A little-known division within the New York-based company Vimeo has quietly helped propel the careers of successful filmmakers working today, through a selection program called “Staff Picks.”
Outside the industry, the Staff Picks program is virtually unknown. It’s not featured directly on their homepage, and it won’t pop right up if you Google them.
But inside the industry, a Staff Pick is a coveted badge with the power to launch a filmmaker’s career.
To mark the 15-Year anniversary of Staff Picks, the New York-based company invited former recipients to a party punctuated by a series of screenings earlier this fall.
Six short films, all Picks, played while creators like Charlotte Wells (“Aftersun”) and Ben Sinclair of the Vimeo-to-HBO hit “High Maintenance” provided live director’s commentary.
In the 15 years since Staff Picks was created, the roster of its winners is enough to make a talent agent drool. Eliza Hittman (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”), Ari Aster (“Midsommar”), John Wilson (“How To”), Hiro Murai (“Atlanta”), A.V. Rockwell (“A Thousand and One”), and last year’s Academy Award hat trick-winning duo Daniels (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) are some of the biggest names. But the program has helped bring attention to thousands of film and television professionals.
Where new filmmakers get discovered
Director Charlotte Wells’ feature film debut “Aftersun” was nominated for an Oscar last year, and won awards at more than 20 film festivals, from Cannes to the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle awards.
She said Staff Picks was vital to her success.
“It’s just kind of the most important community,” said Wells, whose short film “Laps” was a Vimeo Staff Pick in 2017. “As I went to film festivals, the presence of Vimeo just grew and grew. And then you hear about colleagues in years above getting Staff Pick’d, and so many more people watch their film than you ever thought possible.”
Wells said that short films are where the film festival community really lies – because most filmmakers start by making shorts – and it’s where Vimeo’s presence has been central.
Andrew Hutcheson co-founded the production company, Voyager in 2015 and has since made award-winning feature films as well as commercial work for brands like McDonald’s and Kia. Voyager felt a Staff Pick was so essential that Hutcheson spent weeks crafting strategies to get one.
“When we were starting our company, the first thing we did was look to agency producers and development companies and ask: Where do you discover work?” Hutcheson said.
“The universal thread between all of them was: ‘Oh, we watch Vimeo Staff Picks, and that’s where we find new filmmakers.’”
Getting a Staff Pick became his company’s first priority, and he credits that first Pick with helping to launch their success.
“Film festival laurels are incredibly important, but even a top-tier festival, it’s a pretty narrow audience impact,” Hutcheson said, noting that perhaps a few dozen people will see the film, which may not screen again for months before beginning the long road to distribution.
Getting a Staff Pick on Vimeo, which is open to the whole internet, garnered more than 9 million views for one of Voyager’s early films.
How it all started
Vimeo was started in 2004 as a sort of YouTube competitor. In 2008, two early employees at the New York startup noticed filmmakers and auteurs adopting the platform, so they began to highlight their favorite new videos on what became the Staff Picks channel.
Nothing’s really changed about the ethos of Staff Picks since then, according to Ina Pira, one of the team’s two Lead Curators.
Pira and her co-lead Meghan Oretsky, along with a part-time contractor, estimate that they watch two to three hours of shorts each day, logging it all across more than 50 spreadsheets where they note what they liked, what they want to share with others, longlists for Staff Picks, and more. Pira says there are thousands of films currently in the tracking sheet.
“There’s no algorithm or shortcut to what gets on the Staff Picks channel,” Pira said. “It’s us spending time on the website, on the internet, at film festivals, trying to find really great work.”
The pair said their process is led by the feelings a film provokes. Sometimes literally.
“When I’m sharing a film with someone and I’m really excited to share it with them, my fingers kind of hurt?” Oretsky said. “Not a bad pain, I’m just so excited that it manifests itself into this physical feeling.”
For Pira, the allure of Staff Picks was its accessibility.
“Staff Picks wasn’t this faraway place that you need to get into Hollywood to be a part of,” Pira said. “It felt like my peers were on this platform making really cool stuff, and that excited me.”
A holdover from when the internet seemed a little nicer
Staff Picks can feel like a holdover from a simpler era — it launched around the same time as Tumblr, Etsy, Kickstarter, when the promise that the internet would democratize creativity rang more true.
Chief Marketing Officer Lynn Girotto says that spirit was the founding ethos of the program. “If you go back to the founders of Vimeo, they were like: there’s a lot of cool stuff on the web,” Girotto said. “Let’s organize and identify the really interesting things for people to look at.”
Despite its popularity, Staff Picks isn’t at the core of Vimeo’s business. Currently, the company positions itself as an all-in-one video creation and sharing solution for brands and businesses.
And the company has had its share of financial struggles. Its share price has fallen more than 90% since going public after a 2021 spinoff from IAC, which bought Vimeo in 2006.
“We’re not looking at this community of Staff Picks creators as like, we’re trying to monetize you,” Girotto said. “We look at this community as: you’re inspiring all of us.”
Adam Neuhaus, a longtime producer of ESPN’s award-winning “30 for 30” documentary series who recently started his own production company, says the world’s film and television fans are better off for the Staff Picks team’s deep experience.
“They spend thousands of hours watching film, reading about film, talking to filmmakers, seeing what works and what doesn’t…and Staff Picks is the beneficiary.”
“I can’t even fathom the amount of material that they watch,” director Charlotte Wells said. “The ability to draw attention to filmmakers can be the thing that makes the difference in a really serious way. And I think, fortunately, none of them take that lightly.”