He once washed dishes full time in a trailer park. Now he uploads videos that break five million views in under three weeks. But when Casey Neistat isn't leaping into a sinkhole in Oman or stealing his own bike on the streets of NYC, he's busy working in this obsessively organised, fully functional, bare-bones 80sqm studio.
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"So much energy was put into every aspect of this studio," Neistat says. "It was literally just a bare floor with white walls when I moved in here." Now, the studio has everything he could possibly need to construct a prop or shooting rig, including a woodshop and tool station. "I don't want any obstructions between me and making my movies, so I need to have all of the assets here," he says.
When it comes to those assets, Neistat is no snob. He shoots white backgrounds on deli paper. He fixed a busted lens on his Canon T2i with a lid from a peanut butter jar. "I don't like anything that I use to be precious. This Canon is 25 per cent of the cost of a 5D, but I think it's 85 per cent the quality. If I were to spend four times as much, I would not get four times the quality," he said.
His other gear is just as simple. Neistat prefers point-and-shoot cameras, like the Canon PowerShot S100, and iMovie. "I only edit in iMovie because the only edit tool I need is cut. I don't like aftereffects. I don't like any digital manipulation. If I can't accomplish it with the camera, I usually don't accomplish it," he says. His favourite SLR is the affordable, lightweight Canon EOS Rebel T3i, and he claims the $US179 Canon 300HS is "dollar for dollar the best video camera money can buy".
Other odds and ends include a trap door from a World War II shipping freighter — a $US12 flea market find — transformed into a desk on wheels. He has an extensive VHS tape collection (left), his favourite being "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1943). Around the corner, a wall of tackle boxes contains everything from zip ties to sewing supplies. In a collection of 1000 Polaroid portraits, Neistat says, every person who sets foot in the studio finds an acquaintance.
The studio's frenzied collage hints at Neistat's artistic imperative: "Story is the most important thing. Gear does not matter," Neistat says. "It's execution that matters."
And execute is what he does best. Even if he's describing the hazards of walking while texting. Or stealing his own bike. Or just travelling the world on Nike's dime, in the clip at left. (His relationship with the shoe company remains alive and well.)
Name: Casey Neistat Location: New York, New York Money Invested: "I couldn't tell you for all the tea in China," Neistat said. "I can tell you that it's way, way, way more money than is responsible." Prized Possession: "I definitely do not have one. Anything in here could be destroyed and I would not lose any sleep over it." Theft Deterrent: Surveillance cameras on the street, lift and entrance, connected via a 24-hour feed to an Air Cam Remote Webcam app for his iPhone. Near the entrance, just in case, Neistat keeps a wooden baseball bat. And an axe. On the Wish List: iPhone 5. "The iPhone is my favourite still camera."
Photo: Gitty Feldman