Growing Up on YouTube: Video Production, The Next Generation
COW Library : Art of the Edit : Kylee Peña : Growing Up on YouTube: Video Production, The Next Generation
Sabrina Cruz’s first video on YouTube was a review of a cookie. It was eleven minutes long. To be fair, she was twelve years old.
Since then, things have only improved. Sabrina is now one of the most visible YouTubers in the online creator space with over 160,000 subscribers and 10 million views on her channel NerdyAndQuirky which offers short snippets of insight on pop culture, history, and social justice. Getting into YouTube because she wanted to make content she wanted to see, she’s found joy in remixing educational content with comedy.
Some of her latest videos include a roast of Doctor Who haters, “The Great Emu War Explained”, and an explanation of how six chocolates got their name which answers the question “Just who WAS Reese??”
But underneath the amusing titles and colorful thumbnails, viewers are hooked by an immensely thoughtful message weaved through an incredibly powerful platform with high production value and editorial skill. Through accessible tools and ease of engagement, young people like Sabrina have been able to grow up on YouTube and find one another, making a more inclusive space in new media than the television and film industry has ever been able to accomplish through special diversity programs and limited mentorship. Like recent trends in virtual reality, this online space has become nearly dominated by successful female creators.
Now in her first year of college in Canada, Sabrina is studying mathematics and economics while she continues to produce content for Nerdy and Quirky, including a series of Cool History videos which explore the weirder side of historical figures. She uses Adobe Premiere CC to cut her videos, shot on the Canon 7D with a kit lens. “I really love [Adobe’s] products. They do a great job at really facilitating and encouraging creators!”
I talked to Sabrina about her process for developing new videos, as well as her insight on female creators, online harassment, and how fan fiction and creative remixing is often a jumping off point for a real career.
Creative COW: When you go about developing a new video, what’s the rundown of the early stages of planning all the way through publishing? Is there a strategy you’ve learned for developing these things, or are you a little more flexible and loose with the creative process?
Sabrina: There is some strategy involved. I like to mix it up because I do need to grow my channel so I need to have strategic video topics as well. For example, I see if my audience loves biographies about famous people, like Oscar Wilde or Van Gogh. They also really like art videos, so I make content like that. I made one about the Bermuda Triangle, because people love conspiracy theories. But there are some more niche videos solely for myself, like how Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with a moose for a very long time. That was something that I did for myself. And he was super weird, he was super obsessed with it.
You’ve gotta be able to do some things for yourself when it comes to Thomas Jefferson.
In this online creative space a lot of people refer to as new media, there seems to be so many more women creating and sharing content than in traditional media. Do you feel like your creative space is full of women? Is that true, and do you get the sense that online things are more equal?
Sabrina: It definitely feels more equal, but that’s because I've been making more of a push to come in contact with other female creators. I know that like two years ago at Vidcon, I looked around and all the people I was hanging out with were dudes. It was super strange because all these adult dudes were around and I was like oh, I’m a small teenager, what am I doing here?
Then I started making an active push to surround myself with inspiration female creators. There’s a lot of female musicians around as well. They’re really great! So I started making a point to surround myself with women who experience the same difficulties that I faced in online media. Because sometimes dudes don’t get it. It’s not their fault, they're subjected to different things.
What are some of those challenges that the women and online creatives face?
Sabrina: There are many. One of the biggest things that really shocked me -- I started out as a young kid so no one really thought to make fun of my looks. I was clearly going through my own stuff with puberty destroying my face. But as I got older, people seemed to hold me to a different visual standard, being in front of the camera, which I didn’t quite understand. I was recently called unprofessional because I had a pimple on my face. How, how does that happen? I don’t know.
So there’s a different level of scrutiny that we go under, from the sound of our voice to how we dress. Another thing is you can’t really have strong opinions on the internet without having really strong will. I’m a thin skinned Canadian who apologizes for everything. So, I wish I was better at this. But having strong opinions on the internet, especially as a woman, is rough. Because people are a lot quicker to threaten death, threaten assault, than I see with a lot of my male counterparts. Which is great, I love it. I love fearing for my safety.
Yeah, it’s awesome. For younger women, especially trying to get into this creative area, what kind of advice would you give them for handling things like online harassment or judgments like that?
