Every so often a potential new client will ask me to provide a demo reel. For those that don’t know, a demo reel is simply a collection of clips from previous productions one has recorded and mixed sound for. It seems only logical that someone would want to hear evidence of my work prior to hiring me. Why then is it often viewed as a red flag within the sound mixer community?
In short, location sound recordists/mixers do not use demo reels because they do not properly portray the actual work that we do on set. In fact, using demo reels may actually mislead the viewer. Production work is a collaborative process and the audio of a finished piece has gone through several stages from pre-production to production to post-production prior to you viewing it. In many instances, each stage has had different sound professionals involved. When you watch a finished piece you are hearing production sound after it has been edited, ran through an assortment of plugins, and layered within a bed of sound design and music. Often times, the finished piece will actually sound much better than the production audio recorded on set. Through the post process, every lip smack and off camera thump is removed. Background noises are lowered or eliminated completely and dialog levels are consistent throughout despite how dynamic the speaker actually was in real life. When done properly, there is a cohesive flow to the diegetic tone that unconsciously holds the viewer’s attention while shots and visual perspective changes. Why then wouldn’t we want to include this content on our reels?
Simply put, it’s inaccurate, technically untruthful, and leaves out so many other important aspects of our job. Moreover, we may not have access or even be legally allowed to share the content from a lot of our work.
I have several reels of my post production work. Most are demos of specific processes. They can be seen/heard HERE. With my post reels I’ve attempted to isolate methods, concepts, and unique styles that I was personally 100% responsible for. This can’t be done for production sound work. The notable exception of course is when the person recording sound on set was also the person responsible for the post production.
Below is a list of reasons why a professional sound mixer won’t have a demo reel.
Many jobs require a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that contents of the recorded audio with not be made public. A lot of the corporate work I do, for example, are videos for internal communication.
It’s difficult to get clips of work done on various shows because of copyright issues, and logistics of how involved you were on a shoot. Perhaps you only day-played on a local ‘bio-pack’ for a long running show. While your audio may sound incredible you are just a person who worked for a few days on something that has been around for years and you haven’t been able to establish the relationships necessary to get access to the finished content. Sometimes you can find a clip on Youtube a year or two later but you have no control over the quality of how that clip was uploaded.
If you do find a show you worked on, it may be edited in such a way that your audio is interspersed with the work from another sound mixer that may not be as good. Do you then include that content with a disclaimer? This would only cause more confusion.
It’s possible that all of your audio was replaced with ADR not because of quality but because of an editorial choice from a director based on an actor’s performance. More likely, ADR may have been required because the shoot required loud generators to be running while over your otherwise perfect audio.
Finally and most importantly, production sound reels don’t take into account all the other variables of our work. A reel can’t showcase learned skills like quick troubleshooting, professionalism when micing talent, respectfully negotiating with store owners or location managers to turn off noisey appliances or HVAC systems, and most importantly, keeping cool under pressure.
A more accurate way to gauge a sound mixer’s experience is to simply request a list of credits and get personal referrals from industry colleagues you trust. Roughly 80% of my work comes from either personal referrals or recurring clients. As I mentioned earlier, it’s completely logical to request proof of someone’s ability to do a job. However, with location sound mixers, you’ll never find that proof in a demo reel.
Full disclosure, while I don’t have a sound reel for production work I do actually keep a running playlist on Youtube of random clips from shows I’ve worked on, which I update once a year. I’ll only provide this playlist if asked and only after a disclaimer at why it’s misleading. My rationale is that while reels don’t make sense, we are in fact in a customer service industry and I want to do anything in my power to attract new clients.