I want to skip over all the wonderful things I can say about Casey Neistat, because if you are an aspiring filmmaker, then you already know these things. I want to get straight to the point of what his latest motivational video, titled ‘FILMMAKING IS A SPORT’, was really saying, because I believe its sentiment conveys a detrimental attitude towards the present and future place of film in our world.
In many ways, I agree with what he had to say: filmmaking is no longer an elite practice only those with money and resources can access – it’s for everyone. That is certainly liberating. However, labelling filmmaking as a sport reduces the most powerful tool for change to mere entertainment and something that can be ‘won’. Whilst there are many positive attributes that can be said for the importance of sport in our societies, there are three attributes in particular which should not align with the art of filmmaking.
- In sport, winning is the sole aim
There is only one goal in any sport: to win. Whether it’s independently, like in an Olympic 100m sprint, or a part of a local football club, you need to get over the line first or score the most goals to be victorious.
When it comes to filmmaking, if you can win, what is the prize? Views? Money? Attention? Significance? Worth? Casey says in the video that if you want to be heard, make films. I think that filmmakers who see their work as ‘sport’ are not doing it to be heard at all but they are doing it to be noticed; the difference is distinct and comes down to how one sees themself. In calling filmmaking a sport, one’s motivation should be questioned. Film and storytelling is powerful; making it into a sport and a competition reduces its significance in a world where we, as global citizens, are able to have a meaningful voice.
- Sport is competitive and only the very best make it
If you’re serious about sport, you will train hard, play hard and hopefully, one day, you might just make it big. Olympic medals or world cups could be within your reach. These prizes would be well-deserved and symbols of the dedication and strength you have displayed over time. In the same way, in order to ‘make it’ in film, you must possess the same qualities, and Casey is no stranger to doing so.
However, in describing filmmaking as a ‘sport’, Casey has told his viewers it is a competition, and in order to win, you must make content – but not just any content: the best content. The definition of ‘the best content’ is obviously open to interpretation and is influenced by your audience, but whatever you do, you must maintain and grow it. The negative repercussions of this fact is many filmmakers – particularly on YouTube – will think of the most outrageous ideas or engage in the most controversial pursuits in order to receive their views and as a result have forgotten about the influence and responsibility they possess. This is most recently witnessed in Logan Paul’s ‘Suicide Forest’ video – we thought this might have ruined his career but it has had the contrary effect, which says much about what audiences want. Sadly, many filmmakers and content-creators already view filmmaking as a sport and a competition to be won, and the cost is great.
- Sport has rules that need to be followed in order to win
The irony in Casey’s likening of filmmaking to sport is he has often spoken about ‘breaking the rules’ of what it means to be a filmmaker, but sport is built on them! I get what he’s saying: harness your creativity, don’t be afraid to take risks, and all the other related platitudes. However, in this video, and by describing filmmaking as sport, Casey has created a new game that has a particular set of rules: make A LOT of content (it doesn’t really matter what it is), get the most views, and then you win. Very simple, it seems.
The tragedy here – and I use the word ‘tragedy’ because it’s such a devastating realisation – is Casey is seemingly relinquishing his desire to see artistic expression in favour of empty content. I’ve been left confused by his sentiments, because the reason he rejected his perceived success in the industry outside of YouTube was because he didn’t want to fit into a mould that wasn’t created by himself. In creating this video, he has manufactured a mould of his own, which is that your success is measured in the views you receive. I’m sure his sentiments were supposed to run much deeper than that, but in calling filmmaking a ‘sport’, this is what is has been reduced to.
Filmmaking is art. It should be interesting to view. It should be a reflection of life. It should challenge the way societies think or act. This could also be a reductive way of looking at art – its definition is a different discussion. However, it certainly should not be reduced to a competition that has winners and losers. It’s a powerful weapon of change – however big or small – and when viewed as anything other than that, your success will be fleeting and ultimately, unfulfilling.