Casey Neistat: The maverick filmmaker

Meet the YouTube sensation who is redefining what it means to be a filmmaker.

From the Series

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“There’s a typical way movies are made that I know nothing about,” admits Casey Neistat in this interview with Design Indaba. But the indie filmmaker is undeterred; in fact, it is his greatest strength.

“I was never taught the right way to make movies, which forced me to find my own path and figure out my own way of getting there,” says the New York-based filmmaker.

Neistat never went to film school. He dropped out of high school at 15, had a son at 17 and became a “professional dishwasher”. Things began to change after he “maxxed out his credit card” to buy an iMac that he could edit his own movies on.  

Now a TV commercial director, Neistat has become a YouTube sensation making movies that reel in upwards of 12 million views. While he has made a series for HBO – a reality show called The Neistat Brothers starring his brother and himself – he prefers the honesty and accessibility of YouTube. 

His process, he says, is to start with an idea and then venture out to capture as much real-life footage as he can, often becoming the subject of his movies as well.

"It’s in the edit that I find the actual movie,” he explains.

His subject matter ranges from Apple's lack of a battery replacement program for the iPod (for which he first shot to prominence in 2003), to webcam chat site Chatroulette to New York City’s bike lanes.

He relates to Quentin Tarantino’s “irrational addiction to watching movies” and is inspired by Werner Herzog’s dogged persistence – “whatever it takes to make a movie”, he says.

“To tell a story, you have to understand what it might mean,” he tells us. “Telling a story is sharing an experience, whatever that may be.”