Sabrina: One of the biggest things is you wanna think about everything rationally. These people who are trolling you on the internet, a lot of the times they’re probably just a small child who does not understand how to express emotions like a human being. But it’s really easy to rationalize out a lot of the hate with more dangerous things. Younger people definitely need to be in touch with an adult who’s able to make sure they’re safe.
Do not engage, because that’s what they're really looking for. They’re really hunting for somebody to fight with. Really you could just mute them. They don’t even know that their comments aren’t being read and nobody is seeing their comments. That’s a really new tool that YouTube has slowly been incorporating into their comments moderation process, where you can just hide comments from users, specific videos, or whatever.
Some recent NerdyAndQuirky episodes
Why do you think online streaming video and YouTube seems more accessible for all different kinds of people over traditional media?
Sabrina: I think the big thing is that there is a very accessible creator community right now, through the help of having targeted products like Adobe. Everybody uses Adobe products, so there are a lot of resources for it. Then having Creative COW which helps a bunch of people just learn specific aspects of their product. So for example, recently I had to learn how to take a video that was shot in 24 frames per second to 30 frames per second, and Creative COW saved my life. And Adobe made it easy, like so incredibly easy to do!
Having really accessible tools that you can learn about from the comfort of your own home at your own pace, whatever age you are, makes it easy. People are very concise and giving on the internet when it comes down to teaching things. I think it just makes the creative process and the more technical aspects of it more accessible.
I definitely grew up on Creative COW as well. So I’m happy to contribute.
Sabrina: It saved my life a bunch of times.
A lot of established people in the video production business, lifers in the industry, think of the term “YouTuber” as derogatory. It seems they don’t think it has substance. They’re dismissive of the subculture, and they’re especially dismissive of teenage girls who use it. I’m pretty active on Tumblr and I’m amazed at how much young women seem more educated and empowered than they were even ten years ago. What do you think?
Sabrina: It’s incredible how people are so quick to insult the concept of the fangirl, the teenage girl, when really these girls found a community that they find solace in from reality. They found a community they could make friends with, that empowers them to make their own decisions, to use fan fiction to create their own stuff. And it’s deeply unfortunate that somebody's age or somebody’s gender can make their entire opinion invalid, especially when teenage girls are creating some amazing stuff if you just bothered to look at it online.
Especially with fan fiction, which has been kind of a largely female driven creative aspect of the internet! I was into fan fiction back in 1999, especially with The X-Files, and I was amazed at what these young women were creating. It seems there’s this intersection of two concepts, of online streaming and of creative fan fiction or remixing. Do you think things like that have changed the way young women think of themselves?
Sabrina: I’m still technically a teenage girl because I’m 19, and I definitely think it really helps you feel involved. You're not just a viewer sitting watching a screen where someone is feeding you media. When you're watching your TV shows – Doctor Who, Sherlock – you think that you can create your own “headcanon”, you feel like you're not only a part of the community, but you can affect what happens. You can write your own fan fiction, you can draw your own fan art.
And it’s a really good launching point in your own creative career. Not only is it empowering for you in real life, but hey, my opinion does matter, my opinion affects these things. It’s a great starting point to have these pre-existing characters that you can work with and then start to build your own concept, practicing your own techniques on them in terms of writing, editing, whatever.
I think it’s interesting that you’re in this creative space as a YouTuber but you chose to go to college for something else, for math and economics. Being on the internet, being in math, creating videos – these are all spaces not traditionally welcoming to women. What has your life been like at the convergence of all this, and why did you pursue this education?
Sabrina: I chose to study math because I’m good at math. I got a scholarship for mathematics, so I figured why not. The other reason that I did it though is because I’ve been doing creative work since I was in the 7th grade, and it’s been my job all throughout high school, even a little bit before and after that. The one thing that I really learned from having it essentially be my entire life is finding a balance between my passions.
As much as I love sitting down doing some freelance illustrations, writing some scripts, shooting some videos, I really like the processes that are involved in mathematics. The logic, having to look into data, having to sort it, having to catalogue that. I really love that analytical process that a lot of creatives weren’t given. I like being able to push back and forth between the two things that I love. You could also say I’m also bad at making decisions.
