THE NEISTAT BROTHERS (HBO): Casey Neistat Interview

Casey Neistat

Casey Neistat

This is the second part of THE NEISTAT BROTHERS (Read Van’s interview here) in which I talk to Casey Neistat who answers a similar set of questions than his brother, Van but also talks about the new iPhone and his ideas regarding shooting a feature film.

For someone who’s not familiar with your work how would you describe ‘The Neistat Brothers’ on HBO?

Casey Neistat: That’s a good question. It’s like a journal of our lives and each entry is in the form of a short movie. I think that’s pretty close.

Can you talk about the process of filming each episode? It’s six weeks of your lives, correct?

Casey Neistat: Yeah. The technical process which is interesting in it’s own right but I think the creative process is what’s more intriguing to me.

For example, episode two is the all Amsterdam movie about maple syrup. The approach to that movie wasn’t, ‘Lets make this movie about Amsterdam and maple syrup.’ The concept was, ‘Lets go to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is fun.’ So we flew to Amsterdam with our cameras and we saw what happened and then we got back and we sat down and we said, ‘What’s the movie here.’ That’s when we realized that the movie was ‘The Maple Syrup Saga’.

We lived our lives and we did the best we could to film our lives and then we figured out what the movies were and what the TV show was afterwards. There’s always a loose idea of what we’re trying to capture but we never really knew what the fuck we were doing. We just kind of filmed everything and then tried to figure out what stories we wanted to share when we got back to the studio and sat down and tried to edit something together.

Van mentioned that the process of editing is even more important than the filming because it’s putting the story together. Do you agree with that?

Casey Neistat: Yeah, and I think that’s never more true than in this series because the process of filming in this series, at the end of the day all we had was a bunch of clips that were not so far off from your home movies. That’s literally all we had, clip after clip after clip. A lot of times we’d be talking and narrating into the camera but we really just had clips. Clips of Van driving up to Maine and buying t-shirting and fucking off with his wife and then turned that into a movie about hunting down your bio-dad. Clips of Owen and me screwing off in the grocery store buying cool-ade and then turning that movie into the ‘Blue Giant’ movie.

I think it’s all about editing. Van always says this funny thing. He gets really pissed off and really frustrated when people say, ‘I shot this awesome movie. All I have to do is edit.’ He takes that personally because the edit is everything. It’s not ‘all I have to do’. The edit is it. That’s the whole key. I always see the filming as basically going to the grocery store and buying a bunch of ingredients and that’s about as far from having a dinner as you can possibly be. Then editing is the cooking, the preparation of the meal and if you don’t edit it you’ve just got a pile of raw meat.

Can you talk a bit about how you viewed the process of making the series and pitching it to a major network?

Casey Neistat: Without trying to be redundant to what Van told you, I can give you my personal perspective on it. Van and I did this with Tom Scott, who’s the guy that produced this. He’s the one that stepped up and said, ‘Lets make a TV show.’ I think that somewhere in the back of Tom’s head he always knew we’d be able to sell this or do something big with this, but prior to selling this to HBO all Van and I had ever done was a bunch of short films and put them on them on the internet.

We’d done miscellaneous jobs but nothing with the profile of an HBO. We never had any idea and six episodes through our eight episode agreement with Tom, Tom said, ‘Lets go out to L.A. and shop this around.’ It was incredibly foreign to me and I think that in the same capacity it was incredibly foreign to Van.

We had no idea what was going on and we showed it to these various networks and got a pretty varied response to it but just the whole idea of us sitting there with, and I even hesitate to call it a show at that point in time, but the idea of us sitting there with this thing that we had shot with our little pocket cameras and edited in iMovie, sitting down with these major television networks discussing whether or not they want to buy and broadcast our TV show was a pretty phenomenal experience.

Then HBO was the pie in the sky. HBO is the absolute ultimate. They showed interest in the show and it was such a surreal experience, as surreal as last Saturday night seeing it play on HBO. It was pretty amazing. I do think it’s unique the way that we did it. The fact that Tom Scott took the chances that he did and just the risks that he took to do this project with us and then the fact that not only was it realized but it was carried all the way through and is on television now.

You guys have creative input in every aspect of the show. How would you say you’re inspired to shoot something?

Casey Neistat: Speaking specifically to the production of that TV show because life has changed a lot since we made that, but I know when we made that the financial agreement that we had didn’t make us rich. But Van and I had enough money to go about our lives in just about any way that we wanted to do.

We could fly anywhere in the world given that we had to fly coach but we could fly anywhere in the world or do whatever we wanted to do. So for me it was almost the effect of waking up and saying, ‘What do I want do today,’ and literally what I wanted to do was limitless.

One day it was that I wanted to go make a movie with my kid and then another day it was that I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and another day it was that I wanted to sit in the studio and figure something out. All those things manifested themselves into what the TV show was. In episode three, the whole episode is about me breaking up with my girlfriend and it’s tough to say that I sat there and was inspired to make a movie about breaking up with my girlfriend because that’s a terrible thing to say. But literally, if you’ve been in a relationship before, it’s one of those things that consumes your entire brain. Even though I was consumed by this breakup I had a TV show to make and I just turned the camera around and made a movie about the breakup. It was the only way for me to express what I was living out in my life. So it was always art imitating life. Not life intimating art.

Just trying to live our lives and figuring out how to turn that into art. It’s tough to say that the art was premeditated. Instead you just focused on living. ‘How do I want to live? What do I want to do?’ Then you figured out how to make that into art. And the breaking up with the girlfriend is an extreme example but one of my favorite episodes is when Van loses his backpack. The whole episode is about Van finding his backpack and I just think that’s the most brilliant thing in the world because climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro or seeking out your bio-dad, those two me are kind of obvious and huge, sensational topics.

