What is there to say which hasn’t been said already? The man is a genius. Having followed him and his work for years, I’ve invested an unhealthy amount of time into watching, and rewatching his content. Casey is the man that can, he has shed the shackles of ordinary film-making and has made a name for himself exposing, exploring and documenting stories he is passionate about. ‘Sounds like a fairly ordinary indie film-maker’ you may say, but you’d be wrong. With the recent introduction of a daily vlog, Neistat followers around the world have been allowed into Casey’s world, have been allowed an insight into the never-before-seen comings and goings of his daily life. It’s through watching these vlogs and being able to experience a day with Casey on such an intimate level, that I can so confidently say that this man does things differently.
Here is Casey showing us a ‘quick and easy’ way to dry your trousers after having been out in the rain – with a high powered heat gun used for paint stripping. Its these little nuances and quirks of Casey’s, demonstrated so wonderfully in his daily vlog, which set him apart. I simultaneously love and hate his disregard for his material possessions. I find myself grinning – sharing in his excitement – as he rips open the packaging for a new laptop, but then wincing in horror as he scratches the lid with an oversized knife. I love how he customises his tools with a sloppily engraved name and address but then cringe at the loss in re-sale value and in damaging the clean lines and shiny finish of the original product. It’s during these instances that I catch myself wincing, and wince instead at the dull, mature values so deeply ingrained in me – I find myself wishing for a little more ‘Casey’ and a little less ‘Oh no, wait, no look here, see…’
So how does this unique attitude apply to his filmmaking, to his professional craft? I find with Casey what you see is what you get, and that the person he presents to us is the person he truly is inside. Without sounding pretentious, this confidence of self and lack of insecurity is a key idea in Eastern Philosophy, it relates to one of the central ideas believed to bring about the state of ‘Nirvana’ – Casey seems genuinely content with his life and this gives him unbelievable creative freedom in his work. He is privileged to be in such a position and many would argue that it’s not difficult to be happy when you’ve ‘made it’ but Casey didn’t have the easiest of childhoods and I think its his story focused, highly motivated approach which allows him to create such compelling content.
“Tell a great story, tell a great story really well, and people will forgive whatever gear you shoot it on…”
If you take one of Neistats films – let’s use Devil’s Pool as an example (go watch it!) – it is instantly recognisable as one of his works. There is an imperfection to his content which perfectly matches and compliments his personality. The title sequence is Tipp-Ex scrawled on pictures, the type is messy and barely styled to fit. But it’s legible and it does the job, it’s totally no frills and it just works. Casey doesn’t often lock down the camera, stabilization is used sparingly, camera moves are kept simple and his frame composition comes across as beautifully coincidental. Elements coincide across the image as if by accident and the editing doesn’t feel bound by the rules laid down in Film School 101. Transitions aren’t necessarily to the beat of the music and beautiful shots are left to linger on screen, rather than be cut away from to keep the audience interested. I wouldn’t describe his process as ‘carefree’ or ‘unintentional’, but rather as a deliberate effort to remain… casual, and most importantly story driven. I believe his content is refreshing precisely because he doesn’t place an emphasis on the process of filmmaking; which cameras and lenses to use, capturing spotlessly clean audio, or composing every scene and frame to the millimetre. It is not to discount the minutiae of filmmaking as superfluous or detrimental to the final product, but rather that all filmmakers could probably take a thing or two from Casey’s no-messing approach – spending less time set dressing, and more time capturing and telling really great stories.