THE CRAFT REPORT: Production - How to judge a reel

Directors' reels are showcases for their skills, but what are the aspects they are judged on? Several industry figures explain what they look for in reels.


Georges Bermann, chairman, Partizan Midi Minuit

In 1995, Traktor's reel was introduced to me by a creative team that we just worked with. Nobody really knew about them outside Scandinavia.

It was not very difficult to understand how great the work was. Today, things are very different and more complex. Thanks to the video magazines, the information about directors is worldwide and instant.

How to judge a reel today? Let me give you some very personal tips:

1) Judge reels in the same way as they do at record labels: they play the track in the office and they vote. When they still don't know, they play it to their children.

2) Always meet the director - if he can sell you his work, his reel is great. If he cannot articulate two words, his work stinks. If he's a foreigner, it's the other way around - if he can sell his work in good English, he's terrible. If he cannot speak a word, he's an undiscovered genius.

3) Watch MTV all day long. When a video is successful, it means the director has a great reel. Do you think an artist would risk his career by working with a lousy director? MTV awards is a must.

4) Subscribe to all the video magazines. It's the best way to judge reels as the directors featured are always great. If you don't understand why they're great, it means the work is even better and groundbreaking. Problem: when the magazine features your directors too often ...

5) Play the reel without sound. If it's still good, be very suspicious - the director doesn't know how to use sound design and music! Don't sign him. If the reel is great without the image, then you can be certain it's good. People are very sensitive to sound.

6) I personally fancy work that can hardly be understood by anybody. Think about a short film featuring a guy driving a car with a puppet next to him. It didn't make any sense ...

7) Have offices far away from the centre of the business. This means that the directors who make the effort to visit you are curious and unconventional. Trust their reels.

8) Always ask agencies before signing a director. You'll limit your risks when the director is asking for a retainer.

9) The most important tip for the end. When another production company wants to sign the director, sign him first. The companies know what they're doing, unless they are American.


Peter Thwaites, director, Gorgeous

Having been a director of photography before I started directing should, in theory, give me a useful advantage when looking at directors of photography's reels for a job.

In fact, of course, I get just as confused and uncertain as everyone else.

The fact is that, visually, so many people are involved in the making of a commercial - director, colourist, Flame operator, etc. It's often difficult to separate these things out. How can you choose a director of photography based on material that has been manipulated so much after his or her involvement? Here are my thoughts on the subject:

1) Generally, the actual camerawork - as opposed to the lighting - is more of a collaboration between the director of photography and the director and if in many cases it isn't, how are you to know? So the lighting is really your only guide.

2) How much of the work is interior (generally more work for the director of photography to do) - does that look good?

3) Are there any night exterior scenes on the reel - these are a useful guide. They are often the most difficult to do and so can reveal a lot.

4) Any reel that has daylight exteriors on it may be a hint of a director of photography who hasn't yet done enough lighting.

5) Do people's faces look good close up?

6) Look at the reels of the new people who have not come from the commercials world - people just out of film school, for example. Their reels may be unsophisticated and certainly have not been manipulated either. I had my first job as a director of photography two weeks after leaving film school using such a reel and the job we did is still on my lighting reel.

All of this stuff is useful; however, the most important fact here is that you are looking for someone to work as a supportive collaborator. You need a creative personality, not only a technician. See who they have worked with, ask around, find out more about them as people.

What I'm really saying is that looking at a reel is only part of the process. Recommendations from people that you trust and who know the way you work are vital.


Ivan Zacharias, director, Stink

Music and sound design is one of the most difficult aspects within the whole production process. It can be incredibly important in ensuring a successful ad - you often talk about how the music is going to lift the spot. In reality, you never know until the last moment whether it has achieved that. Sound and music are emotional things and as such their effect cannot be predicted.

In addition, the composer may be given the unfortunate task of emulating a track that you regard as the perfect accompaniment to your film but one that you can't get the rights to or can't afford, but he's only given one or two weeks to do this! How, therefore, can it come close to, let alone better, the original?

Getting the right person for the job can help alleviate some of these problems, but judging a reel isn't easy either.

It's difficult to separate the sound from visuals and I find if I don't like the ad, I therefore don't like the music. However, I don't think that you should close your eyes and just listen to the track, as the sound and vision should work in tandem.

