South by Southwest

Filmmaker Casey Neistat: You have to think like Tarzan to find success

Internet personality Casey Neistat.
Getty Images
Internet personality Casey Neistat.

If you want a successful career as a filmmaker, Casey Neistat says to keep one thing in mind: You have to think like Tarzan.

"It's about this idea of grabbing on to whatever's in front of you and running with it, without having much understanding of where it's going to lead you," Neistat said to a packed audience Saturday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

Neistat, 35, is one of the most successful filmmakers who got their start on YouTube. He started making comedic videos about his everyday life, eventually scoring a short-lived HBO show and deals with brands like Nike, Google and Samsung. He co-launched a video sharing app called Beme in 2015, which was acquired a year later by CNN for $25 million.

He's planning to launch a new YouTube channel this month and works with the Beme team to create new ways to disperse the news, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Neistat credits his success to trusting his ideas and not fearing failure. One of his big breaks came after being ticketed for biking outside the bike lane in New York. He turned the experience into a YouTube clip of him only biking in the bike lane, whether there were obstructions in his way or not. Soon after, the New York Times was calling.

"YouTube five years ago wasn't the YouTube today, and it brought an entirely new audience to my work," he said.

Eventually, companies like Nike wanted him to make videos for them. Instead of shooting Nike's Fuelband ad script, he decided to pursue his desire to travel and used the product's slogan "Life is a sport. Make it count" as his guide. Neistat blew the advertising budget on a whirlwind global trip, filming it along the way. It remains Nike's most viewed ad, he said.

It hasn't all been home runs, Neistat points out. And, as he becomes more successful, he admits he gets more scared. But, he's sticking to what he knows works.

"Looking in the rear view mirror is a mistake unless you learn from it," he said.