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Demo Reel Faux Paus

Minor Sins


Let’s start off with the tame ones first, before we get into the real cardinal sins of professional demo reels. Believe it or not, typos can kill you on your demo reel just as badly as they can kill you on your resume—especially since there should be so little text on your reel to start with. With only perhaps an introductory screen and a credits/signoff screen and a few captions, any written text is going to stand out…and a typo there could ruin you.

We’re human. We’re going to make mistakes. Lord knows I’m still finding random typos in articles that I wrote a year ago, even after running them through a spellchecker, and I fix them as soon as I find them as I’m well aware of the impression that they can leave. You should be aware of the impression that your typos can leave as well; they say that you don’t care enough to check your work before finalizing it, and may even imply worse things about your grasp of language.

Of course, if you want to give the impression that you didn’t pass third grade, go right ahead. Maybe you’ll be the one person who gets lucky enough to find an employer that doesn’t care if you’re attentive or in any way competent.

Still Images Set to Music
Another minor offense, and rating pretty high on the yawn factor isn’t as bad as disgusting or offending your audience, but it’s still a great way to get your demo reel filed right into the trash.

Your demo reel isn’t the place to show your still artwork, no matter how nice it is, and not a soul is going to be impressed by your “madd skillz” (yes, I said it, go on and groan) at applying the dozen-odd different preset transitions that come with Adobe Premiere. The kind of employer that requires a demo reel generally isn’t looking for someone with only fine art to demonstrate; if they want to see your fine art, they’ll ask for your portfolio. The entire purpose of video is to capture things that move, so show them something that moves—animation, film shorts, whatever you’ve got that works. Otherwise the only thing that you’re telling a potential employer is that you don’t know how to read the instructions/requirements, and you might as well be the typo guy who didn’t bother paying attention in elementary school.

Inappropriate Music
You want to know a little secret of mine? I love Marilyn Manson. I think his antics are abhorrent and the public displays that he makes are well beneath him considering that he’s actually far more intelligent than his behavior would lead you to believe, but I love the rhythm and dark, gritty feel of his music even if I can’t say I always agree with the message of his lyrics.

Just because I love listening to him, though, doesn’t mean that I’d put his music as the audio track on my demo reel.

It’s a good idea to set your demo reel to music. It’s a bad idea to choose music that will most likely alienate a good 95% of your audience. If you’re going to use music by a controversial musician, pick some milder tracks; for example, Manson has done songs for various film soundtracks, and while they’re heavy on the depressive sentiment, they’re tame compared to some of his album tracks. “Long, Hard Road Out of Hell” comes to mind, from the Spawn film; it’s dark, but not too dark.

Dealing with many animation studios, you’re going to have a bit of leeway to get liberal with your music choice. A lot of times they’re more relaxed than…say…more corporate entities with a shined-and-polished image to present that they need you to help represent. You could take the chance that whoever is going to view your demo reel will love the vulgarities and suggestiveness strewn through whatever track you’ve chosen; it’s slim, but it’s there. Considering my wide musical tastes, I doubt you could send me a demo reel that would bother me regardless of the music that you chose (…look, I went through my blue-haired, spiked-collar goth-punk phase, too).

But if I were a potential employer, it would still make me ask questions that would cast doubts on your character. I’d be seeing your demo reel before I even met you, and I’d be forced to ask myself, “Did he/she choose this music because he/she actually likes it or thinks it suits his/her reel, or just for the shock value and vulgarity?” If it were the former, it would make me curious as to what kind of imagery you might produce to such music, leaning more towards dark, grungy beauty rather than classic standards of the sleek and shiny. If it were the latter, however, I doubt I’d even waste paper on a rejection letter. Your demo reel might make it back to you if you sent a self-addressed stamped envelope; otherwise, it would end up in the bin.

You don’t want to take that chance.

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