He’s an American film director, producer, designer and popular YouTube creator. He’s the co-founder of a social media company called Beme. He and his brother are the founders of the HBO series, The Neistat Brothers. He’s Casey Neistat and here are his top 10 rules for success.
Casey Neistat’s Top 10 Rules For Business and Success
Rule #1: #Believe
I always made a living so I could make movies. I never made movies to try and make a living and I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of newcomers do is that they focus on how can my passion pay me. And I think that’s a terrible place to start. If the reason why you’re doing anything creative is to make a living, then you’re doing it wrong. You get into it because it’s a true passion. It’s something you really believe in. Or don’t get into at all.
Rule #2: Absorb The Motivation
What inspires me, you know I don’t really like the word inspiration. I like the motivation cause I think the working part always matters more than the inspiration part. Work is always more important than the idea. And as far as motivation, I’m motivated by everything around me.
I’m motivated by my kid. I’m motivated by other people’s work. I’m motivated by the people that I work with. I’m like a sponge, I absorb the motivation to do my work from everything around me.
Rule #3: Focus On The Why
Well I think the key to vlogging well, and I think this is true to writing to filmmaking to any sort of creative capacity. Any sort of field in the creative capacity, is that it’s not how you tell it, it’s what you tell. So it never has anything to do with what camera you shoot on, it doesn’t have to do with camera tricks or high production or low production.
It’s what you’re saying. That is the only thing that anyone will ever respond to. So the advice I give to newcomers or to aspiring filmmakers or YouTubers is that shift all of your focus from how to do it to what you’re doing.
What is it that you want to communicate? What drives you? And if that’s what your focus is, I think you’ll be a much more effective sort of communicator and creator. Then if you’re someone who obsesses over what lens they should be shooting on.
Rule #4: Explore
When I look back at my career, I see all of these tangents and the tangents that have always yielded success were the ones where there was no established path. No defined route for me to take. But I went down it anyways. And through that kind of exploration, I always discovered something new.
And those new things, those new entities, whether they be movies or ideas or things in my personal life, have always proven to be the most rewarding for me. Life shrinks and expands in direct proportion to one’s willingness to take on risks.
And I think when it comes to exploring the act of exploration is the act of assuming risk. The greater risk takers the greater explorer.
Rule #5: Find A Way
I never went to film school. I never sort of apprenticed under a filmmaker. I was never taught. I never had a mentor. I never had anybody that I followed. And the interesting thing that happens when you don’t know the way is that you have to find the way.
And I always get to the destination, which are these finished movies. But the path with which I employ is radically different from what’s the norm. And again, that’s not some, I don’t take credit for that as some genius stylistic move.
It’s just I don’t know, I still don’t know how to do proper titles, titling. Like my assistant editor did those titles which is why most of the movies on my YouTube channel all the titles are just handwritten on paper and then the piece of paper’s filmed.
Cause I don’t know how to do it right. I don’t know how to do After Effects. So all my animation is like stop frame. And now sort of in success, I have the opportunities to use all of the tools that were always so elusive to me. So now it’s a much more conscious decision to maintain this sort of handmade aesthetic.
Rule #6: Have A Great Story
I think now that so much media is consumed on mobile. The cinematography, the cinematic aspects are being marginalized. And what’s taking it’s place is sort of a more relatable story. I think people, one of my most watched videos was shot terribly on a mobile phone.
But the story is so poignant that 13 or 14 million people still elected to see it. So I think there will always be a place and an appreciation for really high quality cinematic production appeal. But there’s a new place that’s being presented that mobile has presenting that we’ll forgive short comings in production provided that the story’s there. Provided the content is something people care about.
Rule #7: Work Hard
There are two rules that I always adhere to and that is to work hard and be brave. And I think the essence of hard work is one that’s pretty straight forward is that you’ll never be the best looking, you’ll never be the tallest, most talented, most capable.
You’ll never have the most money. There will always be someone who’s better at whatever you’re doing than you are. But you can always be the hardest working person in the room. And I think the hardest working person will always win.
