How to make your own performance reel

I know that everybody has been patiently waiting for my next posting. Writing a blog has been on the back burner while I have been preparing my freelancer networking event, CONTACT. Since I have accomplished many of the tasks that I needed to get done, including obtaining some door prizes from some very important dance institutions, I can finally focus on this blog again. What better way to get the ball rolling than to write about one of the most important tools for every freelancer: How to make your own performance reel.

It took me months of research, preparation, and work to finally master the art of creating my own performance reel. The first and, sometimes, hardest step of creating your own reel is obtaining and then choosing video clips that show your strengths, technique, versatility, and artistry. At the beginning of your dance career, you may not have very much footage. If you need extra footage, grab a friend and a video camera (handheld camcorder, phone, Ipad, computer, etc) and dance a work in the style that you are trying to show off (whether it be a variation, your own choreography, or something you learned off youtube). If you dance for an AGMA company, it can be very difficult to obtain footage. For instance, in Pacific Northwest Ballet's contract, each dancer is only allotted 30 minutes of footage during their career with the company and 30 more minutes upon their departure from the company (this is very little if you have danced in multiple full-length ballets). Not only that, but if any footage is over 3 minutes in length, there is a required 3 second blackout. This all probably sounds really weird, but it is in place to protect the choreographer's work. If you have been freelancing for awhile or have worked for non-union companies, access to footage of yourself may be easier to obtain. I am always quite aggressive in getting footage of myself dancing wherever I perform, as I like to have an array of options to choose from.

I apologize in advance to everybody that owns a PC, as I'm a Mac. At some point in the future, I may have a guest blogger write the same version of this blog for PC owners. But for the time being, I will be instructing all of you how to make a reel on a Mac. The first step to creating your reel is to get your dance footage from a DVD to your Mac. First, you need to check if your computer has a DVD-burner. If it does, then your computer is capable of pulling footage off of a DVD. Unfortunately, most computers dont arrive with software to help you pull, or "rip," footage off of a DVD. Dont worry! You can easily obtain free software online to perform this operation. I personally use the program Handbrake (Click this link to download). Once you've downloaded the software, put your DVD in and open up Handbrake. It will bring up a search window. Click on the DVD under devices and choose the video file you would like to put on your computer. Let Handbrake do its thing and determine the length of the file. Once the application is completed, under "file" you should rename your file to something specific that will allow you to remember what the footage is. Be sure not to change the file type at the end. (For instance, if it says "file:/users/joeschmoe/movies/midsummers.mp4," you would only change "file:/users/joeschmoe/movies/barrykerollispuck.mp4"). Then, click start. This process will happen at nearly the same speed that the footage you are ripping runs.

Now that you ripped the footage off of your DVD onto your computer, you are ready to start piecing together your reel. You are going to create the reel with the IMovie application that comes pre-installed on your computer. Open up the application and click on "file." Under "file" you will scroll down to "import," then "movies." When you click on "movies," find the folder where you placed your footage and select that. It will take a period of time for IMovie to import into and convert your video for the application. I usually try to do something off my computer during this time, as going online or using other aspects of the computer slows down this process. After the footage has loaded into the program, click on "file" again and scroll down to "new project." After you name the project (which should be something anybody can see because if you burn a DVD sometimes it embeds this name onto the title of the DVD). From here, I like to begin with a basic pen and paper list of pieces that I feel show me off best. From there, I watch the footage again and, if something appeals to me, I add the entirety of that clip to the project. You can do this by clicking the mouse on the spot of the clip in the lower half of the screen. A yellow box will appear and you can move the edges, like an accordian, around to encase that clip. After you have encased the clip, click and drag the yellow box to the top half and drop the clip in the "projects" box. I always go through all of the clips I like and drop them in the "projects" box first. If you do this first, you will see the total length of all of the clips and be better informed as to how much footage you need to cut.

