Interviewing Connor Hines is a little like stepping into an episode of “Local Attraction,” the YouTube series he wrote, directed and starred in. Each 15-20 minute episode features two new and original characters – a man (played by Hines) and a woman – on a date after meeting on Tinder.
Usually uncomfortable, often funny, the series is simple but relatable and can be watched in any order. The first installment, as of this writing, has just over 343,000 views, the most of the series, but the sixth episode has perhaps the highest fame quotient; it stars Glenn Close. Maybe thanks to that, the series caught the attention of ABC Studios, who offered Hines the pilot deal he’s been working on for nearly a year. Hines spoke to Indiewire about the making — and, more terrifying, the posting — of those first few episodes, how he got started writing, why it’s important to find good collaborators and why making art is like dating.
You started “Local Attraction” as a project to get footage for your acting reel. Now it’s kind of your main thing.
I’d say it was, in that it already kind of served its purpose, professionally. Originally, the first episode was just footage for my reel, and then when people responded the way that they did, I was like, ‘oh, let’s see if I can keep going with this and make something out of it.’ It felt sort of like a challenge to see, can you write another one, and can you write another one? I prayed for an agent…all I wanted was representation from anywhere. I would have taken a random person on the street who said “I’ll manage you.” Anyone to get me out there. So, [the series] served its purpose and beyond in that sense. After our sixth episode, we put it to bed.
So it’s definitely over?
I’m like 80 percent sure we’re done. I’m not writing more. I always think about what other episode I would do, revisiting certain characters and things like that, but as of now I’ve sort of put it behind me.
It was sort of the Internet version of a cult hit. There was so much written about it, but—
Not a huge following.
It didn’t go viral.
Not at all.
Did you feel like you were reaching the audience you wanted to reach?
I was just happy people were watching. Once the first episode passed 10,000 viewers, I was over the moon. I was praying for 200 and then it hit 500 and I was like, oh my god. And I remember calling my mom and saying “Wow, if I get a thousand views, how amazing would that be?” And then it just kept going, but after it reached a certain point… I was just elated that anyone wanted to share it, let alone a certain group of people.
How did you have the confidence to do it, not knowing if it was going to become anything?
I’m not a particularly confident person, and because of that, I didn’t anticipate anybody viewing it. And because of that, I didn’t feel any pressure, at all. I wasn’t performing for an audience, I felt, this is just for me, so I didn’t really feel anxious or worried because I never intended for anybody to watch it.
You wrote, directed and starred in the series, but what about everything else?
My best friend [Melanie Quinn] works for a production company and she produced all of the episodes. She organized all of the equipment and she is brilliant, and can do logistics and she’s an amazing editor, and she’s so bright. I can’t do organizational things. Like, restaurants and shifting people around and getting food? I couldn’t be worse at that. I just like the creative. I like to write, I like to rehearse, and that’s it. And, fortunately, [Quinn] is phenomenal at taking care of those things. So, when people always ask about starting their own web series, I always say find a partner, because that’s everything. I mean, she made it happen.
Did you have anyone help you edit the script before it was shot?
Just me. I’d give it to Mel, just to say, this is running long, where can we cut? I didn’t realize the significance of an editor until I did the series. They are as important as a director for your project. If you find someone that you’re in sync with, it’s the greatest gift for a production.
How did you come up with idea?
I knew that if I was going to dip my toe into creating my own content that I needed a really basic formula. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this sort of grand production, I didn’t have the resources, so I thought…Tinder was sort of becoming a phenomenon, and I thought, “wow, what a great way to introduce new characters.” As an actor, that’s your dream. It’s also, production-wise, extremely basic. I thought, “all I need is a table and two chairs.” There’s very minimal movement, it’s literally one shot, two shot, and a wide shot.
People could do your episodes as scenes in an acting class. It’s just two people.
And the waitress!
Besides getting a great producer and editor, what’s your advice for people who want to replicate your success?
You can spend months going over your own content and… it’s hard to overcome the fear of sharing your work in a public place. Especially when you put it on YouTube. You’re just terrified of being trolled and anonymous commenters ripping apart your acting, your dialogue, the way that you look, which happens. You get some people who don’t find it funny at all, and they express themselves. But then you have to realize… your work is what it is, and you can try to perfect it all you want, but eventually you’re going to have to put it out there. I think the biggest thing is allowing yourself to surprise yourself. If someone had told me that I would also have a career in writing, I would have been baffled and confused. And then I randomly uploaded one video, and, professionally, my life changed pretty significantly.
What writing experience did you have before?
