Connor Franta mostly started making videos for himself as a creative outlet in high school. He posted them to the popular video sharing website YouTube, but he figured he was the only one who’d ever see them. In fact, he didn’t think many of his classmates even knew of this entertaining side he had — and certainly didn’t realize he posted his antics online.
But eventually, people caught wind of Franta’s videos, and as is sometimes the case in the digital world, word spread and his popularity grew. It grew beyond the reaches of what he ever imagined and now Franta, the son of Peter and Cheryl Franta and a 2011 La Crescent High School graduate, is a household name to millions of young people around the world.
“I started senior year of high school and never even thought it’d do anything. It was just more kind of a creative outlet and for fun,” the 21-year-old said at his home in La Crescent on Oct. 18. “(YouTube) was still really new, and no one did that stuff back then.
“I watched a lot of YouTubers, and I was like, ‘This looks like fun. Why not? No one will see them.’”
After graduation from LCHS, Franta enrolled at St. John’s University in Collegeville, and like many college students, he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to pursue. He knew he didn’t like math, and science was “horribly hard,” so he settled on business. Then in his sophomore year, he added an arts minor, with an emphasis on films. Little did he know at the time that what he learned would be crucial to his future success.
In the meantime, he kept making videos, and as he watched more online, he realized that others were making videos similar to his.
“I figured out slowly that people did that. It wasn’t just the random kid biting his brother’s finger that went viral,” he said. “It was people that actually made weekly videos, films and skits. … I knew nothing about it. I learned everything from YouTube tutorials.”
It was the summer after his freshman year when people really started to take notice. Over the previous 18 months, Franta gathered about 30,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, but then traffic started to pick up, and he thought he might be on to something.
Then he took a chance. Franta spent the past summer in Los Angeles with a friend who had an internship in the area “to see if that L.A. dream was worth what everyone talks about.” About a month in, he toyed with the idea of staying in California and taking a break from college to pursue his growing video business. After he finally got the gumption to talk to his parents about it, they all decided it was a good idea to at least take a semester off.
“Like I always convinced myself and everyone says to me, ‘School’s always there. This necessarily isn’t if you don’t jump on it,’” he said. “I figured it’s an opportunity most people don’t get.”
So Franta got to work earnestly planning and producing his weekly videos. In doing so, he first comes up with an idea and script, which alone takes hours, he said. Then it’s a matter of shooting and editing the videos, something he does in his Los Angeles apartment. Once it’s ready, he promotes in on his social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Most of mine are all me shooting, me filming, me writing and me directing everything,” he said.
Franta’s videos are relatable to people his age, and many are comedic takes on real-life experiences and questions. For instance, a video posted 11 months ago talks about the “things you need to know about high school.” Another, for his female viewers — of which there are plenty — addresses the “signs a guy doesn’t like you.” He even did a “meet my parents” video starring Peter and Cheryl.
“A lot of them are real-life experiences and questions people want me to answer,” he said. “They are, a lot of times, a very easy thing, like how to ask someone out on a date, but I put it in a funny way and make it into a whole skit.”
Some of the topics Franta talks about — though popular with his demographic — could make a parent cringe, but Peter and Cheryl take it in stride. She’s not a fan of the occasional curse word (and he knows that), but understands it’s part of his comedic style.
“In general, it’s the creative thing and you have to let him go with what they feel,” Cheryl said, adding that she knows it’s difficult when someone tries to mettle in the creative process. “I try to stay out of it, for the most part.”
Franta’s videos are laced with the sarcasm that wins him the laughs, but at the end, he’ll share his real opinion or truthful message about the topic he just joked on.
“I like to include the positive, real-talk message at the end at almost all the videos,” he said.
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Now that he’s established himself in the echelon of the digital realm, Franta’s hired a manager to help him build his name and search out other opportunities, which recently included a hosting gig on what’s known as the DigiTour, which took him to cities like New York and Toronto. He’s also hosted other events and YouTube conventions, where he brought his act to the stage.
And in the midst of his upward climb, Franta began working with a group of six guys he met at a VidCon conference who produce videos similar to his. Eventually, they decided to launch a collaborative channel that featured each of them. As a group, they call themselves “our2ndlife” — a name Franta came up with.
“It’s like a boy band, but we don’t sing,” he said.
Each group member produces a video on a certain day of the week. Franta is Monday, and then the other five make up the rest of the week. Sunday is left open to either have a day off or make a video with each other or someone else, he said.
For Cheryl, what’s been happening for her son is “amazing.”
“He started out doing something for fun, and it’s turned into this amazing ride for him,” she said. “It’s been interesting to see it unfold and his popularity grow. It’s kind of overwhelming.”
After she and Peter were featured on a video, they started getting calls at their house from girls hoping to catch Connor at home. They also receive stacks of his fan mail. Even on a recent family vacation to Hawaii, Cheryl was approached by a mother on the same boat trip who asked if Connor would have his photo taken with her daughter.
“It was crazy,” she said, adding that he did the same for girls who discovered him at the Honolulu airport. “It’s been an interesting experience for all of us because we’ve never, ever been involved in anything like this, and for him to be recognized wherever we go, it’s like he’s in the boy band of YouTube.”
But Franta takes his rising popularity in stride.
“It’s really cool to think that that many people know and enjoy what I do, and feel like they have that personal connection with me,” he said, “which of course is my goal, to have that connection.”
Initially, it was odd being recognized in public and having people stop him to comment on the videos. But now that’s normal, and it doesn’t phase him. Neither do the groups of females waiting for him at the airport, nor the line of people around the block waiting to see him during a scheduled appearance at a Portland, Ore., restaurant where his brother works. But as much as his popularity has taken off, Cheryl said her son remains the same person she’s always known him to be.
“He’s extremely humble about it actually,” she said. “When he’s home with us, he’s just the normal Connor. … Basically, he’s the same person he’s always been.”
Franta just recently got his one-millionth subscriber to his YouTube channel, and his videos routinely hit 1 and 2 million views. But even still, he can’t pinpoint the exact moment it all took off.
“I honestly don’t know what got me that big start,” he said. “I collaborated with other YouTubers, which gives you a boost, but I don’t attribute any one thing to it. Some people have one video that went viral and got them noticed. I don’t have that.”
Franta’s not sure if or when he’ll head to back college. Right now, it’d be too difficult to juggle both. As far as the videos and YouTube, he wants keep doing that but also expand into other areas — possibly acting. He’s already gotten some exposure with appearances on Nickelodeon and has worked with companies such as Nokia and AT&T.
“If TV comes around, sure, I’d love to do something in TV. Movies, sure,” he said. “If it’s just me editing something, cool. I’m open to anything and I’ve tried a lot of those things.”
All from doing what comes naturally.
“It’s just me being myself and putting that on a video.”