- YouTuber Casey Neistat turned to that platform because he appreciated the direct distribution model and relative freedom to create videos that he believes in.
- Neistat is worried that more and more content is being created for commercial success and based more on analytics than artistic vision.
- However, he thinks it is wonderful that the barrier to entry for filmmakers and creators has dropped. Neistat says he understands why young people now want to be content creators rather than directors.
He explains, “If I had known how to make movies the proper way, then, I would have never gone to Walmart and bought two of their cheapest cameras and turned that into a show that was on HBO. It was that lack of understanding of the right way to do things that forced us to find our own path. And I think that was a virtue.”
Neistat is probably most famous for his work as a YouTuber, but he notes that wasn’t his original goal. After all, his current career “wasn’t an option” when he first started creating videos.
He believed that playing around with iMovie 1.0 and experimenting with exporting video to VHS tapes would be the stepping stone to becoming a filmmaker. And despite all the challenges, Neistat says, “I was able to use those stepping stones ultimately to actually become a formal filmmaker and make movies that were in film festivals and shot on celluloid like real film.”
Neistat did, eventually find success, but he also chafed at some of the strictures inherent in working with large companies.
In 2010, “Daddy Longlegs” (a collaboration with the Safdie brothers) premiered at Cannes and Sundance, winning several awards.
That same year, Neistat says, “HBO bought my show [“The Neistat Brothers”]. I felt like I had achieved a tremendous amount of success, more than I could have imagined in the traditional film world. And I kind of hated it. Like I hated the process.”
Specifically, Neistat disliked the distribution part. First, HBO waited two years to release it — and then, he recalls, they slotted it in at midnight on Friday. Neistat says, “I felt completely out of control. Like we put our everything into making this content and the method of sharing it was just so misaligned.”
So he thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to get back to being that kid… making the videos that I liked, and just figuring out the best means of getting them to people.” Then he says, “I put my head down and just started focusing just on YouTube.”
And miraculously, it worked out.
“I spent years making this HBO show, years getting it out to HBO, all this marketing behind it. Nobody saw it, and then I make this silly little video and you know millions and millions of people saw. That showed me something about distribution,” Neistat says.
It also showed him the potential “commercial opportunities” of YouTube.
Today, Neistat says, “Instead of looking to like Kubrick or Spielberg to say, ‘That’s what I want to be like,’ now, people are looking at creators, saying, ‘That’s the world that I want to be in.’ So I think, aspirationally, there’s been this gigantic, this seismic shift.”
And why wouldn’t people want to be YouTubers in the current environment?
Neistat says, “Formal filmmakers like me, we’re starting to turn to YouTube. And now, you’re seeing YouTubers that just have incubated their talent so profoundly, that they’re able to reach out and go to new places. Bo Burnham with his movies. And what he’s done is he’s a tremendous example of that.”
But nonetheless, Neistat says, “The most undervalued aspect is patience. Patience is everything. Like if you’re starting today, and you’re, like, I want to do this, if you’re not prepared to do it for the next 10 years without any success, then don’t start at all.”
He warns, “I think that YouTube and social media has really messed up our perspective on that, there’s this expectation that you should be able to explode, this expectation because the barrier to entry is so low.”
“Everything now that you’d ever need access to be a great filmmaker is kind of at our fingertips. And I think that’s an amazing thing,” Neistat says. He explains, “We now have access to all of that stuff [to make films], even if for you, it just means a phone.”
Mr. Beastification Vs. Finding Your Voice
In addition to concerns over unrealistic expectations, Neistat is also worried about YouTube’s increasing homogeneity, or “MrBeastiffication,” as he refers to content that is driven by analytics.
In contrast, Neistat says he lives by the Rick Rubin maxim: “the time for commercial considerations is after the work is complete.”
For Neistat that means, “Your movie is complete, then you say okay, how do we? How do we actually make money off of this? And that’s what I believe. That’s what I subscribed to. That’s what I do.”
But Jimmy Donaldson’s approach to creating YouTube videos “is the very opposite of that,” Neistat says. “He has a team of geniuses that break down his video second by second to break up. When was the peak engagement. OK, when did we lose engagement? Alright, what was happening in that moment? How do we get rid of that? It is the scientific approach to making videos that has worked when it comes to really garnering views and making this incredible business and industry that he is uniquely created. I commend him for that. But that’s not why I’m in it at all.”
Nonetheless, Neistat says, “I think he’s opened doors and done things on a platform that no one thought was possible.”
“What Jimmy does is exceptional,” Neistat says, “but he’s the guy with the flute walking through town like this, and behind him are 10,000 rats copying him. They might have good views, but none of them stand out.”
Neistat admits: “There’s two kinds of people in this world: Those who care about their views and liars. It hurts when you don’t get the views. But at the end of the day, at the end of the day, it is the work that you have to stand with.”
He also contrasts MrBeast’s approach with one he admires for a different reason: “You think Quentin Tarantino is like screen testing his movies to check which parts are the most engaging? Or do you think he’s just giving everyone the middle finger until the movie is done and then folds his arms and he’s like, release it like that, or never release it? Pretty sure it’s the latter. And that’s why we respect him. That’s why his movies you’ll watch over and over and over. That’s why his movies make you want to go buy a camera and create yourself.”
After all, he says, “The movies that we appreciate for their artistic contributions to the universe never align with the movies that the most people show up and pay for to see.”