Vimeo's just-launched Brand Creative Fund premieres its first short today. As one of four films that interpret the theme "Hello Again," it's designed to jumpstart the 80-year-old Lincoln Motor Company brand.
It's a partnership that could be positioned as a savior or the antichrist -- or it could be the rare instance where art and commerce forge a symbiotic relationship.
In some ways, the Brand Creative Fund is not unlike a standard advertising arrangement. Vimeo acted as the agency, vetting Vimeo community filmmakers Eliot Rausch, Lucy McRae, Jeff Frost, and Becky & Joe; the client, Lincoln, approved their selection.
The primary differences lay in the budget (modest, unlike most commercials) and the creative freedom (much more than most commercials).
Although filmmakers had to first provide a synopsis of their ideas prior to starting work and Lincoln got final approval, the filmmakers were granted "a tremendous amount of creative freedom," according to Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor.
At its most basic, it’s a tradeoff: Filmmakers get funding; brands get indie cred and cheap talent. One of the selected filmmakers, Eliot Rausch, acknowledges that he initially had a fair amount of skepticism about the proposition.
"Does the brand relationship dilute the potency or the purity of something we would have created on our own?" asks Rausch. "As much as they're offering this free and transparent liberated non-confined creative expression, is there any bait and switch? Are they just using us to sell more cars?"
One of the reasons Rausch gave Lincoln the benefit of the doubt was trust in another brand: Vimeo.
"I've been on Vimeo for four years," he says. "I fell in love with Vimeo culture and everything they've been trying to do for the community. I've seen them as family."
After Rausch uploaded his short film, "Last Minutes with Oden," on Vimeo in 2010, the documentary went on to win the inaugural Vimeo Film Festival, was named by Time as one of 2010's top Web films, and helped land Rausch many commercial jobs and other assignments.
However, when Rausch first heard about the Lincoln project, his initial instinct was to pass because he didn't think he "had an idea that was fresh and readily available to capture."
But, before he had the chance to decline the offer, Rausch had an inspiration while visiting his parents.
"I was on my phone answering e-mails and my dad said I was too distracted. Then I thought, 'This is the idea.' It's about digital distraction and how interfacing with technology is affecting our relationships," says Rausch.
If he didn't have the possibility of a commission for the project, Rausch might not have ever made the film.
"Even though the funding was small, it exorcised the demons in a more efficient way that I normally would. I probably would have slept on the idea and it may never have come to fruition," says Rausch.
Rausch shrugs off those who would say he’s sold out. The Lincoln commission, he says, "was encouragement to freely open my heart and explore something meaningful."
"I know other artists would call me a sellout," says Rausch. "But it gets me excited that there is almost this European sensibility in treating the filmmaker as a storyteller. The brand is just trying to facilitate their vision. It's a beautiful thing."
Frost, a photographer-filmmaker who had already done commercial work, had no hesitations about working on the Lincoln project.
"The project, as described to me, was so open-ended and fun," says Frost. "My work already fits their theme. So I got to make a piece of art that I had always wanted to make anyway. Essentially, it was a sponsored art film. It was an incredibly ideal situation.”
"It seems to be mutually beneficial all fronts,” he says. “Lincoln gets talent a little cheaper, Vimeo does well and, as someone who is starting out, I do well on it too," says Frost.
The Fund is also a way for Vimeo to generate revenue. Vimeo's Trainor says other potential partnerships are in the works, although no deals have been signed yet.
"We'd like to do as many of these as we can," says Trainor. "We really view it as something we can offer brands that unlocks what makes Vimeo unique as a global community for high quality creators. There's a whole new world of video content."
Trainor says other Vimeo filmmakers are eager to participate in the next Fund, but currently there’s no set way for interested parties to apply.
"A big part of the Fund for us is creating opportunities not only for the advertisers, but also for the creators," says Trainor. "We are thinking about ways that we could potentially tap that interest and develop a list of filmmakers who are proactively raising their hands to say 'I want to do this.'"
At some point, Trainor says, he could even see a brand signing on to produce a full-length feature. At the moment, though, he acknowledges, "it's just a pie-in-the-sky idea."
Watch the short below: