So clickbait, amirite?
This essay isn’t really about how to get a Vimeo Staff Pick. I am fortunate to have a couple of my films to have been showcased on Vimeo’s Parthenon of special Staff Picks, but I couldn’t tell you a recipe on how secure your acceptance. Besides, other people have offered their advice on the subject, so why add to the noise.
What I do want to discuss is why some of my films become Staff Picks, and other’s perhaps not.
I have upward of 600 films on Vimeo. Each unique pieces of work, a mixture of client driven and personal projects. Somewhere along the way I left the ranks of an office worker and dedicated my full-time to being a filmmaker. I say filmmaker because I direct, shoot, and edit. It’s totally consuming, and even when I’m not “working” I’m still working. Like they say however, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. That is true.
Even though I have some compelling work with famous athletes or well-known actors or insane SFX, there are a few films that really resonated with the Vimeo staff. What I find interesting is that they are all projects I did on my own dime, with my own crew, and were totally self-produced. I think this is an important point for any filmmaker.
This last film, “Heretic” is a short documentary about Douglas Little. Douglas is an amazing guy; he’s one of the creative visual geniuses behind sleep no more, an award-winning designer, but what put him on my radar was actually my girlfriend. She forwarded me an article about this guy who makes personalized perfume in his baroque upper west side apartment. He sounded absolutely mad, and I really wanted to meet him.
So I wrote him an email.
I basically said I was a filmmaker, and make short docs about people I find interesting. I asked if he would be interested in shooting a short doc in his apartment. He said yes.
I’ll pause here for a second to explain why these short docs are so important to me. I love narrative work, both commercially and otherwise. Docs though hold a special place in my heart. Living in a city like New York you are literally surrounded by people whose stories are always as or more interesting than most narratives. These are real people, who are your neighbors, your office mates, your friends even. Their stories are already written and all you need to do is record them. For me the short doc is an easy day at the filmmaking gym; just bring your gear and work it out.
For Douglas, along for others I’ve done, I like to keep the crew real small. Just 3 or 4 people. Maybe two lights if any. Good sound. It makes it fast and easy to move around, and easy on the subject too. I’m sure Douglas was open to having 5 people in his living room instead of a crew of a dozen.
I also move fast and cover everything. I have a set list of questions, but really just want to have a conversation with my subject. I find out what’s interesting about them on the spot. What’s fantastic is there is no consequence; there is no client, no one paying you, so it really doesn’t matter if you get something or not, you’re there to experience someone and no more. It’s the going commando of filmmaking and it’s amazing.
Finally you must have fun with it. The crew I roll with is all other filmmakers and shooters. Since there is no client it become professional playtime, meaning we get to use all the toys we never do on paid sets because we’re not exactly sure what they will do. Russian anamorphic glass you bought on-line, a weird 360 camera you want to cut your teeth on, even an old 8mm film camera you found at your grandparents. We get weird, really weird with it, and it makes for some very interesting footage. Weird angles, strange lighting, you name it, the weirder the better. Leave it to the editor to figure out.
That’s me also. I love and hate editing like most editors do. When it’s tedious, it’s life sucking, but when its good, it’s mind-blowing. When I do a personal project like this because there is no consequence to anything we’re doing, it becomes extremely enjoyable. I make some editorial decisions that are frankly horrible and I love it.
In the end what happens is a few things. You get to meet someone who is very interesting. You get to learn and invent new techniques and gear, and you get to try something new in post that may or may not make sense. It’s basically the Jackson Pollock style of filmmaking; throw it against the canvas and see what sticks.
Now I’m sure some people will say that a planned line of attack is a much better use of a filmmakers time, and yes, there is a time and place for that. However if you consider that it takes half a day to shoot, and maybe a week to edit one of these films, it really isn’t that much of a risk.
The result has always been rewarding, not just from accolades, but from the experience of meeting new people and working with my core crew. One film we did together about master mechanic Peter Boggia went on to win a few great festivals and even brought Peter and I over to Italy for a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip. This latest film about Douglas has spurred a bunch of new work from new clients, which I wouldn’t have even know how to approach otherwise. What I’m saying is that while paid work is great, it’s usually the personal projects that stand out, and often get the new work knocking at your door. What’s more it doesn’t really cost anything to produce, other than some lunch for your friends.
So how do you get a Vimeo Staff Pick? No idea, but if you know please tell me. In the meantime just email someone interesting, grab a camera and a friend, and go make a short doc, you won’t be disappointed.
Roberto Serrini is a professional Filmmaker who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.