Casey Neistat, The 5-Minute Auteur



1_CaseyNeistat01_061Photographed by Winnie Au
Two-and-a-half hours of bombast, pomp, and awesome special effects? Nope. Six minutes of handcrafted video is practically an epic in New York-based director and producer Casey Neistat's oeuvre — but he could not care less. On YouTube, more than 150 million avid viewers have watched his crafty, idiosyncratic, DIY-style shorts on subjects as far-ranging as calorie-counting, mountain-bike flipping, and bike lanes. Are you smelling a certain slice-of-life, granular-documentary thing going on here? Good.

"So, I make movies. Um, that's just the most general way of saying it," says Neistat trying to explain his work in the Tribeca loft that he's transformed into a cluttered-yet-efficient workshop, which serves as his ersatz one-man production studio. "The first movie I ever made was about taking my 18-month-old son on his first train ride. But it wasn't a 'home video.' I didn't shoot video to shoot video. I shot it, then came home and tried to figure out how to make it into a little story. Which is exactly what I do now; I'm just better at it now."

In fact, Neistat's so good at it that clients like Nike, Mercedes-Benz, and The New York Times have paid for him to whip up his crunchy, always-somewhat-subversive shorts just to get some reflection off his most salient quality — authenticity. Still, to hear Neistat tell it, all that shouldn't be surprising. After all, he says, homemade, handmade mini-stories are the future of filmmaking now that everyone has a high-quality camera on their phone.

So, amid the jerry-rigged studio equipment of his workshop, Neistat took a little time out to explain the future of filmmaking to us, the importance of story, and why making a movie might be cheaper than painting a portrait.

2_CaseyNeistat01_167Photographed by Winnie Au

Ignorance Is the Mother of Invention
“The truth is I never tried to come up with a new style; I was just never taught the way you're supposed to do it. When you're never taught the way you're supposed to do things, you find your own path. Story is all I care about, I'm not a good enough writer, so I needed the images to hide behind. Embracing my ignorance is what yielded my style.”

Artist's Palate
“YouTube is the greatest distribution platform in the history of moving images. It takes an elitist, very expensive art form and remakes it for the masses. The change I'm referring to is happening online, not in movie theaters. Right now, it's less expensive and easier to make a movie than it is to make a painting. You can shoot and edit a movie on your iPhone, upload it straight to YouTube, distribute it to the world, and it costs zero in intrinsic expenses. But if you want to make a painting, you have to buy the canvas, the paint brushes, the oils, and all of that.”

The YouTube Generation
“With the ubiquity of moving images on YouTube and the Internet, the younger generation is becoming immune to the qualitative differences in what they're seeing. They don't care if what they’re looking at was shot on 35 millimeter, 70 millimeter, a point-and-shoot, or something in between. They just know if it's a great story that they can sink their teeth into. It's very, very early, but we’re seeing an entire generation of creators with new styles and new tones that sees moving image as an entirely accessible, fair, egalitarian medium.”
3_CaseyNeistat01_244Photographed by Winnie Au

Theater Buff
“I have a tendency to be a real optimist. Like I struggle to think of the last movie I saw that I did not like. I have a tendency to like everything! I love the old-school experience of going to a movie theater and being in a big room, surrounded by strangers, watching a movie and sharing that.”

Home Maker
“There’s so much involved with filmmaking, so many details and technicalities that are involved in making a movie — so the goal of my studio is to provide an environment for me where there are none of those obstructions. It breeds this kind of crazy aesthetic, this kind of crazy environment.”

Short-Term Goals
“I get asked a lot why I haven't made a feature yet or why I haven't done another TV series yet. And, the truth is, if that's really where my heart was, I would pursue that with the same level of aggression or commitment as I do with the shorts that I'm making right now.”

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Grooming by Andrew Colvin.