But losing your backpack, like who gives a shit. I don’t know if you’ve ever lost your backpack but I’ve definitely lost mine and it fucks your world up. Your world is over. Van, because he’s a brilliant storyteller, a brilliant filmmaker, he was able to make this into an amazing movie. I prefer to call it a short story about the impact of that on his life and what he decided to do to find that fucking backpack. It’s tough to say that he was inspired, that he sat there and thought it would make an awesome movie to go find a backpack but certainly he got out of a cab one day and was, like, ‘Fuck. My backpack.’ It just consumed him and that’s what he had to make a movie about.

Can you talk about shooting the movie with your son in episode one? Are you going to do anything else with him, too, since he’s interested in doing this?

Casey Neistat: Yeah. He reappears all the time throughout the entire season. Like in episode two when I’m doing the nautical challenge where I do Van and Tom ride a boat around that lighthouse, there’s a couple of little scenes in there when Owen is holding the signs that I’m using as my examples. You can see him in there.

He pops up throughout the entire season. I think the ‘Blue Giant’ specifically the only that I really did with him. He’s my son. He’s about ninety nine percent of my life. He just pops up throughout the entire season and on a more personal level, he and I do personal little projects together all the time. Owen and I are making a movie that we’ve been working on for five years. Owen is definitely next to Van Neistat my favorite filmmaking partner in the world.

Are you interested in doing a second season?

Casey Neistat: Absolutely. I’d love to. My favorite part without question of making season one and having that opportunity was just like getting to focus exclusively on working with my brother. I absolutely love working with Van. He’s a total genius. He’s got such integrity and is a pure artist. I would say that I’m more affected outside factors and Van is all about eyes on the prize and that’s something that I really admire in him.

So without question my favorite part of making that whole season and making the whole show was being able to work with my brother and just work with my brother for such an extended amount of time and on a focus and directed thing rather than dealing with the tons of bullshit that goes along with maintaining a company or him and I hustling or doing whatever the hell we’re doing.

Season two, I see an opportunity again to work with my brother and for us to focus on a common goal and realize all these different ideas and all these different projects. I’d love nothing more than to do season two because of the opportunity that it would present me to spend more time with and work closely again with my brother.

I saw your video on Chat Roulette. Now that the new iPhone is coming out with video chat on it do you think you’ll experiment with that or see if there will be Chat Roulette for the iPhone?

Casey Neistat: I don’t know. I don’t really care for or that much about Chat Roulette. I think the phenomenon of it and like the first wow factor which was so absolutely insane about Chat Roulette. Certainly that’s what inspired me to make that movie but I think that’s true for everyone that used Chat Roulette which is why it was such an explosion. Now it’s just kind of disappeared. You don’t hear much about it anymore.

Regarding the new iPhone, I think it’s funny that you bring that up. It was just announced yesterday and just today I emailed Apple and said, ‘Send me some iPhones now.’ We’ll see how that goes. The fact that you can shoot hi-def video now and edit on the iPhone is just so fucking insane, the concept. I want to get it not because I want to prove anything technically. I just want to see if it actually opens more corridors and more opportunities to make films.

Van and I don’t use iMovie and don’t use shitty little cameras to try to prove something or say something because that’s a part of the process. We do it just because that’s what we like to use. Literally, especially now with the resources made available to us if we wanted to use the highest end Avid suite or Final Cut suite and work with the fucking gnarliest DVX cameras out there we certainly could. That would be a piece of cake to do but there’s something about working with such accessible hardware and such accessible software that – I don’t know – for me and for Van that just keeps the process pure. Maybe it just keeps the process much more intimate.

I’m definitely curious about what the new iPhone and it’s video editing capabilities will lend to that.

Would you ever be interested in actually filming a feature yourself? Or With Van?

Casey Neistat: Yeah. I don’t know about with Van. The short answer is yes, I would totally do it. I would totally do it with him. But I think the strength that Van and I have as partners kind of lies in our working autonomously and then us bringing that together. That’s what the magic is.

Literally while Van was shooting ‘Bio Dad’ I was shooting the ‘Blue Giant’ and then when we both finished we brought them together and we’d both made movies about family and they worked together so seamlessly. So I don’t know how that would work, us working side by side behind the same camera.

Again, I would just love to work with Van and look forward to working with Van in any and every capacity. I definitely looking forward to it and I’m definitely looking forward to making a feature film. In the tenure of this television show, when it ends that’s probably going to be one of the first thing that I do. Lets hope that that’s a long, long ways away though.

What kind of movie would you want to work on?

Casey Neistat: I’ve been toying with this horror movie. I think for my first movie it would probably be something like that. I can tell you what it wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be like a Wes Anderson style hyper-intellectual kind of movie. It would definitely not be that. It would be something much more accessible. I think my favorite kinds of movies are the ones that have a mass appeal because I think there’s a real art there.

I saw ‘Avatar’ in the theater eight times and when I mention that last week at a screening I got booed for it. I’m totally serious. First of all, I love that movie. I totally love that movie, but nothing intrigues me more than the fact that it made like $2.7 billion and so how many people had to see it for it to make that much money. To make a movie, and we can call it a movie or we can call it a piece of art, to make a movie that has that much mass appeal what it is? What is it that makes kids in China want to see that movie and makes my dad want to see that movie.

That for me is what intrigues me the most about feature films. It’s not like the little kind of esoteric projects that you and your friends get but how do you make something that has a universal appeal. Those are the movies that intrigue me the most.

(Photo courtesy of HBO)