Since Vimeo's Staff Picks launched back in 2007, the program has become the stuff of legend for independent filmmakers, generating an average of 100,000 views on the chosen videos, and launching the careers of makers like DANIELS and Kirsten Lepore, whose latest short Hi Stranger is playing at SXSW this year.
While it's clear that a Staff Pick can be very meaningful for filmmakers, it's been a little murkier to understand just how these picks are made—until now. At SXSW, three of the five members of Vimeo's curation team—Sam Morrill, Meghan Oretsky, and Ian Durkin candidly shared some of their process.
The panelists said that, of the thousand or so videos featured as Staff Picks annually (out of tens of millions of uploads), each and every one is hand selected by curation team—no algorithms in sight. One of the main takeaways of use to aspiring pick-ees was the list of places where the team actually goes to find new videos to feature. Here are the top six:
1. The Vimeo community
Once a Vimeo member's video is chosen as a Staff Pick, the staff follows that person on the platform, thereby getting notified of their likes and comments. Therefore, it behooves you to get former Staff Pick creators interested in your work because that interest could filter up to the curation team.
2. The trending feed
Meghan Oretsky mentioned that the fact the trending feed plays so largely in the team's ability to find new talent is a "testament to how important it is to get comments and likes on your film to get on our radar." As with any film project, part of the work is connecting with and activating an audience who will support your work. Oretsky also noted that the trending feed is used by external curators to find work for their festivals or platforms, so it's definitely a useful place for your video to be.
3. Independently curated channels
There are several channel curators within the Vimeo community who the Staff Pickers have come to trust, both in their main categories of Narrative, Comedy, Action Sports and Documentary, and in their niche. By way of example, they mentioned Bangn Media for music videos and The Pegbar & Grill for animations. If you have a video that you think will fit well in a specific channel, get in touch with its creator and try to get picked up.
4. Independent off-site curators
Oretsky quipped, "We're all a bunch of film nerds, but we love all kinds of art." Therefore, they look for both inspiration and new videos to feature at sites that showcase a variety of creative projects, such as Nowness.
5. Film festivals
Just like any traditional distributors, the Vimeo curation team heads to all the major festivals to find new work. Lately, their main goal at festivals is to find Staff Picks Premieres for a new program for online premieres that kicked off with Danny DeVito's Curmudgeons.
Eight Staff Picks Premieres played at SXSW last year before landing on Vimeo.
6. Social media
Director of Curation Sam Morrill follows 1,300 filmmakers on Twitter, and apparently has his feed on constant scroll. Increasing your social media presence outside of Vimeo not only helps build your audience for future projects (and to get those likes—see #2), but it might also help get the attention of the curation team at Vimeo and beyond.
In terms of exactly what they're looking for, naturally each team member has his or her own tastes. However, according to the SXSW presentation, there are a few general qualities that Staff Picks share: exceptional craft; an edgy, provocative voice (Black Holes by NOODLES was mentioned as a recent example); engaging storytelling; and originality.
In addition to providing details about their process, the speakers made something else abundantly clear: they love their jobs and they truly care about helping filmmakers thrive on Vimeo. When asked whether they would ever consider choosing an unknown filmmaker over one who has already been chosen for Staff Picks in the past, Durkin said, "We prefer to spread the love and see a new filmmaker blossom." Ortesky jumped in enthusiastically: "We'd choose both!"
For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Vimeo.