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This Worked 2016 Vimeo talks us through its top Staff Picks

The Vimeo Staff Picks is an amazing way to discover inspiring and beautiful video content online. But I’ve always wondered – how do they select these? What makes a video – amongst thousands of others – the best? And so we spoke to Sam Morrill, the lead-curator of the Vimeo Staff Picks, to walk us through their curation process, the biggest trends of last year and their Top of the Year Videos of 2016.

I can imagine there’s thousands of videos uploaded to Vimeo everyday, but how do you find the best?

We have a variety of different methods, but it all starts with the Vimeo curation team, which is currently comprised of four full-time curators. Every day we come in and spend at least as much time searching for great videos as we are watching great videos. We’re not just watching an endless stream of videos that get uploaded to the site; we have a more targeted approach to finding videos that might be worth looking at.

We all follow thousands of creators on Vimeo, and that’s pouring out of years using the site and watching videos, figuring out which creators we like and every day coming in and looking at what these creatives upload to the site. So I personally follow over two thousand creators on Vimeo.

But we also want to find great videos by creators we are not yet familiar with, so to do that, we rely pretty heavily on the trending feed on Vimeo. That gives you a snapshot of some of the most popular videos on the site.

In addition to that we go to a lot of film festivals, at this point we are probably going to 20 tot 30 film festival a year; especially a lot of shorts programmes there. That’s a pretty essential part of our workflow.

And then we also find videos the old-fashioned way, where people just send us stuff they like.

When you find a great video, which criteria do you use to decide whether it’s Staff Pick worthy?

The most important element I would say is storytelling. At the end of the day that’s what’s going to lure people in the most, a great story. But we also evaluate videos based on their aesthetic or how proficient the film is from a technical standpoint. So we are looking for films that exhibit exemplary craft. But at the same time, if the film looks great, but tells a boring story, we’re not going to Staff Pick that. Whereas a film tells a great story but doesn’t look so great, we’d be more inclined to feature that video because first and foremost the story is most important.

The ideal Staff Pick is one that merges great storytelling with great craft. It has to be so great that by the end of the year we would still be talking about that film. If you look at best of the year list, they all fall into this category.

What would you say was the biggest trend in videos uploaded on Vimeo in 2016?

More and more filmmakers who would previously release their films at film festivals, have started to release their work on Vimeo. Before those same filmmakers would be a little hesitant to release online, because they were afraid that would prohibit them from showing them at film festivals or maybe render them ineligible for certain awards. But what we’ve seen in 2016 is a full embracing of a platform like Vimeo by the best short films on the festival circuit.

What surprised you the most about last year?

Well, it’s not really a surprise, but it’s amazing to see our core group of filmmakers continuing to thrive.

This year one of the big hits on Sundance was Swiss Army Man which was directed by Daniels, a filmmakers duo that really established themselves on Vimeo, and to see them score such a big hit at the Sundance Festival was really exciting for us.

And another director, Hiro Murai, who’s got over ten Vimeo Staff Picks went on to direct the new TV show Atlanta, which has been a huge success. We see filmmakers from the Vimeo community go on and do really exciting things.

What would you like to see more of in 2017?

I’d like to see even more festivals embracing online videos. There’s still a few festivals that have restrictions that prohibit previously released films online from showing at their festival. I’d like to see more festivals do what Sundance did.

It’s really hard to know what the next year is going to deliver, because the new trends in filmmaking tend to catch you by surprise. You know, drones, and drone videos came out of nowhere really. One day, no one had access to drones, and then the next day the DJI Phantom came out and that totally revolutionized the way we’re capturing aerial cinematography.

Action Sports

When We Were Knights was uploaded to the Go Pro account but it was co-produced by Camp4 Collective, who have received some Staff Picks before. I think what we love about this film, and what we look for in the best action sports films, is that it’s not just a straightforward edit. We love the action sports videos that really rise above the rest in telling a story. This story is very personal and intimate, and even the casual viewer who might not be interested in wing suit base-jumping would find this film really moving.

