Lisa Nova On The Spot

“Are you going to print my real name?” asks Lisa Donovan. “Nobody knows my name. It’s never been printed before.” She better get used to it. At 26, Donovan is a bona-fide celebrity in the YouTube universe, where her “Lisa Nova” offbeat comedy skits have attracted nearly 7 million views in six months, making her among the site’s most popular creators. Last month, YouTube brokered a deal for a holiday video she shot to air on the site as part of a Coke promotion. She also has a new deal with video-entertainment site The Daily Reel as a paid contributor.

Q: Why did you start making videos for YouTube?

A: I’ve been in L.A. editing and shooting, trying to get production jobs and act. I started my own production company [Zappin Productions] last year with one other guy, Dan Zappin. We were trying to do as many creative things as possible, but there weren’t a lot of opportunities. Then he suggested I put something up on YouTube about six months ago. It was kind of overnight that people were interested [in my work]. It grew from there. My whole life has changed.

For the better?

Oh my God, yeah.

What do you think is the best thing about YouTube?

You used to make things and nobody would look at them, but [YouTube] cuts out the middleman. It’s a platform that I never had before. YouTube has people who will tell you what they think, and there’s exposure. You don’t have to depend on anybody else.

What’s the secret to YouTube celebrity?

I don’t know if there’s a secret. It would be harder now [to become famous] because there’s so much out there. The thing with the Internet is you have all these options, so a lot of people can have fans. I was probably there at just the right time when I first started getting fans because it wasn’t as saturated.

Your parody of a P. Diddy Burger King promotion on YouTube got a lot more viewers than Diddy’s original version. He was widely ridiculed by the community for coming on to shill for an advertiser. Do you think advertisers are invading YouTube?

Everyone knew that would happen. That’s the nature of the business—if they think there are people they can advertise to, they’re going to come. I know people felt invaded. [YouTube] felt like a small, organic community, and then, with P. Diddy, you just felt like you were being advertised to by some guy who wasn’t part of the community.

So should marketers stay away from YouTube?

I don’t know. It [depends on] the way they approach it. When people feel like they’re being sold to too much, it just feels wrong. That’s why something like P. Diddy backfired. We want to be able to still be there and do what we do, and hopefully not get edged out by people who have more money.

Your holiday video for YouTube was recently part of a Coke ad that ran on the site’s front page. Do you feel you sold out by making a video for Coke?

YouTube asked me if I would do a holiday video, and I said yes. I didn’t know I’d be in the [front-page ad unit] or anything. I just thought it would be on [Coke’s YouTube] page. My camera had been stolen and at that point, it was almost a necessity [to make money]. There was a month I couldn’t even post [videos]. I’m sure there are people who feel that [I sold out]. At the same time, why shouldn’t people who are part of the community that helped create it cash in a little bit and keep it going as opposed to random people who come on to advertise?

Now that you’re established on YouTube, what are your plans?

There’s pretty amazing things happening. I’ve found some great reps that I love. I’m going to be able to do what I came out to [L.A.] to do and be involved in film. [Donovan wants to act, produce, write and direct.]

You struck a deal recently to debut five videos on The Daily Reel, an aggregator of Web entertainment that hopes to find a new crop of stars from YouTube and other sites. Why Daily Reel?

They’re cool, really nice people. I’m going to do some videos there, and [the money] will help. But I’m not leaving YouTube. To be able to do work and get paid for it is wonderful. I’m definitely excited to do videos with them. There’s a different audience there, possibly. It’s good to take a step out sometimes and they seem like a good first step.

Will you do more with advertisers?

We’re getting so busy with so many other things. It wouldn’t be something I’m going after. If it came my way, we’d see, but probably not that much. But I have no idea what the future looks like.

Will we see product placements in your videos?

[Laughs] No, I don’t think so. In the P. Diddy video, I happened to be wearing a sweatshirt a friend gave me from Zoo York. They wrote to thank me and sent me a free sweatshirt.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?


Who’s your creative role model?

My dad. His passion was filmmaking, and he managed to make two documentary films. And tons of actors and filmmakers I love.

Do you like any TV commercials?

I saw one on YouTube. Do you know the one for [Zazoo] condoms, where the kid was crying in the grocery store? That was hysterical.