Now that you can see how much footage you have, you need to determine a reasonable length of time to make the clip. Sometimes, you are given a specific length for a specific audition/project. Most of the time, it is up to the dancer to determine the proper length of their reel. My general reel is a little over 7 1/2 minutes, but I have made other specific reels, like my video audition for Newsies (which I have reluctantly placed below this paragraph...note...I have very little vocal training) that have been shorter. Some people have told me that the length of my performance reel is a little too long, but I did my best to front-load the reel with what I feel are my strongest roles and show the most diversity in the event that a potential employer gets bored and closes out the video. When paring down footage, I sometimes try to get an outside opinion (and not someone who danced the piece or family, as they are attached in similar ways) of the clips that I have chosen, as it can sometimes be difficult to determine great footage. Often, dancers have an emotional attachment to certain pieces. Even though it may not be the best footage of you, it is hard to detach from how you felt while you were performing the piece. I often go through the entirety of the clips in the project box multiple times and slowly delete or downsize clips that I don't feel belong in the reel or that I feel already have a better representation in the reel.

Since you have pared down the clips to a reasonable length, it is time to start linking your clips together. Start ordering your clips. I prefer to use a clip of my dancing that is very strong, but not my strongest for the first clip. If you give away everything at the beginning, then everything following that will look weak. Don't leave your strongest clip for last or even the middle, but put it somewhere near the beginning in case the potential employer loses interest early. Don't lump one style of dance at the beginning and another at the end. Mix the clips up by double clicking the clip and dragging and dropping them around the "project" box. I would suggest keeping the clips at less than a minute each. Maybe a classical variation at the beginning, a contemporary piece second, some partnering third, and then another variation after that.

Now that you have developed some type of order to the clips, it is time to start linking the footage together. In between the upper "project" box and the lower "event library" box is a light gray toolbar. Look all the way to the right, the second little box from the right that looks like an hour-glass (or four opposing triangles with two being light gray and the other two dark gray) will assist you in creating smooth transitions between clips. There are a variety of "transitions" that can be used between clips. Play with these transitions and see what you like. I find the most professional transitions, which I use most often, are "cross dissolve," "cross blur," and "cross zoom." Once you determine your choice, click and drag the transition style that you would like to use up to the "project" box and place it between two separate clips. Once placed, you can double click the tiny transition box and change the duration of the clip. There is a lot of trial-and-error in this process. At times, things can get glitchy as well. Just stick with it and be patient.

The next step in the process of creating a great performance reel is to add a title box to introduce the clip, end credits to close it out, and subtitles if you feel they are necessary (my current reel doesn't have subtitles, as I figured it out after I created it). The "titles" area is one box over to the left of the transitions section with a capitol "T". Again, peruse the array of options and choose what suits you best. Like the transitions, click and drag whatever you want to introduce your reel at the beginning of the clips. You can adjust the background once you drop the box into the "project" area. Then, the screen to the right of the project will allow you to add text. For the introduction, I usually keep it simple and just put my name along with the words "performance reel." When I auditioned for Newsies, I typed in my name and "auditioning for the role of newsie." Your intention for this reel should determine the text. Then, at the end, I go through this same process and add my name and the best way to contact me (I put my email since that seems safest). If you only have a few clips, you can put the name of the piece and the choreographer. That is unless, you want to add those into the clip.

I am cautious about adding the names of the pieces or the name of the choreographer directly into the reel, as for a moment of time, it covers up a part of the screen and distracts from your dancing. But, if you would like to do this, you can achieve this by going back to the "titles" section of the program. The bottom two rows here can all be placed on top of a clip. Click and drag, for instance, "gradient-white" and place it on top of the beginning of the clip you would like to have a subtitle pop up on. Once you have dropped this box on the clip, a small box will appear that allows you to type in text. As usual, you can adjust the length of time by double clicking.

Now that you have created your entire reel, you need to either post it to youtube, another site, or create a DVD. Creating a DVD is another story, so I will save that for another post. Sharing your reel on the internet is streamlined by IMovie. Go to the top of the screen and click on "Share" and click on youtube. Be sure that you already have an active youtube account prior to sharing with IMovie. Once you have clicked there, a screen will pop up allowing you to sign in and to format the title, description, size & quality of video, and availability to the public. Click start and IMovie will take care of the rest for you. Once it is finished downloading, you can start sending people your link, you can post it on facebook, and you can start promoting yourself without directly auditioning.

An updated performance reel is, in my opinion, the most important tool for any freelancer. It is not cost effective to fly around the country to audition for short projects and the same holds true for companies that are looking for short-term dancers. I have gotten many jobs based off of sending my information or word-of-mouth, then sending my reel to solidify the deal. If you have access to a Mac, this tutorial should help ease any computer literate person into making a strong, easy-flowing performance reel. Stay tuned in the future for a tutorial on how to turn your reel into a DVD.

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