Hi Sridhar. I watched your director's reel and I really enjoyed it. I'm planning on putting together my own reel in a few months and I've shot comedies, dramas and some behind the scenes work over the last year or two. Would you suggest doing shorter, separate reels or doing a reel that featured the best of my work, regardless of genre?
It’s a really great question, the answer to which I’m still trying to figure out.
After several variations, I cut three different versions of my reel - the one you see now (see below), one that featured performances only, and another that had a mix of both. It was tough deciding what I wanted to feature - my visuals, my performances, or all the above.
After some thinking I took the stance that we work in a visual medium, and first and foremost I want to grab the attention of any prospective clients/ agents through my visuals. I chose specific visuals that had performance undertones and mixed them in with pure imagery.
You have something in your resume which speaks to the contrary, which is that you’ve shot comedy. Comedy is primarily about timing, and unless you shot slapstick/ physical comedy, you can’t convey timing in a visuals-only reel. It’s a little easier to get a dramatic piece across in that you can highlight peaks of intensity, which despite being only a single facet of dramatic performance, is what most people tend to associate with drama and good acting. (Note that in the clips selected to highlight Best Performances at the Oscars, the academy always chooses the parts where people are either crying our shouting. It’s easy for people to digest that “hey, that must be good acting, they’re shouting!” We all know that the greatest acting is in the quieter moments, where the boiling happens underneath the skin. Which is why Daniel Day-Lewis wins everything.)
In my opinion (and there’s no right or wrong answer to this), I would suggest first making two reels - one for your visuals and the second for your comedy/ drama. Then try merging the two and see if it works. It becomes challenging in that you’ll have to find music and pacing that mixes all the genres that you’ve worked in. I’ve seen some reels that use a stop/start mechanism, where they’ll start out with a clip of dialogue, cut to a visual montage with music, then back to a dramatic/ comedy piece, and then end it with another visual montage with either the same or a different piece of music. This might be something worth looking into.
But here’s one very important thing to remember. When promoting ourselves, it’s important to edit. Whether it be a reel or a resume, we don’t need to put everything we ever did out there. People have short attention spans, and they’re wired to shut you out at any given opportunity. It’s just how we’re designed, as it’s a survival instinct that resides in our animal brain. If it’s not worth our time, we must conserve our energy and resources for something that is.
Choose material that is going to impress. It’s quality, not quantity. I’d rather have one minute of amazing material than six minutes of average. On a resume I’d rather see that someone directed an acclaimed short that got into good festivals, than fifty-two videos that were “distributed” on YouTube.
To quote Jerry Maguire, “we live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors.” There’s a lot of competition, a lot of it very good. I watch videos on Vimeo and am consistently astounded by the quality of filmmaking talent out there. It’s too easy to get intimidated and feel like we have to put it all out there or else someone will think we’re not productive. But as an employer in film, I don’t want proficiency without quality. Talent, vision and craft is what matters, and if you’ve only got one minute of 100% quality work, then that’s what I need to see.
Think of a reel as an elevator pitch for your skills. You’ve got only a small window of attention to capture, so bring out your big guns first and impress. Once they like you, you’ll have time to fill in the details later. Which brings me back to your question about your reel. The only caveat that I have about incorporating comedy and drama into your overall reel is that these scenes, and comedy especially, take time to develop and pay off. That is valuable time. Be very judicious in picking your clips, and choose ones that can have a quick payoff with as little setup as possible. Which is why examples of physical comedy work best. If you’re finding that the inclusion of these scenes are killing the pacing of your reel, then I’d suggest breaking your reel into two and presenting them separately, which is what I’ve done for myself. Lead in with the visual reel, and follow up with the performance. If you can combine them effectively, all the better, but don’t force it.
Hope this helps!