Casey Neistat – Anatomy Of A Successful Vlogger
In a career that spans a feather over 17-years, Casey Neistat has done it all.
He was a high-school dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He’s quit a career with HBO to hang out his own shingle. He’s decided to make videos on YouTube that were not monetized for the longest time, despite getting millions of hits. He made A $25-million deal with CNN, which later fell through.
When he’s not busy making his own movies, he makes advertisements and short movies for brands, which he calls his ‘dream job’. His ad-film making resume is nothing short of sensational. He’s made ads for Mercedes Benz, Nike & Google. He’s also a motivational speaker by the way.
At a time when most content creators would jump through hoops to score a movie deal, here’s a guy who decides to walk out after making one hugely-successful film that’s screened in Cannes.
What’s it about Casey Neistat that separates him from the rest of the world? Let’s decode the anatomy of one of the most successful indie filmmakers and vloggers of all time.
Teen Father on Welfare in NYC
Casey Owen Neistat was born in Gales Ferry, Connecticut on March 25th 1981 to Amy and Barry Neistat. Barry co-owns a coffee shop called Muddy Waters in New London Connecticut, which Casey visits in one of his Vlogs.
He’s spoken a few times about his mom too in his videos. There’s also some reports that suggest that she features in one of his BMW adverts. But we couldn’t dig that up.
His grandmother Louise Neistat though, features in many of his videos. As does his elder brother Van, with whom he used to collaborate in his early days as a filmmaker. In one of his early snapchat videos, which he used to share before he started vlogging, you can also see his twin sisters.
Okay. Enough about the family. At the grand age of 16, during his Sophomore year, Casey decided to drop out of school, leave his family (he’d run away from home before) and move in with his then girlfriend Robin Harris. At the age of 17, his son Owen was born. This was 1998.
To support the family, he worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant and did a wide range of other jobs that aren’t exactly boast-worthy. In the year 2000, he decided to move to New York city to try his luck in film making. His girlfriend wasn’t too impressed. To think of it, she made it through some of the toughest years when they lived in a trailer park. But that was the final straw. They separated.
So, Casey reached New York city with an infant in tow and no money in his pocket. Naturally, he ended up on welfare.
Battery & Assault
In 2001, Casey and his elder brother Van started to make indie videos by setting up a tiny makeshift studio called ‘Neistat Brothers’ in Tribeca. The videos were, well pretty mundane for the most part. You can find some of it in this archive. Until the Apple iPod one happened in 2003, which went viral.
The story goes like this. Casey had picked himself a swanky iPod in 2002, a few months after the grand launch. 18-months later, the battery died and refused to be resuscitated despite repeated attempts. After a visit to Apple’s megastore in NYC didn’t result in anything fruitful, Casey and his brother Van called Apple Support and filmed the interaction.
The video, in which an Apple support executive called ‘Ryan’ mechanically drones on about the steep cost of labor and repair, and advises Casey to buy himself a new iPod instead, was an instant hit.
The Neistats called it ‘Apple’s dirty secrets’ and it garnered over 1-million hits. You’ve got to remember that this was the pre-social media era. So they bought a domain (www.ipodsdirtysecret.com) and uploaded the video on it. In the latter part of the video, Casey can be seen spray painting his warning about iPod’s irreplaceable battery with a dismal lifespan, all over New York city.
The Neistat brothers had arrived with their bold, guerilla-styled videos. Here’s the video in case some of you are interested.
The HBO Deal & the first film
Five years later, the brothers sold their first TV show to HBO for $2 million. It was an autobiographical, experimental series called ‘The Neistat Brothers’ which premiered on HBO in 2010.
According to Casey, it was a bunch of short films which they lumped together. The reviews were meh and HBO gave it a 30-minute midnight slot. So, it would be fair to say that they weren’t too impressed with it either. The HBO-glory ended prematurely and with it, also ended his professional collaboration with his brother Van.
In the same year, he produced ‘Daddy Longlegs’, his first feature that released internationally and earned him an ‘Independent Spirit award’ at Sundance. But this excitement was short lived too, as Casey got a firsthand taste of the bureaucratization of the industry. The film’s title was changed to ‘Go Get Some Rosemary’ in Europe without his authorization. He wasn’t too impressed.
He says that this incident is what bought him to YouTube. In the same year, Casey uploaded his first video on YouTube, which was a fledgling platform back then, rather than the behemoth that it has transformed into. It was a public service announcement about emergency brakes on New York Metro cars. Not too interesting to be honest. But it did garner quite a few views back then.
In 2011, he received a $50 ticket for not riding his bike in the bike lane. Believe it or not, he turned this into a video titled ‘Bike Lanes’ which showed the obstructions that one typically encounters while riding in the designated bike lane. The video was featured in the Time Magazine’s Top 10 Everything of 2011. It turned things around for Casey in a big way. It has 27-million views at the time of writing this.
The New York Times happens
In the next few years, Casey made videos about anything and everything including, the New York city soda ban & mostly, his family. We believe that this was the first step towards his Vlogging career, which was four years away.
But the Time Mag feature had earned him a fair amount of press. Interviews in the New York Times and the Guardian followed. Soon, brands started to reach out to him wanting him to use his freestyle film making to shoot adverts for them.
