Making a Reel That Connects: An Interview with Juan Salvo

Colorist Juan Salvo's new reel really grabbed my attention. In fact, it's such a great marketing video that I thought I'd see if he would share his vision for the project and how he came up with such a novel approach.

What sets this video apart from many other reels is the way he establishes a personal connection with the viewer and showcases his approach to grading (hint it's about more than pushing colors around). In doing so, he communicates what differentiates him and why he should be hired over someone else who may emphasize the more technical aspects of grading.

By deliberately setting out to break the mold, Juan (@j_salvo) has taken a marketing tool whose merits have been debated, and turned it into an effective calling card that gets the conversation started with potential clients.

If you haven't seen it already, take a look at the video below, and then read on for the interview.

Juan Salvo Reel 2013 from Juan Salvo on Vimeo.

What objectives did you have when you created your reel?

Well, of course the primary purpose of any reel is to showcase one's work, but with color it's a little bit tougher. Our work is very much collaborative. We collaborate with directors and with directors of photography quite a bit, and frequently much of our success as colorists is predicated on and intertwined with their success. I wanted to find a way to express the value of what I do. Of how, as a colorist, I collaborate with filmmakers to get the most out of the images they capture.

The voiceover really brings the video to life and is a pretty unique approach for demo reels. How did you decide to take this approach?

Once I'd settled on a direction for the reel, it became an issue of story telling. Being untraditional, and trying to reinvent or reimagine how things are done is a big part of what I do. So my first thought was how do I effectively convey my message to the audience, without regard to what the traditional reel might be? The voice over allowed me to literally say what I needed to say. Additionally, I think it creates a sort of connection with the viewer. I hope they walk away with a better sense of who I am, or what I'm like, or at least what it might be like to work with me.

The narration does a great job of communicating that grading is about so much more than pushing colours around. How important was it dispel misconceptions about what grading is and educate potential clients about the real value of your work?

Conveying the value of what I do was a key message I wanted in the reel. There's actually a lot of different disciplines that have to come together to make a successful colorist, in my opinion. Obviously one needs a good eye, and an understanding of color. But being a colorist extends beyond just grading today. It's really about being a finisher. It requires an understanding of everything that went into creating the image you're grading. How was it shot, lit, exposed, processed? All of those things make a difference. And then beyond that... how do we get the most out of the image? Do we reframe it? How do you focus the audience's attention? How do we best serve the story? All of those and more are factors in the "color" session. Grading isn't just about color anymore. I think clients know that, but they probably don't see a lot of colorists talking about that, and that's something I think we need to do more of.

What drove your decision to tell a real personal story about your philosophy and how you create the perfect print?

My primary motive was the realization that the conversation I had with clients in the room was different than what they were getting from the reel. The reel should really be a sneak peek, not just at the work, but at the process. So I wanted viewers to feel like they experienced a small part of the process itself. Hopefully it's interesting and engaging, but also enlightening. Definitely didn't want to produce a boring reel.

Did you do this yourself, or did you work with others to refine your vision and pull it together?

Of course I had a ton of help! Alex Corn (@therealmacorn)helped me light and shoot the original footage used in the intro. My good friend Ian Voglesong (@IanVogerJ) helped cut the picture-in-picture portion (while I was tweaking the rest). Another editor friend of mine, Dominick Martimucci (@Ital1anMeatball), who normally edits commercial spots, helped me get the cut started. Paul Conigliaro (@conigs) helped with the logo design and animation, and the motion graphics at the beginning. Michael Schmidt (@michaschmidt) did amazing work on the mix, made me sound like a VO artist! And, of course, I had countless amounts of feedback. I come from an editorial background, so to me, a gigantic part of the creative process is refinement. This reel was no exception to that. Lots of revisions... lots of feedback. From many, many people. I tried to spread out the reviews so that I didn't wear out any one person too much. But that process was invaluable.

I've seen some great feedback from other video pros on your reel. Any feedback from clients or new prospects?

Well one thing I did was try to get feedback from some of my clients during the edit process. That was really some of the most useful feedback I received. Since the release, many have told me how much they liked the reel. Most of the comments have been about the work. But I'd say that a key benefit has been, that when it comes to new clients, the conversation has already started before we even meet. They have some idea of what my approach is, they know where I'm coming from and so we've already got something to talk about, and we can start with a focus on what they need.