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Vimeo Festival Returns, Brings Potent Mix of Creativity and Drive

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It's been a long wait since it first appeared in 2010, but the biennial Vimeo Festival returned to New York City Friday, bringing with it an intoxicating blend of passion, thought, and hip independently created online video.

The two-day festival was preceded Thursday night with the second Vimeo Awards, hosted by comedian Reggie Watts and beatboxer Beardyman. Watts returned the next day to deliver the festival's kick-off address, as he did two years before. While the address started a little late (inside word is that Watts overslept), it was once again a must-see performance.

"Vimeo is guaranteed to last another 36 years," deadpanned Watts, who also revealed the site's origins in pizza delivery. He entertained the audience with a few improvised songs, as well as an unusual take on the future of online video.

"Widescreen is for losers and the square is back," announced Watts. "When you look at a square, you feel comfortable."

"Rectangles are all right. I don't want to get down on the rectangle," Watts added. "Maybe three years from now we'll start to see circles, which I think would be pretty cool."

Watts offered a few other glimpses of the online future: "I think anti-social networking is soon around the corner," he said, predicting a technology that would annihilate all of a person's connections like a Space Invaders attack.

Not entirely a solo performance, Watts brought Will Hoffman and Julius Metoyer, two members of the filmmaking team Everynone, to the stage to ask about the mix of planning and intuition that fuel their work. Everynone won the grand prize at the previous evening's Vimeo Awards for its movie "Symmetry."

Vimeo Festival Conferences

The two-day festival offered discussions on industry topics, tips for improving video, and hands-on labs, taking place in Vimeo's IAC Headquarters home and a production studio one block away. The IAC Center lobby hosted booths and even a beer garden from event sponsors.

An early first day session entitled "The Self-Expression Tsunami" was hosted by festival director Jeremy Boxer, who spoke to filmmakers Casey Neistat and Josh Safdie. While the session description promised a discussion of the pitfalls of oversharing, Neistat and Safdie had no such hang-ups. For them, the issue was how best to do it.

"I'm constantly filming everything I do all the time. It's exhausting," said Neistat, who described his process as less intellectual than Safdie's. He showed the audience a 6-minute 25-second film he made about surprising his South African girlfriend in January with a visit to see her in Capetown, South Africa, a trip that involved a $9,000 business class plane ticket.

"We broke up," Neistat admitted when the film ended.

"Life happens and everything happens for a reason and you can capture it," said Safdie, for whom recording is a crucial act of memory. "Every single moment is worth living."

For both filmmakers, the only limit on sharing is when it conflicts with other people's sense of privacy. "I try not to betray any intimacy," said Neistat, noting that he can sense when people aren't okay with being recorded. He films them anyway, he said, but doesn't put everything online.

Neistat offered praise for low-budget materials, saying he prefers to use a point-and-shoot digital camera and Apple iMovie -- and an old version of iMovie, at that. He also took potshots at Vimeo's much larger video sharing competition, an essential element to any Vimeo festival:

"A cesspool of video garbage is what YouTube is," Neistat said.

Slipping into business mode for a little while, the Vimeo Festival included a discussion on how advertising is adapting to online video. Advertising was a new category in this year's Vimeo Awards, perhaps reflecting a new maturity. The festival discussion featured Benjamin Palmer of The Barbarian Group, who was a judge for the category, along with Matt Murphy of 72andSunny, who worked on the winning entry, a brash and funny spot for K-Swiss starring "Eastbound and Down" main character Kenny Powers.

"We knew we needed some marketing judo to make this happen," said Murphy, explaining how his agency set about attracting a new audience for the athletic shoe-maker on a limited budget. The decision to use the totally wrong Kenny Powers was the right one, he noted.

"if you're going to build a bomb, you'd better build it with big dynamite so when it explodes you get some attention," said Murphy.

"You can put bad advertising on TV and it still works, but I think bad advertising on the internet is dying," said Palmer. An ad needs to engage and entertain the viewer to succeed online.

No matter who he's working for, Palmer said he considers the internet his true audience, and is always asking himself if the internet will like what he's doing. Overly serving the client is a mistake, he said, one that churns out wonky marketing material with no online appeal.

Failure and the Creative Process

The most anticipated first-day event was "Failure FTW," a late afternoon discussion with The Brothers McMullen director Edward Burns.

"I continually make the same mistakes," said Burns, revealing how the movies he creates to become giant Hollywood hits inevitably fail, while the smaller, more personal movies he makes for his own satisfaction find an audience. If that audience isn't huge, it's at least large enough to fund the next project.

In an entertaining talk, Burns traced his career from "Entertainment Tonight" production assistant to meeting with a porn producer to get funding, a producer who wanted to make sure there was a role for his stripper girlfriend.

"It's come to this, huh?" Burns remembered himself thinking.

A fan of low-cost movie-making, Burns celebrated that the barriers for video are now almost nonexistent, and that it's easier to create a movie than ever before.

"For the first time in history, filmmaking doesn't have to be a capitalistic enterprise," said Burns. Directors are no longer beholden to someone writing a check, which is freeing. "I no longer have to have those questions of doubt."

The first day concluded with the premiere of Limbo, a 19-minute movie by 2010 Vimeo Awards grand prize-winner Eliot Rausch, which chronicles the lives of three illegal immigrants. That was followed by screenings of the winning and the most off-the-wall Vimeo Awards entries.

In sad news for anyone who'd like to experience the Vimeo Festival more often, festival director Boxer revealed that the biennial event would keep its two-year cycle. Having that extra time allows his team to evaluate changes in the online video world and plan a festival that's relevant to the times, he said. It also means there's enough great new content to celebrate at the awards show.

"We learned a lot from out first time out," said Boxer. "We decided to create an event that would allow people to level up in whatever experience that they had." The idea this year was to provide less talk and more action, creating an environment where people felt safe to explore. He hoped participants would leave with "new friends, new projects, and inspiration in one way or another." 

Edward Burns

Edward Burns addresses the Vimeo Festival audience.

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