Nike was one of the first ones, for their athletic activity trackers. But Casey being Casey, took the entire budget for the advertisement and took off on a world trip shooting his travelogue. He edited the footage and turned it into an ad. The video called ‘Make it count’ (part of the ad slogan) was an instant viral sensation and remains Nike’s most viewed commercial till date with 31.2 million views. That’s the Casey Neistat mantra. Rather than following a mundane ad script, he takes the message and gives it a whirl. Most times, it’s a home run.
More brand adverts followed. This time, handing over the creative reigns to Casey. Google, Mercedes, Finn Jewelry & Samsung were added to his portfolio as an ad-film maker. The ads were personalized but in sync with the brand message. A win-win for both, the creator and the client.
BEME & the 25-million deal
In 2015, Casey developed a video application called BEME. He called it an alternative to the highly edited content one usually finds online. BEME allowed users to record 8-10 second clips without the option to edit them.
These clips would then be uploaded to the user’s followers drawing reactions. Basic premise. But it worked phenomenally well. Within a week of the app’s release, 1.1 million videos were shared on it. CNN bought it for a whopping $25 million. A deal that later fell-through and the app was removed from Apple store and Play store in 2017.
The Casey Neistat Vlog
What would you do if you have just struck a $25-millon deal? Most people would chill for a couple of years. Go on a longish holiday maybe. Casey Neistat decides to start Vlogging. It’s not even a once-in-a-while vlog mind you.
This was an everyday vlog of him doing random stuff. He calls it the Tarzan Method of making content. He made a $12 McDonald’s burger. He flew first class on a ticket that cost $21000. His subscriber count just ballooned. Within two years, he went from zero to 5-million subscribers. When the CNN deal fell through, he resumed making video content.
What better way to announce his next move than restarting his defunct Vlog. This was an announcement video for 368, his latest venture which is a platform for content creators who can collaborate and inspire each other.
368 also marked his return to daily vlogging. As expected the channel took off again. 368 is also the address for a large studio at 368, Broadway, which used to be the former three-storied office for BEME.
Life Lessons from Casey Neistat
Casey Neistat is an inspiration for millions of aspiring filmmakers, YouTubers and content creators. But what does it take for someone to be as successful as Casey? Here’s a glimpse at his channel’s current stats.
Subscribers – 12.3 Million
Total Views – 2.96 Billion
His net worth (Estimated) – $16-million
Here are some of the key life lessons that we can borrow from his incredible journey so far.
- No Job is too small – Here’s a guy who’s made burgers, washed dishes and worked as a bike messenger for a living. He’s slept in He also cracked a $25-million deal with CNN as we know and has made advertisements for Mercedes and Google. Oh, was also featured in the Time Magazine. The point is, no job is really small as long as it takes you one step closer to your goal.
- Find your passion – You’ve got to find something that makes you want to sacrifice everything and chase it. For Casey, it was film making. Even when he had $800 in his pocket and 9/11 happened (he stayed pretty close to the WTC), he decided to hang on. Because he wanted to make films. That’s all that he ever wanted to do. All the jobs that he did over the years, were to generate enough revenue so that he could fund his own films. That’s what he did and that’s what made him successful.
- Keep Hustling – If you have not reached your goal, you’ve got to keep hustling. As made evident by his success, the gear doesn’t matter. Your credentials don’t matter either.
- The Rat Race is not everything – A lot of content creators get stuck in the rat race trying to chase studios and go through bureaucracy to make their maiden film or show. But as Casey says, there’s a large filter that separates your art from the audience it deserves. That filter are the bureaucrats who make decisions about your work, which you may or may not even get a chance to alter. With the internet, there’s no issue of distribution anymore. All you need is a cellphone and an internet connection. If you find that the rat race isnt for you, you can always find other ways to distribute your content.
- It’s okay to f**k up – A lot of people look at Casey Neistat’s life and get inspired. But what they are focusing on is Casey Neistat post-2011, when the Bike Lanes video happened and big brand collabs happened. But the guy struggled for years before that. Not all of the decisions he made were right straight away. 9 months after he eloped with his wife in 2005, he annulled his relationship before reconciling with her in 2013. They are married to date.
- Be Consistent – Even when his first feature film made it to Cannes, even when he was making advertisements for big brands, even when he cracked a deal with CNN, he never stopped making videos. In fact, his daily Vlog had a new video every day at 8 am. That’s despite all the travelling that he did during that time. That’s consistency at its best. Even his videos follow a consistent edit/styling.
- Be authentic – Take any of his ads or his videos and you will find it to be different from the previous one. He has a refreshing attitude that reflects in his content. The authenticity is a big part of his success as a film maker.
- Don’t be afraid to fail – From making a video about jumping mothballs because he couldn’t afford actors, to shutting down one of the most successful YouTube channels of all times, he’s never been afraid of failure. In one of his motivational speeches, he says that the fear of failure has never deterred him from making bold decisions. If he fails, he will go back to washing dishes.
- Don’t be afraid to bend the rules – Last but not the least, never be afraid to think out of the box. Who else would have dared to take Nike’s advertising budget and go on a world trip, edit the footage, and turn it into an ad? What’s even more incredible is that he presented the ad to shocked Nike executives. Balls of steel. By the way, he repeated this feat when he was commissioned to make a promotional video for a Ben Stiller Movie.
The takeaway is this. Don’t try to imitate Casey Neistat. Instead, find your voice. Believe in yourself and your ability. Maybe you can do what nobody has ever done before.