Is Casey Neistat “the innovator of vlogging”? That was the gushing description heaped on the filmmaker in an introduction to his appearance at Vidcon last week. He was all for the hyperbole. “Say it louder,” he said as he sat down for a discussion about his career. As a professional vlogger, part of Neistat’s product (and his charm) is his persona: A blend of daredevil machismo and heartfelt humility. In person and online, he emanates a playful warmth and a deep love for his fans.
In addition to sharing daily videos on his YouTube channel, Neistat is a filmmaker, producer, and director. He has roots in the indie film world, with a producer credit on John and Benny Safdie’s “Daddy Longlegs,” which won an Independent Spirit Award in 2011, and executive producing “The Pleasure of Being Robbed,” which played Cannes in 2008.
But the Internet has welcomed Neistat more warmly than any film festival. In 2003, Neistat released a video lambasting Apple’s battery replacement policy, playing audio of his phone conversation with Apple Support over video of Neistat spray painting a PSA of sorts over Apple advertisements. The story caught the eye of every major news outlet, and shortly thereafter, Apple began a battery replacement program. “iPod’s Dirty Secret” was released three years before YouTube launched (a fact Neistat is quick to bring up), and was viewed over six million times. (Watch it below.) With his brother Van, he created the idiosyncratic HBO show “The Neistat Brothers,” which showcases the same sensibility found in the videos, in 2010. It lasted one season.
But Casey’s brand of “vigilante” video served him well again in 2011, when he turned his attention to the NYPD, filming a relaxed cop sitting in his car issuing Neistat a ticket for riding outside of the bike lane. Neistat comically shows how absurd a missive that is by using only the bike lane and crashing into various taxis, traffic barriers, and even the open bed of an 18-wheeler. For viewers who may not know his name, “bike lane video guy” will surely suffice. But Neistat has mastered the art of engaging with his fans.
“I want to have a relationship with the viewers,” he told the Vidcon audience. “I want to create content that’s much more of a dialogue…We have such a daily rapport. It really is a two-way street. I don’t know if ever in the history of media that has ever happened.”
Earlier this year, Neistat thrilled with a snowboard ride through New York City during January’s epic blizzard. Using a Jeep and a waterskiing rope, Neistat careens through the fresh powder of Times Square as Frank Sinatra sings “New York, New York.” With drone shots and lively cutaways to joyous bystanders’ reactions, “Snowboarding With the NYPD” is ceaselessly charming. “I bought that ridiculous monster truck of a Jeep so that I’d be ready when a blizzard hit New York City,” Neistat said, adding that he and his crew had camped out during a promised storm in 2015, only to wake up to one inch of snow.
Unlike other YouTubers, Neistat has no ambitions to cross over into traditional Hollywood fare: “Don’t waste your time with TV or movies,” he said. “This is where it’s at… Do you really reach the same amount of people in the most meaningful way on TV?”
He noted that his HBO program aired at midnight — not the most preferable moment to reach an audience. “Can you imagine if you could only see the vlogs Friday night at midnight?” he said. “Let go of the ego around it and focus on what matters, which is reaching the audience. And nothing enables that like the Internet.”
Innovator that he is, Neistat is unimpressed with recent innovations in live video, such as Facebook Live and YouTube’s recently announced mobile live-streaming feature. “I always want to watch the NBA playoffs live. But a YouTuber live? I don’t know,” he said. “I would rather see it later and have it edited. I would trade good for live any day of the week.”