“It’s become okay for people to wear virtually their pajamas in airports,” says Casey Neistat. “And I just don’t think it’s okay. I don’t think it’s okay at all.”
This complaint inspired his new video, Travel With Style, a three-minute film that Neistat created for J.Crew in honor of its new suit, the Ludlow Traveler. The video, which debuts tomorrow, feels like an open rebellion against anyone who might feel compelled to traverse an airport food court in a pair of sorority-branded sweatpants.
In it, Neistat — who has become a YouTube sensation over the past few years for doing things like snowboarding down the streets of New York — uses his signature stop-motion style in an instructional format: 17 Tips to Travel With Style. (Among them: Start Early, Bring Skis, Bury the Evidence.)
The film follows Neistat as he boards a plane to Mexico and California, changes in and out of the Ludlow Traveler suits and a red union-suit, plays pool, surfs, rides on the back of a truck, changes a motorcycle flat, goes snowboarding, surfs, and skateboards down the aisle of an airplane — all while wearing a suit. It’s part travelogue, part Evil Knievel. Neistat spoke to the Cut about how surfing in a suit was the “worst thing ever,” how his family feels about his ubiquitous camera, and what he wants to conquer next.
So, how did this video come about?
[J.Crew] came to me and said, We have a new suit coming out, and it’s meant for travel, so it doesn’t wrinkle. We would love for you to make a movie about it. From there, I wrote them this really great pitch about how I would make an instructional film about dressing appropriately for airports and for flying. I have this movie in my head: It’s become okay for people to wear virtually their pajamas in airports, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, and I just don’t think it’s okay. I don’t think it’s okay at all. I think you should dress nicely for airports. You’re surrounded by people coming from all walks of life. You should look your best. I had this movie that was very specifically about that. That’s the movie I pitched to them and the movie we agreed on. And, on our way to the airport, my friend Zach Treitz and I started snowballing the idea and it got really out of control, which is why the final movie doesn’t look a whole lot like what my pitch was.
So you just went to Mexico for 23 hours?
It was a little bit less than that. I’m a big fan of writing in the edit. Write the story while you’re editing the footage. And I think that’s why I so often veer from the course. The whole story line for Make It Count — and the one I made for Walter Mitty — we just went and shot everything that we thought would be interesting, and then we came home and figured out how to edit that into a story. With "Travel With Style," it was definitely a case of that. We thought it would be more fun to do this, and that’s the direction we went in. And I think people were pretty psyched about it.
Where was the snowboarding?
The skiing was at Big Bear in California. I couldn’t fit any clothing under that suit. The suit is really, really lightweight; it’s made for traveling. We wanted to go somewhere where I wouldn’t freeze to death. I lasted three hours before I felt irresponsibly cold, like hypothermic, and had to get off the mountain.
And how was it to surf in the suit?
That was like the worst thing ever. You’ve got on a light, fitted dress shirt that fits perfectly to my neck but it’s never been washed before. The second that shirt gets wet, it constricts. And then you have a necktie, and when that got wet, it got tight. And then if you can imagine laying on your belly on the surfboard with your head up, and you’re pulling your head up really hard. Literally in the first day of shooting, I had this migraine — I’ve never had headaches before — it was such a debilitating headache; my head was down with my hands on my ears, it was so painful. And it was because no blood was getting to my head. And I couldn’t take off my shirt or unbutton it because I had to look perfect when I dropped in on the wave.
So you said that people shouldn’t wear their pajamas in airports, but you wear a onesie on the plane. Is there an exception to the rule?
The reason why people wear pajamas to the airport in the first place is so that they’ll be comfortable during their flight. But you know, typically air travel is 50 to 75 percent of the time you spend traveling. The rest of the time, you spend in public places like airports and around other people. That’s when looking good trumps comfort. Your domain is in the air; that’s your home.
I know you’ve worked with brands a lot in the past [such as Nike], but it seems like every branded project you’ve done comes off as completely your own. Is that a challenge?
It was. It’s not any longer. Brands don’t come to me anymore and say: Execute our vision. One, because I’m not good at that, and I’ve never really done that, and two, because there are a lot of other people out there that can do that a lot better than me. Brands come to me to do my thing, and that’s why the brands that respond to my work appreciate the work that I make for other brands and the work that I make for myself. They want to be a part of that. And that’s where the collaboration begins.
Certainly with J.Crew, I went in there with my own ideas and my own perspective, and I listened to what I had to say, and I checked out the product, and I thought about the suit, and I went back and said, What about this? And they said, Okay, that makes sense, and it wasn’t much more than a few sentences. And I went off and did it, and I came back with something that was like 60 percent what I originally pitched and 100 percent what I wanted to make, and the clients that I have been lucky enough to work with appreciate that and have been enthusiastic about that. It’s the spontaneity and authenticity of making a real movie that J.Crew wanted. Dictating any creativity would inhibit that rather than promote that.
