YouTube stars can actually be really good people! Like vlogger Anna Akana, who makes videos about introversion, suicide awareness, racist sexual fetishes, and taking self-care beyond bubble baths and massages for an audience of over two million subscribers. She also makes short films; appears in Ant-Man, Corporate and Adam Ruins Everything; and stars in her own YouTube Red show Youth & Consequences, premiering today. We talked to her about building a career out of comedy, acting and YouTube videos.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Current Gig: Executive Producer, Lead in YouTube Red's Youth & Consequences, streaming March 8
One word that best describes how you work: Passionately
Current mobile device: iPhone 7? 7S? I can't keep track
Current computer: An older iMac
A Conversation with Anna Akana
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I started off in stand-up comedy when I was 19. I would drive the 200 miles [322km] out to LA, wait outside of bars until it was my time to perform, then be escorted out of the building after I finished my five to eight minute set. I did this for years while trying to jumpstart an acting career, and was ultimately introduced to YouTube by my younger brother. Frustrated by the grind of performing for people who couldn't care less, I started making videos at home as a one woman crew and fell in love with filmmaking.
Take us through a recent workday.
I typically wake up at 6:30AM. I meditate for 20 minutes, hit the gym or a yoga class, and come home to start the work day. I'll write for a few hours, go to any meetings that are scheduled, attend classes (guitar, vocal and acting are all recurring once a week) and coordinate any pre-production for passion projects. I reserve my dinners to meet up with friends and catch up. Then I head home, meditate again for 20 minutes, and read or journal or draw until I go to bed.
What apps, gadgets or tools can't you live without?
I can't live without Google Calendar. I'm obsessed with organisation and colour coordination.
What's your workspace setup like?
I have a very large desk that actually folds inwards to look like a giant suitcase. It takes up a corner of the room and has its own file cabinets and indents where I store my notebooks, printers and various camera models. I have a huge whiteboard that covers one wall where I write the current status of all ongoing projects, as well as a cork board that displays the entire calendar year.
How to Level Up
What's your best shortcut or life hack (no matter how small or niche)?
Visualisation. If you can see it, you can make it.
Take us through an interesting, unusual or finicky process you have in place at work.
I write my YouTube videos an hour before we film. I'll be in the chair with my makeup artist Cat and won't finish the script until my crew arrives. I'm not a huge fan of the process, but after making videos for seven years, I often can't come up with ideas unless I absolutely have to. There's some rare occasions when I'll be struck with inspiration, but at this point my brain won't latch onto anything until I'm down to the wire.
Behind the scenes of a YouTube shoot. Photo: Anna Akana
On Youth & Consequences, how did working with a woman-led team affect the process and the end result?
I felt much more confident in being open since it was a woman-led team. I felt so much trust and gratitude with strong women on set. I felt confident that I was going to be heard, that my vulnerability was going to be protected (I had a few scenes where I had to take off my clothes, which was nerve-wracking) and that I was in a safe space. As far as the end result? Check it out for yourself. The female empowerment and complex, amazing female characters speak for themselves.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
My manager Tom is my creative and business partner. He helps me keep my mind on the big picture. I'm the type of person who gets caught up in the moment of the small things, so it's great to have him pull me back and remind me of what I'm aiming for long term.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I am a huge organisation fanatic. I'm one of those people who walks into an Office Max and gets goosebumps and an odd almost sexual pleasure from the sight of the aisles. If there's any method of organisation, I've tried it. I've done bullet journaling, vision boards, all types of lists, bubble maps, and other efficiency life hacks. So keeping track of what I have to do is enjoyable to me.
What's your least favourite thing to do, and how do you deal with it?
My least favourite thing to do is cook. I've always been horrible at it, and find it a waste of time. It's one of the things I'd really like to change, but I always end up ordering delivery or going out for nearly every meal. And if I have to cook, I do easy things like miso soup or canned chilli.
How do you recharge or take a break from work?
I love reading. I try to consume at least 70 works every year (graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction, fiction). Meditation is also a nice break from work and I do it twice a day for 20 minutes each.
What self care really means
What's your favourite side project?
Right now I'm working on an album. Music is incredibly vulnerable and scary and I have no idea if it will resonate with anyone, but it's been a cathartic process for a difficult time in my life and I'm excited to keep exploring it.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I'm currently reading Joe Hill's Strange Weather.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
If you didn't get the job, it wasn't yours.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Youth & Consequences is my dream project. It's the kind of show I love watching, and it is beyond unreal that I got to lead it and executive produce it. I hope everyone watches it and falls in love with the show as much as I fell in love with the script (written by Jason Ubaldi).
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.