When happiness seems like the stuff of fantasy, can a fantastic power help pave the way towards realistic satisfaction? If you were blessed with such a power, how will it impact your relationships with friends and family? Is it possible for that power to lead you to the love of your dreams – even though that love appears unattainable?
Using only his pen and notepad, a handsome yet struggling artist discovers a powerful ability to turn his hand-drawn dreams into remarkable realities in Dekkoo’s extraordinary new drama series PAPER BOYS. With Dekkoo bolstering the series’ audience totals to over a million viewers, the gay streaming subscription video service features all 6 first season episodes of PAPER BOYS. Its first 2 episodes are also accessible on YouTube.
Executive produced by Curtis Casella and co-created by Casella and Kyle Cabral, PAPER BOYS boasts an ethnically diverse ensemble cast fronted by Cabral. In the series, Cabral portrays Cole, a young man who hopes that he’s made the right move by trading in the never-ending grind of New York City for the laid back surroundings of San Francisco.
After quitting his absolutely sucky day job back East, Cole tries for a new start on the West Coast with his loyal circle of friends: Daren (Nathan Brown), his fiancee Rebecca (Kai Lui), and Rebecca’s world-traveling stepsister Charlie (Sarah Elizabeth).
As Daren prepares to tie the knot with Rebecca, he seems to have a perfect life already planned. Cole also thinks that his new beginning in the Bay Area will lead to a better future.
Unfortunately for Daren and Cole, the unpredictability of life gets in the way. While Cole has restarted his life in San Francisco, so has the lover he couldn’t forget: his ex-boyfriend Max (Henry Lee, who also produced episodes 3 and 4). While Daren feels uncertain about his new career, Daren may think that his upcoming wedding to Rebecca will bring romantic potential. In his heart, though, he’s unsure about his love for his would-be spouse.
Exacerbating those doubts is Kalvin (played by Kevyn Richmond), who slowly ends up sharing something more than a mere friendship with Daren. While these developments complicate Cole and Daren’s lives, Cole must also come to grips with how the art he draws on his notepad inexplicably comes to life – and how it creates new destinies for himself and his friends.
Unlike typical ensemble dramas, including those that feature LGBTQ characters, PAPER BOYS features diverse protagonists at the show’s forefront. Although its supernatural element elevates the series’ dramatic stakes, PAPER BOYS’ concept was sparked by the relatable problems that everyone – including Casella and Cabral – have encountered while facing changes in their lives. In addition, as Casella explains, San Francisco and its multi-faceted gay community have also been influential towards the development of PAPER BOYS.
SR: What (and/or who) inspired you to create PAPER BOYS?
Casella: PAPER BOYS is mildly autobiographical for both Kyle, my co-creator, and me. Both Kyle and I had moved to new cities a couple of times in our lives, and wanted to explore the challenges and uncertainty that comes with a move like that through this series.
So a lot of the inspiration came from those experiences: moving to a new place, making new friends, realizing you should’ve made an actual plan (true story), and discovering things about yourself in those new environments that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. And also learning how to plan for the next time you do it.
Separately, we also had seen a lot of gay media come out, but not gay media that (a) told a story that wasn’t just a straight – so to speak – drama, and (b) showcased the diversity of the gay community. For the first part, straight people have lots of shows that are genre pieces or high concept, and we don’t have that many in the gay community.
So we wanted something a bit more fantastical for the series. We threw around a lot of ideas before settling on a magical notebook. And for the diversity aspect, Kyle is Filipino, so he is acutely aware of underrepresentation of people of color in media. We were both committed to not continuing that underrepresentation in our series.
SR: How was the show developed?
Casella: Once we decided on a story, Kyle and I spent about 6 months developing the series and about another year writing and gearing up for production. At the time, Kyle was living in New York, and I was living in South Africa, so we would arrange Skype sessions on Friday evenings and weekends and chat through ideas, map out characters, share scripts, critique dialogue, and discuss how we were going to change things based on feedback we got from others. I didn’t have internet access while overseas (partially because it’s a bit expensive, but mostly because I’m cheap), so I would drive into the office on Saturday and Sundays to take our calls there.
We mapped out enough story for about 4 seasons at the current length and pacing. We made some pretty substantial changes as we went through development: originally, Rebecca was a neighbor and Charlie was a friend of Max’s. Daren wasn’t originally engaged to Rebecca, and at one point we even eliminated the sketchbook concept entirely before we realized that that was a necessary thematic element for PAPER BOYS.
We wrote what would become all six episodes of the first season before we started production, although after we released the first two episodes, we changed the timing of some of the story beats based on the audience’s reaction. So the third episode was an entirely new episode that we wrote after the release, and we adjusted the other episodes to compensate for those changes.