Rule #8: Be Fearless
Right after the HBO show aired I produced two feature films that were big hits. They premiered at like Cannes Film Festival and Sundance and I like got an award that Natalie Portman gave me on TV that my dad watched. And it was like a big, big deal.
And I just like, I remember having this moment where I realized that like I was so deep into this thing that wasn’t really, it didn’t feel right to me. And it’s different trying to find opportunities when you are in a place of success, when you’re in a place of comfort.
Like I was no longer starving. I wasn’t hungry anymore. I had some recognition. But something didn’t feel right and that was when I took this big pivot and that pivot was to like, you know what it’s not the politics. It’s not the Natalie Portman giving me the award.
It’s not the schmoozing that I love. I love telling stories, telling stories is my passion. And that was when I decided to sort of walk away from TV and walk away from movies. And I just wanted to make YouTube videos. And I remember like my big Hollywood agent when I sort of told that to him he was like, “Oh God, Casey no.”
You know, this was four years ago. YouTube, five years ago now. YouTube was nothing, it was something that was silly. It was like a really great place to go and watch cats play the piano. And I wanted to like parlay my career as a very successful filmmaker into that.
And I can’t tell you the opportunities that were birthed from that. It’s given me what I have today. That’s opportunity. Those are opportunities. Those are opportunities that in the moment I couldn’t have told you were opportunities. I didn’t know what they were.
There was something that just felt right. There was something that looked right. I did my best calculations. I took my best guess. It wasn’t reckless. I never operate recklessly and this is an important differentiation between recklessness and fearlessness.
I always do my best to operate without fear. Don’t not do something. Don’t skip something cause I’m afraid to do it. But make sure it’s a smart decision. And then part two of that is obligation. I feel obliged to embrace opportunities like that.
I felt obliged to quit my job. I felt obliged to walk away from HBO. And the obligation was because there was something in me. There was a truth that I wanted. And the obligation was to embrace that.
Rule #9: Embrace Available Resources
The first movie we made that anybody saw was in 2003. And this is a good story for Eddie Lampour. The talk yesterday about biting the hand that feeds you. So in 2002 I think, Apple came out with the iPod. And in 2003, my iPod battery died.
And I called up, I was like dead broke at the time. It was a present and I called up Apple to fix it and they were like, “Just buy a new one.” And it really pissed me off. So I called them back but I recorded the phone call. And… And this is at the time, I know.
This was at the time when Apple had those like, awesome like, those silhouette with the colors posters all over New York City. I mean the whole city was covered in them. So I recorded the phone call and then my brother Van and I went around with this stencil and we spray painted, “iPods unreplaceable battery “lasts only 18 months.” On every one of these in New York City.
And we didn’t think, I mean sure we were wise asses but we just thought we’d educate the masses. Like if Apple wasn’t going to do it, we thought we would. And the irony here is that this video was like huge. This is before YouTube.
This is when viral meant like chlamydia in a frat house, like. This thing was huge. Like this was emailed all over the place. Millions of views. Steve Jobs sending me hate mail. And then like a week later, Apple changed the policy and they were like, “Yeah we were going to do it anyways.”
Which is great but again, this video brought a lot of eyeballs to my brother and me. And people got to see all these other little stupid videos that we’d been making for years. And I tried to like find some press for you guys. This is seven years ago, so I couldn’t really find. But this is some of that. And anyhow, it brought a lot of attention to us.
And if anything, it drove home the point that like you don’t need any of that understood infrastructure. This is just like us being pissed off and that was enough motivation. So we went and made this movie and now we got all this attention.
And we drove that home for, stuck with that for a really long time and now you know, I make sort of serious movies. I just a shot a documentary, a feature length doc in Afghanistan which is going to be kind of serious. But I never let go of that and I still make sort of like wise-ass goth movies. And this summer, this is a good one.
I just want to tell this story. But this summer, I was riding my bike through New York City and I was pulled over in the pouring rain by a police officer for riding my bike outside the bike lane. Which, come on man, that’s like give me a break.
So I filmed the cop on my iPhone naturally. And then I made a movie of me going around trying to show the officer why you can’t always ride in the bike lanes. And I crashed into everything I found. So the video’s just me arguing with a cop for like 30 seconds then me crashing my bike for another two minutes.
