The Power of Impactful Work Samples in the Film and Television Industry

Posted on: Nov 14, 2023

Photo Credit: Grusho Anna // Shutterstock

By Jessica Mathis

From writers and on-screen talent to crew and administration, work samples are crucial tools. In the visual-centric world of the entertainment industry, producers want to see tangible evidence of skills before hiring. Such samples can be the deciding factor in hiring because they allow producers to assess the crew person’s skill, experience level and unique voice. 

Crafting an Impactful Portfolio

Creating an impactful portfolio can be a daunting task, especially for those just starting. Putting time or money into the creation of a portfolio is an investment in yourself and your future. A well-polished and beautifully designed reel or portfolio website can be impressive, but simple links to online folders or video site collections can suffice if the work samples exhibit quality. 

When choosing work samples, focus on selecting pieces that each showcase different skill sets. For example, a makeup artist may showcase different types of looks, such as glamour, aging or FX. A cinematographer may want to showcase different lenses, one-shot follows versus stationary or their work from different types of lighting or genres. 

The goal is to avoid showing a bunch of clips with the same skill or poor quality. If that’s all you have, choose the absolute best sample or two and create a strategy to add some diverse new ones to your collection.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up something yourself or working pro bono for non-profits or artists, as long as the work requires a skill you’d like to showcase and the result will be quality. Carefully review the work of any collaborators you wish to include to give you the best chances for a quality outcome. 

Be sure to prioritize clips that showcase your unique style or voice or specific skills or techniques you’ve developed or are known for. 

Quality Over Quantity

Reflections of your own skills and style are crucial to choosing the best clips, and so is reflection of external sources. When watching other television shows or films, be aware of what seems to be a trend or standard, and look for opportunities in your work where you can show you can meet the mark.

You can also review job postings to see what employers are currently looking for and make selections that match those needs. 

Tailoring for the Target Audience

When tailoring your reels to match industry or gig demands, you may need more than one reel. Separate reels for different genres, or the different facets of your profession, can make it easier for your reviewer. The industry is full of people with too much on their plates and not enough time, so having a targeted reel saves them the trouble of wading through content that is irrelevant to what they are looking for.

Revisiting the makeup artist example, you may want one reel for FX, and one for beauty and standard. You wouldn’t necessarily need someone hiring for a dating show to see that you can do cuts and bruises. If you can do more than one job, such as cinematographer or editor, you’ll want separate reels unless they are specifically hiring for a producer/shooter or multi-skill job.

If a job posting has very specific needs and you have work samples that clearly demonstrate those skills but aren’t in your reel, you may want to throw together a new cut of your reel or at the very least, send that work sample along with your reel. When I posted a call for audio people for a live taping of a comedy special where the event experience was important, I received a flood of applications.

I’d say 90% had no work samples, and out of those who did, one person sent me two work samples that were at live events or included sound recorded at live events—and that is who I hired despite the added cost of her travel. It is fantastic to see samples of what someone can do. It’s even better to see samples of someone doing exactly what is needed for a particular job. 

Highlighting Skills and Innovation

The industry is certainly always shifting and changing as new technologies and techniques emerge. Ongoing education in your field and professional growth are necessary steps to continue to expand your creativity and skill, and your reel should reflect your ability to work within the shifting landscape. 

Lower third titles or title cards before work samples can be used to mention technique or technology utilized in the work you performed. In addition to labeling your examples of prowess, choosing samples that are complicated, or require a high level of skill, will be impressive and showcase your ability to problem solve and handle difficult situations.

Updating and Refining Your Portfolio

With the above mentioned considerations in mind, you’ll want to be sure to update your reel and work sample regularly to include new samples and keep up with shifting trends or technology. 

Keep these steps in mind:

  • Best clips first. Reviewers could be so busy they make a decision with the first 30 seconds or first link. Make sure the first thing they see hooks them into wanting more.
  • Diversify your samples. Make sure each sample is carefully selected to showcase  different skills, solutions, technology or equipment.
  • Carefully choose any music overlay and balance audio levels. If you overlay music, be sure to choose music that fits your style and the timing of your reel. Make sure the music and/or audio between clips are the same level and avoid music or audio changes that distract the reviewer from your work.

Producers, production companies and studios all have a lot of time, money and people invested in the success of their productions. Reviewing work samples is a crucial process that allows them to build a team that has the highest chance of successfully creating a project worthy of the investment.

These tips are meant to set you on the path to an effective reel, but feedback from your peers or mentors is also a great way to make sure you’re presenting your best. Being able to showcase your skills, creativity and adaptability will set you above other candidates and even help others market you.

Remember, a producer may or may not hire you, but an impressive reel is something they can pass around to their colleagues or superiors. Before you know it, you may find that your reel brings gigs to you instead of constantly having to chase them.

Jessica Mathis (AKA Divinity Rose) is an award winning screenwriter/performer/producer from Louisville, Kentucky. She is the CEO of She Dreams Content Development and Production, which focuses on female forward projects in comedy, docustyle and genre entertainment.

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