What is a sizzle reel?
One of the great things about the internet, and YouTube in particular, are the “mashups” or reimagining of certain movies or TV shows. This could be re-cutting The Shining to make it look like a rom-com or splicing together different movies to make a realistic trailer for a much-anticipated summer blockbuster.
For that imaginative bunch, it’s a way to get a laugh or impress other like-minded individuals. In the movie-making industry, it’s a way to get a job. That is the purpose of a sizzle reel – selling producers or studios a quick glimpse of your vision for a movie that is still months (years?) away from being made.
Directors, producers, show creators, and even writers may produce a sizzle reel to convince decision-makers to consider their look, feel, and tone for an upcoming project. A sizzle reel can help you gain financial backing or even get you hired onto a movie that already has the green light.
A sizzle reel goes by many names in the entertainment industry: showreels, demo reels, pitch reels or even pitch trailers. No matter what they’re called, producing a good, impactful sizzle reel is a way to promote an idea – your idea – by combining visuals, audio, and targeted messaging. This is a pre-visualization of the project that is used to sell the project to studios, agencies, and so on.
The best sizzle reels leave no room for doubt how you feel a movie should be made and why you’re the best choice to make it. It seems like a lot of moving parts and hard work for just a few minutes of digital film that may only be seen by a handful of people.
But if you impress the right handful of people in 180 seconds, it could put you at the helm of the next comic book, horror, or fantasy franchise.
Making a Sizzle Reel
So if there’s nothing to work with, what exactly is your pitch reel supposed to show? Like we mentioned above, a sizzle reel will act as a representation of your vision for a movie or TV series. A somber character study may include visuals from The Machinist, The Cooler, or Up in the Air. A scene or two from Bullitt, Drive, and Baby Driver would feel right at home in a heist flick.
It isn’t just a matter of cutting and pasting, though. Being adept at editing software is just as important as having a very solid understanding of story structure and story dynamics as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of movies, past and present. Kevin Tancharoen’s vision for The Hunger Games is a little darker than what was made, but shows how using existing clips from different movies and genres are brought together to convey a cohesive look and feel.
When it comes to creating a sizzle reel, there are things to remember.
- Keep it short: If something sizzles for too long, it’ll end up getting burnt. Just keep it short and simple. Or short and complicated. Just keep it short. Think about watching a TV show and a commercial comes on. It seems like an eternity before your show comes back on, right? Those breaks run between two and three minutes. Anything longer and your audience may tune you out.
- Diversify Your Reel: No matter if you’re a PC or a MAC person, you’ll need to be able to present your reel on any number of platforms. Burn a few DVDs, have a back-up on a thumb drive, or copy to your laptop, tablet, or phone. Technology is great – but stuff happens. Be prepared.
- Set the Tone: Will you be shooting any new footage or repurpose existing footage? Are you angling to direct for an hour-long doctor serial? A 30-minute sitcom? Or a documentary for PBS? Make sure the sizzle reel reflects that voice.
- Plan, Plan, Plan: No matter what footage you’ll be using, first figure out what you want to say in your sizzle reel. Is your main character a tough guy with a heart of gold? Find some Daniel Craig footage. A coming of age story? Sift through Juno, Welcome to the Dollhouse, or Lady Bird. Make sure you know what you’re looking for, though. Is your project more Boyz N The Hood or The Breakfast Club? Choose clips accordingly.
- If you’ll be creating all-new footage, storyboard what you’ll need, gather assets, figure out a schedule. You’re not going to be able to shove together a sizzle reel as if it were a resume for an office job. You’ll need to show what you can do, so take your time.
We Have The Sizzle and The Steak
Want to learn how to make a convincing sizzle reel, but not sure where to start? Already produced a reel, but have no idea where to go from there? Or do you just need to learn how to organize your thoughts, secure assets, or even the best time of day to shoot outside?
At Film Connection, we offer programs in directing, cinematography, and more. You’ll be placed in a real-world production company, paired with a mentor that will show you how professionals work, both on a set and on location. You’ll learn who does what on a production team and what to look for when casting a project.
You’ll be working hard for this knowledge and experience. You could spend 10 hours on location. You could spend an hour on just one take. You could be called in for retakes. Making films for big and small screens can be exhilarating but it’s hard work.
Wouldn’t have it any other way? Bring your personal sizzle to the Film Connection and show us what you got. Apply today.