One of the most important things to look out for is versatility. Because of time pressure and the fact that composing is such an organic process, you need to be sure that you have as many options as possible. There is no quick way to finding the right track, you just have to try each one with the visuals and see which works best. A good composer's reel should be broad and varied and give some indication that there are hundreds of solutions at their fingertips.

You should also avoid choosing a composer on the basis of a particular track that you liked and think may work for your ad. Asking people to do the same thing again is not only frustrating for them (it's like a director getting the same types of scripts all the time!) but it may not turn out to be right for your final cut.

Unlike editing or casting, for example, the musical process cannot be controlled once it has begun. Only at the end are you able to judge whether it works for your ad and whether it has aroused the right emotional response from the viewer. In the case of Stella's "doctor", it's like a miniature film, so we wanted something epic.

Once you've seen a reel you like you should meet and assess whether they will be able to work under difficult circumstances. One major problem with music is that so many people interfere, be it the director, client or agency. Everyone professes to be knowledgeable and bombards the composer with opinions. Therefore, the composer may have to forgo some creative freedom and, understandably, not all can cope with that.


Jim Weedon, editor/director, RSA Films

How would I choose an editor from looking at their reel?

Firstly, there are really two types of approach to film editing. The first is what I would call almost classical, which is very clean, story-led editing. The idea is to let the story build and leave room for the characters to develop. The editing in this case should go unnoticed.

The second approach to editing could be termed as showy or MTV; which is to make the cutting incredibly pronounced. Rather than clean or simple edits, the use of flash frames, jump cuts, double actions and other editing devices are used to enhance or push the story along in a much more exaggerated manner.

So how would I choose an editor by looking at his reel?

As a director, I may be looking for someone who has cut a lot of dialogue, or perhaps an editor who has cut a lot of action. Already I will have preconceptions of what I think I am looking for. However, a good editor should be able to cut any type of genre.

I will look at the reel list - what have they done? Who have they worked with? What seem to be their strengths? For example, are they good with comedy or have they done much in the way of special effects?

I will look for well-rounded, story-led films as this shows good understanding of structure and character. I would look for moments that make a film powerful in terms of the editing. An example would be the Guinness ad "swimmer", where the use of a single freeze-frame really heightened the drama of the story. This was used to good effect in building the drama in Martin Scorsese's feature Goodfellas.

Promos are another good way of seeing an editor's craft as you have so much more creative freedom to express your ideas. I always have a reason for a cut, no matter how insignificant - an editor should always be able to explain an edit completely as a cut should always push the story on.

In all, I would look for variety as this shows that the editor is capable and proficient in many different styles of film editing. But choosing an editor is only the beginning. The relationship between the director and the editor is paramount.

As the editing process can last for weeks at a time, it is important that the director and the editor can read each other's thoughts well.

Once you have found out your chosen editor's ability then you should trust their judgment, as they are perhaps unique in that they are the only person on the production who is not carrying the baggage of what went in to the shooting of the film and so has a far more objective approach.

Finally, the commercial world likes to be surprised. A good editor should be able to surprise you on a regular basis.


Jeff Goodby, creative director, Goodby Silverstein & Partners One day, when I was working at Ogilvy & Mather in San Francisco, David Ogilvy himself came to the agency. I am not a bold person but I figured this would be my only chance to talk with him. "David," I asked from the door of the office they'd given him for the day. "Could I come in for a moment?" "Do you have cigarettes," the great man asked.

While we smoked, one of the things we talked about was how many hours I spent writing copy for him each day. "At least eight," I said, sanctimoniously.

"I think that's too many," David said. "In fact, I can't imagine writing for more than two hours a day. The rest of the time should be spent collecting what you are going to write about." Since then, I have always been a hirer of collectors.

People who study the world and pride themselves on unique conclusions about it. People who will ride the subway, who will embrace stupid pop cultural things that I hate, or who will go to a rare books library just to see what it's all about.

Sometimes they come from traditional advertising and design schools, sure. But often the most interesting ones are scientists, frustrated athletes, angry bureaucrats and dreamy mothers.

Start there. And then ask yourself:

Have they done it already? Or do they think the best stuff is yet to


Are they selling you their current talents? Or discovering what they'll


Are they learned? Or learning?

Will they imagine something you won't?

Will they change the world?

You know the right answers.

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