"Picnic Area 11": A Comedy Short Written, Produced and Co-Starring the Actor Paul Howard

posted Jun 4, 2013, 11:22 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 24, 2014, 3:30 PM ]

The actor Paul Howard, a 2012 Enterprise profilee, recently premiered a comedy short titled Picnic Area 11 on YouTube. He plays Russ, who has to endure an enthusiastic but ill-timed recounting of a dream by his roommate James (Brett Richards).


Paul also wrote and produced the film, which premiered May 11 on YouTube. He agreed to a Q&A – in which he talks about the many hats he wore for the film (except for one major one), casting and why he didn't go the festival route.


Picnic Area 11 is embedded below, but for those who don't like to read or scroll -- just click on the photo.

1) What is the genesis of "Picnic Area 11"?


Picnic Area 11 (which will just be Picnic from this point forward) really was an idea that I had for a couple of years. It comes from my room mate, Jamie who loves to tell me about her crazy dreams. Usually these dreams are random, confusing, and make no sense at all. Many times she doesn't even know what they mean or fully remember most of them but yet she has this overwhelming desire to still tell me about them! The idea for a script was born from this frustration, annoyance, and hilarity of hearing Jamie's dreams.



2) You wrote, produced and starred in the film. Did you consider also directing or is that not something a) you want to do, b) don't feel you can do and/or c) find it really possible or wise to do given everything else you've done with this film?


I never considered directing because I knew that I would be acting in the film also. It takes a special person, and one that has specific talents to both act and direct in their film. I'm not saying that I wouldn't someday do it, but it's something that I don't feel ready for.  


I also was aware that on set, I didn't want to "wear the hat" as a producer while primarily wearing my acting cap. It was important to me to be able to deliver the character and performances I needed. Plus, I wanted the other actors to feel comfortable acting with me as an actor, not a director or producer.


The other main reason was a purely logical marketing choice....if my name had been in multiple positions and people don't know me or my work, they tend to assume the project is a vanity project and not something that is worthy or very good. The more names you have and the more people you have involved tend to make people feel there is more "worth" to the project -- especially at this independent level. Some of the key to the success of this project and future ones I want to do is getting exposure. The more people you have involved and as passionate about it as you are, the more they are going to help you get the word out. So it was a personal choice but also a marketing one.



3) What was behind the decision to premiere the film on YouTube as opposed to submitting it to film festivals (or is that still possible)?


I decided to premiere Picnic online as an experiment really. I have done the festival circuit with other people's projects, and with my project, 'sauce' (verb): to make agreeable or less harsh' and it can be a very long, expensive process. Plus, your reach to different audiences is limited. With shorts, usually you are a part of an "evening" of different projects lumped together -- so not everyone is even there to see your project, which can be great, but it can also be frustrating.


You can literally be seen by millions of people online. In a festival, there may be thousands, but probably hundreds. I love the festival circuit and think there is so much benefit there, but I think it is better for features, both of which I will consider doing in the future.


Premiering Picnic online was also to see and learn numerous things...how much exposure can I get, how many views, what is the feedback like, are these "quality" views, does it truly help me and the other artists involved, can you create a community and a following? Obviously things are still very new and the film has been online less then a month, but so far I am very encouraged and looking forward to doing at least one more, possibly two more films this year in this same way!



4) What were you looking for in casting the part of James?


I wrote the part of James for Brett [Richards]. He was who I had in mind the entire time since we are friends and I knew what he could do and how he would most likely "play" the part. I let Brett know very early on that I was interested in him being involved and I think he kind of thought, “oh sure, ok, let me know.”


When I finished the script and sent it to him, he was one of the first to read it. He was shocked -- partly because he saw that I was very serious and was really going to have him do this, but also because, as he stated so eloquently, "you are the only actor I know that would send a script that you wrote where you DON'T have the most lines!"



5) Did you consider playing James?


I never considering playing James for this reason, I wanted to see Brett do it and I knew it would work this way and be successful since both characters really play to our individual strengths as actors.



6) People use the term "labor of love" a lot when talking about their projects. How does that apply to this project? 


Definitely, definitely a labor of love!  I think people say that, and why it's true is because when you are doing things at this independent level, there is truly a lot of work – a lot of coordination, a lot of jobs to do with few people, little money, and not enough resources in general.  


