Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Casey Neistat

Choices: how to make them in an age of anxiety

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When I made the decision to go to Beijing, after graduating university, it was an instinctive decision. I knew that it was a choice that would have deep and long-lasting effects. And it has. It’s been a blast.

But after three years of Beijing there will come a time when I will want to make another decision. Whether to continue doing the same thing, or to branch out and pick another fig, and experience something completely new.

But how will I know, when I come to make that decision, that the choice I make, will be the right one?

The first couple of months I spent in Beijing were miserable. Lonely. Hard. This was autumn 2012. You won’t find any posts about those months on this blog because I wasn’t blogging back then. But I do remember looking at the ceiling, in my little rented bedroom, at night, feeling quite alone, and wondering whether what I was doing made any sense.

I didn’t know back then whether the decision to go to Beijing would pay off. I had no idea. I couldn’t predict the future.

The second year was better. There was more momentum, more serendipity. By the third year though, things waned. Got a bit stale. Some of that initial motivation had worn off. And I wondered why that was.

The clue was that I finally understood what the phrase “the struggle is the reward” meant.

Those initial months in Beijing were hard, but I was struggling towards something. That struggle gave a firmer narrative to life and a meaning to the misery. The struggle itself made everything rewarding, even the hardship — especially the hardship.

There was purpose in it.

A person I admire is Casey Neistat, a filmmaker. He recalled his first years in New York City, after moving there from small-town New England:

The hardest part was the loneliness, like I didn’t really know anyone in the city when I moved here. I remember going home after work to my tiny apartment and it was like, I had no-one to hang out with, I had no-one to call, I had nothing to do. And that lasted for like, I feel like years, of that kind of loneliness.

I spent a lot of time in my head, dreaming and fantasizing about the life in this city I aspired towards.

Elsewhere, on his YouTube channel, he talks about how he lived in closets, in tiny apartments, in his early years in NYC, sharing with illegal immigrants and ex-convicts. All in the pursuit of his dream, of making it in the city.

He’s now wildly successful, with two million subscribers to his YouTube channel, a tech company he founded, and what he calls a golden age, of his present situation.

But there is a sense I feel, from him, that there is a part of him that maybe misses the young, crazy, suffering, part of his life, when he was starving, and all ahead of him was wild potential and possibility.

I am not successful, not to any degree to how Casey Neistat is successful anyway, in my own field. But I’m no longer that young kid scrapping in Beijing, hungry and desperate for bylines.

So there needs to be a re-framing, a different narrative, as I transition toward a different period in my life.

Is there a conclusion to any of this?

Not really. I’ll let you know in a year or two.

I can’t predict the future.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 1, 2016 at 1:46 am

How To Make A Name For Yourself pt 4: Defining Your Own Path

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As a guiding principle life shrinks and life expands in direct proportion to your willingness to assume risk.

Casey Neistat, filmmaker

There is a huge difference between making it within a system, and making it on your own terms. 

Jostling along the path of freelance journalism, I’ve increasingly found that the clutch of bylines I’ve accumulated count for very little. All it means is that when I pitch or when I get emails out of the blue, from editors, I just have that little more cache.

It affords me more freedom; the ability to take up stories that really interest me. And take punts on travel.

But you will never make it.

Not as a freelance journalist.

But you may do as a bonafide writer. Or some other high-powered creative.

So how do you break out of the tiny little achievements that you get as a freelancer? By focusing less on the litany of tasks that require urgent deadlines, and focusing more on the slow long-term creative projects that once produced and completed will be of higher value.


Because that kind of work is hard. And harder to replicate.

That is how your define your own path.

This is a continuing series exploring the strategies of success of journalists and writers. Part one in the series can be found here – and here is the previous entry

Top 5 mobile phones for journalists

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Most productive

The stylus helps to frame the Note 4 as a productivity tool

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

The Note 4 has a large screen, a top-of-the-line processor to handle multitasking, a very capable camera, and, best of all, a multifunctional stylus with features journalists may find very handy.

The phone has two-day battery life and there is the option of expandable storage with a MicroSD card slot.

The larger screen, which is one of the sharpest and most vivid on the market, is an important feature. Web browsing, having multiple windows open (which the phone allows you to move around and resize), and typing out emails or memos, are all made easier when there’s extra screen space. The downside to this is the phone really has to be handled with two hands in use. But few other phones has the ability to act as a very portable computer as the Note 4 does.

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Getting into Video Storytelling – using a cheap compact camera

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I’ve been pretty inspired recently. And have become obsessed with a YouTuber named Casey Neistat. He’s a 32-year-old filmmaker who advocates limited resources film making. I stumbled upon his videos, and more importantly the story behind his ascent, from this Guardian article: Ten tools for digital and citizen journalists on the go. Specifically this video:

Casey likes to use a digital compact camera to make his videos.

After making videos that went viral, using basic equipment, he was tapped by Nike to make a commercial.

“Nike asked me to make a movie about what it means to #makeitcount. Instead of making their movie I spent the entire budget traveling around the world with my friend Max. We’d keep going until the money ran out. It took 10 days.”

The ad-hoc video he made from that trip, entirely shot on a point-and-shoot camera (Canon S120), was accepted by Nike and the ‘commercial’ has now over 10 million hits on YouTube.

So I read everything I could about Casey Neistat (I often do this when I find someone I can potentially learn from), and realized three things:

1. The camera you use is not important, and actually using ‘crappy’ equipment might work to your advantage.

2. Having limitations can create awesome things and can cultivate a unique style.

3. It’s all about the story. Story telling. Telling stories. The STORY. 

People like to be engaged and a video with a strong hook will pull in audiences even if it’s shot on a crappy camera phone compared to expensive DSLR footage that’s only about scenery that admittedly looks incredible.

My seven-year-old compact digital camera which I have now replaced. It still works though - the three pictures below were all taken with this camera in the past two years.

My seven-year-old compact digital camera which I have now replaced. It still works though – the three pictures below were all taken with this camera over the past two years.

So I’m going to start doing that then. I bought a Canon S120 (for £270 ’cause my old compact camera is literally falling apart) and downloaded Windows Movie Maker. That’s right, the free-to-download most basic video editing software available. It might sound amusing, but hey at least I’ve started. I’ll keep you updated when my first video hits and where it may end up.

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