3 Tips For Making a Great Sizzle Reel

Over the past few years, I have noticed an increase in the amount of sizzle reels I find myself working on. Sizzle reels, for the purposes of this article, are 2-5 minute videos that utilize a variety of assets (video and audio clips, newspaper/online articles, and corporate messaging) to create a high-energy overview of marketing campaigns, product launches, services, or key messages intended for a specific target audience.

The increase in the number of sizzle reels coming my way is due to the fact that they are incredibly cheap from a production standpoint. In fact, a good number of the sizzle reels I have cut in the last year have had no production at all, and the only cost is the post-production. The agency (my client) simply gathers assets on behalf of their client and sends them to me, often in the form of a simple word doc that has the copy for any messaging they require, and a series of links to online news clips, websites and images. Sometimes I will get .pdfs or even scanned images of newspaper clippings. All of these assets will be media coverage of whatever promotional campaign or product launch that the sizzle reel will be highlighting. Basically it’s just a bunch of boring text and news excerpts, and the challenge is to turn all this raw material into gold.

Fortunately, if you have the right tools, it will make this particular kind of alchemy much easier and have your clients coming back for more. Here are 3 things to keep in mind when making a next sizzle reel:

1. Use The Highest Quality Assets

This may seem to be a statement of the obvious, but I find that the biggest struggle with sizzle reels is educating the client as to what constitutes a good quality asset. Need to include a headshot of the CEO? Here, use this thumbnail png image we grabbed from the company website. Sure, but it’s going to look like crap. Someone, somewhere has a higher quality image of this, and you just need to gently nudge your clients to try and dig it up. Same goes for logos – always request the eps files of any graphic elements.

The old axiom "garbage in, garbage out" is the general rule of thumb to remember when determining the quality of your assets. Just remember, it may not look like garbage going in, depending on what it is being viewed on. For example, with the png thumbnail we discussed above, the image may look great on the webpage, but when blown up on an HD timeline it will be virtually unusable. More than a few times I have had to explain this to clients who are new to video, and they just can't seem to wrap their heads around it. What I do is put the asset on the timeline, enlarge it by the 500% it needs to be to work, and send them a screen grab. Their response usually comes with an attachment - a higher resolution image of the still.

2. Music, Music, Music

Music is an important part of any corporate video, but more so with sizzle reels since it is the one thing that will bring it to life. Often the images or text that appear on screen are about as dry as you can get, and a good, fast-paced track will give it just the energy it needs. Finding good music track for videos can be a tough slog sometimes. I have tried quite a few royalty-free online music libraries over the years, but lately I find myself using Premiumbeat. A great selection with a sound effect library as well. The site is never buggy when previewing, and it’s easy to download comps as to use as temp tracks. They have audio spoilers that come up every 20 seconds or so, but I usually use them until to client is 100% sold on the music.

When choosing a track I typically try to stay away from anything too corporate sounding and select something on the fun side. You will also want something that has a good solid ending - nine times out of ten they want to end on the company logo, and a good solid hit at the end of the track will maximize the effect.

A few other royalty-free stock music companies you may want to check out are Audio Jungle, Shockwave Sound, and the generically named stockmusic.net. The folks over at Smart Sound offer an online music customization feature that is well worth sampling.

3. The Right Tools For the Job

As with any graphics heavy video, After Effects is my primary tool. I tend to start off in an NLE, however, as it is easier to plot all the assests on the timeline and time them to the music. Premiere Pro is my NLE of choice in this case, as Adobe's Dymanic Link make it easy to go back and forth with AE. But whatever you use to edit your video, there are a few secondary tools that you will find indespensible:

Freesound.org - Music isn't the only audio assets that will make you video sing. With all that stuff flying around, a few well placed "whooshes" will not go amiss. The folks at Freesound.org have plenty for free (hence the name).

Flickr/Creative Commons - Text heavy jobs may need some visuals to help spice things up. For high-quality, high-resolution images, paid stock image sites like iStockphoto are a no-brainer. But if you want to try to save on the budget, try Flickr's Creative Commons as an alternative.

KeepVid - In many cases clients want to include YouTube news clips that cover their campaing or product launch. KeepVid is a great site that lets you download the highest quality source video from YouTube. Just be mindfull of any copywrite issues and how your video will be used.

Final Thoughts

As mentioned, sizzle reels - particularily ones that have static assets and no production - present a set of challenges that don't necessarily exist in straight up video editing. But don't let that daunt you. In many case I find working on sizzle reels very creatively rewarding, despite their often dry subject matter. That is because you are given the task of taking what is basically nothing, and turning it into something - from scratch. The key is to have fun with it and let that fun show through in the finished product.