At the same time that many of her peers prepared for college finals, Audrey Ember released a video explaining why she had decided to quit school for the second time. For a while, she admits, going back to college was Plan C, but the plan had been scrapped again. “Sorry mom,” she says to the camera with a grin. It’s a moment typical of Ember — honest, personal, reflective of that place between adulthood and owing your parents answers.
The twenty-year-old YouTube creator has been doing things her way for a while now. After pursuing a film degree for two years, Ember decided to focus full-time on her YouTube channel, where she creates content specializing in cinematography, video production, and the creative process.
In the span of fifteen years — most of Ember’s lifetime — YouTube has gone from a platform for documenting a day at the zoo to a platform generating billions of views per day and surpassing all network television channels in popularity among viewers under twenty-five-years old. In this same stretch, we’ve also seen the rise of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and other popular social media outlets known for video streaming and sharing.
Ember embodies this statistic. She grew up with YouTube as a primary source for entertainment in the same way that older generations did with television. Ask Ember her favorite movie, and she’s at a loss; ask for a favorite fellow YouTuber, and she names five. The site offers more than just entertainment. For creatives of all experience levels, YouTube provides an accessible outlet for showcasing their content and getting it in front of viewers.
Yet for all of its accessibility, YouTube has tended to reflect troubling trends in the film industry more broadly. In 2018–19, women made up only 31 percent of those working in creative behind-the-scenes roles (writers, directors, producers) in film and video production, a figure that shows growth from the year prior but leaves plenty of room for improvement.
For Ember, this gap was a challenge to be confronted head-on. Following the lead of other women-led social media movements in recent years such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, Ember connected with other female creators in the YouTube community to introduce #CreateHer, designed to encourage more female creators generally while also carving a space where they can collaborate, share interests, inspiration, and knowledge.
November 2019 marked four years since Ember added her first video to her YouTube channel. “It’s crazy to think how much I’ve changed and how much YouTube has changed since ,” Ember tweeted following the anniversary. “But what hasn’t changed is my excitement to pick up a camera and make awesome videos. Only getting started!”
Dev Lachapelle, a project manager at SHIFT and an avid consumer of online social entertainment, spoke with Ember via phone to explore more of her process, motivations, thoughts on the YouTube community, and female presence in the industry. With help from writer Jeanine Cameron, their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Dev Lachapelle: How did you get started in digital media and filmmaking?
Audrey Ember: I've always had a creative interest, but I never really knew what to do with it. Growing up, I was never really into watching movies or TV shows; I would watch YouTube videos. I started playing around with video when I started making little videos for friends for their birthdays. When I was a sophomore in high school, I finally decided to start a YouTube channel of my own, and since then I've been posting consistently. Since starting my channel, I’ve started to branch out into more traditional filmmaking as I’ve learned over time that there are so many interconnections between what I do on my YouTube channel and the traditional film industry. You’re able to see how my interests have evolved overtime. November [marked] my fourth year posting videos.
Dev: When you were first starting to make YouTube videos, who were some of the YouTubers — or what were some of the videos — that you were most interested in?
Audrey: I’m trying to remember who I was watching in middle school. I think it was just probably random stuff. I can’t really remember one specific person. I was one of those kids who actually enjoyed watching Annoying Orange, which is kind of embarrassing, but other than that, I don’t really know.
I do know that early high school was when I actually started subscribing to people. I didn’t know you could do that until then. Some of my first favorites were Connor Franta and Joe Sugg, who I still love watching. There was one video by Connor that really kind of just changed everything for me. It’s called “Life Doesn’t Wait,” and it’s like a more artsy, cinematic storytelling video. And it was kind of the first time I’d ever seen something like that on YouTube. I just really, really loved it, to the point where I recreated it shot for shot, which was my first YouTube video. Even though it’s technically second on my channel, I made it first — I just took a long time to edit it. So he was definitely a huge inspiration.
