Van and Casey Neistat electrocute pickles. They resurrect goldfish. They steal bikes. (Okay, just one bike, and it was Van’s bike to begin with.) They do these things, and they film themselves doing them, and then, like a million-jillion other people, they put these short films online. So what makes the Neistat brothers different from all those other people? Well, they’re really good at it. Also, they’re going to have their own show on HBO.
The show is described by Van as “a handmade home-movie television show.” The episodes are composed of Van adventures and Casey adventures, though “adventures” might be the wrong word. On the first episode, Van, who’s 33, makes a short film about going to Maine to track down his biological father, whom he’s never met. Casey shoots a monster movie with his 10-year-old son, who was born when Casey was 17. Both stories have the warmth of home movies, but home movies that have been lovingly crafted, meticulously edited, and that travel at about 1,000 miles per hour. The end products recall both a childlike wonder (love of monsters and make-believe) and a fetish for tangible craft (stop-motion animation, hand-lettering, duct tape) familiar from the aesthetic of, say, Wes Anderson, if Anderson made really moving personal films about himself. In addition, each episode packs in a few interstitial shorts, each of which, Casey explains, should feel like “the most-watched two-minute movie of the day on YouTube.” In the first episode there’s a funny clip of an amazing machine on Coney Island that empties garbage cans and a video of Van shaving his head.
In 2000, they each bought an iMac DV (Van used his tax-refund check; Casey maxed out his credit card) and they started making short movies. They made movies of science experiments (the electrified pickle), movies of stunts (they film Van stealing his own bike, using increasingly absurd tools, including an angle grinder, to see if anyone will intercede), and movies of pranks (Van riding his bike through the Holland Tunnel; Casey spray-painting warnings on iPod ads across the city, after his iPod battery died and Apple refused to replace it). Some of these films got attention. Some played in museums and film festivals. Some were viewed over a million times online. “We learned how to make movies because we taught ourselves,” says Casey. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say we got really good at filmmaking. But we got really good at this thing that we kind of invented, where the end product is a film. The reason we have our own show on HBO is that there’s this new form, and Van and I are experts at that.” They are auteurs of the “form where this”—and Casey holds up a Canon digital camera—“is the new video camera, and this”—he points to his computer—“is the new editing machine. And YouTube is the new theater.”