August 27, 2016

7 Storytelling Techniques You Can Learn from Filmmaker & YouTube Star Casey Neistat

Finding new ways of making films can be as easy as opening your eyes.

For many of us, learning about filmmaking consists of scouring YouTube for helpful tutorials and video essays, reading blogs like this one, or watching the content of our favorite film directors. But there is so much to learn from creators in different mediums, including the vlog.

If you've never heard of Casey Neistat, he is not only one of the most popular YouTube vloggers with over 4 million subscribers, he is also a noteworthy filmmaker. And because Neistat creates his vlogs with a keen cinematic mind and unique filmmaking style, his approach is certainly worth studying. Editor Sven Pape breaks down 7 techniques used by Neistat in the video below:

Here are the techniques Pape mentions in the video:

  • Neistat Cut-Off: Abruptly cutting in the middle of a sentence right at the moment the audience knows what's about to be said
  • The Continuous Thought: Starting to provide information in one location, then finishing in another
  • Associative Cut: Tacking on some kind of referencial video/sound clip that goes with what's being said
  • Neistat Montage: Rapid cuts that show the progression of (usually) a single task
  • The Neistat Zoom: Simply bringing the camera closer to the face to intensify moment/"cut" to new camera angle 
  • Neistat Transitions: Using in-camera transitions, like putting down/picking up camera, "lens slap", etc.
  • Neistat Mise en Scène: Using limited resources to make every shot look unique.

Now, we can learn about technique all day, but if we don't understand the philosophy behind those techniques, our understanding is incomplete. Nerdwriter's Evan Puschak digs into Neistat's creative sensibilities in the video below:

And if those two videos weren't enough, Neistat himself shared a bunch of filmmaking wisdom in his vlog below:

I am old enough to remember YouTube in all of its stages of growth: when it wasn't a thing, when it became a thing, when it became a thing just for cats, and then when it become a really awesome, boundary-pushing, cinematic thing. And I have to admit that since all I do all day is write filmmaking content for you guys and make pancakes and pasta for my family, I keep an eye on my precious personal YouTube time like it's the last Roadhouse sweet roll in the basket. (I cook so gimme dat tasty roll, child.)

And Neistat's vlog is an interesting animal, one that appeals to consumers and makers of the cinematic art form, because he's displaying his filmmaking prowess—like riding around on a boosted board while holding a Canon 70D and a GorillaPod in one hand and a green smoothy in the other—while also telling really fantastic bitesize stories about his everyday life. (Really, Neistat can make waiting for water to boil fun and exciting.)

The lesson: you can learn filmmaking anywhere and everywhere, especially if you let the critic inside you make way for the student. As Proust once said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."      

Your Comment

16 Comments

So, now techniques thousands of people use since tens of years are renamed after a youtuber? :) Kinda joking, but with all due respect I don't see how "studying" this guy can teach me something way more influential professionals can ten times better... For instance, should I study the "Neistat Zoom" or, like, the quick zoom close-ups of Edgar Wright? Kinda confused here, these days youtubers are making essays about youtubers ;)

August 27, 2016 at 7:00PM, Edited August 27, 7:16PM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
1142

Can't speak to every technique here, but the zoom in this case is inherently different from quick zooms by directors like Edgar Wright or Quentin Tarantino -- it refers to actively zooming the camera in or moving it in, by the person who is on camera visibly manipulating the camera. Which ties into the general self-referential / faux amateur nature of the structure of these videos that these essays touch on.

August 27, 2016 at 8:17PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
893

Doesn't matter. It's still a dolly zoom in. None of these techniques are "neistadt" and you should learn the correct terminology if you want a crew to replicate it for you.

August 28, 2016 at 7:11PM

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His techniques are interesting uses of common editing techniques. However the Neisat cut-off is horrible! Most of the examples weren't clear exactly what the person was going to say. It was frustrating. I like cut-offs when it's going to be a cuss word or where it makes something funny.
Despite that I still want to go watch this guy!

August 28, 2016 at 1:52AM

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Anton Doiron
Creator/Filmmaker
521

In terms of cinema language I'm sure Casey Neistat could learn a lot more from other filmmakers than they could learn from him. Simply because vlogging dosen't really focus on his filmmaking skills that much at all. They are not what attracts his subcribers. Its his personality. Ultimately there is only one Casey Neistat just as there is only one Gary Vaynerchuk. And its not the editing or filmmaking that attracts people its the larger than life personalties.

