Episode 156 — The One Thing More Effective Than Your Reel


Click here to listen on iTunes!

Get on the VIP insiders list!

Check out www.VFXRates.com.

Upload The Productive Artist e-book.

Allan McKay’s YouTube Channel.

Allan McKay’s Instagram.


Episode 156 — The One Thing More Effective Than Your Reel

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 156! I’m talking about the one thing more important than your demo reel. We’re going to get into some really cool stuff.

The one thing that’s going to sell you and your services is your reel: It proves that you can sit down tomorrow and do the work. What has more clout than your reel — are your RELATIONSHIPS. In this Episode, I will talk about building long-lasting professional relationships and how to do it all the time. In the past, I would recommend for artists to go to networking events. Now, I’m going to talk about how build your connections in an effective way. It’s easy to overlook this aspect. This is more critical than anything.

Let’s dive in!



[00:47] If you haven’t gotten the Ultimate Demo Reel Guide — the new book that I’ve put out — get it now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. For right now, it’s free. It will be sold on Amazon as well as audible soon. In addition to that, you will get a free 2-hour Master Class. Go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel/.



[3:05] We all know the most important thing is our demo reel and portfolio. It’s proof of your skill. You have your education, papers and experience from previous places where you’ve worked and projects that you’ve worked on. The most important thing to fast track all that is your reel. But what’s more important than all of these things combined?


[3:45] What if you knew everybody? And what if everyone in your industry knew you and your work — and when you’re available? All of that would make stuff line up pretty easily, right? And more importantly, when it came to negotiating, you would skip the cues and it would come down to: “When can you start?”

[4:19] So what if you get out there right now and begin to build all of these relationships? The ultimate goal for all of us when looking for work is get up in the morning, walk over to our desk, check out Inbox and see one job offer after another. Then the only thing we’d have to decide would be: Do any of these jobs interest you? That’s what we’re all going for, ultimately. What if that new position was created specifically for you? That is the ultimate goal. For a lot of us, that’s impossible. But that’s just a matter of putting in the time and effort into these relationships now. The more we do it — the more we’re likely to create opportunities for ourselves.

[5:17] A lot of us are instantly going to think: “That’s a lot of work!” And it is. But nothing that’s worth it comes easy. It requires us to get out of our comfort zone; to build our well before we’re thirsty. We don’t want to get to the point when we need our relationships because that would be too late. The key thing about a demo reel is that it helps us pitch and sell what we can do for them. The idea of a relationship is that you’ve gone beyond that. You’ve sold yourself once and they already know they want to work with you. Then, it’s just a matter of maintaining those relationships.


Right Out of the Gate

[6:31] Check it out: In the beginning of my career, I was 14 years old and I heard of a new game studio that popped up in my city. They were collaborating with Activision and instantly I knew it was my opportunity. At 14 years old — that’s kind of young! In the beginning, I did my research: I read everything I could find about them, what they were doing, their events that were coming up. What ended up happening was:

  • I found a few events I could attend.
  • I found a chat room where the designers were hanging out.
  • I learned about the company.
  • I met people who were friends with people at the studio.
  • And more, and more!

[7:29] Eventually, people at the studio started to hear about this young kid obsessed with working at the studio. I wanted to show my reel and I was determined to build one just in time. I worked really hard on putting one together: My very first reel ever! I sent it in and the next day and I waited — because I was going to get my dream job. And I waited and I waited. Two weeks went by and I called them. I got a soft rejection. At that point, I started working on the next reel and over the time, I also built relationships with people there who would be able to drop my reel onto a Supervisor’s or Manager’s desk, so that I wouldn’t need to go through the gatekeepers. Creating those opportunities for myself was critical because it made me take initiatives in building relationships.


Build Your Own Opportunities

[8:56] Tim Miller, the Director of Deadpool and theTerminator reboot, was one of the founders at Blur Studio. I’d applied there as a joke. I finally started working on a reel that was at a production level because I had been working. I was 18 years old. I sent in the reel as a gag. I was surprised when Tim Miller emailed me directly, “Hey, we love your work! Do you want to come work for us?” Being 18, I didn’t want to move at the time. But rather than letting that relationship to die, I would email the company every couple of months. We kept that relationship going. It meant that down the line, more and more opportunities would come up. Do you think that when I was finally ready to work at Blur, I needed to apply for a job or go to an interview? I emailed Tim, “Hey, Tim. I’m in LA. Got any work?” That’s it! The next day, I was at Blur working on a dozen cool projects. That’s all it took. By having that one email I sent out as a gag, it started a relationship that would lead to work. Now, what if I did it intentionally. What if everyday, I emailed 5 people? That’s 25 people a week! Or 200 per month! What if 2% of those would reply. All of these opportunities would last a lifetime.

[11:34] I have a friend at Autodesk who work in sales. He is not someone with production experience, but because he has so much face time with owners of studios, he would get job offers all the time to go work for them. Having those relationships means he can work anywhere because he is knowledgable.

[12:11] What if you told yourself you were going to create your own opportunities: Networking, socializing, putting the energy into relationships? At first, it seems like work. Once it becomes your second nature, you won’t even think about it that way. Then you start seeing opportunities everywhere you go. After a while, it becomes a habit.


Your Reputation is Everything!

[12:35] A minute ago, I talked about an opportunity to go work for a game studio as a kid. I did everything right. I worked really hard and kept sending my new reels. By the time I sent in my third one, they emailed back, “We really like your work and we see how much your skills have grown from one reel to the next. Unfortunately, we can’t hire you. We have a transcript of you talking trash about our company on ISE.” What happened that after trying to get into this company for so long, out of moment of frustration I said something in a chatroom. “That company is nothing!” The internet is so small, the company has heard about it. We are all connected. In that one moment of stupidity, I got blacklisted. And it was a huge lesson! Talking negatively can come back to bite you.

