Part 2: Patrick Breaks Down His Process With His Latest Reel
In 15 years of dedicated color grading, I never built a Color Correction Demo Reel
Actually, more specifically, I never built a ‘Beauty Reel’. I did build a Before / After Reel – but it was designed as an educational tool. It’s designed to help first-time filmmakers decide to go the professional colorist route.
But a ‘Beauty Reel’? I never bothered
First, unlike commercial colorists who can spend days grading a :30 second spot to beautify images – my sub-specialty is long-form and I’m grading hundreds of shots in that same amount of time. Plus, lots of my work is anything but ‘Beauty’. Lots of my work is grungy, dank, bloody, crisp or just plain real.
Besides – I’m not interested in doing Beauty work full-time. Remember how I said your Reel is about building your future? Attracting high-end Beauty work is not my thing—so a Beauty reel didn’t make sense for me.
The problem is… I still want to showcase the work I love doing and keep attracting
And with my 1,000 mile move from the Northeast to the Southeast of America in 2014—having a reel to show my new hometown, where I don’t have 20+ years of connections and contacts, seems like a good idea. So it was time to finally build a ‘proper’ color grading reel. Not a Before-After breakdown reel, just great shots with powerful images and famous (or nearly-famous) faces.
In this Insight you’ll learn:
- How I gathered my elements
- Attacked the editing side
- Share some mis-steps
- Show what awesome feedback looks like
- Make sure you know how to properly handle lower-thirds with dips to black (there’s a trick to doing this correctly)
Here’s the finished Reel that’ll we’ll be talking about:
But first, I’ll eat my own medicine and outline the goals of my Reel as laid out in Part 1 of this series
What is the goal of this Reel?
Remember – you have define: What type of work do I want to attract with this Reel? What future do I want to build for myself?
For me, and this Reel… I’m attracting long-form Indie Features, mid- to high- budget documentaries and high-end short films… all of whom face very similar challenges that I’m good at solving.
Who is the audience?
Most of my clients who hire me are Producer or Producer / Director types. So the footage I select needs to accentuate Production Value, High Impact and Consistency. Cinematographers often have a say in my hiring—but really, it’s the Producer who almost always decides if I get the job. So that’s who I’m building this Reel for.
What genre of Reel is it?
A Sample Reel. Definitely.
What is my Hard Cap Length?
3 minutes, including title cards. This puts the length of the audio track that I edit at around 2:30 – 2:40. I like slightly long title cards, so I want to leave 20 seconds, split between the top and bottom of the reel, and it’ll keep the length below my ‘never exceed hard cap’ of 3 minutes.
Now comes the hard part… pulling my assets together
Once I decided to actually build the Reel, it took me about two weeks to fully gather all my assets. And that process really only started rolling when I finally bought some software to catalog all my bare drives with 8 years of source material on them.
In the video below, I’ll show you the cataloging software I used. And then, once I gathered up all my source footage and project files, how I gathered my assets to allow me to focus on editing and storytelling.
Once you’ve gather your Assets, finding your audio track will be the next hardest chore
Well, for me it’s a chore. I’m not a producer so music selection has never been easy. I tend to listen to dozens of needle drops before finding a few tracks I can listen to for days on end. In this project I selected about a half dozen tracks from PremiumBeat.com. You can click on this link to see my final selections.
When it comes to selecting music tracks, I find that my peers in the Editing, VFX and Color Correction world like to use commercial music of popular artists. Except… they never actually license the music—since they don’t want to spend the thousands of dollars it would cost to do so.
As a solo operator who works with lots of Indie productions, I’m very sensitive copyright infringement
Using commercial music to sell your commercial services without paying for that music? It’s wrong.
I don’t do it. I encourage you to take the same stance. This isn’t about Fair Use. The music is being used to encourage commerce and as creatives we need to hold ourselves to the same standard we expect others to hold to our work and that of our clients.
Besides, since I want the option to post my Reel on YouTube or Vimeo – I don’t want to worry about DMCA Takedown Notice.
No – for demo reels I’m a big proponent of licensing your music. And that’s what I did. I fully edited and approved my demo reel before purchasing the final high-quality, un-watermarked soundtrack and it cost me $40 to do so. But now I can post my Reel anywhere, anytime and never worry about licensing. It makes the Creative in me feel good, to do right.
