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Sizzle Reels: Produce Before You Pitch (Part 3)
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Part 3: Making the Sizzle Reel

By Dan Abrams

Once you’ve determined what kind of tape you’re making you need to figure out how to produce it. Production companies might spend $5k to $50k out-of-pocket and on-spec to produce their sizzle reels. Even if you have free access to a bunch of equipment and favors stored up all over town, it’s still highly likely you will need to come up with some cash. Independent, individual producers should be prepared to spend $1k - $3k+ on a sizzle depending on how many favors they can pull in. Among the things you should/might/will have to pay for:

a) "Production Insurance” 

 Especially if you own your home or have other assets that make suing you more attractive. Google it with the added key words "short term”.

b) "Catering” 

 You simply must "feed the crew”. You don’t have to have a full craft services table but some water is an expected minimal courtesy. Lunch doesn’t have to be Wolfgang Puck’s foie gras-wrapped quail with lobster-saffron ravioli. But you do have do provide a meal for your workers every 4 to 8 hours (depending on how forgiving they are). If you won’t (or can’t afford to) spring for KooKooRoo or even pizza then Hollywood doesn’t need you.

c) "Sound”  

Hire a professional sound guy who has his own gear to ensure what you capture is audible and usable. Nothing screams "amateur” more than bad sound on a film.

d) Other Crew 

Wherever you can’t find a professional friend to do you a favor be sure to hire a pro especially a good DP (with a respectable HD camera) and good Editor (with her own system). Try posting on, and and even Craigslist just be sure to vet them for trustworthiness and professionalism. If you have money to do it right be sure to post on the PGA job board. In any event, you can still try to haggle for a big discount seeing as this is a self-financed, independent project.

e) Everything Else 

Whether it’s tape stock or props or a new TB drive, be sure, back in pre-production, to have had a line producer friend vet your entire list of costs. Everything is more expensive when it actually happens on the spot. Have some money ready to spend in case of an emergency. And don’t use your rent money, extraordinary credit card debt or your poker bankroll either, you’ve got priorities.

6) Go actually produce it! 

Be sure to get lots of coverage, including B-roll of location exteriors and participants both ignoring the camera as well as doing "head turns” to the camera for introduction video. You might even consider taking a shot at doing your own editing for the very first cut. No one is going to know the footage better than you and this way you can ensure everything you want is in that first cut. Don’t be turned off by the editing software. Final Cut ain’t so impossible to use and iMovie does a surprisingly professional job. Once you do the heavy lifting of the first cut your professional editor friends can do clean-up, fixes, polishes much faster than working from scratch.

And don’t forget that classic comedy-writer advice "you’ve got to kill your babies” referring to your ideas/creations. Not everything you have ever come up with is perfect. Be willing to "trim the fat” and kill unnecessary bits in the overall interest of the project. Most of us in Hollywood could be described as borderline ADD, so cut down your final piece to the shortest length possible where it still accomplishes your goals.

When you think you have a final cut, consider "audience testing” the reel for some regular people (family, friends) just to get their perspective. Once you’re truly done with the cut remember to put your contact info on a "vanity card” frame immediately before and after your reel but also print it directly on the DVD face if you’re handing those off. You can also consider posting the reel as a quicktime on your own personal website so that it’s easily forward-able.

Go to Part 4

Mr. Abrams is the Supervising Producer of the "The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie” airing on HGTV