You mentioned that your final video has a tendency to veer pretty far from the original idea. What’s been the most unexpected thing that’s happened while you were filming?
I have 85 movies on YouTube right now. If you could spin the roulette wheel and pick any one of those movies, I would tell you a story about what was unexpected and what went wrong. I even made a movie called DO MORE, and there’s a line in there that has to do with planning that’s something like, When there’s nothing planned, anything can happen. That’s sort of become a mantra of mine. In every project I do, I try to put some sort of structure in place to capture something but I never plan on knowing the outcome. I go out of my way to make the outcome the biggest variable, because it’s what makes the story interesting and makes it real.
So, for Travel With Style, for example, we didn’t plan on going surfing – we went to California — we went to L.A — and it was too cold in L.A. to surf. It was freezing cold. So we said, Okay, let’s go some place warm. So we went to Mexico, and we met the housekeeper’s daughter, who’s a young lady in the Mexico scene. And I asked her mother and she said, She does modeling and has aspirations to be an actress, and I said, Would she be in our movie? And then we tried to do the motorcycle scene and the tire blew, so I said, Fuck it, let me just change the tire. So all of those things — all of the huge aspects of the movie that have a great bearing on the narrative — all of those were accidents. When the tire on the motorcycle was flat, we were like, Fuck, we might miss our flight, and we were like, So what, this is the story now. It’s always about putting yourself in these vulnerable places and really embracing what happens next.
You’re pretty open about where you live and work in your videos, and I know your fans are pretty die-hard. Do people try to come and visit you?
We’ve upped the security tremendously at the studio. We have cameras all the way to the street, to the sidewalk to the elevator door. There are eight surveillance cameras set up, and we finally set up a system so that when somebody knocks you can ask over the loudspeaker and send them up.
There’s also this thing, this look. I was hanging around my friend Nev Schulman. He stars in this MTV show called Catfish. Nev came to my wedding. And we were walking around the beach in South Africa and everyone who recognized him, because he’s a famous guy, said, You’re that guy from Catfish. And he said, Yeah, how you doing? But when people recognize me, it’s always, You’re Casey Neistat. It’s never, You’re the guy from that movie. They always know my name. It’s telling or revealing of just how intimately they think they know me, or assume they know me, based on how much of myself I put out there in my movies.
There’s this look that my wife always sees when someone recognizes me. There is this initial look when they look at me and the look is, I know that guy. Oh shit, I don’t know him. It’s a very specific look, like a look when I think I’ve run into a friend of mine, or someone whose face you are so used to seeing that when you see them in public you’re convinced you know them and have to talk yourself down. It doesn’t affect my life, but it is, for first time in 32 years, starting to be a part of my life.
It seems like you have your camera running all the time. How does your family feel about you filming private moments?
I never record something unless there’s something interesting taking place. They’re used to that, and they’re understanding of that. I just helped [my wife] Candice unload the dishwasher. There’s no camera running because there’s nothing inherently interesting about unloading a dishwasher. But, when the plane is about to take off, or we’re about to climb a mountain in Africa, or we’re about to do something super-cool or interesting, yeah, the camera is out. I think I’m like that nerdy dad from middle school who always has a video camera, but in the same respect, I only take it out during interesting occasions.
What’s your next adventure, or next on your bucket list?
There’s so much to do, and so much I want to do that sometimes I get stressed out about not being able to fit it all in before I get run over by a school bus. I’ve never been to China; I’ve never been to Russia. Every time you visit a new place or get to visit a new culture, it shapes your own perspective in a tremendously positive, more informed way. I actively pursue experiences that are unlike any others that I’ve experienced and cultures that I don’t know, and unfamiliar places and unfamiliar history and things like that. The more I find myself in those places, the more confident I become and more appreciative I become of just how good I have it and all my peers have it, when you have an appreciation like that, it fuels things.
I don’t have a list, because I like to think I’m slightly more spontaneous than that. If something pops up that’s good enough to be done, then drop everything and do it, because why the fuck not?
Anyone you want to collaborate with next — individuals or brands?
I’m doing a fellowship at MIT right now, working at the Media Lab with the social-computing team. These are the people that I want to work with; these are the people that I look up to; these are the people that I’m currently entirely engaged with. Because they’re just extraordinary individuals that think so differently than the way the people I’m typically surrounded by think, and I’m learning so much and it’s such an eye-opening experience. I think that when it comes to setting about who you want to be and what you want to do, I think you should always be reaching just beyond your grasp. If you feel like you’re challenging yourself a little bit, then figure out how to challenge yourself more.
Find places that are completely foreign to you. That’s what like. Business/politics turns me on, and the things I’m learning now at MIT excite me. I just read Nick Bilton’s book called Hatching Twitter. Reading that got me really interested in learning more about the start-up universe. And those kinds of people and the way that they think. Those are the people that I’d like to know: the Elon Musks of the world, or the Mark Zuckerbergs and Jack Dorseys. Those are the people I think are fascinating.