Demo reel, video art, or both?

In our industry, there is little that can carry as much weight as the demo reel.

We’ve all been there and had to cut one in the past. In many ways, a good reel can be the key that opens many doors to a successful career. With that being said, it can also be viewed as a necessary evil and as a result, can take on a more formulaic and ubiquitous form. Anyone from the early aughts will almost certainly have RJD2’s Ghostwriter engrained in their brain forever.

So the question is, what is it that makes a good reel?

Whatever the answer may be, Block & Tackle definitely have their finger on the pulse. After years of having amazing reels, they definitely are not afraid to explore new ideas in an effort to present their work in a meaningful and unforgettable way.

The following is a brief Q&A with Block & Tackle about their new reel and what it is that influences their unique approach to such a well-trodden medium.

In the past, you’ve had some fairly unconventional reels. Can you tell us about your process when cutting a reel and how you decide what makes the cut?

We usually start an editorial project with a clear concept – for example, exploring loops (Adam’s 2011 Reel), cinematic drama (FXM Rebrand), or acute anxiety (2016 Election Package). The first step is finding a track that supports the idea and can serve as a guide along the way. Once we have a clear sense of where we’re going our editorial approach is pretty intuitive.

When we started work on our 2019 montage we knew that we wanted a way to showcase multiple projects at the same time… pairing different pieces against each other to see what happens. When you do that you inevitably find patterns and connections in the work that you didn’t know existed, and it helps you see the work in a new way. A fresh perspective on your body of work is a huge part of what a reel can offer.

We tried a few different visual approaches using an original music track from Fall On Your Sword before we landed on this idea of the cascading 6×6 grid. We were excited about the concept, but realized quickly that the standard reel length of just-over-a-minute wasn’t going to work. We went back to Fall On Your Sword and asked them if they could lengthen the track… they agreed, and turned the short piece into the epic 7-minute journey we have here. It’s an amazing piece of music that has so many great twists and turns, and it really is the backbone of the concept.

We started editing the montage in a traditional way, stringing the shots together with Premiere, in a single channel synched to the music. Then we imported that sequence into the grid set up in After Effects and watched what happened. The cascading effect proved surprising in a lot of ways and there’s something elemental about the repetition.

From there we customized each section with flourishes inspired by the music. Peppering little hits into the cells, or alternating different versions of the edit in each row. We knew that to maintain interest over the length of the edit we’d have to find new ways to break the rules we had established. But we also wanted to make sure that we maintained some internal logic throughout so that it didn’t end up feeling like a total free-for-all.

We’ve been really lucky to work with great clients on interesting projects over many years. Because we think of the reel as a project in and of itself, deciding what makes the cut is less about featuring specific projects and more about what supports the reel as a whole. We paired projects together stylistically, and made a point to cluster work into “sections” that felt distinct from one another. In this way we were able to make sure the the reel stayed interesting over the long duration. While we want to make sure that our best work is represented, it’s more important to us that the reel feels like a complete thought, well-assembled and cohesive.

When someone watches a Block & Tackle reel, what are you hoping they walk away from it with?

As with any project, we hope that people walk away surprised and excited. For the reel specifically, it’s important to us that the viewer is left feeling intrigued and inspired to dig deeper. You’ll never be able to show all of the subtlety and detail of individual projects in a single montage. That’s not the point we’re trying to make with a reel. We’re trying to create a piece that showcases our fundamental values – a spirit of experimentation, the boldness to make our own rules, and steadfast dedication to craftsmanship.

Lastly, now that you have a shiny new reel, what’s next on the horizon for Block & Tackle?

We’re enjoying growing our existing client relationships – where we used to just create a one off spot or promo we’re getting invited to work on concepts and looks for entire campaigns.

It’s an exciting time!

About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.