Making Your First Showreel Video

In order to build up your portfolio as a filmmaking freelancer, you will probably have to start making one or two videos for free.

It’s good to know what sort of videos you want to start charging for. Music videos? Charity promotional videos? Adverts? Whatever your desire, pick the genre you think you’re most interested in and decide to work your showreel around that. 

You only need to make one good video to start with.

Let’s say you have decided to go with music videos. Here is your plan of action:  

Photo by  The Nigmatic  on  Unsplash

Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash

1. Find a local band or singer-songwriter you like.

Try to find ones who are still up and coming and find ones who write their own music. This way you won’t have to deal with copyright issues. Try and find an original song of theirs that is their ‘hit.’ It matters. You want the music to work together with your video. Make sure they are happy to let you make them a music video and try and negotiate full creative control over the video. This means, try to work with a band who let you input your creativity as much as possible. This changes once you start working with paying clients but because this is going to be your showpiece, you’re going to want to show how artistic you are and not have the band cutting out your great ideas. 

2. Now decide what style you want to shoot this video in.

Mine was a mixture of recording them live at their studio while they were recording their EP and then some shots outside on a beach to mix it up a bit. What will yours be? A natural style of loads of different angles in their studio recording a track? Or a really glossy, beautifully lit and storyboarded music video? Or will it be a dramatic, story style music video where you use actors?

Try and use your resources and think within the boundaries of your limitations and choose the style you know you can really make shine. My style is natural and that’s what I went with. 

Photo by  Kelly Sikkema  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3. Plan and research your video. Draw storyboards.

Listen to the song over and over again, jotting down what visuals will go where and what rises and falls of the song are going to coincide with images and points in your video. Find possible locations and look up lighting scenarios you want to emulate. How many days will it take to film and how many hours of each day? Basically do as much planning as possible, until you can see that video in your head and you know exactly how to make it happen. 

4. Sit down with your band and talk through your ideas.

Find out what your band are happy with and what they are willing to do. Will they perform on camera for you with playback to the music? Do they want a story to the video? Just communicate well and don’t hide anything from them. You both need to be on the same page and understand what the other is trying to achieve.

You might learn at this stage that the worst clients are the ones who talk a lot about what they want and then you discover they have absolutely no idea what they want and even though you gave them everything they asked for, they are unhappy with the final video. What you want from a client is someone who accepts they are not the filmmaker and leaves the creative ideas to you. We will cover this in more detail in a later chapter. 

5. Set a schedule for filming.

Decide with your band where and when you will shoot and prepare for that date. You may want to do a little rehearsal if you have time. I didn’t do enough rehearsals when I was starting out and it can save you so much time because you come across problems beforehand instead of during the shoot when you have little or not time to solve them. Book your location and continue storyboarding and prepping for your shoot. 

Photo by  Jakob Owens  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

6. Shoot your video. Get lots of coverage.

Make sure you get a take on every band member and get a variety of shots - close ups, wides (don’t forget, wide shots can be really evocative) Performance gets more relaxed as the day goes on because your band are less nervous and more relaxed, so save shots that require good performance or more complicated shots till later in the day.

Remember to give your band breaks. Performing, even to playback can be exhausting, especially when singers are putting in so much emotion on each take. Take your time. Don’t rush. This is your showpiece. Spend the time to make it amazing and be as good as it can be. If you start a shot and you’re unhappy with the framing, re-frame and start again. If you need to wait for the clouds to pass - wait. It will be worth it. 

7. Edit your video.

I’m not going to teach you how to edit in this post -  there are plenty of YouTube tutorials and books that do that and also, it is a whole other topic that deserves its own book. I would suggest however that you read Walter Murch’s “In The Blink of an Eye.” It is a fantastic book about editing by a real master. Do make sure you pay attention to the pacing of your video. I see too many filmmakers holding really long, boring cuts when the music and story is clearly telling them to cut quicker. The reason they do this is because a lot of filmmakers are actually cinematographers who are more obsessed with their images and forget about story and emotion. Holding a long wide of a landscape shot just because you think that was your best shot and you love the way the light plays over the grass is not a good enough reason to hold that edit. If it needs to cut, CUT! You need to feel the edit like the audience who will be watching it, not as the director of photography who is admiring his or her painting with light.

If you have never edited a music video before, I would suggest 1) you watch A BUNCH of music videos of all different styles. Really watch them, analyse them. Count how long they hold each shot. Count how many different angles they use and 2) practise editing random footage to your favourite song before you edit your music video. I had edited about 100 short music videos of my own before I made the free one for this band. I still had a lot to learn but I had a lot of experience in understanding the shots I needed to cover the song and how it would fit together because I had practised. So practise. Practise is easy. You just keep making content until you get better. 

Photo by  Matthew Kwong  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matthew Kwong on Unsplash

8. Send your video to your band to get their feedback.

Make any important changes they request or argue in your defence and agree on a release date. 
Once they have released it, you can put it in your showreel and advertise your beautiful, shiny music video showreel. On your showreel make sure you put your name, or your company name, you MOBILE and EMAIL address VERY CLEARLY on the video. Remember on Facebook and YouTube sometime the video is viewed very small so make sure your details are really obvious at the beginning or end of the video. I would also put a sentence letting people know that you do this now and your services are available should other bands want it. This is your digital business card, so put your details on it.

There you have it. Your first showreel video. Now you need a couple more videos, each more beautiful than the other and you have a gorgeous shiny showreel to put out there and get paying customers to hire you. 

And then the real problems start! ;) Hey ho! More on all THAT in another post...

My name is Jay Moussa-Mann I am a female writer and director living in the North East of the UK, married to my wonderful husband Kevin. You can find more of my tutorials and videos on The Director's Logbook on YouTube