What Makes a Great Reel?
- June 14, 2011
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
A reel is your creative expression and a very powerful tool to showcase unique talent. It is what producers, directors, ad agency creatives, and agents look at before making a final decision. How are you marketing and representing yourself?
Shane and I have so often sent links to reels with requests for feedback. See the spectacular example below from director Ringan Ledwidge because of the story, composition, and music. He and Shane recently collaborated on the Prudential commercial.
I do business strategy and marketing for HV and don’t have a cinematographer’s trained eye in terms of nuances in color, skin tone and lighting. However, I have been intimately involved in the film business for as many years as Shane has been shooting, watched his growth as a cinematographer and have given feedback on every one of his reels. Over the years, we have tried many different options. One year, we even did an A, B, C, D, and E version of his reel with varying names. It is a very competitive business and if the Ad Agency is shooting a toaster commercial, then they want to see toasters on your reel. Obviously, this is impossible, but absolutely true in every way. The mindset is sometimes closed, jaded and judgmental. They are going for who is hot and not necessarily who is the most talented cinematographer. Do whatever it takes to get fresh eyes on your work and individualize it depending on the project: one for commercials, the other for features.
Here is what has worked well in our experience.
If you are just starting out as a cinematographer, a montage is very powerful. Shane edited his first reel of music videos to yoga chanting music and that is how he gained his first agent, Stacy Cheriff. It is much more about using the one amazing shot in a piece that is mediocre than showing that whole mediocre piece. So, pull an amazing shot into your montage. Try not to use shots where people are talking or singing; this tends to distract. Range and potential is what you need to capitalize upon.
Once you get to a certain place and have established yourself a bit more, your body of work begins to speak for itself. Then, the strategy changes to include: STORY, music, composition, mood, lighting, and camera movement. Less is more. In the commercial world, the first spot matters most. Open with something that will “Wow!” Music is equally powerful. Be sure to pick a musical piece that will not detract from the visuals.
Here is a great example reel from Kris Kachikis who used to gaff for Shane years ago and is a talented cinematographer.
Eric Schmidt’s reel is another great example of a gifted cinematographer.
The feature world is determined by your latest film. Be picky and aware of your intention for every project. If you have the financial ability to pass, do so and wait for the amazing script. Shane has passed on many features and we have made lifestyle choices based on those decisions to let it be about the creativity and the story.