There are a lot of conversations surrounding the Vimeo Staff Pick, but no one in the indie film community can question its importance. For many creatives that elusive badge has been the starting point for their career, the moment when they get noticed.
Whether you like it or not, the Staff Pick has a role to play in many creative careers, which is why we thought it’d be interesting to talk to our good friends at Vimeo, specifically Curator Meghan Oretsky, about what her team does on a daily basis, how they choose Staff Picks, and what you as a filmmaker can do to get one.
For the Staff Pick detractors out there, you may rest easier knowing there’s a genuine passion for filmmaking behind the curation team’s work. In fact, Meghan spent hundreds of hours reviewing films before she was even hired by Vimeo:
“I watched Vimeo Staff Picks a ton before I was eventually employed by Vimeo,” Meghan told us. “I made sure I watched over 1,000 videos. [Short films] are incredible validating as a human, just to see the way that other people look at the world in such a beautiful way and such a sad way. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but watching them, it’s like a drug.”
The curators at Vimeo are passionate about short films. They live and breathe short films — which is another great reason to break down their thoughts on what makes a quality film and how to find success on the platform.
We’ll break this post into a few parts, starting with a glimpse into the curation team’s process, then what Meghan looks for (and doesn’t look for) in a Staff Pick, as well as a few Staff Picks that have stood out to her personally. Here’s Meghan.
A Glimpse Inside Vimeo
Musicbed: What does a day in the life of a Vimeo Curator look like?
Meghan Oretsky: Basically, I spend most of my morning watching videos. Our engineers provide a list of films that have been gaining traction on the site in the past 24 hours. There are four of us on the team and we spend about two to three hours combing through those.
Then, I browse Vimeo for new content. I follow every filmmaker who’s ever received a Staff Pick, so when they upload new stuff, it shows up in our feed. We also scour the site looking for content made by non-Staff Pick alumni. Other than that, it’s a lot of communication between filmmakers, emailing them about their upcoming projects and getting assets from them.
We’re curating everything you see on the Vimeo site — our fingerprints are on all of it.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
I’d say the most difficult part is not taking things personally, because ultimately our job is very subjective. I feel super privileged that my job allows me to reach out to a filmmaker and communicate to them how much I love their art. At the end of the day, though, the team has to reach a consensus for the video to get a Staff Pick and sometimes that means films I like don’t make the cut.
What’s your team’s process for Staff Picks?
There’s a digital roundtable. One of us nominates a film, we put it into a Google Sheet and then we write out all the details, rate it, and put it into a genre. Whoever submits the film will write comments about it, then we’ll watch it as a team and leave our own comments. If the majority of the curators are in favor, then it’s given a Staff Pick. A lot of different things go into how we decide and we’ll all come with our different opinions and experiences.
Was there a specific training when you came onto the team?
I watched Vimeo Staff Picks a ton before I was eventually employed by Vimeo and already had over a thousand likes on my profile (that number is now over 10K). So, I was already very familiar with the Staff Picks voice. All of the films that I picked, though, just really resonated with me.
My first month as a curator I wasn’t allowed to rate films. I had to become familiar with how it all works and how my opinion of a film translated to the way we rate films. They definitely put a hold on me for a month until they decided I was ready to officially weigh in.
Ok, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty. What do you look for in a Staff Pick?
Breaking Down a Staff Pick
Originality is key
A billion stories have been circulating around the world since the beginning of human existence, but when you watch shorts all day every day, sometimes they can begin to sound very similar to one another. What catches our interest are not necessarily stories that are 100% unique (though those are heartily welcomed), but creators who approach storytelling from a unique angle. Also, is the filmmaker taking risks that challenge the form and push boundaries in some way? A good recent example of this is Adman by The Callner Brothers. It’s basically a few chapters of a man’s life told through fake advertisements. It’s full of clichés — an overbearing mom, a workplace crush, first date awkwardness — but all told through original and super well-made commercials. It’s both original and hard to pry your eyes away from.
This is probably the most obvious thing that we look for. Basically, we see a lot of trends and we want something that stands out. We catch on to trends pretty quickly because we watch so much content. So, when we find ourselves watching a film that grabs us and doesn’t let go, we can’t wait to share it with our viewers. I could name many films that check this box, but Kanari by Erlendur Sveinsson (which actually won a Staff Pick Award at Aspen Shortsfest this year) is a film that comes to mind.
With recent technological advancements in filmmaking equipment, it’s easier than ever to make a good looking video but we still see creators on Vimeo pushing the boundaries of their craft on a daily basis. Does it look and sound amazing? Does it innovate and push the medium to a new level?
Anna Ginsburg’s UGLY was on our Best of June list this year not only because it’s gorgeous and carries an empowering message, but it’s immediately clear that it took an insane amount of time and care to create. The whole process involved 50 paintings, 8 different photoshop brushes, and for some shots, it took 12 hours of digital painting to color a single second. So yeah, very impressive craft.
It’s important that the art we champion be made by people with different backgrounds and varied perspectives on life. We are mindful of how much content we put forth that is made by people with the same ethnic, socioeconomic, political, and cultural histories.
We asked Meghan to choose a few Staff Picks that have really stuck out in her mind and include a brief description of why she loved it. Here’s what she came up with:
Caroline by Celine Held and Logan George
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the short film world that hasn’t seen and was impressed by this film. Palme d’Or-nominated and the only U.S. entry to be accepted as part of the Cannes Shorts Competition in 2018, co-director Celine Held gives a seamless lead performance. It’s gripping, well-written, and the ending is goosebump-inducing. This film definitely falls under the “engaging storytelling” umbrella.
__, __, __ by Claudia Barral
I love “Here” by Richard McGuire, the graphic novel upon which this nostalgic piece is based upon. It’s about all of the lives a place can have over time — very A Ghost Story. The director did a beautiful job visualizing this multi-layered but beautiful concept.
Mitski: A Pearl by Saad Moosajee, Danae Gosset and Art Camp
It’s obvious that this animation was painstakingly made by the artists behind it, Danae Gosset and Saad Moosajee. The final product is gorgeous and emotionally powerful, too, which is a welcome combo for music videos. The craft is exceptional and for good reason: Saad Moosajee constructed each frame in 3D, then Danae painstakingly drew and hand-painted over those.
Rachel by Andrew DeYoung
You immediately feel like you’re there in John Early’s house, watching this horrifying and hilarious train wreck unfold that you can’t wait to tell your friends about. Each person involved delivers such a natural performance and overall it’s a perfect example of a true story that was turned into a delightfully creepy film.