I've been an assistant editor for 2 years in the philadelphia area, but I just couldn't find enough freelance work to sustain myself, so I took a year (and some change) off for steady but non-video work (full time) so that I could pay rent. I'm really kicking myself for what I did though, especially because I feel like the skills I've developed are atrophying and the editing world is passing me by.
So I guess my question is, are there tried and true ways you guys have used to build up a demo reel that you could send out for some assistant work? I'm especially eager to hear about things you did when you were just starting out. I have a reel, but it's outdated and to be perfectly frank, the subject matter's not too exciting. The cuts and whatnot I feel are sendable, it's just that the content wouldn't really grab anybody's attention and it's clear to me that I need to get something more in here. Otherwise I feel like the experience I gained is going to wither into irrelevance, which is not cool at all.
There's no magic formula, but for what it's worth I personally think the best route is forging friendships with established editors / directors / producers. So do whatever it takes to meet as many people as possible. If you haven't already, get yourself a Macbook Pro and a copy of Final Cut of Media Composer and literally "be" an editor. Say "I am an editor" not "I want to be an editor" and work will come your way. Build a reel like that.
The more traditional route - which may not be economically viable - is to get a low-end job in a post house and, ya know, work your way to the top without passing Go this time.