Do The Right Thing is the third feature from director Spike Lee and stars Danny Aiello, John Turturro and Giancarlo Esposito. It takes place over the course of the hottest day of the summer in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. It’s a thought-provoking masterpiece that is still just as poignant today as it was in 1989.
Recently Casey Neistat, one of YouTube’s most famous vloggers, after posting more than 500 episodes, one episode per day, he decided to end his vlog. He brought the blog to a close because it was no longer a challenge.
I was a fan of the vlog mainly because I admire Casey’s style of filmmaking and his work ethic. Putting out a video every day takes a tremendous amount of effort and dedication. It’s a big undertaking, and I admire anyone who would even attempt it.
I first learned about Casey Neistat through his HBO show, The Neistat Brothers. The premise of the show was simple: Casey and his brother Van would go on adventures and make movies of their experiences. The films were made on consumer camcorders from the pre-HD era. The quality wasn’t the best, but the films were innovative and entertaining. This was a new style of filmmaking we hadn’t seen on television. It was cool, edgy, and personal.
Casey took that style into his own YouTube vlog beginning on March 26, 2015, and he continued vlogging until November 19 of 2016. With only a few exceptions, he uploaded a video every day. His vlogs incorporate timelapse, stop-motion animation, and drone footage. Although other vloggers may have uploaded more videos over the years, it’s arguable that no one has created a vlog of the same quality as Neistat’s.
Vlogging as a form of storytelling raises some questions. Is it filmmaking? Is it its own art form? What is the overall impact it has on filmmaking, art, and society as a whole? Is it a “real film,” or is this a filmmaker indulging his own narcissism? Will people go back and rewatch these vlogs, or are they to be consumed and forgotten?
Some would say making a video of one’s life and uploading it everyday for the world to see is self-indulgent. It’s arrogant to think one’s life is worthy of such attention. I would argue that the best filmmaking is somewhat autobiographical and self-indulgent. Consider All That Jazz by Bob Fosse, 8 ½ by Federico Fellini, or Annie Hall by Woody Allen, three autobiographical films from three self-indulgent filmmakers. All three films are brilliant because these men put themselves into their work. Perhaps vlogging is just more direct, the most personal form of filmmaking.
Vlogging presents an interesting challenge. How do you find something interesting to say every day? Casey managed to make an average work day seem interesting by presenting the story creatively. He would talk to the camera while skateboarding around New York City and amaze us with beautiful timelapses of the cityscape, cloudy skies, traffic, and sunsets.
He told us stories about his personal life–how he came to New York City and became a filmmaker. Granted, Neistat has a more interesting life than many. He owns a tech platform, and he travels all over the world. If you’re going to vlog about your life, it helps to have an compelling one.
His vlog became a textbook for YouTubers, a virtual how-to video. Through his innovation, he inspired others and started a new method of presenting a video diary. Perhaps the Neistat Method of vlogging will one day be taught in film school.
As his popularity grew, people began to copy and then lampoon his style. Videos like How to Casey Neistat a Vlog became popular on YouTube. Perhaps Neistat gave up his vlog because it started to become a cliche.
Is vlogging an art form? It’s difficult to say. There doesn’t seem to be a standard yet. Casey’s high-production-value videos with the sweeping drone shots from all around the world are considered a vlog just the same as the one where a vlogger speaks into her camera phone from her parents’ basement.
As far as the impact of vlogging on filmmaking, It’s certainly had one on me. Much of what we do now is made for the internet. A vlogger like Neistat knows how to to grab the viewer’s attention and hold it, an elusive skill many of us struggle with daily. The fast-paced editing, the movement of the camera, and the action of the vlogs make them compelling to watch. And that’s what we’re all trying to do: create a compelling narrative in order to entertain an audience.
I don’t know that I would recommend vlogging for every would-be filmmaker, but there are skills that can be learned from vlogging. It’s a type of video you can make by yourself- you don’t need a cast or crew. If you’re a beginner and you want to learn editing, shooting a talk-to-camera segment and putting it together in an interesting way could be a good learning tool.
Vlogging could also be a good way to journal for a filmmaker. It doesn’t have to be a public, but if you’re more comfortable talking than you are writing, speaking into a camera while you go about your day can serve as a way to stimulate your creativity for other projects. If you’re a filmmaker and you feel vlogging can help you become better at what you do, go for it.
Vlogging is still an emerging practice, and only time will tell its impact on society. Video is an ever growing presence on the internet these days. With more and more social media sites incorporating video, it’s fair to say it’ll be the dominate form of communication online. Perhaps vlogs will one day serve as a document for their time in history. One day we may look back on these videos as we would a time capsule. For all we know, Casey Neistat or one of his contemporaries will be heralded as the chronicler of the YouTube age.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the NAB Show here in New York City. The National Association of Broadcasters Show is one of the biggest gear shows for the film and television industry. Manufacturers from all over come to the show to display their new products. Canon, Sony, and Blackmagic Design were there, among many others.
