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Casey Neistat

…because if anyone can make the case for vlogs as a serious art form, it’s this dude. A unique filmmaker who dominates YouTube and the digital sphere, Neistat uses sophisticated camerawork and editing techniques in videos that range from glimpses of his daily life to snowboarding through the streets of Manhattan. In addition to his millions of online views, an HBO show and commercial work for companies such as Nike, Neistat has also launched his own social media and video app, Beme. As one of the pioneers of online media, Neistat created one of the first viral videos, “iPod’s Dirty Secret,” which became a phenomenon even before the existence of YouTube.



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Neistat has stated that, while almost everyone can have good ideas, it’s much harder to actually pull them off. Anyone who has ever tried to make a film understands the reality behind this; and yeah, Edison also said genius is only 1% inspiration. Neistat operates mainly in the vlogosphere – a format that encourages most people to literally turn the camera on themselves and talk straight into it – but what sets him apart from even other successful YouTube personalities is the level of artistry in his compositions and cutting. A typical Neistat vlog will feature him pointing the camera at himself, though usually with some interesting camera movements that track him around the space, perhaps revealing background details, all of which create a sense of energy and visual interest. One of his trademarks is the mid-sentence cut to another location, which seamlessly allows him to formulate an idea in one setting, then finish the thought in a different visual space, generally adding a level of meaning – or at least keeping us from getting bored. Neistat is also able to carry over his aesthetic using different cameras, such as an iPhone or a GoPro, with relative ease, proving another of his famous maxims: gear doesn’t matter. That said, he’s also quick to embrace new technologies such as drones. Especially when you’re making documentaries or dealing with reality-based subjects, there’s never going to be a deficit of good ideas. Making those ideas into something visually interesting…well, that’s kind of the trick.

Although Neistat has worked with HBO and shot commercials, he has maintained that he has very little interest into crossing over into feature films or traditional television. Considering Neistat emerged as one of the first viral video makers, it’s perhaps not a complete surprise that he believes online media represents a viable future. And this definitely makes sense: Neistat has been able to create the videos he wants with little or no obstacles besides the basic execution, largely thanks to streaming video and social media. Even with the more or less daily schedule of vlogging, he’s also managed to find time for somewhat bigger projects such as his bike lane video, which criticized a New York City policy after an officer gave him a ticket for riding on the street. He has also been able to film complicated shots of himself performing more exciting activities, from skateboarding with a camera on himself to dangling from a rope ladder on a helicopter. Despite his forays into adventure and stunt videos (more on that later), Neistat understands that the real power of digital media is in fan engagement. He speaks directly to his viewers, often answering questions or offering tutorials on how to create videos at the level of his. Neistat has also doubled down on the power of direct video through the launch of his social media app, Beme, which allows users to stream 4 seconds worth of video. Ultimately, what drives Neistat in ventures like this is the desire to present a more unfiltered view of reality.

Let’s be honest though…if all Neistat did was talk into the camera, or even criticize Apple products and New York City transport policies, he probably wouldn’t have so many followers. Much of Neistat’s appeal – or at least, the appeal of his persona – is the places he takes the viewer and the insane actions he performs. In some sense, his videos of exotic locations make him a digital update on the travelogue writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. On the other hand, his adventures and stunts, such as snowboarding through the streets of New York on a tow line, come across like scenes from “Jackass” filmed by someone like Werner Herzog (or maybe just with more artistic input from that show’s co-creator, beloved filmmaker Spike Jonze). What’s important about these videos, however, isn’t necessarily the adrenaline rush or brushes with danger, but the fact that Neistat ventures outside his studio space and into the world. While he still remains the focal point of the action, he engages with his surroundings in an interesting – and occasionally even thought-provoking – way.

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Podcasts

Episode 19: Casey Neistat and the Shared Perspective

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Casey Neistat: Don’t look to other advertising for great ideas

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Ledyard native Casey Neistat: Full bore, never boring

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How Director Casey Neistat Went Rogue With Nike’s New Ad

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What We Can Learn from YouTube Sensation Casey Neistat

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Online Ovation: An Analysis of Casey Neistat

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Casey Neistat’s Beme Is a Social App That Aims to Replace Illusions With Reality

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