An Interview With Ethan Nestor
Ethan (CrankGameplays) sits down and discusses his career on YouTube, including his work on Unus Annus.
Over the years, YouTube has evolved from a simple website used to share homemade videos and sketches to a fully-fledged employer for some. Ethan is one of YouTube’s success stories. Transitioning from an avid viewer to a well-known creator, Ethan is what many viewers strive to become. From his first videos with his friends to his temporary channel teaching us about life and death, Ethan has done it all.
I sat down with Ethan and talked about his first experiences with YouTube, his transition from a viewer to a content creator, his work on Unus Annus, and his future plans on the platform.
The Early Days of CrankGameplays
Ethan started as a consumer of YouTube content before making the long journey to become a full-fledged content creator. One thing was made perfectly clear when talking to Ethan: he is passionate about what he does. Ethan is 100% genuine about his work, grateful for what he has been given, and has a true passion for content creation.
You first started on YouTube back in 2012, and in 2015 you graduated high school and created your main channel. Was there anything else you were involved with at that time, and what did you find the most difficult when starting your channel?
“So my channel back in 2012 — I grew that channel to about 25,000 subs after I had gotten my first big video that hit 1 million views, which back then was a video about Flappy Bird, because that’s what was happening at the time [laughs]. That video was big and I got a lot of followers from that, but none of those people stayed, because all they wanted was Flappy Bird stuff.”
“So, I restarted that channel back in December of 2015. At the time I was working at a manager at a restaurant, so I was working 40 hours a week there, and at the time I was also making two videos a day. I would wake up — between 4am and 5am sometimes —I would record videos before work, and I would edit after work, staying up as late as midnight and sometimes 1am. So that part of my life was definitely unhealthy [laughs].”
“I cut a deal with my parents. I told them I would take a year off and focus on YouTube before going back to school, just to see what I could do in that time — to see if I could make YouTube work. I took a little bit more than a year, I think it was a year and a half. In that time, I got the opportunity to move out to L.A. so it worked!”
Were there any other projects you were working on during your time in Maine? I know you were interested in acting for a long time — is that something you had considered doing apart from YouTube?
“I was definitely doing some acting stuff back in high school. Once I graduated, pretty much all I did was YouTube and work. I was a competitive gymnast for about 10 years, and then when I was about to start my Junior year of high school, my grades were really bad […] so I had to choose between gymnastics and YouTube, and I figured that YouTube would probably be the better choice in the long run, because there’s a pretty short lifespan for gymnastics. Once you go past your mid-late twenties, your body can’t really take an intensive sport like that anymore [laughs].”
Forming YouTube Success
In 2016 you had joined Mark’s team as an editor. When you had moved out to L.A., what was going through your mind when you had gotten there, and what did you think of the landscape of YouTube?
“It was really insane coming out to L.A. for the first time. Mark and I had met before at some conventions and stuff, but we had never really hung out before — we were just in the same circle of people. I was scared […] I only really knew like 2 people, and in 2016 was really when gaming started taking a little bit of a dip, and up until then “let’s plays” were super popular.”
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t like doing the same thing over and over again; I like learning new things and trying out different stuff. I’m really fortunate to have the kind of audience that always enjoys that. Nobody watches me for the gameplay [laughs] which is good, because I’m bad at video games, but they watch me because they like my personality — which is the best that you can hope for.”
I know you were inspired by a lot of content creators when you were first starting off on YouTube. Was there a specific point in your career where you had felt like you had become one of those content creators that others looked up to as well?
“It was probably the first time I did a panel. I went to a convention in Indianapolis with a few other friends. There was a room for like 200 people and almost the entire room filled up, and it was so cool — that was the first time I had ever seen a large number of the people that watched my videos sitting in one room. It’s really easy to forget how many people might watch the videos because at that time I had like 3,000 or 4,000 subs — which is still a lot of people, but then when you take 200 people and you physically see them, it just puts everything into perspective.”
How was it like being able to work with someone who you had looked up to early on in your days on YouTube?
“It was really surreal at first, for sure. I still haven’t looked at it, but when I was flying into L.A. when I first moved here, I opened up a note on my phone and sort of typed up all of my thoughts at the time. I still haven’t read it since writing it, and at some point, I will — just not there yet.”
“It was really surreal though. It was like, ‘Wow, not only am I getting to make anything with this person I have looked up to forever and has inspired me, but I am going to be working with him and for him, even with stuff on my personal channel.’ I spent so many nights at my parents’ house making videos and wanting something to happen so bad, and now I could finally see everything come to fruition.”
There was a lot about Unus Annus that Ethan had mentioned which was previously unknown involving the channel’s creation and cut content. Ethan definitely did a great job explaining that this channel is meant as a sort of “sandbox” where he and Mark can test ideas and go whichever direction they’d like with their videos.
How was Unus Annus conceived, and were there any difficulties in making the channel a reality?
“Back in October of 2019, I was just thinking about where I would take my channel and what I would want to do. I sort of had this thought of, ‘I wonder if it would make a difference at all if I made this other channel where I’d just post something different every week — whether that be a vlog, or a weird craft video, or whatever.’ For some reason, I thought I just couldn’t do that on the other channel and I would have to make a new channel.”
“So, I texted Mark and was like, ‘Hey, do you think it’d be a good idea to make a separate channel where once a week I’d just post whatever I want?’ And he said, ‘I like that idea where you can post whatever you want. I’ve been thinking of this idea for a while where it’s just a channel that posts for a year and then gets deleted.’”