What do I do first: Edit the music or edit the video?
Have I mentioned I was a network promo editor for almost 10 years? I was. And almost all that work is audio-driven. Besides the on-air work I did, I did a ton of Sizzle Reels for big network gatherings… again, all audio driven.
So, yes – I always begin by first selecting and editing my music to time.
What am I looking for in demo reel music?
I usually want a source track that’s 25% to 100% longer than my final run-time. For a 2:30 run-time, I wanted music at least 3 minutes long. A 5-minute track is heaven.
Why so long? Because I want my music to have a beginning, middle and end. And I want to dictate, through editing, the length of each of those sections. We can’t do that if the music isn’t at least 25% longer than our run-time.
In the video below you’ll see how I cut up the audio track – getting it to length first, then building the shots over the music. I probably cut-down about 4 different tracks before settling on my final two selections; since it wasn’t until I cut the tracks to time that I had a sense if the music could carry my images—and with enough variety in tempo, swells and pauses to help drive the pacing of the piece.
That’s the thing about any sort of montage-driven piece… audio is your best friend—if you put some thought into it.
How did I select the final sound of my music?
For me, music on my demo reels is always a very personal choice. It needs to reflect me, artistically. For this Sample Reel, I wanted the music to reflect my childhood training as a classical guitarist. I eventually played Flamingo (but I stopped playing by the time I entered High School since my mom wouldn’t let me buy an electric guitar).
At Premium Beat I searched mostly on Latin tracks that featured guitars. I also listened to the more ‘cinematic tracks’, since this Reel was for my indie long-form work. In the end, I rejected the cinematic sounds since they often competed with the visuals.
Finally, if you want to read what excellent feedback looks like, don’t forget to scroll down past the video
After editing the piece, I solicited the advice of many trusted peers and clients. One set of feedback was outstanding.
I’ve directly copied and pasted that feedback, it’s from one of the best producers I know. THIS is the kind of feedback you’re looking for. And keep asking your clients until you find someone comfortable enough with you that they’ll be this honest. Trust me, most people don’t really want to tell you what’s wrong with your Demo Reel Masterpiece.
When they do tell you the truth, thank them profusely and address their concerns. You’ll find her advice to me below the Video Insight below.
Do you have any Insights you want share to building Demo Reels?
Let’s continue the conversation below. I’ve got some strong opinions on Demo Reels – but don’t take my authoritative tone as being the last word on the matter! Let me know what you think. Have I sparked any questions? Do you have a different approach than me?
Let’s share our thoughts and experiences because remember; demo reels are about building the future career you want. And that’s what Mixing Light is here to help you do! Make use of this website, because we all have something to learn from each other 🙂
-patThe most valuable feedback I received
Of all the comments I got back about my Reel, my long-time Producer friend Joan gave me the most detailed, specific feedback I got from anyone. Every note she made was spot-on. I knew these areas were problems but for some reason I didn’t take the time to solve them. When she pointed them out I just shook my head wondering, ‘Why the heck didn’t I listen to myself?’
Below her notes is an embed of the version of the Demo Reel I sent her
Just in case you want to check her notes and see if you agree with her?
Here’s an excerpt from the much longer email she sent me:
I watched it a couple of times, and there were only 3 shots that stood out to me as “different” in a distracting way.
- At 01:10, the woman filing her nails on the phone – it may have just been how the file looked on vimeo, but that one seemed to not have the quality of the others.
- At 1:38, the shot of the 2 people on the couch where the man throws his hands up in a shrug from “Poliwood” – that shot distracted me every time because I think it might feel too short? I think I am trying to figure out who it is on the couch because the director is Barry Levinson, so I’m not paying attention to the job you did on making the pillows and the bamboo vibrant and probably fixing the fact that it was a very yellowish tan shot and a little blown out 🙂
- And then the only other shot that distracts me as also being too short is the football shot – I am sure that this was a situation where you were restoring old footage. I get distracted because I am watching the action of the pass, and also catching a glimpse that the director was Barry Levinson, and then the shot is over. I think being able to show that you can restore older footage is a very good thing for documentaries, so maybe lengthen that one? And it also can’t hurt for people to absorb how many things you did for Barry Levinson.
- The last comment I would make is to take “Orlando” off of your demo reel page. [Locals] have a stigma about Orlando, and I would not want it to hurt your chances for getting work.