A demo reel (AKA demo tape, demo disc, show reel, etc) is a video or audio presentation designed to showcase your talents to a potential employer.
The idea is that the employer can see what you are capable of based on the examples you have supplied. Depending on your area of experience and the position you are applying for, your demo reel may include examples of your camerawork, editing, graphics, sound mixing, presenting, etc.
One of the most common questions about demo reels is "How long should it be?". You may be shocked by the answer but it is absolutely imperative that you understand this....
You have 30 seconds to make your impression!
This is how it typically works: Your disc goes in the machine and the employer presses play. Your best case scenario is that the employer is still watching after 30 seconds, at which time the tape may be ejected and placed in the "Maybe" pile. If the employer hasn't seen anything which stands out from the other contenders, or if there is the slightest hint of any substandard work, your tape goes straight in the "No thanks" pile. No second chances. This is not an exaggeration—it is the reality of the industry in which you are seeking to work and this is a good time to get used to the ruthless rules which dominate.
Anyway, 30 seconds isn't as bad as it sounds. After all, 30 seconds is the standard length of most television commercials. This brings us to the first piece of advice regarding the structure of the demo:
Make the first 30 seconds a TV-style commercial in which the product is yourself. Make this self-contained so that the employer gains a good understanding of your abilities and experience. At the conclusion of the commercial, invite the employer to watch the next section of the demo which contains more examples and details.
Content to Include
Include Contact Details!
It sounds obvious but, believe it or not, some people forget to include these details in their demo reels. Don't assume that because you shipped a business card and CV with the reel that this is enough—you must assume that the reel will be watched by someone who doesn't have any other information about you.
1. Make it relevant.
2. Make it short.
3. Make it good.