If you can get to a show like this, I highly recommend it. Not only are they are a chance to check out new cameras, post-production tools, camera stabilization rigs etc., but they can also be a chance to meet people from production companies. If you go, definitely bring your business cards.
I enjoyed the show very much. The people were welcoming and helpful. I found the show to be a great place to network. We hope to bring you more events like this in the future as an overview of what’s out there for filmmakers.
*Full disclosure: I am not paid to endorse the show or any of the products therein.
Rosemary’s Baby is based on the novel by Ira Levin the sixth feature film from Director Roman Polanski and stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. It’s a different kind of horror movie. The story is told from Rosemary’s point of view. By using this technique, Polanski teaches filmmakers a lesson in how to create a terror of the mind.
There are certain key phrases I learned growing up doing theater and independent film: “safety first,” “get over it,” and “figure it out.” It’s the last one I’d like to discuss in this article. When Robert Rodriguez did his first “10 Minute Flick School,” he told wannabe filmmakers they could “become technical” and by doing so become independent.
In 2010, I was faced with a crisis. I wanted to make movies, but I’d lost touch with the people I had worked with in years past. It had been a long time since I operated a camera. In fact, I had never even worked in HD. I didn’t have a camera or lights, and the only editing software I had was iMovie. I was essentially starting from scratch. If I wanted to make a movie, I’d have to acquire some gear and some know-how.
In 2010, the FlipCam had just burst on to the scene. It was a small, very portable HD cam that virtually anyone could use. It was as easy as pushing a big red button to record. They were pretty inexpensive at $200, so I decided to buy one and get myself shooting again.
To give it a test drive, I decided to shoot some b-roll around NYC. I went shooting around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I liked the footage. I started carrying the camera everywhere, capturing a ton of video, and it looked pretty good.
After gathering a lot of footage, I started thinking about what I could do with it. Could there be a narrative movie somewhere in there? I had all this b-roll, but what could I do with it?
Then it dawned on me. What if I made a movie about a filmmaker making a movie about New York City? Then I thought it would be interesting if the filmmaker – a 20 something just out of film school- was discovering New York for the first time. That idea became my first web series, The Jessica Project.
I bought a Panasonic camcorder because I needed a camera that gave me some more control over the image. The best feature of the camera was the motorized zoom. I wanted to make a documentary style series and have it be voyeuristic, so it was great to have a camera that could zoom in and out to show my subject without crowding her.
To learn the camera, I read the manual and experimented with it. It wasn’t much different from the video cameras I’d used as a kid. My skills as a videographer weren’t great at first, but I learned by doing. I figured it out.
As for the lighting, I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I had seen Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Flick School on his movie El Mariachi, and he talked about how he lit that movie with a couple of clip lights he bought at a hardware store. I thought “I could do that,” and did. We shot a lot of exteriors, so I didn’t need to light.
Now that I had a camera, I needed some way to record sound. The camera had a mic on it, but it wasn’t really great for picking up dialogue. It was a surround sound mic that picks up everything, but it had an input for an external mic, so I found an Audio Technica wired lavilier mic for about 30 bucks online, and we used it to record Jessica’s monologues to camera and it would also serve to record the dialogue of other players who were close enough to her to be picked up as well. In some of the scenes where she’s filming the other person in the scene, I put the mic on Maria Aparo who plays Jessica, and we used the sound from the FlipCam to pick up the other person. It gave the sound a realistic quality, and it worked for those scenes.
I was doing most of the jobs myself. Much of the first season was Maria and I shooting around town. I’d give her the Flip, and I would shoot her shooting with it. I didn’t have a headphone jack in the camera, so I just watched the levels and prayed that we were getting good sound. After each take, I’d listen through the speaker on the cameras. We used a lot of voice over as well, which really helped to move the story, and it made up for the fact that we couldn’t really shoot dialogue.
My original plan was to use iMovie to edit, but I upgraded to Final Cut Pro 7. It was a much more robust program that took me some time to learn, but I read books and watched tutorials online and figured it out.
Making The Jessica Project really taught me how to be technical and how to be self-reliant. Don’t have a crew? Don’t care, I’m going to do it anyway. I was lucky to have friends who gave me advice and helped me figure it out, but most of the technical aspects of the series I handled on my own. It was a great lesson, and it was empowering to be able to do all those jobs myself.
I don’t recommend doing it all yourself because chances are some aspects of the film are bound to suffer, but if you have to, you can. You can write a script that’s simple enough to do on your own, you can shoot it, edit it, and get it done. Like me, you too can figure it out.