Hollywood is a system that relies on gatekeepers that shape the stories, directors, and actors who ultimately get a chance to win over the general public. Conversely, YouTube is the antithesis of what is now viewed as a broken and flawed system in which we are inundated with remakes and a deluge of intellectual property that makes the whole movie-going experience feel like a “rinse and repeat” endeavor.
Although the very nature of YouTube allows anyone an audience – no matter how big or small – the main criticism about the process is that there are hundreds of millions of people speaking, but only a handful of people actually “saying” something. Filmmaker Casey Neistat is definitely in the latter category.
Thanks to his daily vlogging habits which run the gamut of racing through midtown Manhattan traffic in a McLaren 675LT to more solitary marathon-style runs through sleepy New London, Connecticut, Neistat has created a sense of voyeurism that is both inspirational and inclusive. He’s savvy like that; both of and for the people.
It’s hard to imagine a time when YouTube wasn’t around. However, Casey Neistat was already musing about the world in a film context years before the digital explosion.
Casey and Van Neistat’s September 2003 short film, “iPod’s Dirty Secret,” which heavily criticized Apple’s lack of a battery replacement program for their popular music device, was viewed millions of times and picked up by notable sources like Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and the BBC.
Apple announced a battery replacement program in November of that same year – although spokesperson Natalie Sequeira denied any connection between the film and the new policy. Regardless, Neistat was just beginning to forge his recipe for vitality which included a product everyone could relate to – a human emotion like “frustration” which everyone can understand, and of course, his willingness to inject himself into the narrative.
In 2010, HBO came calling – putting The Neistat Brothers in the company of other critically-acclaimed shows like Boardwalk Empire, Treme and How To Make it in America. Casey was 29 at the time and Van was 35. The Washington Post noted, “Their TV show also feels, at times, sprung from the same hipster-indie gestalt that makes a good iPad commercial. In this ideal world of DIY, we are all young and creative urban guerrillas maxing out our credit cards with new computers and movie cameras, telling stories, working on projects and having ‘adventures.'”
During their eight-episode run, more seedlings of Neistat’s filmmaking style began to surface as one segment found him interacting with his son, Owen, who he has called one of his biggest “inspirations” through the year, to a more adventurous scenario that saw the brothers climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Despite being referred to by the Hollywood Reporter as “to film what Dr. Seuss is to literature: charming, witty, low-key, even lower-tech, disarmingly honest and deceptively simple,” ultimately the show was cancelled after one season.
Perhaps Variety’s review best summed up the experience, writing, “I had absolutely nothing to say about it.”
Maybe the content was too mundane and “real” for the cable network. Thankfully, the rise in YouTube’s popularity and the very nature of what populated their video player, Casey now had another prominent platform to engage an audience who might “get” it.
If there is one dirty word in the content creating business, it’s the idea of going “viral.” Everyone wants their content to exceed expectations and get swept up in a hard-charging campaign buoyed by Facebook likes and link dumps. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that Casey Neistat has achieved a perfect formula, but he has amassed an audience of 2.3 million subscribers – up 1 million in the last six months alone – which gives him the possibility of viral “success” by simply posting a daily vlog.
Neistat’s 2011 video, “Bike Lanes,” could explain what has made him one of the most successful and popular YouTubers after a run-in with one of New York City’s finest while on a bicycle prompted him to make a critique on the state of transit.
“The sirens go on so I kind of get out of his way because I assume he’s flying by,” Neistat said at the time. “He just rolled down the window, took my driver’s license and handed me a ticket.”
After he was fined for riding outside of the bike line – which technically wasn’t even a fineable offense at the time – the filmmaker proceeded to treat his body and bicycle like a crash test dummy by crashing into seemingly every obstruction he would encounter if he solely had to rely on the small parcel of land set aside for commuters on two wheels.
“It didn’t take us long,” he said. “We were out for about five minutes before we found a huge construction site in the middle of a bike lane and that was the first thing that I just crashed right into.”
In a matter of days, “Bike Lanes” had drawn 4 millions views.
Even then New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was aware that Casey Neistat’s video existed. “I don’t know if we gave a ticket out that we shouldn’t have,” he told CBS2. “I haven’t seen the video, but generally speaking, you have to obey the laws.”
In an ironic twist of fate, in May of 2011, the city’s Department of Transportation rolled out a campaign called “Don’t Be a Jerk” about the benefits of a shared road space. Who did they hire to create their vision? Casey Neistat.
To date, “Bike Lanes” has over 16 million views and 208,000 likes. People enjoy the video so much it has even been recreated in GTA V.
- featured/main image: resourcemagonline.com