The Times mag the other week noticed that amateur star “YouTubers” could make six figures through the site’s comedy channels.
But people filming verite vignettes or shooting true tales professionally are probably posting on Vimeo.
What’s Vimeo, you say? It’s is a video-sharing company where users upload their film work, all in high definition, in a player without advertising. There are hundreds of thousands of documentaries now on the site. And while Vimeo, started by two College Humor developers, Zach Klein and Jacob Lodwick, is now part of Barry Diller’s IAC, it’s also a bona fide documentary community, known in the film world as the place to find new, serious short films, excerpts of longer ones, or films in process.
The key advantage of Vimeo for documentarians is that it allows posting films in HD, and did so long before YouTube supported the format. Vimeo also benefits from strong community guidelines: Uploaders have to participate closely in or create whatever they post. According to a Vimeo curator, the site has also been the beneficiary and the propagator of films made on the DSLR, a beloved class of digital camera that can shoot a shallower depth of field and also works well with lower light.
Though the site launched in 2004, it’s caught on with the true stories cohort in the past year—documentarians have been telling me to watch them on Vimeo; PR flaks give me Vimeo passwords so I could watch the biggest docs of the summer rather than wait for screeners in the mail; a friend who makes multimedia told me it was the only place she’d house her work. It’s safe to say that Vimeo has successfully branded itself as the place for film students and pros too snobby for YouTube. If you can’t quite get through the well-bred documentary gates of PBS but still want to, it’s probably the place for you.
The top docs get millions of viewers. Sean Dunne’s doc American Juggalo, unique to the site, broke a million. Dean Peterson’s short about a broken subway station stair, New York City Subway Stair, just got 1.8 million views. The Kony video rose to prominence on Vimeo first. The site also has first-rate featured multimedia, selected for artistic merit rather than clickbait potential, like the “California is a Place” series. One director of a Vimeo-featured short, Elliot Rausch, now has an agent and is able to shoot for a living as a result of being featured there. His “dogumentary” short “Last Minutes With Oden,” is darker than YouTube video dogs and cats dream about. (Even this one, where a cat cringes as she listens to Metallica and Lou Reed). Another Vimeo filmmaker, a former amateur named Tom Lowe, put his time-lapse film of his desert vacation on the site and it went viral, and he is now making films full time.
Vimeo is very much part of a “documentary context” as Sam Morrill, a 25-year-old senior content and community manager at the company, puts it, due to “the quality of the community and the audience.” Morrill points to the comments people leave for one another’s works as an example. And sure enough, they tend to read overeager Production Assistant (“Your camera work is amazing!”) rather than Trollsville. At least for now, its standards keep Vimeo from being clogged by hoi polloi Katy Perry lip-synching. Unlike YouTube, its focus has been on getting people to pay for premium memberships, rather than selling ads in or around videos. And Vimeo’s yearly awards ceremony is pure film school, judged by people like David Lynch and Morgan Spurlock.
If you are apt to dismiss Vimeo as yet another hipster niche thing, like asymmetrical haircuts, Adam Driver from Girls, or cocktails involving Pimm’s, you are half right. And sure, Vimeo may at some point switch from the liberal arts YouTube to something more corporate and profitable. It has a new CEO, Kerry Trainor, formerly of AOL, who before that did advertising at Yahoo. Under his direction, Vimeo could at some point get into Web ads, although a Vimeo communications rep told me the other day that “we will not have ads in the player at this time and it is not something we intend to do in the future.”
Successful YouTubers are doing well for sure. But they are probably showing you how to put on eye shadow. Documentarians screening their rough cuts gather elsewhere.Alissa Quart is a CJR columnist and contributing editor. She is the author of two books, Branded and Hothouse Kids. Her third, about American outsiders, comes out in 2013. She is also senior editor of The Atavist and an adjunct professor at Columbia Journalism School. Tags: documentary, Reality Check, Vimeo, YouTube