SR: What (and/or who) inspired you to add the supernatural element to the show’s storyline – that of Cole’s art coming to life as soon as he draws it?
Casella: We knew we wanted something a bit fantastical for the series. We thought about the idea of doing a gay musical (and by “we thought about” I really mean “I desperately wanted to do something like that”), but Kyle rightly observed that neither of us were composers or lyricists, so that might have been difficult. Or we thought about doing a show about a gay vigilante – a kind of queer neo-noir. But we ultimately realized we wanted to tell a story about people in their mid-twenties, and uncertainty and self-discovery that comes with that part of your life.
One of the things we realized as we were going through our mid-twenties, especially in the midst of the recession, was that we felt like so much was out of our control. But what if we gave one of our characters a way to control their life – and influence the lives of others? Would they be happier? What would others think when they found out? And Kyle is also a supremely talented artist, so this fit well within his wheelhouse.
SR: Discuss how the show’s setting (San Francisco), plus PAPER BOYS’ representation of both the city and its gay community, plays into the situations and storylines of the series.
Casella: We’re only just starting to dive into what it’s like to be a gay man in San Francisco in PAPER BOYS, but this is one aspect I’m most excited to explore, because my own experiences as a gay man in this city have changed substantially between when we started this series, and where we are now. I’ll start this answer with the caveat that no one show can (or should) be everything to every gay man. So we’re not going to be able to represent all of the multitudinous facets of being a gay man in San Francisco. That wouldn’t be fair to the gay culture in this city.
(In PAPER BOYS), Cole has just moved to San Francisco, so there’s a lot in the city and the gay culture here that he’ll be discovering over the course of the next few seasons.
Cole will go through the process of making friends, going out, exploring apps and subcultures and parties that are parts of gay life – for better or for worse – here in San Francisco. This city is unique in its openness to new people and new experiences because so many people here have come from somewhere else, just like Cole.
So it’s the perfect setting for a show like ours, with a character like Cole who maybe doesn’t know who he really is and who he really wants to be. It’s the perfect city for finding the family you choose, and we’re excited to explore that as the series progresses. We also have the benefit of comparing Cole’s journey in San Francisco’s as a gay man to Daren’s journey as a straight man. That’s something that my friends and I think about often: our lives would have been so different (and, to me, not necessarily for the better) if we were straight.
SR: What was the production process like for the series?
Casella: We filmed the series two episodes at a time. We self-funded the first two episodes, and shot them over the course of three weekends. We ran a Kickstarter after that and used that to fund two more episodes, which we filmed over the course of another three weekends. And then Dekkoo funded the final two episodes of the first season, which we filmed over five days.
Kyle directed the first two episodes, and I directed the remaining 4 episodes of the first season. We brought on an amazing cinematographer, Dan Chen, who filmed every episode, and I don’t think PAPER BOYS would be what it is without his contribution. The look he created is so distinctive. We filmed at a breakneck pace because we had so much script to get through. We had an incredible cast who could move at the pace we did and still bring honesty and vulnerability to their characters.
Even though we had to move quickly, there were many moments in the final episodes that just developed naturally during production. For example, at the end of the third episode, Nathan Brown, who plays Daren, had a line like “I wish I had power you had to make everything the way I wanted it to be.” In one take, he called Cole “Paper Boy” and the moment seemed to tie up that episode perfectly, so we ran with it.
SR: A key aspect of PAPER BOYS is its realistic portrayal of gay/straight friendships, as seen through the dynamic between Cole and Daren. Describe how you worked to develop that part of the show’s storyline during the writing process.
Casella: Both Kyle and I have really good friends who are straight, so we based our portrayal of the relationship between Cole and Daren on that. In some way, it was also aspirational. Like, if we could show a friendship that was platonic between a straight and gay man, it might normalize it to an extent that it’s perhaps not normalized now.
I think there is still an undercurrent of maybe tension in gay and straight relationships – like this feeling on the part of straight men that gay men might either threaten their masculinity, be secretly attracted to them, or both. And we wanted to show a friendship between two men that didn’t have any of that. Where they were like brothers.
SR: PAPER BOYS is also significant for its diverse cast, which also sets it apart from many TV/web series targeted towards the gay community. Talk about how you assembled that cast, and the opportunities that shows like yours are giving actors and filmmakers from diverse backgrounds to succeed in the industry.
Casella: We spent months finding the right people to bring these characters to life. We knew we wanted our cast to be diverse, but we decided that we would shape the characters a bit around the actors, so, besides Kyle playing Cole, we never thought of any of our characters as any particular race.
