Every now and then the horror scene becomes saturated with a certain genre or stack of boring remakes that just have everyone begging for something different. Well the web series The Hunted is definitely different and brave in testing the limits of what can be done with the vampire genre. I know you are already thinking vampires have been done but take a second to let the idea of a musical, comedy, action, vampire show sink in. Obviously some dirt needed to be dug up on how this odd little gem called The Hunted and The Hunted: Encore came to be. I was lucky enough to chat with one of the creators, writers, actors Ned Donovan and ask how this wild Undead idea came to life.
KillDozer: Tell us about The Hunted and The Hunted: Encore. In my mind it sounds like one of those awesome ideas between friends that never actually happens, like "wouldn't it be funny if....?" How did the dream of a "musical, action, comedy about vampires and vampire hunters" come to life?
Ned Donovan: There are kind of two stories here, so I’ll start with the older one. The Hunted is the longest running series on the internet, established in 2001 by Robert (Bob) Chapin. Bob tells this story better than I do but basically he was teaching sword fighting and wanted a way to showcase his students. This is way pre-YouTube or anything like that. It was so successful that other staged combat schools started asking if they could get in on the action, and what happened was not only maybe the first true web series, but also the first web series universe built around fan-submitted content. If you wanted to join the universe right now, you could also join by making your own. To incentivize this, every year Bob runs a contest that gets judged by major industry professionals, the winner gets $1000. A couple years ago, Bob crowdfunded an origin story feature film that has done well at festivals, and is looking to revitalize the entire brand.
Back in 2009, the guy training ME in staged combat made an episode called The Hunted: Generations that I helped to organize and coordinate, but wasn’t actually in. I was at the time studying for my BFA in Musical Theatre from Ithaca College, and myself and other MT/Acting majors put together The Hunted: Expulsion, the first college affiliate. It’s really bad, but it’s still up and out there if you’re curious 😜 Marcus Thorne Bagala, eventual co-founder of Charging Moose Media, was at Berklee College of Music at the time, and scored the old episodes. Expulsion died in the spring of my junior year when I studied abroad in London. We shot two episodes over there that never saw the light of day. Then, in 2013 we tried to revitalize it again in Allentown, PA. We shot two episodes there as well, and they were never finished.
Fast forward to 2016, and the very first project by Marcus and I, Give My Regards to Broadway: Classic Showtunes Reimagined, had just released. GMRTB featured 10 showtunes from 1960 or earlier reimagined for today’s radio genres. Bob had always joked to me that he wanted an episode of The Hunted a la Once More With Feeling or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, and I had always resisted because I didn’t have the capabilities of making music worthy of those reference points. Marcus, however does, and this collection of songs had proved it. Bob heard the project and said it to me again in May of that year. I called Marcus and said I wanted to write a musical Hunted series starring his wife, Megan. As you’ve seen she’s not only an insanely talented actor/singer, but she’s also been a teacher of Krav Maga for years, so she had the action thing down as well.
While Marcus/Megan were on their honeymoon, I drank a bottle of whiskey and wrote the first draft for 3 episodes of what would become The Hunted: Encore. Both of them agreed that we wanted to do it, and so off we set on the journey. Those 3 episodes became the eventual 4 episodes of season 1. The first season was never intended to continue, though we left it open ended, but after completion we had now learned so much about the show, the form, and what it needed, that we desperately wanted to make a second season, so the 8 episodes of Season 2 were scripted in May of 2017, and we actually wrapped principal photography of season 2 exactly 1 year after the first day of principal photography for Season 1.
KillDozer: Was this always set to be a musical show? What comes first the script or the songs?
Ned: Our affiliate of The Hunted was always intended to be a Musical, but the hundreds of episodes prior are not musical. I write the first draft of the show with overall descriptions of the songs and where they fall. Then we work with songwriters to write the songs. I then go back and adjust the script to match the contributions of the writers, and we begin a sort of back and forth refining on all sides to incorporate the brilliant artistic creations of everyone involved. The final version is always far from where my initial scripts went, but always infinitely better due to the team we’ve built.
KillDozer: Why did you decide to create an online show and not a feature length film?
Ned: The original show is a web series, and we’re an extension. Not unlike CSI: Miami is to CSI. In terms of getting immediate response and output, a web series is frankly a safer investment, though with a much lower ceiling. We’ve had a lot of trouble building a viewer base and finding our audience because of the nature of the medium.
KillDozer: Is everyone involved theatrically trained? You have a lot of singing and choreography taking place around the action and comedy, how long does it take to rehearse and really nail the performance?
Ned: Everyone acting in the show is an NYC-based, primarily theatre-based actor. Except, Bob (season 2), who is the original creator of The Hunted and is deeply seeded in the tv/film world.
KillDozer: You have some incredibly positive feedback online. Did you ever imagine that this project would be as welcome as it is?
Ned: We’ve had really fantastic feedback from everyone who’s seen it. We’ve done extremely well in the festival circuit as well, and season 2 has already won more awards than the first. We haven’t, however, seen a translation into a larger audience, and that’s been our biggest challenge, is finding our audience and getting eyeballs on the show. Almost everyone who’s seen it has loved it, but we haven’t found the formula to grow the way we’d like.
KillDozer: How do you go about balancing all of the elements of The Hunted: Encore in an even way?