Plus, that work really lasts a long time. I wrote Picnic in February. It is now the very end of May and I am still doing a ton of work, which I love, but it is a lot of work!  It's the things you don't think of at the beginning....the fact that I'm doing press for the film and promoting it and doing extra things like running a contest. [Enter for a chance to win one of eight prizes -- including a $200 Amazon gift card. More on this tomorrow.]


It's a lot to do, to be on top of and to coordinate....but it most certainly is a labor or love and most importantly, TOTALLY WORTH IT!



7) What are the next steps for Picnic?


My plan for Picnic is to run this contest from June 1 to June 11th. I hope it gets a lot of people involved and gets the word out more about the film. The fun for me is that there really are great prizes for people to win....after all, who doesn't want a $200 gift card to Amazon?


After the contest I will continue to do press, promote and really actively push Picnic out there till around July 11th.  At that point the movie will have been online for 2 months, where it will stay and ultimately continue to get exposure, but I will begin to shift focus away from it and on to promoting other things -- namely the next short I hope to go into production with in July.



8) As a triple-threat, are you finding one hat easier, more fulfilling and/or harder to wear than the others? 


I am always attracted to things in life that challenge me or even scare me. I want to learn, to become better, to conquer and to overcome. I am often looking to do something new.


I never want to play it safe or do what is easy or repeat myself.  So for projects, roles and life in general I am always looking to gain knowledge, understanding and to be challenged....


....challenges such as writing, starring, producing and promoting "Picnic Area 11", which you can watch below:

To keep up with "Picnic Area 11" news, "like" the film on Facebook.

For more information on Paul Howard, check out his website at www.getpaulhoward.com

And be sure to enter the "Picnic Area 11" Prepare to Play and Picnic Contest for a chance to win one of eight prizes including a $200 Amazon Gift Card between NOW and June 11, 2013. 


The So-and-So Profiles also re-shines a truncated spotlight on Paul, who was previously profiled in April 2012, to help further promote "Picnic Area 11". If you haven't watched the film yet, you can click on the below photo -- or you can read the profile and watch it at the end. 


1. When, where and how did you decide to become an actor? 

I’ve always been interested. It wasn’t until junior high that I got a taste of performing. I took a drama class, which I was put into accidentally.

I had been taking art, but two weeks into the semester they pulled me out of class, took me to the office and told me, “We’re changing your schedule.” I don’t know why. They pretty much changed my entire schedule and changed my elective, which was art, into drama.

I thought I was going to die. Not only had they taken me out of all my classes where you kinda make friends, but then they took me out of my elective and put me into drama.

It was a great moment because I was forced into that then got a taste of performing and was bitten. It started really young, but I started pursuing it in high school more seriously.

2. What is the balance for you between film, theatre and television? 

The balance now is whoever the hell will hire me (laughter).

I would say I am a theatre-trained actor who is interested in film. I do primarily independent film right now but television has changed a lot too. I’m much on board with television than I was at the start of my career because television has gone through a change. It’s amazing now. I love shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire and every show on AMC. Great acting and great storytelling -- it’s a different world. Television to me now is film.

Theatre’s a passion, but not really a career for me. Film is more of a career. I’m more interested creatively in that – writing and producing and doing that kind of stuff. I rarely think about writing a theatre show.

3. What is your dream role or type of role? 

Any role that is different from who I am that isn’t playing type or isn’t playing what I’m seen as. Any role that really changes the way I talk, the way I walk, the way I look. I find those things fascinating. I tend to go after those kinds of roles.

I’ve always been fascinated by The Elephant Man. That’s one of my favorite plays. To play John Merrick, the elephant man who has never known human kindness and where any physical contact he’s ever received has been negative. Can you imagine playing that? It’s something that most people have no reference to, thankfully.

I can’t even imagine having never been touched in a positive way. It’s something that’s so challenging and fascinating to me. How do you play that? You’ve only been hit. We’ve all been hit, but to have never been kissed or touched or caressed or pet?

In the play, he is touched for the first time in a positive way. That moment alone – what an amazing thing for an actor to play. Very extreme characters like that tend to interest me the most.

I love any villain too. To play Hitler. Hitler didn’t think he was crazy. He didn’t think he was wrong. To be true to him you have to play him like a man, not a monster. I find that fascinating because the tendency is for the public to judge and look at a person as a monster.

