Before the lights, cameras, actors, and awards, there’s only you and your idea. This idea exists in the dark, constantly evolving and begging to be put into the real world, representing a million different possibilities before it takes its final shape.
The best stories are often the ones we find by accident while we’re working on something else. We don’t force them into being. They already exist. We catch sight of them and can’t get them out of our head. They’re a gift. Or, in Diego Contreras’s words, “a miracle.” And he would know. It was only after abandoning two fully formed concepts and scouting a completely unrelated project that he came upon the subject of his recent short film, The Sandman. Pound for pound, it’s one of the best films we saw last year. And it was a total accident.
It’s very hard to tell what makes a film great. Students spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to learn the secret. Critics write hundreds of thousands of words trying to explain it. And still, it usually remains a mystery. But we had a revelation recently while talking to Diego Contreras about his “Unimpossible Missions” series for GE, an ad campaign meant to show off GE’s ingenuity by accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks. What makes Diego’s work great is how he invests a staggering amount of meaning into even the smallest details of his films. There is nothing trivial in his work. Even the snowballs have backstories.
It takes a lot of people to make a film, but only a handful of them get much credit. Director. Cinematographer. Editor, if he’s lucky. The end credits go on and on, but few people understand what all of these people even do. For example: the producer. It’s a nebulous, seemingly catchall term for someone who does the nitty-gritty work of putting a production together. But while the title might be ambiguous, it requires a very specific type of person. A mix of optimist and realist. A relentless self-starter. A serial entrepreneur. A person like Jens Jacob.
Learning a craft is never easy, and there aren’t any shortcuts. As we’ve talked with filmmakers over the past few months, one question we always ask is “How did you learn how to do what you do?” Sometimes it feels like that’s the only question that really matters, and yet it’s usually the most difficult one to answer. While only some of the people we interviewed attended film school (and even fewer finished), all of these filmmakers are self-taught in their own way. Meaning, filmmaking is something they internalize—they’re constantly learning, discovering, and working it out for themselves. Just in time for the holidays, we’ve compiled a smorgasbord of insights into the benefits of a formal versus a not-so-formal film education. Salud!
For a lot of people, Vimeo’s launch changed the game. And for a talented few, Vimeo Staff Picks launched careers. Since their inception, the clout of the Staff Pick has only grown. Its influence now extends far beyond Vimeo’s servers. Major Hollywood directors like Wes Ball (The Maze Runner) and David Green (Earth to Echo) got their starts thanks to Vimeo’s nod of approval. And more than a few of our friends have had their lives changed by that now-hallowed seal in the top-left corner.
“On your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right,” Bill Withers warns filmmaker Damani Baker in his documentary Still Bill. “And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” In other words, it’s very hard to be great. And very few people get there.
You realize pretty quickly in life that you are working with limited resources. Limited time. Limited money. Limited talent. One way or another, we are all forced to make the most of what we’re given. We invest what we have and hope something pays off — and every once in a while, something does.