by Jason Godbey, Creative Director of Behind the Rabbit Productions
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.