“He had wanted to do it for a while and asked if I wanted to do it with him, but we had thought there was no way the both of us could create content together every single day, so we planned on one person creating a video this day, one person would create a video the next day, and so on. Obviously, this never happened, and probably will not happen ever. But yeah, the original idea was that we would create stuff together, and then stuff separately as well.”
Ethan went on to describe the exact reasoning and creation of the name ‘Unus Annus’ as well as the seemingly random date for this first video.
“So I asked him, ‘What’re you doing right now?’ and he said, ‘Nothing.’ so we went to Buffalo Wild Wings and ate some wings and thought about it. He had asked what we should call it, and we had thought maybe ‘365’ or just ‘One Year’. I had wondered what ‘one year’ in Latin was, and it was ‘Unus Annus’ and we both sat there for probably about 10 minutes just laughing because it was so close to ‘anus’ and we’re like 12 years old [laughs].”
“Kind of like anything, it got rolling too fast. It was November and we thought that we could start right away, but maybe should wait until the new year. But we just said, ‘Ah, why not start it right now?’ So we started backlogging a ton of videos and then 2 weeks later we figured it was time. So, we both really like to build hype, and it was difficult with this not to build hype and just drop it. So we just dropped it and everyone was just caught so off guard.”
Was there anything you had planned for the channel, but realized you either couldn’t do it or shouldn’t do it?
“There were a handful of videos at the beginning that never came out. Because the original idea was that we would just post whatever since Mark and I were just both bored with making gaming videos every day and wanted to do something different […] but then, immediately, the standard for the quality of videos was just so much higher than we had planned for.”
“There has been a ton of videos […] we had a huge list of videos, and some of them we aren’t able to do within the lifespan of Unus Annus. That doesn’t mean that they’ll never get made, but they’re not gonna come out on Unus Annus.”
COVID-19 and quarantine have affected us all in more ways than one. Was there any sort of drained creativity or difficulty making content during this time, either on your personal channel or on Unus Annus?
“It has definitely affected the workflow a lot. I think it’s really easy right now to just kind of do nothing, and especially when you’re your own boss. Unus Annus was affected because we were limited to now just making videos pretty much at home. Making videos exclusively on the computer made things pretty difficult, honestly, because it’s just not what we had planned for.”
“On my own stuff, I think COVID has really affected it […] I’ve realized without being able to see my friends, ‘Oh wow, I am a very social person and I get a lot of my energy from seeing other people and being around other people.’ I really do not thrive when I just have to be alone a lot of the time.”
We got onto the topic of scrapped content again, but this time regarding any content that may have been deemed “unfit for YouTube”, put anyone in danger, or even just content that would not cooperate with the algorithm.
“We haven’t been worried about YouTube saying ‘we don’t like this video,’ but we have had a couple of times where we’ve had ideas — and usually it’s Amy — she’s the unsung hero of Unus Annus because she orchestrates most of the videos. Mark and I will have an idea and she’ll say, ‘No, we’re not doing that’ because either the video idea is dumb or we can’t put that out on the internet [laughs].”
Working on YouTube
What was your perception of YouTube years ago when you had first joined the platform, and what do you believe has changed significantly since then?
“When I first started watching YouTube back then, it didn’t really occur to me that you could do this for a job. Before even my previous channel, when I was making videos with some friends or even homemade videos with my brother, I was thinking — well, obviously I didn’t word it exactly like this when I was 13 — but, ‘cool! There’s a place where people can post videos and make what they want to make’ and that was really fascinating to me. As time went on, I realized people were doing this for their job, and that’s awesome.”
“Back then, it really was just the wild west of YouTube; it was 2012 […] nobody was really worried about demonetization back then, and the ‘adpocalypse’ was years away at that point, so it was all just people making what they wanted to make. As much as it sucks having to censor yourself, I do get it, because it’s a company that is trying to grow even more. It’s trying to become more traditional media — that I don’t like, because it’s not what YouTube is at the heart. What it should be and what it was, was a place where anybody can post whatever they wanted and make a name for themselves.”
If there was one thing you believe would improve the platform significantly, what would that be?
“Communication. YouTube has one of the worst communication with its creators than any other platform. That is inevitable with the size that YouTube is, but even Mark — one of the biggest creators on the platform — has to pull teeth.”
“People are pissed because they never let us know, and they never take creators’ feedback to heart at all. They don’t tell people what’s going on, and that’s really scary […] and I by no means have a ‘crazy huge channel’, but over a million subs is still a pretty large channel, and it is horrifying that even at my size if something were to happen to my channel, I don’t have anyone to talk to.”
Is there anything apart from YouTube, or anything unrelated to the current content you’re working on that you may want to do in the future? Are there any big projects you’re working on or thinking of working on?
“Yeah, I would love to do more live-action stuff, but I’d also love to get into music stuff as well. My brother is a fantastic musician, and I’ve been singing for a bit, and actually, we’ve been working on some stuff. When quarantine first hit, we started working on some things, so maybe that’s a thing that’ll come out eventually? Who knows!”
“There’s some stuff I have in the back of my mind that I’d like to work on next year. Nothing that I can really talk about specifically, but right now everything is sort of just on hold until Unus Annus is done — just trying to put in the most that we can into the remaining life that it has!”
Huge thanks to Ethan for sitting down with me and talking about his work on YouTube! I look forward to seeing and supporting his future endeavors on the platform!