How to vlog like: yourself

Like many people, I am a huge fan of Casey Neistat’s vlogs. In 10 minutes or less, Casey is able to convey the bustle and grind of his day. His wit, work ethic, and joie de vivre, make for engaging episodes that consistently entertain and inspire. As other people have noted, it helps that Casey has 10+ years of experience as a professional film maker. The high quality production and tight narratives make his vlogs a treat to watch.

Understandably, lots of people draw on Casey’s style. To better understand his vlog boils down to four elements that are common to all blogs and how he puts his twist on each of them. What makes the vlog so engaging is not any of these elements alone, but how Casey uses them to give us an authentic self-portrait.

  1. The Style

The simplistic production makes Casey’s style looks easy to imitate. It is both a practiced measure and a symptom of is time-constraints. Like most simplicity in art, the simplicity in these vlogs is deceiving. It means there is no room to hide. As Paul Graham explains about painting:

Some Leonardo heads are just a few lines. You look at them and you think, all you have to do is get eight or ten lines in the right place and you’ve made this beautiful portrait. Well, yes, but you have to get them in exactly the right place. The slightest error will make the whole thing collapse.

For example, having the camera just sit there sounds way simpler than carrying it all the time. But it’s not. Moving in and out of the frame and interacting with the camera as one would a person, Casey makes us feel more immersed in the scene, like we’re literally looking out a window into his world. Like a Leonardo head, these shots have to be in exactly in the right place or the whole thing would feel clunky or inaccessible.

2. The Persona

Over his many years in front of and behind a camera, Casey has developed a persona as equally distinctive as his editing. His recklessness, obsession with work, and optimism all add to the experience of watching the vlog. Even is delivery is cultivated so that someone else repeating Casey verbatim would still sound like Casey.

Objects, too, are an extension of Casey’s persona. His studio morphs and expands in lock-step with his career. Custom sunglasses in the foreground and power tools in the back are constant reminders of his DIY ethos.

Infusing life with adventure and documenting it is a cornerstone of the vlog. It is a skill that Casey has been developing since his videos with the Neistat Brothers. In the same way he presented life as an adventure on HBO, Casey has turned almost every episode into more than just a narrative. It’s often short (and sometimes spanning multiple days), but we are treated to these “missions” on an incredibly frequent basis. A daily vlog is an accomplishment in itself; each vlog often feels like an accomplishment within that accomplishment. Even though we only see 0.7% of his day.

3. The Lifestyle

As one would expect from a successful NYC filmmaker, Casey has a group of successful creative friends and a wildly functional studio. It’s not merely the fact that Casey goes to movie press events, the Met Gala, or hangs out on a yacht. It’s the fact that he is invited to these things for reasons wholly outside of the scope of the vlog. These aren’t usually things he’s doing specifically for the vlog, they’re just what’s happening for him that day.[1] Casey is a successful filmmaker. And his vlogs gives us a taste of the emotional payoff for working hard and being brave without having to work hard ourselves.

4. Serving the craft

Beyond anything else, the final product is what is most important. Casey has clearly stated the purpose of his vlog is not to himself dragging himself out of bed at 5am everyday after falling asleep in front of his laptop doing edits. He could show us the hours of meetings and how much grind and hustle it takes to build a start-up company (not the actual content, how demanding it is). Instead, he tries his hardest to give us a ~10min slice of life at its most exuberant.

He actively avoids making the blog about himself. When hints at serious issues, it’s usually because they’re big enough pieces of his life that he can’t avoid mentioning them in the vlog, (e.g. seeing Owen off to college) or to address something that’s gotten conspicuous and is distracting from what he’s trying to accomplish as a filmmaker (e.g. giving up Candice’s dog). Even in these moments, he makes it clear that these moments are exceptions.

Making these four components distinctive seems to be part of any successful vlog. It’s unrealistic to expect most people to have the gear and chops that enable Casey to do what he does. And that’s ok. Many self-sustaining vloggers get by on much “less” in one or more of these areas. All that matters is finding a voice that resonates.