Sept. 11, 2007 -- In the land of Internet video, all the world's a stage -- and for some, it's just the golden e-ticket needed to get into showbiz.
Lisa Donovan -- performing under the Internet pseudonym "Lisa Nova" -- realized her breakthrough opportunity would not come with an agent or at an audition. Instead, it happened on her own time, in her Los Angeles apartment, with the help of a video camera and YouTube.
Until 16 months ago, the 26-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., native had never landed a role. After she finished the University of Colorado at Boulder, Donovan headed for Hollywood with big screen dreams.
"I moved out to L.A. about four years ago to pursue acting, and it was very hard to get into," said Donovan. "Hard to find an agent, hard to get auditions, and everybody is out there trying to get a job."
Starting Small, in the Family
The struggling actress took up production work instead, learning the basics of shooting and editing. "[It] was how I made my living," said Donovan.
Around that time she started her own production company with boyfriend Danny Zappin, specializing in corporate advertising and viral video production.
In her spare time Donovan paired up with Zappin and her older brother, Ben -- who already lived in Los Angeles -- to create short homemade comedy sketches and parodies. They filmed them in a matter of hours in the comfort of her apartment.
"As kids we would always make little videos," said Ben. "Our father was an actor who made a few documentaries, and so we always loved movies growing up."
For Lisa, the Hollywood lure started at a young age.
"[My father] had these bit parts in 'Taxi Driver' and 'Serpico,'" she said. "To us it was very romantic."
Originally made for their own entertainment, the troupe posted their amateur videos on the Internet under the pseudonym "Lisa Nova." They quickly went viral. Millions of viewers have seen their parodies, and now they have the 28th most viewed channel on YouTube with more than 66,000 subscribers.
Seven hundred thousand people have seen Donovan take on Sparta as an anachronistic warrior out of the film "300." One million others have viewed her fetching, yet fittingly annoying Keira Knightley impersonation, and more than 2 million have seen her don the pop princess part of a Britney Spears-like character she calls "Teeny Weeny."
YouTube Spots Get Noticed
"When I started on YouTube … it wasn't some master plan of, 'Oh this is gonna be some big break,'" said Donovan. "It was really just for fun."
The fun rubbed off on "Mad TV" casting director Nicole Garcia. When Garcia saw Donovan's "Teeny Weeny" skit on the Internet, she realized she had already encountered the chameleon performer in a previous audition and turned her down.
The raw talent was not overlooked a second time, and Donovan was signed onto the show to appear in four episodes.
"It was kind of surreal," said Donovan. "I never thought that I could be on a show like that."
Production executives and agents quickly caught wind of the Lisa Nova phenomenon.
"Lisa was brought to me by one of my directors," said talent agent David Gardner of Principato Young Management. "I was fascinated with '300' and couldn't believe what somebody, in their own living room, was able to accomplish."
Now that Donovan has 48 sketches on YouTube, the company decided to commission her into a new partnership program. As one of the site's biggest heavy hitters, YouTube compensates Donovan for attracting a certain number of viewers and subscribers on a regular basis.
"We would share ad revenues with YouTube," said Donovan.
As for now the Lisa Nova smash hit proves that an aspiring performer may not need an agent, a publicist, or a studio executive connection to make it big -- just a bit of creativity and a camera.
"A year ago someone like me couldn't be getting paid to make sketch comedy … but this was the catalyst," said Donovan. "It's certainly changing the entertainment industry."