Exclusive Interview: CREATOR ROBERT CHAPIN IS ONE OF 'THE HUNTED'
The Internet entrepreneur talks his Web series, the contest for user-made episodes, and the influence of Joss Whedon, HIGHLANDER and Felicia Day's THE GUILD
By T.K. DEHN, Contributing Writer
THE HUNTED is the little Web series that could, and can, and does. Robert Chapin’s Internet brain child, born over ten years ago, has been running episodes, still on thehunted.tv and now also on YouTube, of a series about people who have been bitten by vampires, but not yet turned who are trying to prove the existence of the blood-suckers. They are armed with video cameras (to do the documentation) and swords (to fend off the vamps). Chapin plays a vampire hunter named Bob and so far has written, directed and produced most of the episodes himself, but he’s been working to change that over the last year.
Chapin is currently sponsoring the second THE HUNTED
contest, inviting viewers to make their own episodes, with prize money of $2,300 distributed among winners in several categories. Filmmaker Kendall Wells won the top prize last year for his short “Don’t Try This at Home.” The due date for entries is April 12; information is up at the series’ website, thehunted.tv. Chapin talks about what THE HUNTED
is, how it’s changed over the years, and where he’d like it to go from here.
iF MAGAZINE: First of all, what’s the mythology of THE HUNTED?
ROBERT CHAPIN: Vampires do have fangs, but we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the legend, because we needed to justify the swordplay. There’s a whole wonderful write-up that Jessica Cail, who has a doctorate from Boston University, did for the medical justification of vampirism and why over the years they have evolved to the point where certain things don’t really affect them. On the official website, thehunted.tv, under “About Us,” there’s a write-up of the SFM Virus. It really justifies the swordplay in the show, because nothing else will kill these things. The only way to really do vampires in is to remove their heads from their bodies, through blade work. And of course, the only way for [the vampires] to defend themselves is to learn swordplay as well. The concept behind the show is that if a person is bitten, they then give off a scent that other vampires will be able to pick up and then it becomes like a feeding frenzy for sharks. So the Hunted are these people who have been bitten, and they are susceptible to repeat attacks, but they have formed alliances with other people who have been bitten, so they have their own support groups, they have VA – Vampires Anonymous – and they have a slight blood addiction, and they’ve inherited some of the vampires’ powers, but they are not fully turned and they will not die if they don’t get blood. If a person is completely drained of blood, then this virus takes over and then they need blood to survive and they become extremely desperate. It’s kind of like the rabies virus, where you go slightly mad, and you’re prone to bite.
iF: How did THE HUNTED come about?
CHAPIN: THE HUNTED came about originally because I was teaching a stage combat class with Anthony De Longis called Acting Action. I wanted the students to not just take a class, but to know what it’s like to perform fights for audiences. And we did years of doing living chess games and performing at Renaissance Faires, and it was a lot of freaking work [laughs], dragging a living chess board around and casting all the people, doing live shows. I thought, “What if it was if it was a film project or a video project?” I came up with an idea for a short called ULTIMATE DEATH MATCH WORKOUT. It was years of pulling teeth to try and cast the living chess games, But with one notice in one of the local casting pages, we ended up getting 250, 300 resumes in the mail to just do this little short, ULTIMATE DEATH MATCH WORKOUT, which is on YouTube. And it came out great and I realized, this is the way to do it, to work more in film and video. It just meant, okay, instead of doing just these individual shorts, come up with a project that was ongoing. There was a series at the time on cable access that Bobby Lento was doing called HAVE SWORD, WILL TRAVEL. It was a barbarian sword-and-sorcery thing. I thought, “Well, there’s an idea, to have some sort of ongoing series. Okay, what are the resources I have? If we’re going to do something low-budget, or no-budget, it’s going to have to be shot in modern-day, it’s going to have to use existing light and home cameras.” I patterned it after COPS and had to justify the swordplay we were doing in class. HIGHLANDER was big at the time, BUFFY was big at the time, so I sort of pulled from all of those resources and you get a mix-mash of COPS and HIGHLANDER and BUFFY, all in one little package.
This was around 2000, where Internet series were just starting to grab hold. Everybody was still on dial-up, so it made it really difficult to create anything that was viewable for more than a couple minutes. So I made sure the episodes were only five, six minutes long and they were originally very small and fuzzy postage stamps, but they were still deliverable for 56K audiences. The idea was to shoot a couple episodes, just to get our feet wet. I had written a pilot for the show, which is a six-part episode, which could also make for a TV show if we wanted to go to broadcast or a cable series. But we just kept shooting episodes, because different opportunities presented themselves. We were shooting guerilla-style. We would have an opportunity like, we would be performing [an action stage show] at the Hollywood Bowl and, “Wow, this would be awesome to work into an episode somehow.” Or we’d be doing a show at the Renaissance Faire, and it would be, “Oh, this would be awesome to work into an episode.” So everything became an episode of THE HUNTED
The problem I had is, I wanted to do everything. So we would go out and we would shoot it and we would rehearse the fights, but of course, I’m the one who edits them and puts them together and does foley and sound and effects and then puts them online. It would take anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years to edit a [single] episode.
I was doing all of this work, and I’m only one person. And aside from getting someone to sponsor the show, how am I going to get more content? One of the things I came up with is, this [can be] a show based almost entirely on user content. In other words, people keep coming up with ideas for episodes – why can’t they just go off and shoot them? [Many] TV shows have a fan base that go off and shoot fan episodes. Why can’t it be part of the show? Because of our concept, which is people on the Internet trying to prove the existence of vampires, why can’t they be shooting content as well and adding to the show and make it one of the first Internet shows that is sponsored or created almost entirely through user content? So this is what I’m pushing for now, because that, I believe, will have the greatest longevity as a show and it’s implementing some of the philosophy behind YouTube, where it’s all user content.
iF: How has the viewer participation been working so far?
