Having a demo reel is extremely important if you want to be a professional puppeteer-for-hire, especially today in the age of YouTube and social media. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to audition and train puppeteers for several different projects. Between that and writing this blog for many years I’ve watched a lot of demo reels. Some are good, some are great and many are utterly terrible, so I decided to share eight basic dos and don’ts for puppeteer demo reels that I’ve discovered.
#1 Do keep it short and simple
A good demo reel shouldn’t be longer than 5 minutes, unless specifically requested. It doesn’t matter how brilliant you think your work is, if it’s any longer than that most people just won’t watch it (in fact, three and a half minutes seems to be ideal). If you’ve done movies or episodic television a good strategy is to include some short clips in your reel and then refer to longer pieces that can be watched separately.
Remember the K.I.S.S. rule and always keep it simple.
#2 Do put your best work first
If the first 30 seconds of your reel aren’t any good then chances are most people won’t watch any further. I have seen demo reels shut off after 15 or 20 seconds.
You only have a moment to grab your viewer’s attention, be sure to make it count.
#3 Do include a title card
This might sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many reels don’t include the name of the puppeteer, their contact information – including where they live – in the actual video. It’s probably best to include a title card with your full name, email address, web site(s), the city and country where you live and a phone number at the beginning and end of your reel.
Don’t forget to update your reel whenever your contact information changes!
#4 Do include a demo reel breakdown
This is really important. People want to know what they are watching. You should include a breakdown with your reel that lists each clip in your reel and specifies what your contribution was. Since most reels are shared online these days, it’s a good idea to include the breakdown in the video’s description. Even better, you can put a title with this information before each clip in your reel.
There’s no point showing someone something if they don’t know what they’re watching.
#5 Don’t use long montages
This is really more of a personal preference than an absolute rule, but when I have to review demo reels at work I hate sitting through long montages of random clips from everything someone has ever done presented with no context. It looks flashy, but usually doesn’t provide anything that can be used to discern a puppeteer’s talent. I think it’s much better to show 2 or 3 complete pieces of work than a dozen random clips. If you really want to use a montage, keep it short and put it at either the beginning or end of your reel.
Remember to always keep it simple and let your very best work speak for itself; steak is usually better than sizzle.
#6 Don’t ride the Muppets’ coattails
I know there are a few puppeteers out there that do this and, frankly, it’s kind of lame.
I think it’s one thing to include lots of Muppet clips in your reel if you are (or were) a regular puppeteer on Muppet or Henson Co. projects, but if you just did a couple days as a right hand or background character on a Muppet shoot over a decade ago then it shouldn’t be a disproportionally large part of your reel.
A puppeteer should be justifiably proud of working the Muppets, but they shouldn’t misrepresent their professional experience either.
#7 Don’t use copyrighted music without permission
Don’t use copyrighted music without permission in your reel. It’s extremely unprofessional. There is a lot of free (or nearly-free) music available out there that you can use legally. Lots of free music for videos is available under Creative Commons licnesed. You can also purchase really affordable, professional stock music through websites like Audio Jungle.
Respect the rights of your fellow artists.
#8 Don’t show unapproved clips
It’s a very good idea to get permission from the Producer or copyright owner before including material in your demo reel, especially if it’s new or unreleased material. I was directing a film earlier this year and someone who worked on it included some unedited, unapproved takes in their demo reel without asking first. This caused all kinds of grief when one of the film’s primary backers spotted the clip online and was furious. I was essentially ordered to replace that person in the middle of production, which was a real shame because they were extremely talented and I really enjoyed working with them.
The lesson? Always ask first.
What did I miss?
What do you think? Do puppeteers out there agree, or disagree? Have any extra tips of your own? Share them in the comments below!