Zero. I mean, basic writing classes, but nothing geared toward the arts, theater or film. Just standard English literature classes. But dialogue I was writing on my own, on my phone, just because it was something I enjoyed. I was in acting school for two years in New York, and I was living at home in Connecticut and commuting every day, and to pass the time on the train I would write on my iPhone. It felt like a way to keep my creative juices flowing, but I never thought, “this means that you have a passion or you have a talent.” It was like, “this is a way you like to pass the time.” And I felt very connected to acting by creating my own dialogue. I felt like I was participating in it even before shooting anything, if that makes any sense at all?
You have to get into the mind of the character to write dialogue.
Yes, exactly. And even if you’re just working your creative muscles, it just felt like you’re doing something other than sitting on your ass. So that’s where it began for me. I started writing scripts, but it was never anything I intended to see the light of day.
Now you’re working on a pilot. How’s that going?
It’s good! We finished the pilot at the end of January.
I developed it with ABC Studios. They obviously give you a lot of notes and feedback on things that you need to change. I’ll go out to LA in a month and take it to the networks and see who wants to buy it. It could really go anywhere, or, of course, nowhere at all, depending on how the pitch meetings go. And then if they pass, we’ll rewrite it and take it out to cable.
Are you going to star as well?
Yes, I’m attached to act in it. The network has, obviously, approval if I’m allowed to act in it, but it’s in the contract that I’m attached to play a role. I wrote something with myself in mind. It’s too surreal to actually think about happening. I don’t have my hopes up.
You haven’t quit your day job?
No, I’m still working on the Upper East Side! I certainly don’t have all my eggs in that basket, but I really enjoy writing. The best part about being an actor and a writer is you don’t feel like you have your eggs in one basket. When I’m writing this pilot, I don’t feel like this is my bread and butter. If this doesn’t go anywhere, I won’t feel like I failed. It just feels like a really great side project that I love to do. It sort of relieves a little bit of pressure and stress; you’re going out on auditions, but then you’re also writing, so you don’t feel so consumed by it.
Would you say that if people want to break into acting, they should also start writing?
Absolutely! Or just find friends to collaborate with. I didn’t feel comfortable relying entirely on somebody else to give me an opportunity. That makes me very anxious, the idea of putting my professional fate into somebody else’s hands. And the odds are already so stacked against us as actors, because the field is already so flooded. It scares me too much to say “All I’ll do is audition and just hope somebody picks me.” I want it way too badly to let the odds be that stacked against me. I have to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. So the writing thing could go absolutely nowhere, but it would never be considered a waste of time because what else would I be doing with my free time? Sitting on my ass?
What’s been the hardest part of making yourself a career this way?
By far the worst part about it was releasing the second episode. I didn’t even want to share it with anybody, I just wanted to post it and if people came across it, then that would be that. I felt by promoting it I was implying that this would be as good as the last one. The first one — if you look at the numbers– was circulated significantly more than the rest. And that’s obviously… we’re in New York, we’re in the financial capital of the world, that makes sense, it resonated with people the most. But all I thought was, “one hit wonder.” Everyone’s gonna be like, “Oh, I thought he had something going and he doesn’t.” I remember calling my sisters and being like, “Okay, I’m posting the video, but remember, if you send this to anyone, really play it down. Tell them it’s not as funny.” The expectation games riddle me with anxiety. I’d have to be talked down every single time. I always thought, people aren’t going to think this is funny, and everyone’s going to be talking about how it wasn’t like the last one. My mind would run rampant. Which is crazy, that I would even think that it would be a subject of conversation anyways.
You’re still playing it down! You’re still, like, no one would ever care.
This is just my nature, to be this way. I’ve always been like that.
It’s the flip side of success. You always think you’ve just peaked.
And now that I have this deal to write a pilot, everyone’s going to find out that I don’t know what I’m doing. And then I finally get through a pilot, and now I’m writing a screenplay. I’m going to turn this over to someone and they’re going to say, “We shouldn’t have invested in this kid. It was just those episodes, and he wrote that one pilot which was kind of funny, but this screenplay is a disaster.”
At least in that case, they won’t make the movie and it will only be that person who knows what a bad writer you are.
Right, exactly. But I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable just releasing material. I’m always going to second-guess myself and I’m always going to be riddled with self-doubt. But that same sort of anxiety is what informs me a lot as a writer. I think if I was this really confident person who didn’t care what anyone thought, my writing would be drastically different and maybe not as effective. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Who or what are your biggest inspirations right now? Actors, films, filmmakers…?
When I think about what actually inspires me to write, a big one is my family. I have three sisters who all live in New York and I’m very close with them. We communicate all day long, constantly, and so there’s so much material and stories. We’re all about 18-20 months apart, so it feels like we’re all the same age. We love to laugh and we love to share stories, and I was always sort of a storyteller growing up. I loved to entertain them and make them laugh. And that’s still sort of what drives me when I write.
Do you have any dating advice?
It’s really nerve-wracking, for everybody. And I think it’s the same thing with writing: you just have to do it. You just have to bite the bullet and put yourself out there. It’s trial by error.