Casey Neistat: work hard and be brave.
A video appeal to New York.
Watching Casey Neistat’s videos leaves you wishing that you had come up with the idea yourself. Or that you could at least have been part of the fun. The New York-based filmmaker is bold, original and clever in a hands-on kind of way. Or, as one viewer on the filmmaker’s recent “CLA Project” videos for Mercedes-Benz USA commented: “I admire anyone who brings that much crazy to the table”. Usually the star of his own films (and typically seen either running, skateboarding, jumping or occasionally falling while his assistant quietly snickers in the background), Casey is not afraid to speak his mind. In his now famous video appeal to the City of New York about the injustice of being fined for riding his bike on the traffic lane (with currently nine million views), the super fit runner stoically crashes into any obstacle blocking the bike lane — from trashcans to police cars. In his case, “crazy” always comes with a purpose.
The key to success.
Casey Neistat has carved a niche for himself in a world that is becoming increasingly crowded: approximately 72 hours of video are currently uploaded on YouTube alone per minute while TV viewing times are on the decline. When the Connecticut native started out, he had no money, no education of the conventional sort and oh, yes, he had a kid when he was only 17. He started making movies and uploading them on the Internet before most of us even knew what YouTube was. At 32, he’s still at it. “Work hard” is Casey’s no nonsense advice to aspiring filmmakers and clearly the key to his success. See what else he had to say as we spoke prior to our photo shoot with him in New London, Connecticut, at the Ocean Beach Park where he spent his childhood.
Casey Neistat on ...
I have always been fascinated with stories but I am not a good writer, so video was my medium. My maturing as a storyteller in relationship with technology was a natural outcome.
On being self-taught:
What is unique for people in the creative industry is that they are forced to find their own way. If there were a prescribed path to finding success in this industry, I think a lot more people would take it, because this is a great job and it’s a wonderful life. For many, that path involves traditional education but I was forced to find another way.
I couldn’t afford to go to film school, I didn’t have access to resources that could have helped me learn how to do this – so I had to figure it out my way. And that yielded what is now my style.
On the creative process of making a film:
My favourite part of making a film is discovering the story. With Part 3 of the CLA Project we had an idea: let’s film in New York, let’s have me on a skateboard in there and then see what we find, and any obstacle we run into or something we discover becomes part of the narrative. So it is about beginning the process with an idea or an objective rather than a formula and having everything sussed out.
On why scary is good (and compromise is not):
To work this way requires a measure of fearlessness, yes. To me, having to restrict myself to a tight script or storyboard is a compromise. It means to neglect spontaneity, the unknown, that sense of discovery.
I think this way is scarier, but there is comfort in knowing that anything can be discovered.
On creating the CLA Project:
I had free reign with a great deal of respect. The production itself was absolutely mine but the project on the whole was a collaborative effort between myself, Mercedes-Benz and the agency Razorfish. There was always a dialogue so that we’d end up with a video that everyone was really proud of. How do you accomplish something as ambitious as the CLA project? The answer is working with a company that was willing to step outside the box. It was a fantastic experience, indulging my more ambitious creative soul.
On what motivates him:
The one thing I use to quantify my progress in my career is the amount of work that I produce. It has gotten to this place where, if I am not constantly churning out work, I almost become depressed.
The only thing that gives me a sense in forward movement in life is when I am making work. So there’s a strong desire to constantly be creating work.
On the future of online marketing:
What’s new is this inundation of content. You and I are no longer watching TV at the end of the day, with commercials every six minutes. Now we’re behind computer screens eight hours a day, we’re checking Facebook, we’re on YouTube and we’re constantly falling victim to this barrage of media. It has forced people to get really good at ignoring things. As TV viewers, we’re largely reactive, now we’re proactive. We get to decide what we want to watch and what not. We can close a window any time. So how do you get people to still be interested about your brand? My response to that is: tell people a story, a story they care about, whether or not it has to do with the product, because at the end of it, if they enjoyed the experience of the story, their regard for the company will only be raised.
Casey’s advice for young people who want to make films:
Work hard. And I mean that in the most literal way possible. People like the romantic notion of having an epiphany, or innate talent or skill. But the truth is, any success in life — especially in the creative field — requires a tremendous amount of work and there is nothing romantic or sensational or interesting about that so people love to ignore it. And I think that is why it’s much easier to fail in this industry than succeed, because the amount of work required to succeed is tremendous, and there’s no reason to do that work, no boss, no deadline, it’s totally on you and your desire to create. So work hard and be brave, is what I always say. Work hard and take chances. And it definitely scares a lot of people.
On his favourite travel moments:
Absolutely the trips with my kid (15). My son loves the opportunities we have experiencing the world together.
On his daily ritual:
I run. I run 60 to 80 miles a week. For me, running is the time where I can disengage from everything around me, the time where I can think and focus on my day, and it is also the time when I come up with the most ideas.
On what’s next:
Trying to finish this movie about my son. It’s called “My Kid and Me”. I have been working on it for a very long time and I am very excited about it. So, if you’re still hatching that film you want to make, the book you keep meaning to write or the journey to document – remember that just like Casey Neistat, you don’t need permission to be creative and get your work out there. But you must do it. In the words of Scott Belsky: “You’re a free radical, run with it.“