×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream. 

But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, have emerged in recent years as maverick producers and built large audiences.

Take YouTuber Ryan Higa, who began shooting lip-synched musical parodies on VHS tapes in 2005 while still in high school in Hawaii. When YouTube launched in 2006, Higa — acting as writer, actor, director, cinematographer and editor — found a platform on which he could distribute his work.

He soon became a pioneering influencer — the term for individuals who build a following among their audience over the internet and end up with the power to impact fans’ purchasing decisions.

In the early years of YouTube, Higa rapidly grew his NigaHiga channel and set up his own production company just as YouTube began producing serious revenue for its top performers. From 2009–11, NigaHiga garnered the most subscriptions on YouTube. Today, the 28-year-old Higa is a multimillionaire with two YouTube channels, NigaHiga and Higa TV. He has millions of followers. 

“The fans are the motivators that keep me creating my style of content,” he says. “[They keep] me wanting to make each video better than the one before.”

Higa writes all his own comedy and works with a group of friends who have developed into a production team. He moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to begin college, but with the growing success of his company, he decided instead to become a full-time YouTube star. 

The entrepreneur remains fully committed to do-it-yourself production. “One of my first videos on VHS, unknowingly at the time, was a stop-motion of a cup moving across a countertop on its own,” Higa recalls. “I was pretending that I was performing some kind of magic trick. It was my way of doing effects without understanding how to edit.”

Soon Higa was doing stop-motion with his toys and creating what he calls “some bad animations, drawing frame by frame on Microsoft Paint.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Early on he was called out for using copyrighted music for his parodies, so he struck back by writing his own music. His lack of film-school credentials hasn’t slowed him down a bit, and as a self-taught animator, he has produced a significant number of stop-motion videos.

Higa’s path from teen filmmaker to YouTube producer parallels the history of video technology.

As analog television gave way to digital, in 2009, Higa switched from an analog camcorder and webcam to his first Sony digital camera. In 2014, he started using a Panasonic prosumer camera with a sophisticated sensor. Today Higa shoots on a Canon 7D DSLR with interchangeable lenses and a full-frame sensor — essentially the digital equivalent of 35mm.

As for editing, his earliest videos were cut on Windows Movie Maker, then Corel Ulead VideoStudio, then on the Mac, moving from iMovie to Final Cut Pro. Recently Higa has been using Adobe Premier. 

This path from prosumer to professional hardware and software was less about feature envy and more about the input from the video professionals Higa began to hire in order to free himself to concentrate on writing for a punishing weekly posting schedule.

A viewing of “Nintendoe Paper,” one of Higa’s most ambitious live-action and stop-motion videos, makes it clear that his productions are now the work of a team and not that of the solo filmmaker Higa was in his early years.

Today, he frequently hires up to five contractors to shoot a video, including four videographers/editors and a costume designer. The crew also performs in the videos, making Higa’s shop essentially a tech and repertory company rolled into one. Even with help, “Nintendoe Paper” took three weeks to complete.

Higa Prods. has office space in a house that doubles as a studio equipped with LED light panels, soft lights, reflectors and typical portable gear a news crew would enjoy. But tech is just a means to an end. Higa understands that what sets his work apart from the thousands of other YouTube sketch comedy channels is the quality of his writing and concepts; the execution is secondary. While he sometimes uses shot lists, his highly portable equipment and his young team can quickly adapt to new ideas. 

In response to audience trends, Higa recently began a weekly podcast alternating with his videos, allowing him to relax his upload schedule and avoid YouTube burnout, a common complaint among prolific YouTubers who, unlike traditional television stars, have no time off.  

So what’s next for Higa? While many YouTube influencers are still raking in enviable revenue, none has been able to fully translate that success to mainstream media. So while a Hollywood career could be in his future, Higa is happy to have control over his content. His loyal fans know where to find him. 

More Digital

  • The Frontier

    Conecta Fiction: Project Pitches Prizes Passed Out in Pamplona

    On Wednesday evening the Spanish city of Pamplona was overrun, not by bulls, but by hopeful TV creators who had spent the early week pitching their projects at Conecta Fiction, and who anxiously waited to find out the titles which would take home silverware. Meanwhile, “Monzón,” a Disney-Pampa-Incaa production portraying the tragic violence of Argentine [...]

  • YouTube logo

    Why Splitting Up YouTube Is a Terrible Idea

    Facing mounting pressure over failures to protect children from inappropriate content, Google is reportedly considering a number of changes to its video sharing site YouTube. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that one of the ideas circulated internally was to effectively split up YouTube, and spin out all children’s content into the existing YouTube Kids [...]

  • Niantic's Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Game

    ‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ to Launch This Week

    “Pokemon Go” maker Niantic is getting ready to launch its next big game: “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” is set to launch in June 21, the company revealed in a tweet this week. The worldwide launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite begins this Friday, June 21! Keep your eyes peeled and wand ready for more information [...]

  • google podcast creator program

    Google, PRX Unveil Second Slate of Their Podcasts Creator Program (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roughly a year after first unveiling its podcasts creator program, Google is renewing its commitment to train budding podcasters. Together with public radio and podcast distributor PRX, Google has chosen 6 podcasters from around the world to participate in the next round of the creator program. The podcasts included in the second cohort are “37 [...]

  • Camila Cabello

    Camila Cabello Reveals Podcast Obsessions, Teases New Album at Cannes Lions

    Camila Cabello was the featured speaker at a Tuesday afternoon panel at Cannes Lions, the annual gathering of marketing, design and entertainment professionals in the south of France. Joined by Spotify chief content officer Dawn Ostroff, the talk, moderated by Variety editor Shirley Halperin, was centered around the theme of the golden age of sound [...]

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg

    Quibi Has Already Booked $100 Million in Ad Sales, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman Say

    Quibi, the ambitious short-form video venture from Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, has sold $100 million in upfront ad inventory with six advertisers ahead of its April 2020 debut. Advertisers that have committed ad spending to Quibi include Google, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Walmart, Progressive and AB InBev, according to the company. The $100 [...]

  • China's iQIYI Signs Content, Channel Pact

    China's iQIYI Signs Content, Channel Pact With Malaysia's Astro

    Astro Malaysia, Malaysia’s leading pay-TV operator, has struck a strategic agreement with Chinese streaming platform iQIYI. Astro obtains the exclusive rights to deliver iQIYI content on TV, on-demand and via OTT in Malaysia. It will launch the first iQIYI-branded channel comprising iQIYI’s extensive slate of original content from drama to variety shows and movies. Astro [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content