On November 7, one of the strongest typhoons in recorded history made landfall in the Philippines. Five days later, Neistat was offered a job promoting Ben Stiller’s forthcoming film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for 20th Century Fox. The prolific director agreed to take the job on one unusual condition (as if there were any other kind with this guy): that he would go to the Philippines and spend every penny of the budget helping people in need over there. Perhaps sensing how the director’s last act of budget misappropriation ended up helping Nike to the tune of 10 million YouTube views–or perhaps feeling charitable–the studio complied (at least according to Neistat–keep in mind that this whole conceit could be the campaign).
20th Century Fox had ostensibly wanted to run a campaign entitled “Live Your Dreams”–something to motivate and inspire fans to do something they’d never done. Neistat dismissed it out of hand, obviously, and his utter disregard for assigned concepts continues to be refreshing. He understands that rather than fleshing out a premise with a tenuous connection to a movie, he can basically do whatever the hell he wants and spread awareness at the same time. Here, he chose to do some good.
Upon arriving in the Philippines for his mission, Neistat tweeted “anyone know anyone in Manila who knows how to make shit happen? organizing a aid mission.” David Weiner of Digg saw the tweet and set Neistat up with somebody who pointed the director toward the city of Cebu, where he could purchase relief supplies, and helped assemble a team. When all the food and supplies are stacked high in front of a chartered bus like miniature culinary skyscrapers, the director observes, “This is what my The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s promotional budget looks like.”
For a while, the video seems a little self-aggrandizing. There is a faint whiff of “See what a hero I am?” as Neistat, on his food-bus to Tacloban, leans out the door and signals ambulances to pass while a hip soundtrack plays on. Eventually, however, after the director and his team break the food down into enough bags to supply 10,000 meals, we see some of the damage in the Philippines. It is apocalyptic. In addition to food, Neistat also brought tools and medicine to people who needed it. It was not something he or 20th Century Fox needed to do–and it is worthwhile. Whether the act benefits either party’s brand, in the more traditional way, in the process is incidental.