Two seconds. That’s my personal news director record for the least amount of time viewing a reporter applicant’s demo reel. “That’s not fair,” you say! Well, trust me, the guy had NO business applying for any TV job, let alone a reporting spot in a top 15 market.
Then there was the reporter candidate who decided to start his resume reel with a boring 3-minute package. Seriously, what was he thinking? Didn’t anyone tell these people a news director has the attention span of a 5th grader? Didn’t someone warn them that a TV boss gets hundreds of demo reels for one reporting or anchoring job?
That brings me to my point: getting someone to click, then watch, then be impressed with your demo reel is not easy. It’s tougher than ever. Too many emails. Not enough hours in the day. Too many people sending bad material. So the reel, I mean real, dilemma is this: what can you do to up your odds?
I can’t speak for all news directors, but for me (and many that I know) the best advice would be don’t overthink this! You need to showcase your best work, and do it quickly. Start with a montage of your best standups, live shots and anchor clips. About a minute-long montage is fine. Anything longer than about 1:30 starts getting very repetitive. And some talent think they have to show an entire standup. That’s wrong! You want your montage to be fast-paced. Let the ND see you in different situations—on the desk (if you anchor), in an active live shot, doing a creative standup, answering a question from an anchor, etc. Quick clips. Some may be full standups, others may be chopped for time. Also try to include a variety of stories—hard news balanced with some lighter moments so we can see your smile or hear your laugh. The key is to put your very best material at the top of that montage. If a news director sees marginal quality at the top (including bad lighting or audio), he or she will click the stop button within 30 seconds.
After your montage, pick a great package or two to show. But again, make it your best work—is it an example of excellent breaking news coverage? An enterprise piece you did? A very good sweeps story? If it’s a pkg on the shooting-of-the-day with a cop bite and a neighbor who looks like he’s on dope, don’t include it! Be highly critical of what you’re including on your reel. Check everything—spellings on your supers, lighting, audio, editing.
And finally, wrap up your reel with other content. For example, you could show more of your anchoring with longer clips. Or a full live shot if it’s something you’re really proud of. Or maybe you want to end with that 3 minute sweeps story you did. Just remember, most NDs won’t watch more than a few minutes of your reel unless you’ve caught their attention at the top, they like what they see so far, and they want to check out more of your work in-depth. Total time for your reel? 5-8 minutes is plenty.
Lots of anchors and reporters also ask whether they should have one reel or two, if they do double duty (such as weekend weather anchor who reports 3 days a week). There’s no black and white answer—I’d like to see one reel where you show me how versatile you are (multi-skilled = more chances in today’s TV job world). “Wow, she reports and anchors and even does weather!” But you may also want to create separate reels so you can apply for specific jobs. A weather reel for weather-only jobs and a combo reel for other opportunities.
Do what feels right to you, but remember, YOU have to be your toughest critic. Watch your edited reel and pick it apart, then have a trusted TV co-worker or friend watch it and give you honest advice. Make sure the top of that resume reel is your best stuff. The goal is for that news director to watch the first 30 seconds and then say “Hmm, I like this person… let’s watch a little more.”
Steve Kraycik is a Talent Agent with MediaStars. He has 29 years of TV news experience and spent a decade as a news director in top 20 markets. He’s also the Dir. Of Student Television at Penn State University. You can follow him on Twitter @TV_Agent_Steve.