IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED Casey Neistat‘s explosive progression over the last couple years, you’re probably already familiar with his genius for transforming the marketing campaigns of huge brands (see: Mercedes, Nike) into epic personal missions, which in turn become ultra successful on YouTube.
Using simple camera gear and iMovie 6, his DIY production aesthetic and unapologetically transparent storytelling style makes him one of the most inspiring and relevant filmmakers working today.
This past November, a few days after the typhoon in the Philippines struck, Neistat was solicited by Fox studios to shoot a promo video for their upcoming release, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Neistat agreed as long as he could take every penny of the budget and use it towards disaster relief in the Philippines. Over the past 24 hours (and more than 350,000 views), the video has generated interesting discussion on everything from how we help and inspire one another to marketing in the digital age. I wanted to know more, and asked Casey a few quick questions.
DM: Looking at places on the internet who’ve posted your video, I’m interested to know what you’d tell the cynics and haters calling out the fact that the humanitarian relief effort story is part of a Fox studio promotion.
CN: Fuck them. At the end of the day we were able to help people. If Fox hadn’t taken a chance with this then no one would’ve benefited. If in the end this project (which I took no payment for) benefits a movie or movie studio then so be it, I don’t have another way of coming up with $25k to help people and I bet the cynics don’t either. To be cynical about that is something I don’t understand.
What you did was so bold: sourcing food, arranging logistics, distributing supplies. All without organization of an NGO, etc. and yet the video makes it look easy. What were the challenges you couldn’t / didn’t show?
Too many to list. We met with, spoke with, tried to connect with so so many people. We used twitter, friends, the guy from our hotel, everyone. We reached out to NGOs; we tried everything we could think of. Launching our own mission as we did in the end was the last thing I thought we’d do. It didn’t seem possible at the time.
A key point in the movie was that you relied on social media to organize on the ground (“It all started with a tweet.”) I noticed the typhoon seemed to be the first truly “Instagrammed” humanitarian effort as well. Any takeaways for future humanitarian relief missions and organizing / spreading awareness via social media?
I thought the awareness from the typhoon was terrible. It did not get the attention it should’ve, so I hope this isn’t indicative of where we are headed.
You’ve become super successful at getting brands to let you transform their marketing budgets into very personal, epic, and — in this case — altruistic initiatives. How have you accomplished this? Does it go beyond advertisers just being able to bank on your productions going viral?
My personal work seems to resonate so when brands come to me why would they want me to do anything but what I normally do. If they wanted something generic they would just go to someone else.
Along similar lines: Are you hopeful that the story gives lift to the studio / The Secret Life of Walter Mitty? Does it really matter?
I hope the story brings attention to the ongoing struggles of the people of Tacloban. Their battle is so far from over and their need for help is ongoing.
Your work strikes an amazing balance of “viral” with “meaningful.” What advice do you have for other filmmakers who want to walk this line?
Don’t worry about viral. It’s a gross word. Just make great work and it will find an audience.
What do you call that ‘shaka’-like hand-sign that people threw there with their thumb and index finger? What does it mean?
The question of the year right there. Everyone did it, we never figured out what it meant.