When it comes down to why I chose these fields that aren’t traditionally accepting of women, I would say I was young and I didn’t know that things could be terrible. But naivety in why I chose these things, that I didn’t notice that women weren’t as heavily celebrated in the field, it’s kind of a good thing. It shows that it’s not as aggressive, that women are starting to see themselves represented in these fields more and more, to feel welcomed. And the more women who go in, the more younger generations will follow too.
And that’s kind of really why I haven’t noticed such a dramatic issue. In my academic studies, my classes have been relatively gender neutral. Mathematics has not seen such a dramatic gender split, as much as like engineering, computer science has, so I’m lucky in that regard.
If a platform like YouTube didn’t exist and never came to be, do you think you would have found another way to express this side of yourself?
Sabrina: Definitely, before I even knew YouTube was a thing, I was making videos. My family is super into movies so I always thought hey, I can do that. My first piece of technology, my parents just gave me this really terrible toy camera which I cherished for years before I bought something that was better. I always had a passion for making something. I wanted to write, I liked drawing, I liked making videos. And YouTube just happened to be a platform that surfaced. That did the job in terms of being able to share the content online and being able to hear back and forth engagement, and they’ve done a pretty great job of doing what they do.
I think all this change is really fascinating because it happened so fast. I’m 30, but I was two years into college when YouTube became a thing. I had been making videos since 2001 with brand new affordable tools, but there was nowhere to put them to share. Now we have YouTube, high speed internet, videos on every iPhone. What do you think is the next big change for this format?
Sabrina: God, that is the million dollar question, isn’t it?
Sabrina: Yeah, that’s what everybody talks about at Vidcon. I’m definitely seeing there’s more competition than ever in the video hosting platform. You see Twitter doing a big push, you see Facebook doing a gigantic push, and Instagram is definitely livening up the influencer market place. Facebook is the gigantic goliath that’s coming up right now, and I think that is the big change that is happening in the video world right now.
Creators are diversifying, they’re changing. Maybe it’s out of loyalty to YouTube that they stuck here so long, but a lot of creators are starting to look at other platforms. Obviously people trying to make their living are gonna go to different platforms or spread their bases. So basically, I’m saying you're gonna see a lot more video on all your social media in the coming year.
What benefits do you think emerge from having this global connected culture of sharing things that used to be a little more closed off -- like nerdiness, or fan fiction or even feminism -- and using videos to do that through a community?
Sabrina: There are so many benefits. I couldn’t even list them all, but I think one benefit is access to information, access to ideas, access to different cultures. Like the LGBTQA+ movement -- I wouldn’t know how to interact with a lot of that culture without the help of the internet. Now, some of my closest friends, they’re LGBT identifying and I’m able to interact with them in a way that makes them comfortable. That is extremely important to me. And that is thanks to language and ideas that I have learned from the internet.
There are benefits in terms of helping me in my school work, helping me in my video production, the ease of accessing information. Although maybe it’s not as clean, maybe it’s not a perfect world, but having it accessible so you don’t have to go to a library, you don’t have to flip through so many books to find something relevant, I love it!
Growing up on YouTube must be really interesting because there’s so much life change in a short amount of time. How do you think your YouTuber persona might change as you leave teenagedom and begin working in the math or econ fields?
Sabrina: It’s interesting because one thing that everybody who watches my videos and meets me in life says that I am the most similar to my videos that they’ve ever seen in any creator. I’m very loud, I’m very gesticulating, and not just on camera. The way that I represent my views have definitely changed. I started YouTube when I was just 12 years old, so I was angry and opinionated, the most perfect correct person on earth.
But I’ve been making an effort to show less of that, and it’s not because I’m scared people are going to get mad at me, it’s because hey, almost all of the conflicts we have in this world are complex, there are grey areas. And I am more than happy to reside in that world. I feel like I am just going to get more and more comfortable with being uncertain as I grow up online and in the real world.
It’s really interesting how a sharing, visual-focused generation will start to interact with the concept that everyone can see what you do online. I’m really interested to see where it goes. I have a lot of faith in humanity. Maybe it’s misplaced, but I think it’s gonna be good.