[14:11] What if you have a bad reputation? What if you pissed off some people or burnt some bridges? What then? I was in Australia working on set. I was the liason between the studio and Warner Bros. At the time, in the same building, there was someone talking about the movie and trash talking the company I was with, and divulging private information about the project. That person was blacklisted from applying to our company because we couldn’t have someone talking negatively about us, or divulging information about the project. The industry is so small!

[15:35] What’s more expensive than letting go of a hire who talks negatively — is the negative effect this will have on your team. There are plenty of stories about hiring people who drove other people to quit. That’s the worst thing we can have. These days, it’s easier to check if anyone has worked with a potential hire before — from other studios. Someone has compared a bad hire to dropping a hand grenade in the middle of a studio and running for the hills.

[16:24] A lot of studios I’ve had on the Podcast — Image Engine (www.allanmckay.com/91) and Pixogolgic (www.allanmckay.com/73) — talk about hard and soft skills. The hard skills are the programs and software you know. The soft skills are things like communication, team work and people skills. Some studios have the rule to hire someone with good soft skills; because you’re going to get along with everyone. At the end of the day, it comes down to that. You’re doing long hours with a team, and it makes it much harder if you’re an asshole.

[18:28] How powerful would it be to have someone who is respected at a company — where you want to work — to walk up to HR and personally hand in your reel for consideration? Reputation is everything. Nurturing your relationships is everything. Focus on your career so that you don’t have time for disputes. You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if no one knows who you are — how are people going to know who you are?


How to Stand Out

[19:38] Think about how studios are structured: There are so many people applying for work, that there are HR departments and databases that file away all the applications. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to be put in the right place. Ninety percent people get put into archives. If you are in the 10% of the database, you’re still in a hold pattern. When they need to hire people, that’s when they dig into the database. You get put into a spreadsheet. All that gets listed is your name and email and a link to your reel. You won’t be the only person who is talented on that list.

[22:23] Keep in mind that when a Supervisor is finally reviewing your reel — out of 200! — they’re attention span is really short. First of all, their job is not to hire people but to supervise projects. So if your reel doesn’t captivate them right away, they move onto the next one. You’d be surprised how much your reel gets skipped over. I’ve done the hiring, so I’ve seen how volatile it can be. So wouldn’t it be better to skip the gatekeepers? Wouldn’t be great if they knew your name or if they could contact you before they put out the job announcement?

[23:41] My other pet peeve is when working on a projects, you get to the end of it and you say, “Hey, what do you have lined up after this?” It drives me insane when I hear this response: “I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and cut a new reel.” Why weren’t you doing this WHILE working on the project? This is the time when you should be meeting other people from other studios. What I would rather hear is, “I have this, this and this job lined up and I’m trying to decide which one I’m most interested in.” Having those relationships means that you know about opportunities as they’re happening. Front load the work, put the time into the relationships, send in your new reel before your current project expires. Which is better: Being high in demand or being unemployed and having to look for work?


Just in Case — Not Just in Time

[25:30] Relationships are just in case — not just in time. It’s easy to think, “I have a full-time job so I don’t know need to build relationships right now. I’ll do that when I’m looking for work.” Knowing that you have those options, how will that make you feel to have that security? The more you do it, the more in demand you are. You should be doing this anyway: be part of the community, hanging out. This is a chance to learn and build a community around you. You should be practicing how to network every day. Relationships are just in case — not just in time.

[27:10] Your network is your net worth. When I send out my emails, I simply reach out and build relationships. Nothing worth it comes easy and you have to be in it to win it. If you do put in the work — you’re already ahead of everyone else. Or, you can look for industry events in your city. Or, you can organize a mixer. (Here is my Podcast on Creating a Mass Opportunity: www.allanmckay.com/111/.) You can go to a bar and ask if they can accommodate a gathering. Then you can email a studio and invite other artists. Create your own opportunities!

[29:45] Target people at your own level. Don’t go to the gatekeepers right away! Look at the people who are around you: They are your social capital. Get in at the ground level and build those relationships. In addition, it’s not that hard to find people on LinkedIn. You can reach and out and get to know people, build that rapport. When it’s time to hire people, they can recommend you. Your network — is your net worth.

[31:59] Your focus should be on creating and nurturing relationships. Nurturing your relationships is what matters. Keep building them over the years. That’s how you will have opportunities. Don’t focus on relationships as being transactional. Focus on the big picture! 


I hope you found this Episode valuable. Networking is such a crucial thing which we often glaze over. If you pay attention to your relationships, it is so powerful. Because if you do — you will be able to step ahead.

I will be doing a follow-up Episode. In a future Episode (not next one but Episode 158), I will talk about how to generate leads, at least 200 a month. It will be highly actionable. If you haven’t noticed, these Episodes have been building up. If you go back to Episode 150 (www.allanmckay.com/150), it about how to get email addresses and build your outreach. You can combine these together and build an outreach system you can apply to maximize your success.

  • Until then, go get the free Ultimate Demo Reel Book: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/.
  • Also, feel free to follow me Instagram: @AllanMcKayOfficial. I’ve been using it as my main platform.

Next Episode, I will be back with author Chris Bailey talking about his next book Hyperfocus. Chris will talk about productivity.

Get the book!

Until then —

Rock on!


Let's Connect

View my profile on