Animation

MANOMAN was a darling of the festival circuit, which you can tell by all the awards it received. There’s something really primal about this film, it’s like an exploration of what would happen if all our inner selves all of a sudden manifested themselves in a little person that follows us around. It is brilliant – it’s communicated almost entirely in grunts and screams, there’s no real dialogue in it, but it is so engaging at the same time. And then the fact that it’s a piece of puppetry really helps it stand out as well.

Comedy

Her Friend Adam we first saw at Sundance. There were some conversations amongst our team about the question if this was really a comedy, because it could also be in the drama category. So we asked the filmmaker if he’d consider this as a comedy or a drama and he couldn’t really give us a straightforward answer.

At the end of the day it really is a hilarious film and it is anchored by Grace Glowicki’s performance. She actually won a prize for it on Sundance. There’s something that feels Woody Allen-esque about the film. Jealousy is such a great father for storytelling. This film really captures the jealousy and paranoia that can bring down a relationship.

Documentary

The documentary category is interesting, because more so than any of the other categories, it has a direct relationship to current events. There’s this urgency that you feel when you watch these films compared to the other categories, that tackle more universal themes.

So the refugee crisis is possibly the biggest story of 2016, and of all the films we have seen this year that have dealt with this crisis, 4.1 Miles was the one that really stood out. I was maybe three minutes into the film when I knew it was probably going to make it to our Best of Year selection; it was so effective, so right. It is so affecting that you know after 20 minutes you can’t help but feel profoundly troubled by what you see. It exemplifies what power documentary has – to humanize a conflict that might otherwise feel impersonal and distant – they really put it in front of you and create a sense of immediacy that you wouldn’t feel previously.

Drama

On the curation team we are all big fans of Black Mirror. HYPER-REALITY feels like it could be another episode of Black Mirror. It’s incredible because it simultaneously feels very familiar and very foreign. Obviously we don’t live in this version of augmented reality, but we feel we are headed in that direction. This film feels very spot-on; terrifyingly plausible. It’s super creative in the way it represents consumerism in the not-to-distant future.

You feel this kind of alienation when you are watching, because the main character isn’t actually interacting with other real human beings; she’s only interacting with digital avatars. Even though she’s surrounded by other people on the street, she feels desperately alone and the viewer feels that as well.

Eye Candy

Eye Candy is a term we use pretty freely within Vimeo – it’s meant to describe videos that excel from a visual standpoint and really push the limits of what is possible.

This video is one of the best examples of motion capture we have ever seen on Vimeo. Our jaws all dropped when we first saw this. Its ability to capture these dances so accurately is striking, but it also introduces these digital layers onto it, where you have these really vibrant and realistic textures.

Whenever I watch this video I’m overcome by the sense that even though it is not real, I know exactly how all of these textures would feel if I could touch them. There’s this one character, every time I see him, I’m sure he would feel like a firm marshmallow. It’s really fun because each character is doing a different dance too – for example there’s one dancing the Dougie – generally associated with hip-hop culture.

Music

This video was directed by Keith Schofield and he has a long history of really clever innovative music videos.

This video starts as a classic Keith Schofield video; it’s got a visual hook, it’s kind of funny and in your face, and then he takes a step back and it turns out that it is a video within a video. Then he takes another step back, and he actually places himself in the video. So there’s two additional layers to the video, in which he is making fun of himself and the egos that people assume directors have. At the end he is so upset by the internet’s reaction to his video that he cries himself to sleep. I think it is a great commentary on internet outrage and directors’ egos in general.

Travel

This is a film that could have gone either way; we could have considered this for the action sports category or for the travel section. At the end of the day it really is a travel film because we are brought on this journey throughout China, to learn more about the history of skiing there. It is a really interesting topic, because skiing is typically not associated with China but clearly through this film you can see that’s there a pretty rich and ancient history of skiing that goes back hundreds if not thousands of years.

We really liked the travelogue aspect of the film – the subject of the film was bringing us along on his journey, explaining to us what it is we’re seeing and learning about the history of Chinese skiing along the way. The scenery in it is really amazing too.

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