The Comprehensive Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling Review

Is the Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling course worth the cost? Having just completed the course - I thought I would share my review into the Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling course.
Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling Course Review

A post by James Sandbrook

Table of Contents

Is the Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling course worth the cost?

That’s the question I had before clicking ‘complete checkout’ in December last year. Having just completed the course – I thought I would share my review into the Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling course.

Why did I take the Casey Neistat course?

I have to be honest. I am a HUGE fan of Casey Neistat.

I think most of the initial people taking the course will have been too.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the course is because his style of video is similar to what I try and create for myself and my own clients.

Whilst I appreciate beautifully shot videos, I care more for effective, emotive and compelling stories. The polished stuff is a bonus.

Casey is the best at this, and so if there was an obvious person to learn from it is him.

Also, I have freelancers who work for me both filming and editing but having someone outside of my bubble to learn from with different skills felt valuable.

My hopes and expectations before heading into the course with Casey Neistat

I was aware that much of what I was expecting to learn in the course I might already have absorbed via watching Casey’s YouTube videos for such a long time. But I had a hunch there would be some secrets I wasn’t picking up on.

I’m also super keen to constantly improve my own work. I’m looking for gradual incremental gains in the quality of what I do and this ticked all the boxes.

It would be a month of learning, creating 2 films and something I can dip into each day.

At the very least I knew I would come out with 2 videos for myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have committed the time to make.

Getting started on the filmmaking & storytelling course

I’ll talk more about Monthly.com later on but as the platform that hosted his course, I could see from the outset what the curriculum would entail.

  • A series of videos from Casey, typically an hour long
  • Written briefs backing up the video content
  • A peer group in which you would be asked to submit work at each stage
  • Feedback, both giving and receiving

Our first task – create something spontaneous!

If you’ve seen Casey’s channel before you’ll know he uploaded something like 600 daily videos without a break. He needed to have a plan each day but also embrace spontaneity.

So this was what the first film was about. Taking what is near to you + very simple idea and turning it into a story on the fly with as little equipment as possible.

He demonstrated how he does this by going outside his office in New York and looking around for inspiration.

In later lessons he then walks you through step-by-step how he shoots and edits the film, what he is looking for and why he is choosing certain shots.

Our second task – create something more technically considered.

This was designed to be a more considered story. Something that means something to you and feels like a story that needs to be told. In this exercise we were asked to film something more technically considered.

And for Casey, he walked us through how he filmed and edited this film:

Some of my main learnings were…

Watching Casey film was really interesting. But also really reassuring for myself.

Some standout leanings:

  • He’s not bothered by equipment, the focus is the story
  • He often shoots on standard settings – a lot of ‘auto’
  • He knows that there is interestingness in almost anything but culls anything not crucial to the story
  • He doesn’t always have the idea fully planned out but rather uses the initial thought to push himself off the cliff. He then builds the plane (story) on the way down
  • Spontaneity is a secret sauce that, if you embrace, adds real depth to the characters and moments in your film
  • He shoots chronologically which reduces the effort in the edit. In effect, he writes scripts and edits as he films
  • He uses different angles of the same thing to make it feel like a bigger production team
  • He makes mistakes too!!
  • The plan will change – it always does. Embrace it.

This was a big reassurance and confidence booster. All of the above have been things I have felt uneasy about from time to time filming for clients. But seeing someone with such experience struggle in the same way made me feel like I’m not as bad as I sometimes tell myself.

Editing like Casey Neistat

Casey’s edits aren’t technically complex. Instead, He does some very clever things to make shots flow and link but that is all in the pursuit of making a story better. That might be music helping with pacing, or a ‘crutch’ to lean on to help link 2 scenes together.

This course is not about how to colour grade, the best way to edit sound or which exposure setting to use. He quite rightly points out that you can forgive an overexposed shot or wobbly bit of footage as long as it adds to the story.

That is the thing that will keep your audience engaged. A line I wrote down and saved “Perfection often omits the human hand. Show your scars”

However, whilst his edits are ‘simple’ from a technical point of view, he obsesses over detail. Cutting a couple of frames, stripping out excess footage that doesn’t add to the story, making sure the music delivers the right emotion and pace are all details he does not brush over.

Every single shot has to have interestingness and not be boring or repetitive. And this isn’t science. It is instinct that you’re taught to rely on.

The films I produced on the Casey Neistat Course

In Search of Interesting

I used the opportunity to make two videos for my cycling channel which is a little passion project. I often feel guilty for spending time on it as it isn’t a ‘priority’ but this gave me permission to indulge a bit.

My first video was inspired by Beau Miles who is the king of telling simple stories about his local area. I sometimes travel in to Birmingham on my bike for meetings and so I thought I’d give some insight to what it looks and feels like.

My idea was to stop every mile and take in my surrounds. What was I riding past with my head down?

The reality was, I wasn’t missing that much, but this is how I resolved the story…it changed into another one.

Inca the Trail Dog

My love/hate relationship with my dog is something I’ve struggled with. But a story of working through that felt interesting and emotive.

Riding my bike with her is something I tell people about but very few will truly understand and be able to picture. This film felt like an easier story to tell.

My issue was, all the footage I took of her following me didn’t work as the camera on my back pointed too high compared to where I know she now runs. So I had to go back and get footage on a second ride.

It was exhausting to film and with several different cameras and lighting conditions a tricky one to edit, but I’m pleased with the final result.

Monthly.com reviewed

The platform the course is based on is called Monthly.com. It was really easy to use and their email prompts are also fantastic. It keeps bringing you back to your timeline and reminding you how much time you have to do things.

There were, however, three big negatives to my experience using monthly – based on it’s ‘cohort learning’ structure.

  • The peer group I was in wasn’t great. You could see how people tailed off and didn’t complete the course which was a shame.
  • I was also getting feedback from people with way less experience than me which was little to no help. I had to review one guy who I’m convinced didn’t watch any of the lessons. That felt hard to take.
  • The briefs were too broad for me. I struggled to find a story on both occasions. I appreciate why they were broad but I felt they could have been a bit more specific above “make a film about anything that interests you”. As a creative, I like confinement to work within.

Was the Casey Neistat Filmmaking & Storytelling course good value for money?

$249 (£189) was worth the investment for me. As someone who creates video content regularly and gets paid to do so, absolutely.

Would have I paid the same amount if I just had my YouTube channel which doesn’t pay me very much? Probably, as it would still be pushing me to learn more and improve.

So was it worth it?

In short, yes. Especially if you want to develop your storytelling skills element – rather than the filmmaking. And by that I don’t mean the basic story structure but rather how you can punctuate, progress and embellish a story with solid techniques.

To glean even a little bit of Casey’s knowledge and experience has been really helpful and if I’d had a good set of peers to engage with, I would have said the course was perfect for the goal I set out to achieve.

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