By the time Bob Lorenz reached 11th grade he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.
"My buddy Mike and I, between football and baseball season, would take his portable Sony tape deck to basketball games and do play-by-play and color analysis, then we'd walk around and interview our friends in the stands,“ recalls Lorenz, the lead Sportscaster for the YES Network. “That planted the seed and I never looked back.”
Not every kid who does play-by-play in the stands of their local high school ends up working for a major sports network. If you want to make the jump from talking sports with your buddies to getting your big break at a TV station, you will need a really good Demo Reel to show potential employers your skills.
Nobody gets hired for an on-air job by sending in a paper resume. You need a Demo Reel, a short professional video that showcases your charisma, versatility and creativity. Think of it as a 4-5 minute video audition.
To get started, you need access to a professional TV studio. Your best bet is to be involved in a college broadcasting program or intern for a local station. If you have the cash or the connections, you can always rent space at a production studio.
But it’s not enough just to intern, you need to make friends with Directors, Video Editors and Sportscasters. Directors are usually in charge of the production schedule so they will know when there is downtime in the schedule. If you make friends with them and show you are serious, they will help you.
"Donuts for the crew go a long way," says ROOT Sports Senior Director Pat Brown, "and come prepared, the crew understands you won't nail it your first time on camera, but by the fourth or fifth time, everyone will have checked out."
A Video Editor will help you splice your “takes” together and make the finished product look professional. Sometimes a creative, sharp presentation can mask other shortcomings.
Finally, having a veteran Sportscaster give you tips on how to be your best is essential. No one was born knowing how to be on camera so learn from those who have been there!
Before you get started on your Demo Reel, let’s start with what NOT TO DO.
1: DON'T leave your best stuff until the end.
You aren’t writing a novel. There is no climactic finish that leaves your audience laughing or crying. If you don’t grab a News Directors’ attention right off the bat, they won’t make it to your grand finale.
“You have to make the first :30 seconds shine,” says Josh Wine, Coordinating Producer for the Big Ten Network, “You watch so many of these things, if I'm bored early I'm not sticking around.”
2: DON’T try to be someone you are not.
No matter what, be true to who you are. If you get the job, your persona on the Demo Reel is what will be expected of you every day.
If you are a real serious journalist, don’t submit a Demo Reel that shows you being goofy and over-the-top. The station may love it and hire you. Now you have sold yourself as “wacky and outrageous” and you will end up a fish out of water. Be yourself.
3: DON’T just send your tape out blindly.
There are 210 local TV markets and on average 3-4 networks per market. Before you send out 1,000 links to your Demo Reel, take a moment and think about where you will fit and where there will be an opportunity for you to shine.
Ask yourself, what are my strengths? Are you a natural at College Football? Know everything there is to know about NASCAR? Can you name all the Stanley Cup winners? These facts about yourself will impact where you fit best. You may get an offer to work in South Dakota, but if you look silly covering the rodeo every week, ESPN isn’t going to call.
4: DON’T be afraid of rejection and DON’T get discouraged.
“When I was first getting started, I sent out 30 tapes and never got a single response,” says play-by-play announcer and sideline reporter Jim Watson, “I did get several form rejection letters which my brother pasted to the bathroom wall. He said it would give me inspiration to leave the bathroom after I stopped crying.”
TV is a very subjective business. What one News Director hates another one may love. If your first 30 reels don’t get you anywhere, it doesn’t mean you don’t have talent, it just means you haven’t found the right match yet. Keep your chin up.
5: DON’T have just one version of your reel.
Some on-air jobs News Directors will have specific things they want to see—whether it’s reporting materials, host reels or feature work. Have everything available because you don’t know what job opening may come up tomorrow. While you are scrambling to edit all of your reporting materials, someone else is sending in a targeted version of their reel.
|Looking for your big break? Find the latest Sports Reporter Jobs on our Job Board|
1: Practice, Practice, Practice:
Before you ever get on set, you have to practice over and over again on your own. Write scripts then practice reading them in front of the mirror. Better yet, record yourself on your webcam or personal video recorder and then critique yourself. Even the best sportscasters still practice their craft.
“I always tell folks, a player's better if he takes 500 swings instead of 50, and 5,000 instead of 500. The same is true of on-air work,” advises Lorenz. “You might start out feeling like your head is swirling, looking into a camera, trying to speak and read and think coherently, but you'll get used to it, and get better at it, the more you do it.”
"As a kid I would sit in-front of the television, turn on a game, turn down the sound and call the game," adds Watson "first into a hairbrush or soup ladle--then into a tape-recorder. I would then listen to the games that night in bed and critique my own work."
2: Show your versatility:
In a tough economy, News Directors cherish versatility.
“I want to see you anchor/host, report on a remote event, and a produced feature” says Wine, “that way I can get a sense of writing ability, creativity and ability to tell a story.”
Start your Demo Reel by showing you, not by reading highlights or running a feature story. News Directors want to see what you look like and how you present yourself. If a News Director is still watching after 30 seconds, that is when you can start to show off your other abilities like doing a feature story, play-by-play and/or reporting on location.
“If you edited together the tape yourself, then you should note that. These days the more diverse your skill set the better,” says Sandy Malcolm VP of Programming and Production at PlayOn Sports. “It is OK if you didn't edit it, but if you can do it yourself it just gives you another leg up on the competition. If you can't edit well, then get someone else to do it. There’s nothing worse than bad or sloppy editing on a tape. It’s not the impression you want to give.”
3: Look professional:
New psychology research says that it takes less than a fifth of a second to fall in love. Trust me, it takes even less than that to fall out of love with your Demo Reel.
“I'm not a big fan of cutesy or clever,” says Malcolm “Stand out by being good at what you do with good, clear writing, storytelling or presenting. Silly costumes or wacky affects aren't going to help.”
You can have personality without wearing a fish tie, and you can show creativity without reading a script while hanging upside down at the local park. Have fun but please don’t be silly.
“If you want to be taken seriously then act like it, dress like it, study, do your homework” says ROOT Sports Sportscaster Angie Mentink.
4: Work your contacts first, then try to make new contacts.
If you are in a college program, talk to your professors. Find out who they know in the industry and get to know them. Get an internship at a local station and make connections. Go to Sports Career Fairs and talk to everyone. You need to make your name known, and it sure doesn’t hurt to have someone who will vouch for your skills.
“If you want a News Director or Executive Producer to watch your tape, he or she better know it is coming” says Wine, “I get so many reels and resumes but if someone I trust recommends someone, I'm definitely going to take a look. If I don't have an immediate need, I might not even know your reel exists.”
5: Embrace Technology
News Directors and Executive Producers are over-worked and under-staffed so the easier you can make it for them to see you work, the better.
According to Wine, “DVDs are a thing of the past. Email me your resume and a LINK to your reel. Fastest, most convenient way for me to look at it right away.”
That said, know who will be the recipient of your Demo Reel. If the News Director is older, he or she may want a tangible item like a DVD.
Now that you have the basic Dos and Don’ts for creating your Demo Reel, it’s time to get to work. Remember to be true to who you are, and try to have fun. Veteran Sportscaster Paul Crane advises, “Focus. But don’t concentrate to the point where it looks like you have a face so serious, you should be doing a report from Afghanistan. If you don't have fun with sports, how could a decision-maker expect your viewers to enjoy you?”