Connor O’Hara is a Creative Londoner sharing a new vision for the representation of masculinity in the 21st-century. But the inspiration for his vision comes from a place of authentic, lived experience.
I meet the filmmaker in his Peckham flat, the mission control centre for his independent film company, Lowkey Films.
“We’re going to get the wall beneath the window knocked down and get some double-doors put in,” he tells me as we climb out the window, coffee in hand, onto a roof terrace with a view of the whole of London. “The terrace is so important for having a sense of space when I’m working up here.”
Connor O’Hara’s type of filmmaking is drama. He has made a number of short films, two of which have recently made the rounds at a number of film festivals. As with many storytellers, he communicates experiences he knows best: those from his own life.
In his teens, Connor O’Hara went through a set of experiences that would profoundly reshape the way he saw the world.
Growing up in Surrey, two of his friends died within a short space of time from each other.
As he and his friends endured the following months after this double tragedy, Connor O’Hara realised something quite bizarre. Whereas he had previously been regarded as the most “effeminate” of the group, it was his rugby playing friends who seemed to be suffering the most.
The guys he had grown up with, whom he had perceived as stoic figures, all had an emotional side.
Into his early twenties, Connor O’Hara worked 16 hour days on set design for Star Wars and Mary Poppins. Sleeping 2-3 hours a night, he began to suffer a great deal of anxiety. While his supportive partner, Lily, was instrumental in helping him talk through his experiences and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, Connor O’Hara began to question why he and his friends from childhood had not spoken to each other to talk through their feelings following the shocking deaths of his two friends.
Looking to convey his concluding thoughts about masculinity, Connor O’Hara turned to filmmaking. For him, it was the right tool to convey the points he wanted to make. On top of that, as a passionate The Lord of the Rings fan since age 9, Connor O’Hara had long admired the level of camaraderie the behind-the-scenes videos of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It was the production process that appealed to him too.
In 2015, for his first major foray into filmmaking, Connor O’Hara wrote and directed his first short film ‘Wander’. The film follows a man as he navigates everyday fight for survival in the Yorkshire Moors after aliens decimate human life in towns and cities. The man is consumed by memories of a life spent with the love of his youth, who was killed. The experience of making the film – all on a very low budget of £800 – gave Connor O’Hara a strong sense of what he could achieve through the medium of filmmaking.
Having gained confidence with this successful film, Connor O’Hara sought to move on to a new project for which he could use material from his own personal life. In 2016, Connor O’Hara wrote and directed the short film ‘Infinite’, which tells the story of a terminally-ill young man’s relationship with four friends as he enters the last weeks of his life.
Although it sounds like quite a weighty topic, its message is positive: what is important is not the fact of that the main character (Sid) is dying, but that Sid acts from the perspective of clarity in the face of death. He’s a prophet teaching his friends to be more open and honest with each other.
Creative Londoners: What is it about the way that you portray these men that you think can connect with people?
Connor O’Hara: A lot of the lines that some of the characters say are lines that my friends had said after the death of my two friends. So I think they’re a lot more human because they were actually said to me: I actually experienced them.
When you’re joking around it’s OK to just be dumb with it. A lot of the script was improvised. I gave the actors guidelines and told them: so long as you get the same points across you can make it up. We all became really good friends on the shoot, so a lot of it was quite organic.
Creative Londoners: How are you going to develop the short film version of Infinite into a feature film?
Connor O’Hara: The feature is about male mental health and how men struggle with situations. There’s this massive issue at the moment – and we’ve become more aware of it the more we’re looking into the feature – which is that a lot of men are struggling from certain things that are not really often discussed.
I think we’ve all got pressures put upon us from birth to be strong, be level-headed, go out and work, and that puts a certain element of stress on you to think or be a certain way.
The short film shows guys supporting each other and the feature film builds on that. It’s very much about the progression of Sid encouraging his friends to open up – to talk to each other and say “this thing is upsetting me at the moment” or “I don’t really like the way you’re acting” – as he and his friends come to terms with the fact that he’s dying.
Creative Londoners: What do you feel is your voice in film?
Connor O’Hara: I want to redefine gender roles. I want to show males as being emotional and opening up. In my films, the females provoke important conversations between the guys. The character Lily is the catalyst for all the conversations. She’s the one that asks “why are you doing that?”, “why won’t you talk about that stuff?” and “why do you think that way?”. She is the cause of Sid spreading that way of thinking.
My girlfriend helped me see things differently, and often her way is a better way of seeing things. But society tries to make us think about things in very set ways. It’s very important to have strong female characters that show men how to think in different ways.
There are a lot of shows like The Inbetweeners, where men are portrayed as sex-obsessed, drink-obsessed and drug-obsessed.
Because our production company is so young, I’m hoping we can be the ones to come about with this message. We’re 23-year-olds writing about 23-year-olds, and this is how we think young men behave. I want to create a film that is not about anything like that.
I’ve got close mates who are guys, and we’ll talk about sex and go out and get drunk together, but we’ll also have deep, one on one sober conversations. And that never gets shown on films.
Creative Londoners: How do you think filmmaking can approach the kind of issues you’re raising?
Connor O’Hara: Not all audience watchers are watching actively. Infinite is not discussing such massive things that you have to be completely there the whole time. Someone could watch it at a film festival and listen to every word and completely relate to it, or someone could have heard of it, think it might be good, whack it on and half watch it. But the characters and the message that it is showing can seep under the skin. If some films can just promote a good message, it can have an unconscious effect on its audience.
It’s a really good way of creating role models. We’ve all watched TV shows and thought the main character is really cool and you think I want to be a bit like that. You don’t actively go out and dress up like them, but you’ve got these thoughts in your head about how you can be cooler. If someone was to watch Infinite and think “those are really strong, good characters” they might take elements of that and incorporate it in their everyday life.
I think film definitely has a further responsibility in that it is probably the biggest medium. If we in film all support female filmmakers and help redefine gender roles, it sets a boundary for the rest of society as well. Our responsibility is to spread the way that things could be in the future. If a kid watches Infinite, they might hopefully think “that’s a better way of being with your mates” well that’s a cool way of responding.
Infinite is not yet available online. The feature film version is in pre-production.
See Connor O’Hara’s production company website at www.lowkeyfilms.co.uk.
Portrait by: Michael Wayne Plant. www.michaelwayneplant.com.