By Chelsea Fung
At the tender age of 19 Anna Akana was entering bars before she was of age, to perform stand-up, and dropped out of college to become a pupil of film school taught by the silver screen lit up by her shadowy influences: Tim Burton, Stephen King, and Joe Hill.
Today, Anna runs her brilliant, spunky, raw YouTube Channel that stands up against social stigmas, challenges the men who proclaim they have a case of ‘yellow fever,’ and writes, directs and stars in out-of-this-world short videos such as Pregnapocalypse, Here She Is, and her newest cosmic short, Miss Earth and she may possibly be a super hero, by night.
Where did you get your start in the industry?
I started doing stand up when I was 19. Because I was underage at the time, at certain clubs I would be forced to wait outside until it was my time to go on stage. Then I would do my set, walk off, and be kicked out again.
Stand up is such a unique experience that I absolutely loved, but I realized I wanted to pursue acting. My focus since then has primarily been in film. I’ve done a ton of web projects and short films, and I finally feel confident and capable enough to tackle a feature in 2015.
Where do you get inspiration to fuel your shorts and projects?
Honestly, it all comes from boredom induced by strict deadlines. I’m always working on something, whether that be sketch or a vlog or a short film. When you hold yourself to deadlines, you create a ton of content (with a focus on improvement). The more you create, the more ambitious you become with your projects. Short films were a direct result of over 200 web series sketches and vlogs. After you create enough 2 minute videos, you start to wonder what else there is. Deadlines and discipline and quantity with a focus on quality have always been what keeps me going.
And of course, it’s all very fun. Hard work, but still fun.
A few quirks or interesting characteristics about yourself:
I’m a very quiet person. I like to sit back and watch everyone talk and interact. I don’t say much unless there’s something I can add to the conversation. I can “turn on” the confidence and charm and be talkative if I have to, but if the social situation doesn’t call for it, I’m very reserved and observant.
I believe that an abundant amount of cats are the perfect form of birth control. Haha.
If you were officially a superhero, what would your superhero name be and what would be your superpower?
Gah, I’ve been pondering this question for like 20 years. Still don’t have an answer. If I could only have one power, it would be teleportation. No more traffic for me!
Did you go to school to study acting and directing?
I dropped out of community college two years in. The most education I have with acting is attending various classes in Los Angeles in Meisner, scene study, cold reading, etc. As far as directing goes, my experience is solely my self-produced projects. However, I do treat the short films of this year as a film school. It definitely is a learning process.
Tell me about assembling your team and cast for your shorts:
My shorts have had virtually the same cast and crew for the entire year. We got into a work flow and an environment that we all knew and loved, so I kept bringing the same people back. Megan Rosati, a good friend and an insanely talented actress, has been in almost every single project I’ve ever done. From So Fetch Sketch to Miss Earth, I’ve brought Megan back not only because she’s a joy to have on set, but because she’s passionate about her job and isn’t afraid to speak up when she has an idea or suggestion.
I hope to work with a more diverse crew and cast in the future. For the feature, I definitely want to do traditional casting. I have certain people in mind for various supporting roles, but I would love to have the leads be star names.
What is fueling your future feature? Any details you would like to share about it yet?
As of right now I’m taking meetings with investors. If I can’t raise my desired budget, my last resort would be crowd and self-funding. I don’t feel comfortable releasing any details, just yet, but it’s a romantic comedy written by two very funny women I know.
What inspired you to pursue film?
The process itself is so rewarding and fun. I started out as an actor, but that mostly means hurry up and wait. Once I started developing my own content, I fell in love with being on set and bringing it all together.
Your shorts, such as, Afflicted Inc., Here She Is, and Hallucination, have a swarthy tone throughout. What/who has influenced this style of filmmaking?
I attribute the black tones in my films to Stephen King, Tim Burton, Joe Hill and Richard Matheson. However, most of my writing is influenced by mental health. I’m incredibly passionate about shedding light on the stigmas associated with mental illnesses. When our bodies are sick and people extend their sympathy, bring us soup, offer up solutions. When our minds are sick people tend to shy away from you, be afraid, or call you outright crazy. I’m fascinated by the way society and individuals view mental illness, and most of my shorts comment on that.
Do you have a specific character you like to play the most?
I love acting in other people’s projects honestly, haha. I’m a huge fan of comedy, although I have a killer scream of anguish/anger in my tool belt.
If you have to stay in one character for a whole day; who would it be and why?
Probably my school girl character. That Japanese accent never gets old.
Tell me about your feline entourage:
Lily, Jimmy, Abby and Congress are my furry children. At times they can be difficult to deal with (especially during feeding time), but I love them! They’ve taught me a crazy sense of responsibility and bring a meaningfulness to my life that I imagine only children really can.
When will they be making their social media debuts?
Ha! I have trouble keeping up my own social media, much less having Instagrams devoted to them!
In the spirit of Halloween, I’m curious, what’s your biggest fear in life?
That I won’t sufficiently live. I am a workaholic, and sometimes I sacrifice experiences in order to be productive. I hope I don’t end up imbalanced and regretting these decisions when I’m older.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
Miss Earth, which released on October 16th, is a science fiction comedy that I wrote, directed, and starred in. It was in collaboration with New Form Digital, who pitched in some money, and the rest I funded with my life savings. It’s the longest piece of content I’ve done so far, and definitely the most ambitious.
Who is your favorite director and why?
It changes, but right now my favorite director is James Gunn. Guardians of the Galaxy is the epitome of what I want to do with my life. There’s not enough science fiction comedy with heart in it, and he nailed that one on the head. My favorite directors are always writers as well, because directing is just that last draft.
Any advice to your fellow filmmakers?
Create, create, create. The only way to get better at anything is to do it all the time.
Any advice specifically to female filmmakers?
Keep going. Sometimes you’ll doubt yourself, certain people will make you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, others will discourage you or objectify you or tell you you don’t deserve to be where you are in life, but just as many other people will encourage and be inspired by your work. Keep your audience in mind, but always do it for yourself.