After Connor, it was probably Casey Neistat, and then eventually Peter McKinnon, which was amazing when I found his stuff. And that’s when it really all started to click, because between Connor and Peter, I had a stage where I was just making, you know, random challenge videos and vlogs with friends. It wasn’t technical or anything; it was just me kind of fooling around. But when I found Peter, that’s when something clicked, and I was, like, “I love that.” So yeah, I guess my biggest inspirations YouTube-wise [were] Connor, Joe Sugg, Casey, and then Peter McKinnon.
Dev: I recently saw your VidSummit video, in which you said you were going to be making more of your “Playing with Fire” videos and kind of getting back to the basics of why you started making videos in the first place. One of your [VidSummit] takeaways was to stop overcomplicating things and that sometimes you get far away from the reason that you’re making the video, because you get caught up in, “How am I going to make money off of this?,” or “How many clicks am I getting?,” or “Am I going to be doing this for the rest of my life?” That’s definitely something I can relate to as a writer and that I’m sure a lot of artists and other creatives can relate to as well.
Audrey: Yeah, so it’s kind of weird because, looking back at the history of my channel — like I said, that initial video where I copied Connor Franta’s “Life Doesn’t Wait” video — it’s basically the exact same concept as what I want to do now. You know, the Playing with Fire series, where I just get inspired by something, and I try to redo it with my own twist, it’s historically done best for my channel. These past two years I’ve kind of been all over the place, testing out different stuff, and it’s funny that it’s kind of led me full-circle, almost back to where I started. Literally just, you know, remembering why I started and remembering that that type of content — the one I started out making and what I like to do the most — it’s a little bit frustrating, but also, you know, that period of trial and error is necessary, and it’s still going to evolve and be different than whatever I was making a couple years ago.
But I think it’s important sometimes to take a step back and remember why you started and what you loved making when you didn’t have that pressure. And of course, with YouTube especially, there is a certain amount of “playing the game” that you have to do, but if you can find a way to combine that with your passion — like why you got started — that’s kind of the goal. Luckily for me, the thing I got started with — that concept of recreating other people’s stuff — is what has performed best for my channel. So, it’s frustrating, but I need to do it more and stop overthinking stuff. But I think that’s something that a lot of artists go through.
Dev: Tell me more about your creative process with your YouTube content. Is it a lot of advance planning or more spontaneous?
Audrey: I get inspired a lot by consuming content. So when something sparks inspiration my process has been to just make it. If I have an idea, I try not to push it off too far or sit for long as I will lose that initial inspiration for the video. I do some planning just to make sure I don’t forget anything, but there is usually no more than two weeks of pre-planning.
Dev: What draws you to YouTube content over movies or television?
Audrey: I went to film school for a year, and one of the biggest things I realized was just how different my interests and my background as a filmmaker were from so many people in my class as well as my professor. The reason why I went into the major was because it was called film and digital media, and I was more interested in the digital media side of it, but there was almost none of that. When I was asked, “What’s your favorite movie?” I wasn’t able to answer it, as most of my interests were in another form of media. What really captured my attention was the rawness of YouTube videos. I loved how it was just one person making something and having an idea in their head become an actual product. More traditional film kind of scared me because I didn’t like the idea of not being able to focus on what I wanted to do. I like watching “real” stuff — vloggers, people who document their lives. It’s just more interesting to me.
Dev: What do you think draws you to vlogs?
Audrey: Just the fact that it’s a real person sharing their story. It’s easier for me to relate to an individual person rather than a fictional character in movies or television.
I like watching “real” stuff — vloggers, people who document their lives. It’s just more interesting to me.
Dev: I’ve heard some compare vloggers to reality television stars in the way that you have a documented insight into their lives.
Audrey: I mean, it’s kind of true. But with vlogging, you’re the one that is making your own reality TV show. You have the most artistic control.
Dev: It’s definitely easier to relate to those who live more normal day-to-day lives versus someone like Kylie Jenner vlogging.
