Saturday, October 18, 2008

What's the point of a video journalism showreel?

Martin posted a question, which prompted me to ask what's the point of the reel?

A showreel is the business card of media types trying to show what they're capable of.

From directors, producers, reporters, cameras.... and corporate bodies, the general wisdom is that a strong reel can provide you with that sheen to attract eye balls and more business.

Does it work?

Well in my experience there are variations in its rate of success for different professions.

Perhaps the most fuzzy is the reporters' reel. That's because unless you fit the profile of what the director of presentation/ talent is looking for, it matters less whether you compiled your reel or cashed in a favour from Ridley Scott.

At Channel 4 News, one of the senior execs was scouring tapes, a lonely arduous task clunk clinking the VHS machine [ no such luck today]. Within 10 seconds of inserting a tape, it came out.

The programme had an idea of what it wanted, and would have been tracking its prospect.

Running tapes would be an opportunity to confirm its findings within a larger exec meeting or just on the off chance come across a gem.

I would say the latter happens very rarely.

Stuart Cosgrove , a senior figure at Channel 4, was nonplussed by them, adding there was no way of verifying who was behind making the snippets of film he was watching.

He was referring by and large to the directors' reel.

Getting a job via a reel
In the late 90s, an email from the BBC, which started off: "Apologies for the delay but we were having to go through a number of reels", did result in a meeting with a senior exec interested in me shifting.

However the only success I ever had with a reel was working for the BBC's Youth show Reportage.

Janet Street Porter's office requested I send in a VHS.

All she asked for was a piece to camera of 20-40 seconds. I'd already met the programme's editor so the reel again was to affirm or discard their findings.

Reportage liked its young crew to have a certain... how do I say this...confidence and if you were going on screen, that well worn phrase would echo in the room:"Does the camera like him/her?"

The venerable and popular UK presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli, with the Scottish brogue was one producer/reporters I worked with in 1992, so you'll know what I mean.

I did my piece to camera in my backyard and was later ribbed by the Reportage editorial team and also told what Janet said when my tape came up, which made me laugh.

Reporters' reels are nay impossible to sell. At best showing off on screen with a montage of favourite reports will not do much, unless that is you've a habit of interviewing top celebs.

However the template appears to be:
  • a piece to camera/stand up.
  • interview with a well known figure or live broadcast
  • and then a short news package is more than enough to convince the watchers you've got the 'hire me' factor.
Reels for directors work differently. The film makers' signature style is on display. My boss and friend Jon Staton ( Ex Saatchi head of TV) watched them regularly for commercial shoots.

The short list were then rang up or met for a chat to see how likeable they were and what they might contribute to a shoot.

The producers' reel is also selling something else. The success of a show hangs around a producer pulling everything together so if a reel is eminently watchable, then credit goes to the producer.

The editor, camera, lighting have their own reels.

A curio however for me is the editors' reel. Editing in film, generally differs from editing in video features and news.

In film the editor constructs the dailies and very much crafts the story. In news and features the editor can often find themselves being strongly directed by news reporters.

The video journalism reel is so nondescript, it could take up chapters. For it's an amalgam of all the above.

The emerging Video journalism Reel
The market place I believe isn't matured enough to look on VJ reels as a revolving door for jobs.

Though there have been noticeable successes from newspaper VJs, I have exchanged ideas with, moving into television.

In both cases Andy now working for sports network s Setanta and Vicki who's at BorderTV are story tellers and the camera likes them.

Many video journalists prefer not to go on camera, so it's their film skills they're touting.

My colleague at Channel One, Sacha Von Straten, makes the point on Rosenblum's site [Sorry it starts off with a halo buff] that he hid his VJ skills after Channel One in preference of being taken seriously as a producer/director.

So the show reel is a literally now from this image a electronic business card.

Corporates swear by them; they're more commercial orientated in this case. And the media has a certain ambivalence depending on which profession you are.

But one thing is generally accepted, good ones tend to be a hit with viewers.

The producer/director behind Usain Bolt's video after his amazing 100m run has a job in the media for life. The whole film is testimony to their talent - blogged here.

If it were me I'd submit that with my job hunt. Trouble is directors/producers want to be current, so it's more than likely snippets of this wonderful video will find its way into the video producer/ director's reel.

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