Showcase Filmmaker Spotlight: Connor Hough
By Travis Trew, Programming Associate
28-year-old Telford, PA native Connor Hough has been seriously pursuing acting for the last two years, and decided to turn his own story into the semi-autobiographical Pennsylvania Guy Like Me. It’s the story of a young man struggling to get noticed as an actor while living with his parents in a quiet Pennsylvania suburb.
PFS: When would you say the acting bug really bit you?
CH: About two years ago I submitted to a contest on The Today Show. It was when Vine was still popular, and it was just for sketch comedy and funny videos. I actually won the contest. At the time, I was working at a bank and I wasn’t sure what I was doing with myself. I knew that I loved to perform and loved to be in-character, but I didn’t really know how to go from there because I hadn’t done theater in high school and didn’t do any plays in college or anything. I won this contest and got flown out to California to do a little segment on The Today Show, and that just gave me the kick to quit my job and pursue performing and going after my dreams full time.
PFS: Tell me about being on The Today Show. What was that like?
CH: It was kind of surreal because I didn’t expect anything when I entered it. My mom was the one who found the contest online and she told me to submit. I was doing it for fun. I didn’t really plan on anything happening from it, but three weeks later I got a call back. It was a really crazy time because I knew I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know I was an actor yet. I didn’t know how that would manifest itself in terms of a creative career.
PFS: How did you know that you didn’t want to just do comedy videos, and that you wanted to be a serious actor?
CH: It was actually seeing Manchester by the Sea. Up until that point I was mostly into comedy but then I saw that movie, and it really struck me. I just wanted to pursue dramatic stuff. I didn’t want to be limited to one box or one genre. I started looking to be in short films with a little more meaning and not just silly sketch comedy, to diversify a bit.
PFS: What’s it been like jumping fully into acting, especially not having come from theater background? What’s the learning curve?
CH: I kind of learned on-set and through the audition process. It was on the fly. There wasn’t just one time where I learned one thing, it kept building and building when I was getting these real, hands-on experiences.
PFS: What inspired you to turn your experiences into a film?
CH: Vin Diesel actually made a short film about 20 years ago called Multi Facial, which was about being a multiethnic actor struggling to get roles because of his outer appearance. It was such a heartfelt story. I saw that last summer and that’s when I realized that you can actually make something out of your own story. You can take your personal story and just tell it. It doesn’t have to be super high-stakes or anything. Seeing that short film really boosted me to a level where I’m like, “Maybe I’m not just an actor. Maybe I could make a film.” I had been doing video editing for a little while so I kind of had an idea about how to cut a film together.
PFS: How did you decide what parts of your own experience to include?
CH: The two other actors in the film are my actual friends. One of them is a writer and the other is an actor in LA. I had a rough idea of the scenes and the conversations, and I mapped that out in script format. But I trusted those guys a lot, so we would go back and forth about what kind of story we wanted to tell and what kind of struggle we wanted to show. I was debating how much of my personal life I wanted in there. I did put most of it into the film, and a lot of it came through collaboration and improvisation. We were really comfortable with each other, so we would just keep going until we could agree on what would be the proper way to tell my story.
PFS: Yeah, I was actually going to ask you about those two longer scenes in which you talk with your two friends. How much of it was improvised and how much of it was written? It felt really natural.
CH: We had bullet points that we had to hit. That’s how we talk, at least in my area. When you’re with friends you kind of talk in between them, and you cut them off sometimes. That’s like a real conversation. I didn’t want it to seem like, “Your line. My line. Your line.” This was such a personal story too. I wanted it to come across like you’re in this world, you’re with me on this ride. It helps when you know someone that long, you feel comfortable and free to bounce ideas off each other. That helps tremendously.
PFS: So as far as taping yourself and sending off audition tapes, is that pretty true to your experience?
CH: Yeah, I’ve had a little bit better of an experience than that, but I think all actors can relate to the frustration of submitting and not even hearing back. Almost all the monologue is made of real, self-taped auditions. I originally didn’t plan on putting those in, but I was looking through my folders and was like, “You know what? I’m just going to use all these.”
PFS: Obviously a big part of the film is that your character doesn’t live in LA or New York and is living with his parents in Pennsylvania. How is it trying to make it as an actor in an area that doesn’t really have a huge market for that?
CH: It’s tough. I still live with my parents right now. I been doing whatever I can: I go to acting class, I go to rehearsal, I do whatever I can. But yeah, it’s hard. You can only do so much with what you have around you. I kind of wanted to emphasize that in the film.
PFS: Well there is something inspiring about the fact that you took that frustration and made something out of it, though.
CH: When I finished it, I almost deleted it because it’s really a vulnerable story and I really put myself out there. I wasn’t sure how it would be received. It’s kind of like baring my soul.
PFS: Yeah, it’s brave. Do you see yourself trying to move to LA or somewhere else at some point in the future?
CH: Yeah, I think I’m leaning more towards Los Angeles in the next year or two because I have friends out there and a few contacts that I’ve met in the past year.
PFS: Do you see filmmaking being part of your future trajectory or was this sort of a one-off?
CH: I really don’t see it. I kind of just wanted to make a story that was personal to me to kickstart my career or maybe show someone that I really want to work and collaborate. I hadn’t really thought of filmmaking as a career at all. But everyone’s saying, “Oh, this film is great.” And when you get stuff you don’t expect, you have to be open to it. That’s something I’ve really been experiencing the last two years.
Pennsylvania Guy Like Me screened on Thursday, August 9 at the Prince Theater’s Black Box as part of Philly Film Showcase, an exhibition supporting new work by talented, up-and-coming local filmmakers.