As an actor, we are not allowed to judge. Anybody who I disagree with venomously, I find fascinating that I would have to play them. To play someone who’s racist or discriminatory or crazy or a murderer, those are always the ones that I am the most fascinated by as an actor because they’re so different from who I am.

4. Do you ever feel pigeonholed into certain types of roles? 

I don’t feel pigeonholed in the types of roles, I feel limited sometimes in the rules of the Industry. I feel very lucky. I have played a very diverse amount of characters and I do often get cast in things I’m not the first choice for but successfully accomplish.

I did a feature called The Secret Handshake. They initially called me for a lead role they were strongly considering me for but they needed a guy with long hair. It comes down to silly things like that sometimes. They really liked me and they liked what I did and so almost like a consolation prize, they offered me the supporting role of his best friend.

Even though I wasn’t right type-wise in their minds initially, they were like, “Would you be interested in this?”

I accepted it and the guy was very thug and hardcore and not how I read in real life. I’m lucky in that way. I’m lucky that I do play different roles. A lot of actors would love that opportunity. Maybe they get commercials but they only get the same thing. I’ve gotten a lot of independent film and got a lot of diversity with those roles.

So I don’t feel pigeonholed other than the weird rules of the industry that some agents will look at my resume and say, “So you’ve done nothing.”

But isn’t there value in everything? If I did only student films or plays in my high school, there some value [to that].

5. How do you describe your particular style of acting? 

A blend of techniques based on the genre, the character, the forum.

Sometimes you are just playing yourself or an extension of yourself. Sometimes it is the dead opposite of you. That style alters. I never personally understood Method acting in a literal form. So you’re going to play a rapist or you’re going to play a burn victim. How the hell do you use Method?

Elements of Method absolutely make sense. Sometimes on set I have to be like Christian Bale and be more reserved and quiet and focused in my world because of what I doing asks a lot more of me. Sometimes they can say “action” and I just do my lines.

I don’t think I could ever say “my technique is this”. It’s based on who you’re working with, too. The people you work with demand more or less from you. Technique varies and is dependent on the project, the genre and the character.

6. What is the balance for you between acting and modeling? 

It’s not balance, it’s an arm of the beast. Sometimes modeling is very specific to promotion. In that case, it’s just more of a machine. I do a lot of photo shoots because for me it’s a creative outlet. It’s good for marketing, it’s good for exposure. You never know who you’re going to work with or who they’ll be tomorrow or where that photo will go.

But more than that, I love meeting people. I love working with people. A lot of times I work with people who are new to the industry. I love that experience.

7. Who are your professional inspirations?  

Walt Disney. Michael Jackson was a huge innovator for me. I have a lot of respect for my peers like Edward Norton, Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling – I really love what they do.

I have a ton of respect for the Tom Cruises and the Will Smiths of the world. I really do.

Personally you idolize what you’re more like or what you more want. For me, it’s the chameleons. It’s the people who transition -- the Meryl Streeps who play these dramatically different roles. I think that’s amazing.

The Angela Bassetts that exist in the world who aren’t huge stars but do good work consistently.

That’s what I say about Christian Bale. He always does good work. I liked him in Swing Kids. He’s really good. I love American Psycho. I love his choices in that. I understood them and agreed with them. I thought he was brilliant in it.

I’m truly blown away by anyone who does this everyday and continues to do it. Longevity is a big thing if you can survive. I’m a supporter of anyone who’s been here 20 years.

8. If a production was casting for a "Paul Howard" type, what would they be looking for? 

That’s a good question. That’s a hard question to ask because you don’t want to be a type. In this industry you don’t ever want to be a type because then you’re that and only that. I will say that what I often get cast in is the boy next door that is a serial killer. I tend to get the simple guy on the surface, but still waters run deep.

At this point, the unassuming, nice guy who seems cool but can have a dark side to him – which is not unlike I am.

I am that middle ground. I could be your brother or your ex-boyfriend or your cousin, which is a great quality for me as an actor because I can blend into what I need to play. I don’t want to play just one role.

For more information on Paul Howard, check out his website at www.getpaulhoward.com.

To find out more about "Picnic Area 11", "like" the film on Facebook.

And be sure to enter the "Picnic Area 11" Prepare to Play and Picnic Contest for a chance to win one of eight prizes including a $200 Amazon Gift Card between NOW and June 11, 2013.