HAMILTON, OHIO — What is it like to compete against 19 other actors for the chance to star in a movie opposite James Franco?
“They threw you in with the sharks to see if you could swim," said Terrance Huff, an actor from Hamilton.
Franco’s Studio 4 acting school in Los Angeles tapped Huff last year to participate in “Studio 4: Actor Competition,” a nine-episode reality-based online web series. The series, described as “'American Idol' for Actors,” is part of a new venture backed by Makers Studios, a digital media company bought by Disney last year for an estimated $950 million.
Franco began releasing episodes of the show on his Facebook page in late December. In those episodes, the actors are paired with directors trained at Studio 4 and made to perform certain tasks as part of the competition.
“There were no do-overs,” Huff said of the weekly challenges.
Huff could not reveal how far he made it in the competition. He is not a complete novice, though, when it comes to Hollywood: He lived in Los Angeles for four-and-a-half years as a screenwriter. While there, he met talent agent Cynthia Huffman, who suggested he also try acting.
“She asked if I ever thought about getting in front of the camera,” Huff said. “She got me on as a featured extra on an HBO show, ‘Mind of Married Man.’"
He described spending 16 to 18 hours shooting scenes on his first day on that show as one of the worst days he ever had on set, “but one of the best days I ever had punching in on a clock.”
Huff went on to play a body double in a television pilot and other small roles. He returned to Hamilton, where he grew up, in 2005. He said he looked around and saw a lot of potential for the region’s fledgling film industry.
“I took a long break from (acting) and went into the production end of filmmaking and putting together documentary films,” he said.
Then, in 2011, Franco cast Huff as a sideshow pitchman in his film “Child of God.”
For “Studio 4: Actors Competition,” Franco and Makers tapped Hamilton natives Jay Davis and Vince Jolivette to direct and host the series, respectively. Davis and Jolivette helped bring two other Franco film productions, “Goat” and “The Long Home,” to Butler County last year. Huff received a small part in the latter.
Huff is currently back in directing and production mode as he waits for the final reveal of “Studio 4.” He is putting the finishing touches on an online documentary about Wayne Mills, a Nashville country singer killed by honky-tonk bar owner Chris Ferrell in 2013. Spike TV had just remodeled Ferrell’s bar, the Pit and Barrel, as part of its reality television series “Bar Rescue” at the time. A jury convicted Ferrell of murder in early 2015.
“A new music series was born after (Mills') death,” Huff said. Bobby Mackey’s in Wilder launched the touring series, called “The Last Honky Tonk,” in 2014. Huff said his project chronicles both Mills’ life and the rise of the series, which has since toured in nine states.
There is no definite timeline for when "Studio 4: Actor Competition" will release its final episodes. Whether or not he makes the final cut, Huff said the experience was a positive one.
“The privilege of being part of the experience not only really helped my career but introduced me to a lot of young talent,” he said. “Everybody I worked with, they were super, super people.”