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How YouTube’s Anna Akana went from vlogs to the silver screen

Anna Akana in Loose Ends

Anna Akana/YouTube

When Anna Akana sets her mind to something, anything can happen.

Fresh off her first silver screen directorial debut, it’s official: This is the year of Anna Akana.

Last week, at Los Angeles’ Downtown Independent Theatre, longtime YouTuber Anna Akana brought to the silver screen her short film “Loose Ends”—a project made special not only by its debut, but the all-female cast and crew that made it possible.

After two years of making vlogs on her YouTube channel, Akana wanted to try a new challenge: filmmaking. So off she went, six short films in tow while simultaneously acting in Marvel’s Ant-Man and Michael Showalter’s new film My Name is Doris, venturing into the world of standup comedy, and launching her own clothing line, Ghosts and Stars. Oh, and still while making inspiring, kickass YouTube videos that celebrate women for being themselves.

“Work harder and smarter than everyone else.”

Shot in found-footage style, “Loose Ends” follows documentarian Alex Wong (played by Akana) whose project is to film Yale valedictorian Amy Holt’s pursuit of a position in the CIA. But the more Wong becomes entrenched in the story, the more Holt’s genius begins turning to insanity. Through the six short films she’s created, Akana has become known for breaking boundaries around taboo topics like mental illness and suicide with her multidimensional and dark characters.

“‘Loose Ends’ was an all-female crew, and one of the greatest on set experiences I’ve ever had,” Akana shared in an interview with the Daily Dot. “We were ahead of schedule every day, and there was a laid-back, calm, supportive vibe that was entirely new to all of us. I had a great talk with our gaffer about how she often loses jobs to men because it requires more physical labor and people don’t think she’s capable. Those are the kinds of things I’d like to change as a director.”

“I never went to film school, so creating six shorts last year (all under ten minutes each) was my education. ‘Loose Ends,’ being the longest thing I’ve made to date, felt like a graduation of sorts,” Akana shared post-premiere. Her talent as a filmmaker—and influence among the YouTube community, with 1.3 million subscribers and countless viral hits—hasn’t gone unnoticed. She’s even gotten the opportunity to turn her short “Miss Earth” into a full series with Ron Howard’s production company, New Form Digital.

“Being a filmmaker in the digital platform has given me complete creative control. I can make what I want, when I want. I don’t have to wait to book an audition. I can play the lead role that I’d otherwise never be [cast] as,” Akana said.

Her advice for other women hoping to break into the filmmaking space? “Work harder and smarter than everyone else. Before I started, I thought that this industry was impossible to get into, that there were way too many talented people for me to even be considered. It’s true, there are a lot of talented people, but there are rarely people who are both brilliant and hardworking. Don’t be afraid to suck. It’s all a process.”

Screengrab via Anna Akana/YouTube

Carly Lanning

Carly Lanning

Carly Lanning is a journalist who covers social media. Her work has been published by Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, and Ms. Magazine.