We cast initially in San Francisco exclusively, and then extended our casting call to LA as well. It wasn’t an easy process – partly because we were an unknown production, so it was a risk for actors to join our show, and partly because there are so few parts for actors of color that I suspect many people of color who might otherwise consider acting decide it’s not worth the constant rejection. There are a lot of other factors that I suspect go into this, but it’s sadly a reality right now that it’s a difficult process.
Then again, it’s not that difficult. There is an incredible array of talented actors of all races, and if a show like ours is able to assemble a diverse cast, there’s no reason a major Hollywood production can’t do the same. It’s actually really disappointing. I also hope that a show like ours shows producers and financiers that there is an audience for content that features a diverse cast, especially now.
At some point, we discovered that someone had pirated the episodes we’d already released on YouTube, put them up on YouTube themselves, and garnered millions of views. Which is both flattering and frustrating (why couldn’t they have watched the official episodes?). So on almost no budget, with no marketing dollars before Dekkoo stepped in, we were able to find an audience around the world that was craving content with diverse characters like this.
SR: Describe how PAPER BOYS will benefit from being part of Dekkoo, and how your partnership with Dekkoo will benefit your work as filmmakers.
Casella: Dekkoo has already benefited our work as filmmakers. We wouldn’t have been able to finish the first season without Dekkoo. That’s really exciting for all of us who have been involved in making this show.
More than that, Dekkoo will hopefully open this show up to audiences who would never have heard about us otherwise because we simply didn’t have the ability to get the word out about without them. Not to mention we have so much more story to tell, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to tell it in a second, third and fourth season.
SR: What else, in your opinion, sets PAPER BOYS apart from other movies/TV/web series?
Casella: One thing that sets PAPER BOYS apart from other movies and TV series is the fantastical nature of the sketchbook in the show. Where were the shows for gay audiences that were genre pieces or high concept? Where were our gay superhero movies and TV shows? So with PAPER BOYS, we wanted to have the realism meet the magical realism, have something more to it than just your typical gay show. It’s small, but it’s important, and I think it allows us to explore themes and conflicts with a bent to it that other shows can’t.
One of the things that drew me to filmmaking originally was the ability to deal in the extraordinary, rather than just the ordinary. I love stories where you take someone out of their ordinary world and into an exotic new world or situation. Because when you strip away all of the routines and expectations they have in this world, they can’t hide behind anything to solve their problems or overcome their internal struggles. And our goal is to do a little bit of that with PAPER BOYS.
Lastly, in our approach to storytelling at PAPER BOYS, we decided to go against the majority of the advice we got from people whom we talked to who had created a web series before us. They said to make it short, and we ended up with 12 to 15-minute long episodes. They said to keep the storytelling tight, and we had two long montages in our first two episodes.
They said audiences watched comedies, and we made a dramedy, with the first season a bit heavier on the drama. Our episodes are slow-paced, our beats have a lot of breathing room, and we don’t tie everything up at the end of each episode like a sitcom might. But we decided we needed to be honest about the kinds of stories we wanted to tell, and we went with our gut, which could’ve been either really really bad, or, in our case, turned out to be okay
SR: Who do you think would like to watch PAPER BOYS? What movies/TV/web series, if any, would you compare it to?
Casella: I hope that PAPER BOYS will resonate with anyone who’s ever been uncertain about where they are in life, anyone who’s moved to a new place, had to make new friends, and had to start a new career. I hope PAPER BOYS will resonate with anyone who wishes they could have had a superpower to help them out, too.
Both Kyle and I drew a lot of inspiration from movies and series that we’d seen. We were inspired by the aesthetic of WEEKEND, and by the storytelling structure of LOST IN TRANSLATION (which has issues of its own, but we wanted to match the tone). We would also be so lucky to compare it to CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. These are all movies that are beautiful, more slow-paced, where their locations are characters, too. And at the same time, we can’t help but draw inspiration from mainstream straight series like FRIENDS, GIRLS, and probably too many other shows to name or remember.
SR: What are your hopes for PAPER BOYS’ success, including for how it will impact viewers?
Casella: At the very least, I hope we can continue the series. Like I said, we have so much more story we want to tell, and so many themes we want to explore. In terms of how it impacts viewers, I hope that our characters resonate with our audience. I hope that people who don’t always see themselves represented in media will see themselves in our characters, and I hope that we’re able to show both the beauty of San Francisco, and the problems it faces as well. In short, I hope that our viewers will feel like PAPER BOYS has something to say. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
NOTE: Casella says that subtitles are in the process of being added to the first 2 episodes of PAPER BOYS on YouTube.
ON THE WEB: http://paperboystheseries.com
YOUTUBE (for the first 2 episodes of PAPER BOYS):