Audrey: Exactly. It’s not relatable to the majority of the world. Celebrities coming over to YouTube doesn’t make it seem as genuine anymore. The people who fought to build themselves up are what made the platform. The idea that it’s so accessible made it popular.
Dev: You mentioned celebrities from more traditional forms of media entertainment coming over to the platform. What are your thoughts about the relationship between traditional forms of entertainment and online social media?
Audrey: Currently, as well as in the past, YouTube creators aren’t taken as seriously as people in traditional media. It’s not seen as on the same level at all. I don’t even like to tell people what I do because I don’t want to be immediately seen in a certain way. But I think people are starting to realize the power of the platform. The power of social media is becoming literally undeniable. So I think these bigger celebrities are looking to YouTube to stay relevant. At the same time, there are a lot of YouTubers who are going over to traditional media. The industries are becoming more interconnected.
Currently, as well as in the past, YouTube creators aren’t taken as seriously as people in traditional media. It’s not seen as on the same level at all.
Dev: Can you tell me about the motivation behind #CreateHer?
Audrey: I got the idea for the #CreateHer movement last year while I was at VidCon. My friend and I were listing our favorite YouTubers, and she listed her top three for her area of interest, which were all girls, and then my top three for my area of interest (media and tech) were all dudes. We were just talking, not really taking notice [of] the difference. She then made a comment: “Audrey, it’s kind of funny how all of your favorite YouTubers are guys, and mine are girls.” It was just a passing comment, but it made me think more about the creators that are popular in media and tech on YouTube and how the vast majority of them are male. Very similar to how the demographics are in traditional media.
This interaction inspired me to try and find women creators in this niche, and as soon as I started looking, it wasn’t that hard to find them. I reached out to a bunch of these woman and made this big collab video called “We Need More Female Creators.” The original purpose of the video was to present a topic that I was interested in. People responded in the comments suggesting I make a Facebook group for women in this niche to be able to find one another. And let’s make this clear from the beginning: #CreateHer is not a girls-only club.
Dev: What’s the response been?
Audrey: It’s been really good. Yes, there have been some comments asking, “Why does it matter?” It matters because it’s important to have as much diversity in this industry as possible. I wanted to help bring the movement for more female creators in traditional media to YouTube as well. It’s picked up some motion, and other female creators have made videos of their own on the topic.
One of my favorite quotes to come out of those is “I am a creator, not a female creator.” I love that because it not only brings importance to diversity in the industry but also importance to normalizing it. And the overall response has not just been from women, it’s been from men as well, asking how they can help the movement. If you see content or make content that has women creators involved, shout them out. Share it. Use the hashtag to put them on a searchable list of other female creators. Help build the community. Help encourage new role models for little girls to look up to. Help make the industry more diverse.
Dev: Where do you see yourself and your channel going in the future?
Audrey: I definitely still see myself creating content on YouTube. The itch that inspired me to make the channel is still very much there. I see my channel as having two different sides: one is to explore my creative side, and the other is the growth of my channel and my career. For the half that is my creative side, I want to make sure I'm constantly pushing myself to try new things and that I’m happy with the content I'm putting out. On the other side, I want to see progress and growth of the channel as I’m working towards being an independent content creator as part of my career. Although the two are very closely tied together, I have separate goals for each.
Dev: Outside of your YouTube channel, what have you been up to? Are there other projects you’re working on?
Audrey: At the beginning of , I made the decision to drop out of college and take a year to really explore my options. I’m currently building a freelance business and working with clients on different projects, as well as still maintaining my YouTube channel. With the growth of my channel, I’ve started getting sponsors, which has been really exciting, but I’m making sure that the deals that I choose to do are very much in line with my own interests and values. This is allowing me to not worry too much about the monetary side of YouTube and to focus on the content. On top of all of these, I’ve just recently started exploring the PA world. I actually went to a PA workshop very recently, which was a lot of fun. I’m trying to get as much experience of different paths as possible.
Jeanine Cameron contributed to the reporting for this article.