A Slice of Life with Casimir Nozkowski

One of the perks of my job is being able to wrangle interviews with filmmakers whose work I really admire. So while in New York last week, one of my goals was to sit down with Casimir Nozkowski, whose short “Ghetto Bodega” I was introduced to at the Daily Reel screening in Austin for South by Southwest. His latest video, “First!” (see below, that’s Nozkowski speaking) has over half a million views on YouTube after only a month.

He also worked with Daniel Engber to produce videos for “Crying While Eating,” which was one of the winners of Jonah Peretti’s Contagious Media Showdown. That effort landed him on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and made him the in-house expert on viral media online at the Cablevision offices in Midtown Manhattan where he works as a commercial producer for channels like AMC, IFC and formerly Bravo.

Nozkowski, born and raised in New York City, wanted a career as a filmmaker since high school and studied both film and English at Vassar College. He had read that he should start working immediately if he wanted to be a director. “I had it in my head that I had to shoot on film, that that was the way to be taken seriously.” But two shorts shot on 16mm took three years to complete. “It drove me fucking insane.” Since then, he’s switched to video and focused on posting his work online.

Traditionally, filmmakers would promote their work with a “reel,” usually on tape or DVD. But Nozkowski just sends links to his work online these days. “On YouTube, you can see all thirty videos I’ve put up there, pick and choose, with descriptions. It’s basically a reel.” Additionally, people can instantly see how popular your work is through stats and comments. “That’s a real feather in your cap if you’re trying to get more work as a filmmaker.”

Not that he’d turned down working on a feature if the offer was presented to him. “I really do want to be a feature filmmaker, but more importantly, I want to be a prolific filmmaker.” He’s currently trying to balance producing more shorts while also working on scripts and treatments. The key, he asserted, is to be ready with projects in hand when and if someone does come calling based on your online work.

I was curious if becoming a success on YouTube or other online sites might become a goal in and of itself for aspiring filmmakers. He has found himself beginning to think of projects in terms specific to the online medium, for instance, exploring simple ideas that are cheap and easy to execute and keeping it short. “It’s not that it’s low caliber, it’s just that it’s shot cheaply, edited cheaply.” That said, he doesn’t feel that these are hard and fast rules. “I’m a firm believer that there’s no absolutes. If it’s awesome, it’s awesome.”

“One thing about YouTube is that it makes serials more appealing. I didn’t used to think in terms of serials, but now I feel that’s the really hot way to approach it,” he added. “It’s still in that bite-sized format, but you can have as much content as you feel the subject warrants.” To that end, he’s working on a short-form serial concept, “kind of a horror-comedy thing.”

Other projects in the work include more shorts featuring the duo of his high school classmate Rafi Kam and fellow blogger Dallas Penn, known collectively as the “Internets Celebrities.” He’s also working with Engber on a followup to Crying While Eating, based on his short “The Hello Curve,” which was picked for the Daily Reel’s inaugural top ten list.

“I just know that right now, my films are being seen by more people than ever before, so I feel like I’m on something like the right track.”