And this thing was huge. I mean this thing was bigger than the iPod movie. This was gigantic like, it was on every news outlet and Bloomberg had to answer to it in a press conference. And what is this, The Guardian called me a warrior which is awesome and it was huge and this again is another good exemplification of the idea that it’s just embrace the resources that you have available to you.
And this is what I try to talk to young kids about and this is what I try to reinforce is that like let go of all the pretentions that is film making and embrace what you have available to you.
Rule #10: Act Now
I want to talk about risk. As a guiding principle, life shrinks and life expands in direct proportion to your willingness to assume risk. Yeah, like I’ve made some really stupid decisions in my career for my entire career. On a broad plane, they’ve all worked out.
Every time I’ve quit my jobs, which I’ve done every time I’ve had a job, people that I trust most that treat people that I love all advised against it. My dad told me not to move to New York City because it was such a risk. And every time I took this bigger risks, the opportunity for a larger payout was always there.
Life is like this super temporary, mega fragile thing. You only get like a nugget of time to really pursue the things you care about. And like I’m 30 and my rule is that the right time is always right now. To put a little meat on these bones, this new company that I don’t really talk about.
This new company is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. I took five years of my life to build my advertising career and I made like a lot of money. I’ve been doing really great. Look at my YouTube channel. Go all the way back. The last branded content thing you’ll see was in February of 2014.
I ditched it all to pursue something I knew nothing about. This huge risk and I did it at a time when my wife was pregnant and there was all of this vulnerability and all this scariness in my life. And even now at 33, my dad said, 34. My dad said, “Casey that’s crazy. “You’ve got a good thing, don’t let it go.”
But I know that like someday, I won’t be able to do this. I know that the time is now. The right time is always now. So I had to do it. That’s how I feel about risk in general. And that’s what the struggle has always been for me is like identifying risk, identifying fear and then just smashing through it.
Because a fear is looking back and wishing that I had done these things. The most dangerous thing you can do in your career, the most dangerous thing you can do in life is play it safe.
Thank you guys. I hope you enjoyed. I’d love to know which of Casey’s top ten rules had the biggest impact on you. Leave it in the comments below and we’re going to join the discussion.
And we’d also love to know who are your favorite entrepreneurs that you want us to feature on this channel? Leave that in the comments below. Thank you guys. Continue to believe. And we’ll see you soon.
Create What You Like
I don’t think in term of like retrospectively, retroactively looking at what I did and how I got to where I am. Instead, it’s much more of a focus on what do I want to do next? Because I think that if you try to consider or cater to your audience too much, you’ll invariably end up making something that’s mush.
Because I don’t know that the audience knows what they want to see. I know that I don’t know what’s going to peak my interests. If I knew how to describe the perfect movie, vlog, television show, I would just do it. I want to see something that surprises me.
And when I think of my own work, that’s exactly right. Like I put my head down and I try to ignore the world. And I try to make something that I think is really good. And if people like it, great. If they don’t, I don’t care. As long as I like it.
So I think like if I had one thing to attribute all of this growth to, it’s that I’m making work that I feel embodies the same level of integrity of anything else that I would invest myself into.
Do The Work
My advice to young people that want to be filmmakers and want to do anything in the creative world is always the same and that’s do the work. Ideas are cheap. I think inspiration is cheap. I discount all of those. Those mean very little to me.
All I care about is the work because when I started filmmaking, I wasn’t much of a filmmaker. I had a really junky point and shoot camera and I had iMovie. I’ve never learned the technicalities of filmmaking. It’s only through doing, that I learned how to create.
Well you know, I think fulfillment and YouTube producing are kind of two different things. I think fulfillment in general as a filmmaker for me comes from creating. And that’s why you know in 2010, they put the soundtrack on for the story so I’ll try to make it sound nostalgic.
I left like the mainstream sort of universe cause I wanted to create more. So for me, fulfillment comes in creation. And I always say that like I’m a little bit of a junky and my drug is uploading.
Because if I haven’t posted a movie in like a month or a month and a half, I get like seriously depressed. And the only that like makes me happy is to get a new movie out there.
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