COMMERCIAL SHOWREEL 101
Or how I learned to stop worrying and fake my showreel
Commercial Spot Production can be one of the most rewarding, fascinating and creative forms of filmmaking. Telling a fully developed story in thirty seconds is an incredibly difficult discipline to master. The powers of previsualization necessary to direct commercials are immense. The concentration of huge production values into 30 secs, or less, is unlike any other forms of filmmaking. And because a commercial is usually only 720 frames long, or less, it is extremely challenging to make sure the expensive production values you are managing, are crammed into the spot and not lying on the proverbial cutting room floor.
Watch this classic by Ridley Scott.
1. Be ready, as the director, to be a conduit for someone else’s vision.
One of the hardest things to learn as a commercial director is that, even though you may have written most of the spot, it is not your film. You are serving the client. It’s his or her spot. Most of the time, even though it might not be the best “creative choice,” ultimately the client or agency knows its marketing needs. And even if they don’t, you can only petition for your point of view because, “He that payeth the money, maketh the choices.” So be ready to stand at the monitor nodding your head in approval at your actor, while there are six other people shaking their heads in disgust. In other words, if you have a large ego and see yourself as an auteur filmmaker, this part of the business is probably not for you.
I have loved great spots ever since I saw my first “Murry Mint, the too good to Hurry Mint” commercial on Britain’s first commercial channel, ITV in 1957.
I won’t say it had more of an impact on me than Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” which my dad took me to around the same time, but commercials fascinated me and passion shows when you are selling yourself to agencies and clients.
2. The advertising business is in a state of flux right now. Take advantage!
Advertisers are confused about where to spend their money. Most kids I know these days can’t afford cable TV and watch their media on laptops or cellphones. When advertisers analyzed the results of their superbowl spots this year, they discovered that a huge and growing segment of the audience were watching the game on media other than broadcast television. Over 2 million people watched the webcast and you may be sure this number will grow exponentially. They even used these kids to make the commercials.
But when markets are in flux, I believe it’s a great opportunity to infiltrate the system. Branded content is the buzzword of the day and most companies are looking to make inroad into this segment of the market.
3. You can’t get a job without a reel, and you can’t get a reel without getting a job. Or can you?
Assuming you are not discouraged so far, the next question is: “How do I get my first commercial?” This of course is the Catch 22, which is true for any part of the business. This is where you need to produce your own “spec spots,” and build a commercial showreel of spots which were never actually broadcast but which showcase your talents.
Now it’s never cheap to produce your own material and it’s expected to be of a standard, which will get the attention of agencies and advertisers. When you see someone’s reel it is a collection of their best work, so the work you present has to be top notch. If it’s your own money, you are probably not going to be able to afford high production values, complex visual effects or lavish set dressing. So what you need is a great idea that is easy to shoot and is really eye popping. Easier said than done, but that’s what you have to find.
4. If you are not a writer yourself, you need to find one.
Very often, if you reach out, you can find junior writers and art directors at agencies that have similar goals to yourself. They want material for their reels. They often know a lot more about what will be eye catching to advertisers than you might. Comedy is always a good choice, as comedy directors are always in demand and comedy can be entertaining without being too expensive. I believe you can find equipment, cast, crews and postproduction people the same way. You all have common goals and can come together to film a commercial very inexpensively.
A good showreel can have as few as three spots on it and if they are eye catching, you could be off and running.
Here’s one of mine.
Let me know if you have anything you’d like to hear about. firstname.lastname@example.org
You can start editing here.