crossfades… so, neither should the employer.

Here’s the million dollar advice: Just write a couple of lines about why you chose to include the spot. That’s it.

• “I edited this image spot all by myself”
• “This one bagged me a Gold Promax”
• “I turned this one around in half a day”
• “This one lifted ratings by 10%”

The two million dollar advice is: make everything self-explanatory.

(BTW: I break this rule in my showreel, as I am using the videos for educational purposes, not just job-hunting to busy creative directors.)

tech check

Ask a friend or relative to check out your stuff.
• Does it all work?
• Are there pictures and sound? (You’d be amazed!)
• Is it self-explanatory? Is it easy?

the call to action

Okay, so the employer sees your shit and is knocked out. Now, just don’t forget to make sure they know how to contact you.

I once saw a fabulous reel. I was ready to hire the producer on the spot. But guess what? No contact info. They never got back to me. No job. (I never did find out who they were.)

"But aren't I begging for trouble putting my contact details online?"
I hear you think.

I would say it's okay to put your email address; not such a good idea to put your mobile number. You can create a special email account specifically for contact from viewers of your showreel if you wish.

If you're worried about spammers, you can tack on a special title card at the end of your videos. This gives the Promo Manager the info they need, right when they need it; and is 100% spammer proof.

how long should it be?

There is a lot of debate about this. In the days of linear, physical reels, the answer would be: for as long as it takes to demonstrate your range- and no longer. These days, it's a very different question:

how many spots do I upload?

But the same answer. As many as it takes to demonstrate your range, and no more. If you're a prolific promo maker with dozens and dozens of spots for viewing, then answer is: as many as can be easily sorted through.

Employers are really only going to actually look at a few of your promos. The more options they have, the greater the chance there will be of them watching one of your lesser spots.

what to include:

• Use YouTube's playlist, or Vimeo's albums features to order your spots so your best work will be seen first.

• Of course, the aim of the game when compiling a showreel is to demonstrate your abilities. But most promo managers will be looking to see how much ‘range’ you have, so place your promos into subgroups and make it obvious that you are doing that.

For example you might subgroup your work into something like:
Romance, Action, Comedy and Sports.
Maybe: Editing, Writing and Directing.

Include these categories in the comments; so the viewer knows what they’re looking at and why.

Always give proper attribution and credits to others who produced the work with you.

what not to include:

• Never put a wacky-ass promo montage at the beginning of your reel. It’s confusing, time-wasting and obligatory. If you’re a designer, maybe.

Okay… if you simply must put a montage at the beginning make sure the header reads: “Intro Edit Montage” or “Design Montage”.

• Avoid the use of music that will date quickly.
Don’t risk using a music style that might not be appreciated
by the employer. e.g. Techno.

• Don’t use graphics made by anyone other than yourself.
(unless you properly and clearly attribute)

• Don’t use other people’s work on your reel.
You will get busted, because it’s a very small industry.
(There’s some great stories!)

If you can only take part-credit for the spot, make sure you indicate what part is yours. Include this info in your brief explanation. Or, put a graphic at the head of each spot which says what you did.

Can I be clear enough about this? If an employer has to ask: "Did you do these graphics?" and you have to answer "no" then you'll come off as a bullshitter. Which is never a good feeling.

about physical reels

It's possible that some employers will ask you to provide a copy of your showreel on DVD... or maybe even VHS, though I can't imagine why.

Supply a cue sheet, which is a printed rundown of what spots are on the reel, with a brief explanation of each.

Make sure the packaging is clearly labelled.
Make sure the media is clearly labelled.

As I’ve just said, if it’s on DVD have your name and number/email everywhere. The box. The Media. The Menu. The Beginning of the reel. The end of the reel. Everywhere.

If you use a DVD jewel case, make sure the spine of the case is clearly labelled. 99% of showreels are stacked spine-out, right? So don’t leave the spine blank.

• Make sure the label is stuck down properly and won’t come off.
• Only put the basics on.
Just your name, occupation and main contact number/email.
• Don’t make the mistake of labelling the box and not the media.

Boxes get lost, or used for other DVDs.

on DVD:
• Separate each spot with no more than two seconds of black.
Even better, put a quick title graphic before each promo grouping (or spot). It’s not always that obvious or easy to tell where one spot ends and another spot begins.

• If you’re supplying a reel on DVD, be confident it will work on a variety of systems.

• If you know how, have the showreel programme start the moment the DVD loads. Then have the Clapper/Cue Sheet a part of the programme.

• Avoid fancy menus. (They don’t always work).
• Do use DVD chapter markers for each spot. They’re great!

on VHS:
• Make sure the clapper starts right at the beginning of the tape. 
• Make sure the tape is re-wound before you send it.


Charley Holland is a content creator with 30 years experience in the TV industry. He is reasonably underwhelmed by social media, which is why you can find him on Facebook; LinkedIn; Twitter; Google+

©2013 The Charley Holland Agency