Tips for a Great Steadicam Operator Reel

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Spend a little time online and you can find hundreds of Steadicam Operator reels. Regardless of the quality of the work there are a few tips for a great reel. The hardest part for most Steadicam Operators is to disconnect themselves from their work in order to make logical, objective decisions on what to include in a reel.

The first consideration is to decide who will edit the reel. In many cases your first instinct will be to cut the reel yourself. However, you need to remember that you are a Steadicam Operator, not an editor… And although you might know how to use final cut… you might not be the best editor (consider an editor coming on set to operate Steadicam). There is, however, still a good bit of work that you’ll need to do yourself. Handing over 20hrs of Steadicam footage to an editor is not a great idea. So you’ll need to take some time to pick out the shots that you want representing your work as a Steadicam Operator.

Next, you need to know what the different types of reels are. The sizzler reel is quite brief, and should be jam packed with your work. Its not great for showing off your operating, but great at showing the viewer the range of work you’ve been involved with. Typical runtime of a sizzler reel is between 30s and 1min.

The highlight reel is a little bit longer. It allows for you to show off your operating a little more, but you’ll still want to keep shots brief. Remember, start the shot late and end early. This reel might run between 1-2mins.

Finally, you have the long form reel. This is more of a compilation of scenes that demonstrator how your Steadicam Operating plays in a finished scene. You still want to keep things tight. Scenes don’t have to play from beginning to end. Find a good point to get into the scene and a good point to exit, and save your audiences attention for what’s important.

Now lets talk about your target audience. Its important to know who they are and what they are looking for in a Steadicam Operator. For the most part you will be targeting DP’s (Directors of Photography). In almost all cases people have very little attention spans when it comes to watching reels. If your viewer isn’t hooked or impressed in the first 20 – 30 seconds they probably won’t last until the end. So knowing what they are looking for and giving it to they quickly is important. This isn’t to say that you should use your most impressive material first up (that might work better at the climax of your reel), but you don’t want to hold back. So, what are DPs looking for? Composition, horizon, production value, and star power. If you have to ask what any one of these items are…you might want to hold off on cutting that reel for a bit!

Finally, test your reel! This is an important part of the process. Remember, you’re emotionally connected to the footage in the reel…you need objective opinions. And stay away from getting feedback from parents, family in general, or your girlfriend/boyfriend. All you will get will be positive reinforcement (which will encourage you, but not help your reel). Instead, show it to DPs. They are your target so why not get some feedback from your audience. They know what they are looking for in a Steadicam Operator, and their critique will reflect it. Show it to DPs you’ve worked with, but remember that if the work you’ve done for them ISN’T in the reel they might be insulted… and if the work you’ve done for them IS in the reel then you probably won’t get an entirely objective critique. You might even consider showing it to DPs you haven’t worked with as a way to introduce yourself. Let them know you respect their work and would value their opinion.

My reel begins with a tight, 30s sizzler, followed up by a brief highlight reel, and ends with three excerpts from scenes that include my work as a Steadicam Operator. I don’t know if its “great,” but I think it can help you make your reel even better! Good luck.

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