Making Your Demo Reel as Unique as You Are: An Epic Case Study

Making Your Demo Reel as Unique as You Are: An Epic Case Study

This is a guest post from our friends at Lumenati, a creative agency here in Denver that just released an insane, unconventional demo reel.

This post covers not only how they went about crafting the reel, but why they opted for something so crazy. It was written by Lumenati Cinematographer, Evan Swinehart. Hope you enjoy it.

When it came time to start thinking about our new demo reel, we knew we had to create something non-traditional to be true to our character as a company.

Lumenati is a collection of filmmakers, inventors, designers and creatives. We make content, build innovative products, and establish meaningful partnerships that create impact. We are a collaborative community that fosters fresh ideas and new perspectives. A modern take on a creative agency, we seek to change the relationships between clients and creatives.

When it came time to start thinking about our new demo reel, we knew we had to create something non-traditional to be true to our character as a company. I personally hate demo reels, and haven’t made one in years. I find them boring and uneventful and always wonder how much that individual actually contributed to the included shots.

When I first entered the industry, an editor whom I have great respect for gave me some advice that I still keep in mind today:

“Make it count. Keep it under 2 minutes and show as many people as you can. Watch them, if they look away, take note of where they lose interest.”

What’s the purpose of a reel?

Every demo reel should start with this question. What is the viewer going to take away? For me, the most memorable reels all tell a story.

Take Camp4 Collective’s reel for example. Not only is the cinematography and scope of work amazing, but it also makes you feel something. Why? Because they tell a great story that connects with the viewer, leaving them inspired.

That is the goal, to leave the viewers wanting more. Think of it as if you were hired by a client to tell your story. What better way to show your work and creativity than creating an engaging, original piece of content? 

Food for Thought

Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. Our’s started with a viral video of a golden retriever’s struggles.

Inspired by this hilarious video, we decided to pay homage with our own version, Fiesta Friday. We had so much fun, we decided to do it again. Only the second time, we partnered with Ice Cream Riot, and tried to catch their delicious products.

Flash forward six months, we had holiday food on our minds, and a need to create a new demo reel. Since over cranked food to the face seemed a common theme of 2015, naturally our reel needed the same elements.

Two of the most iconic food fights in cinema history came to mind, Animal House and Hook. Thus sparked the idea of a Holiday themed food fight.

The Details

Where would we do it? If we learned anything from our taco and ice cream videos, it was that this was going to get messy. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that no-one in the Lumenati community eagerly volunteered their home to get smeared with mashed potatoes.

The best option was to use a studio. Lighting would be much simpler, and cleanup would be easy. Also, what could be better that a piece of cake flying against a pristine white wall. Having worked with Massif Studios in the past, they were excited to host our “family dinner.”

Keep it Scrappy

On shoot day, plans quickly went out the window. It was clear that lighting every flying chicken leg “just right” wasn’t very realistic. Instead, we used the 3 white walls of the studio to our advantage.

By flooding the walls with as much light as possible, we could successfully light the whole scene and keep the walls as white in case we decided to remove them in post. This strategy created dynamic shadows that darted across the scene with every piece of flying food.

The tripod was the next thing to go. By switching to handheld, we could get closer to the action and utilize different angles to establish the chaos. Shooting at 60 and 180 FPS any minor mistakes could be stabilized in post.

Post Process

Here’s the hard thing about reels… you work for free. Its hard to make them as good as you’d like because it feels like your time could be better spent on other projects. Being passed between three editors, our demo reel took a different feel each time.

I knew that I wanted to start the reel with a group of cheesy characters sitting down to a “classy dinner”. And as the first ‘taters fly, all hell would break loose. What I didn’t account for was the need to record dialog on set. In one scene, our creative director, Scott, gives a toast. The original plan was to fit the toast into a montage somewhere. But, as rough cuts came to head, something felt weird. It was seeing Scott’s mouth move, but no sound coming out.

What about ADR?

Our sound guy Connor made the suggestion of ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) and what a great one it was. Not only did it fix the problem, it was damn fun to do. Nothing like a group of friends huddled around a mic with having a few beers and dubbing each others voices and making funny sound effects.

That is what making a demo reel should be, fun. It is not worth getting stressed out and frustrated, like I had with previous attempts. A reel should get you excited and be something you are pumped to work on. 

Think outside the box to tell your or your brand’s story. For us it was simple…..FOODFIGHT!

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

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