Catching Up With Casey Neistat at Sundance

You know you know Casey. He makes YouTube videos—all the cool ones— and this year he even hosted [email protected] at the YouTube house all week, playing Matt Lauer and interviewing directors for the folks back home. Milk Made hung out at his NYC STUDIO before, so when I ran into him at the Sundance Film Festival, I figured it was high time for us to check in with YouTube’s favorite son.

So here’s the thing, Casey and I really did have noble intentions of a proper Sundance interview, but whiskey’s greatest attribute got the best of us, so we decided to hog all of the fun and see Park City instead.

We started at a little bar on Main Street and mostly nerded out on Jeep talk, tattoos and marathons. If you hadn’t already gathered from his 51+ million views on his YouTube channel, Casey is exceptionally good at living. His storytelling is why you can’t watch one of his videos without watching 5 more (or all 79 them). It’s the kind of storytelling that makes you want to quit your day job (and if you can’t, he’s got a tattoo that reminds you to.)

“We’re so used to being advertised to anymore that we’re developing stronger bullshit detectors. It forces us to crave authentic content more than ever,” Casey said. His work is a bona fide paradigm for authenticity. And not just because it’s born from such a clean and unconventional aesthetic. His footage capitalizes on the unplanned and the unforeseen and turns them into jaw-droppingly epic alternatives to the plan. Even villains love Casey. Some not-cool French guy plagiarized one of his videos last week. (I’d link it but not-cool French guy was so proud of his original work that he already cowered and removed it. Maxime Barbier, our bullshit detector is pointing your way.)

At a YouTube lecture earlier in the day, Casey was asked how his stylistic choices developed. “It mainly developed out of necessity,” he said. “When I started, I didn’t know how to add titling to my films, so I’d just write it down on pieces of paper and hold it in front of the camera”– stylistic choices that developed because he’d had no formal education. “When you’re not taught a particular way, you have to find your own way,” he added.

Even when he’s creating promotional materials for the big guys like Nike and Mercedes-Benz, it’s done the Casey way. A couple months ago, when 20th Century Fox gave him a check and a theme (‘live your dreams’) to make a video promoting THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, he spent the budget the Casey way–flying to the Philippines and filling two passenger buses with food and relief materials for the typhoon-struck city of Tacloban–and making a video about it. He keeps his passport full and always has a queue of ideas on deck. Next up: Casey is going to be a Resident Filmmaker at MIT’s Media Lab, through a fellowship organized by MIT and the Sundance Institute.

“My goal with the fellowship is to make things different than anything I’ve ever made before,” he added.

Next up was lots of fish and saki at Shabu followed by karaoke at the Airbnb Haus.

People… we killed it at karaoke.

And not just because we had choreography when we sang “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” The only way we could have improved on perfection is if Bill Murray himself had joined us. I think everyone was really sad when we left.

We hit up a cool party at the YouTube house where Casey commanded the stage in a dance-off with a super hero. Whether the super hero was an endorsed party entertainer or just a quirky enthusiast was hard to tell. We also ran into a vaguely familiar face that we later pegged was an MTV 90’s VJ, reinforcing that Sundance adage of ‘you-know-everyone-here-from-something (after a certain number of adult beverages figuring out how you know everyone becomes both trickier and more thrilling.) The Little Accidents wrap party was happening down the street, where we stopped off for a final whiskey or four before calling it a night on our last hurrah of what turned out to be a glorious Sundance.

All in all, I’d say we interviewed the Casey way. The closest we came to a conventional Q&A was while we talked to each other on our karaoke microphones. This morning, when I emailed asking for his input and approval on my editorial record of the night, his only words were: “Don’t make me look like a drunk. But if you do feel compelled to write about my drinking style; Coors Light and a ball point pen.” So, there’s that.

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