Ned: What a great question! As showrunner and scriptwriter I built the framework and the scripts for the show, but once the songs start getting incorporated, everything changes. It takes a lot of people finding much better ways of communicating ideas than I originally scripted and then working with the full team to incorporate.
KillDozer: How close are you in reality to your character "Ned"? Besides the fact that you share the same name of course.
Ned: Well the magic of The Hunted is everyone plays themselves (for the most part). The Queens of the Damned were scripted before we had our incredible actresses, so that was the first time the name convention changed for us. I scripted each character to be an over the top farcical version of the real people involved. For me, I’m pretty similar to the Ned that ends up in the show. The hardest part I find, is writing in other peoples’ voices, so often there are rewrites throughout the process in consultation with everyone, since they are playing themselves. This has always created a much more cohesive script.
KillDozer: What is your overall dream for the show? Are you trying to market it to networks?
Ned: I would love to see the entire universe of The Hunted incorporated into a network of some kind, us included. Each affiliate stands alone really well, and I think ours speaks for itself in that regard. Our first step is to grow our viewership and audience, but that is definitely a dream of mine. We’ve written the outlines for seasons 3 and 4 should we get to them, but right now our focus is on promoting the first two seasons to a wider audience, rather than throwing more episodes into the mix.
KillDozer: What is the shooting schedule like for each episode? Where do you film?
Ned: We actually film the entire season in one shot. Season 1 was filmed on 2.5 days in July of 2016 in 4 separate locations. Season 2 was filmed in 3 days in July 2017, and then a pickup day to capture the vampire vlogs and a couple other things we missed in August. We don’t film episode by episode, but location by location. Season 1 we filmed episode 2 “More Than One” first, and then we moved to the theater for end of 2 and all of 3, and then to the bar where the season kicks off, and the apartment setting. Season 2 we filmed everything in the theater the first day, and then spent two days at the warehouse. The pickup day we shot around Williamsburg Brooklyn to capture the vlogs, and some extra stuff for “Prepare For War”.
KillDozer: This may sound silly but.... Why vampires? Are there any other creatures of the night you bring into the show?
Ned: The original show is all vampires, so are we. The Hunted has its own rules regarding Vamps, though. Sunlight doesn’t hurt them, garlic is whatever, stakes don’t do anything, crosses are useless. The only thing that kills them is removing the head. There are all sorts of scientific reasons that Bob could fill you in on, if you’re curious.
KillDozer: Have you been able to watch the show with people who weren't connected to it ? What reactions did you get?
Ned: The reaction we get from basically everyone is really positive. To me, the best thing about our show is also what makes it hard to find an audience. We are a ton of genres slammed together in a way that takes itself seriously rather than being a sendup. I love the cohesion that brings to the tone of the show, but keeps the winks/nods to only where they are most effective. This has created a show that most commonly people say they've "never seen anything like," which to me, is the greatest compliment you can receive. It also means that when pitching the show to networks, or to an audience, they always go “what other show is it like?” And we don’t have an easy answer. We can say “did you see Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog? It’s sort of like that coupled with Cops and Buffy.” We got an interesting letter from a festival we didn’t get into for season 1 that told us they didn’t know how to slot the show. They couldn’t easily place us in a horror block, but we aren’t the standard comedy fare”, and we’re only kind of an action show, and due to the limited amount of them, most festivals don’t feature a musical block. So we weren’t selected due to inability to program. I love that about our show, but it has been the hardest part about growing our audience. As I say to most people, there is something in our show for almost everyone to enjoy.
KillDozer: Where can we go to follow/watch The Hunted and The Hunted: Encore?
Ned: The best thing to do is to follow us on social media. You can watch our show on our website at www.thehuntedencore.com, and also we’re on Seeka TV, a hulu-like website dedicated to web series.
KillDozer: Whats next for The Hunted?
Ned: In a perfect world we would find our audience, and create the avenue towards funding a third season. We’re still in search, and that is the majority of our focus for the show right now. If we can do that, season 3 is ready to be developed. One thing we never want to do is just deliver the same thing you’ve seen before, and Season 3 incorporates new facets and ideas that I think audiences will really love. So the first step is audience, the next step is season 3!
KillDozer: If you could cast the vampires from any film into any Broadway play who would they be and what play would they be in?
Ned: Well ignoring the vampire musicals that already exist (Dance of the Vampires and Lestat), I would actually love to see Elina Lowensohn’s character from Nadja play Elphaba in Wicked. It would also be truly nutty to see the team from What We Do in the Shadows take on the Mormon characters in The Book of Mormon.
KillDozer: What horror film do you think could make an awesome musical?
Ned: In terms of MUSICAL, I would love to see a gritty, dark musical version of something like The Wicker Man, or something like what became The Little Shop of Horrors done to, say, Trick ‘r Treat. However, one of my dreams is to transform Neil Marshall’s brilliant script for Dog Soldiers into a stage play. Since there are only two true locations, I think it can be done. If someone else steals that, I’m coming for them.
KillDozer: Would you survive the world of The Hunted in real life?
Ned: I doubt it. As I’ve said to many people, I’m extremely well trained in how to fake fight. I think my instincts would cause me to miss bad guys, not actually hit them. The singing part? I’ve got that one down pat.
You guys can get updates on The Hunted and The Hunted: Encore on Facebook, on Twitter and Instagram by searching @ChargingMooseNY, Tumblr, or by going to TheHuntedEncore.com!