Besides I was under the impression that most of his work is reliant of him filming himself and on mass Youtube audience in vlog format that in reality relies very little on proper grammar or language of cinema. And if that is someones target audience he certainly can teach us about how to raise your popularity and mass produce video content. But with all do respect for more serious filmaking and not vloging which is not really about using much of cinema language at all... I would look elsewhere.

August 28, 2016 at 4:12AM, Edited August 28, 4:13AM

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Kruno
Cinematographer, storyteller.
86

Watch one of his vlogs then watch him público speaking. It gets clear that his filmmaking and editing skills are incredibly important for conveying this personality that you say people love.

After doing that. Think about what you just wrote and maybe reflect if you really understand the power of filmmaking and storytelling. Because it's like saying that you like Heath Ledger's Joker because of his personality and not all the screenwriting, soundtrack, directing, cinematography, art direction etc etc etc.

About proper grammar or language of cinema. It's always changing. Maybe someone said that after watching Orson Welle's F for Fake because he referred to the camera man and crew. Or to the first documentaries.

It's good to open your mind to what cinema is about.

August 28, 2016 at 12:26PM

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Fernando
109

Sorry, but popularity on youtube shooting vlogs does not automatically equal good visual literacy. Certainly not form their audience. I don't question his storytelling, he obviously has popularity on his side of the argument, but I do question author of this article trying to present him messiah of cinematography. That he is not.

BTW. I have absolutely no idea what Joker has to do with any of this. Or what are you trying to say.

September 21, 2016 at 1:25PM

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Kruno
Cinematographer, storyteller.
86

Is copyright not an issue when people stick those short movie clips in their YouTube videos that are being monetized?

August 28, 2016 at 12:50PM

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Jay
1

Probably gets away with it under the "fair use" clause.

August 29, 2016 at 7:59AM

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Alex Douglas
Music Video Producer
88

This guy is the absolute worst. I have no idea who this appeals to or why. It's disposable garbage. Pure egotistical nonsense.

August 28, 2016 at 5:42PM, Edited August 28, 5:42PM

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Translation: I don't like it or understand who it appeals to so that automatically makes it the absolute worst, egotistical, disposable nonsense.

August 29, 2016 at 4:43AM

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Allan Raffel
Cinematographer & Editor
224

Alternate translation: I'm just jealous.

September 1, 2016 at 7:32PM

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Derek Olson
Directomatographeditor
597

Here's my take on it. He told me nothing new (not that I'm a wizard filmmaker and don't have plenty to learn), but he's entertaining to watch. He's got a natural on-camera presence, and he's really good at presenting information in a way that's not boring (at least to me).

So what credentials do you bring to the table that make you more talented than he is?

September 3, 2016 at 2:52PM

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nice video with some nice insights, but you know what technique i want to learn? How to do all this without a day job.

(and obviously make money)

I dont know too much about him, only what ive seen bits and pieces but i would love to know what he did before finding Youtube fame and how long it took him to get there.

August 29, 2016 at 10:03AM

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Anthony Vescio
Director/Editor
388

They basically made a show with nothing and sold it to HBO for about $2,000,000. The first 4 mins of the first episode pretty much explains it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHoe54YG-Dw). Personally I found him when he did the Nike "Do More" commercial.

August 29, 2016 at 1:22PM

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I started watching him around March I think.

Its funny how this article gets written as soon as Casey announced he's taking a break from his VLog for "maybe" a week. It's a nice vacation for him and his wife, and if anyone deserves a break, it's him. The dude is 24/7 non-stop. Never understand how he has the energy. He's the ONLY vloger that has ever convinced me to watch more of his stuff, because he truly knows what needs to be done behind the scenes as well as be an entertaining guy on camera who's not an annoying teen/millennial.

Like others said, he didn't invent anything he does, but he does put it all together as well as you can, pumping one of these out every day. THINK about that for a sec. Loads of guy have vlogs where it's just them sitting in a chair/studio/basement talking about movies, games or whatever. But no one has a daily vlog that looks as good as Casey's that gives you a sense of what happened that day....and it's actually interesting....mostly because he's interesting....and it looks/sounds good. Well shot, quality if not rushed editing(due to the quick turnaround), music that works, ect.

You have to give the guy props. There are plenty of other and more popular vloggers who you have to shake your head at and think WTF....but him I actually respect.

August 29, 2016 at 11:00AM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
875

Jesus there are some bloody bitter cynics on this site. I dig his work. The amount this dude creates each day, and for nearly 2 years on the trot is nothing short of impressive. Especially if you consider he has a family, a social media company AND all the other shit he does. That alone deserves some credit.

August 29, 2016 at 12:44PM

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