CHAPIN: [laughs] Well, this whole concept [of viewer participation] came up in late 2008, when I realized that I had still been pushing THE HUNTED on its own official website without doing a lot of marketing for the show. And I realized, “Well, all of these episodes can pretty much stand up on their own, so why don’t I just release this on YouTube and see what happens from there?” One of the things I’m doing is kind of [emulating] a show that’s been out for awhile now called THE GUILD. Felicia [Day] started this project because she was a shut-in for a couple years, playing WORLD OF WARCRAFT, and afterwards she decided that she wanted to learn something from it, so she wrote a show which she wanted to make into a TV show and got tired of waiting for that to happen and made it an Internet series and it did exceptionally well, to the point where her first season was sponsored by user donations, which is something I had never thought of. It’s just putting a PayPal button on your site, saying, "If you’d like to contribute to the show, here you go." When THE HUNTED first started up, and I had quite a fan base from the HIGHLANDER audiences [Chapin appeared at a number of HIGHLANDER conventions as the sword-sparring partner of HIGHLANDER recurring actor Anthony De Longis], I could have done that, but I just never thought about it.
So I contacted [Day with questions] about what she would suggest with THE HUNTED, and her suggestion was, it’s all about the Internet, it’s all about marketing, you have to get out there and actually participate. You’ve got to get on Facebook, you’ve got to get on Twitter, you’ve got to get on MySpace and YouTube and every blog you can possibly think of, and that’s how you’re going to get the word out there. So that’s what I’ve been doing, is just immersing myself in the social networking world and how it works. This is the direction THE HUNTED is going. I think this is a show that could actually have fans create the content for the show, which could be really exciting.
The people I’m reaching out to right now are people who are trained in stage combat and swordplay. These people are all over the world. They have international societies and they’d love to be connected somehow with a Hollywood film project. Not all of them are going to jump on a plane and come to Hollywood, but this is a show they can all do in their own neck of the woods, wherever it may be. I now have at least a dozen episodes [online done by different people from] all over the world. I’ve already [worked on] a couple episodes where there have been other [swordfight] choreographers. Tony De Longis has done choreography for a couple shows. [Fight choreographer] Ed Douglas has contributed. There’s an episode called “Film at Eleven,” where the group from Pasadena actually contributed their episode. We’ve had an episode called “New Guy,” which was shot in Canada, and another one shot in St. Louis by a group there. It’s already started that we’ve been shooting around the country, so it does have its possibilities to shoot pretty much anywhere. Kendall Wells, since winning the last contest, has shot two new episodes and is the first of our three new affiliates. “The Chronicles of Kendall” can be found at www. thehunted.tv/kendall. The other affiliates are “The Hunted – Tampa” and “The Hunted – Expulsion,” both of which are also on the website.
iF: We know what makes a COPS episode a COPS episode .What makes a HUNTED episode, as opposed to just six minutes of somebody with a video camera?
CHAPIN: Because we’re not relying on a lot of production value, we try to balance that with action, with actors, with locations, with whatever production value we can find as a resource, and clever little storylines that are self-contained. Some of the episodes are two-part or three-part, and we might develop that into a continuing storyline, but for the most part, they’re little – they’re fun, they’re funny. There typically will be a fight scene, obviously involving vampires somehow, but it’s more of a social commentary than it is anything else. It’s not so much about fighting the undead; it’s about people trying to get through their lives and the vampires are representative of like jilted lovers, or bosses, or meter maids, or whatever the case may be.
iF: Your day job is as a special effects supervisor at New Deal Studios – you worked on SHUTTER ISLAND recently …
CHAPIN: I also still do second-unit and stunt work. I was in India in 2008, helping to coordinate a show called NENU MEEKU TELUSA, and you can find little clips of the show on YouTube. You’ll notice that even though I’m a visual effects artist that one of the things I said right up front is that if I want to make these episodes as simple as possible, so there are as few special effects as possible. I’m still following THE GUILD online, because their second season got picked up by Xbox Live and MSN Video. So now they’re completely sponsored by these companies, and what’s more is, during the writers strike, when Joss Whedon was looking for something to do, he found THE GUILD. And he had worked with [Felicia Day when she was] on BUFFY, and he thought, “Well, this looks like it would be fun to do,” and he came up with DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG and he cast Felicia as part of it, because he patterned DR. HORRIBLE basically after THE GUILD, and you know what happened when they released it on Hulu and pretty much shut down the servers in their first hour. It was some crazy number, like a hundred thousand users trying to log on at the same time. I think that was really a turning point for Internet content, because to that point, no one really took it seriously. But now you’ve got someone with a huge fan base doing something that’s not completely different from most of the other Internet shows that are out there, but it’s definitely got its own style. All of a sudden, you can see the kind of following an Internet series [can have]. He only did three episodes and then they went out to iTunes and who knows what kind of monetization – I think they’ve done well [laughs].
Recently, I’ve been looking into micro-financing, It has been used extensively in third-world countries to finance small businesses and I thought it might be a good model for film and video content. I found folks who had the same idea: kickstarter and indiegogo. This is the next idea I’d like to implement for THE HUNTED, where filmmakers can suggest their own episodes and fans and sponsors can choose to fund their favorite episode, actor or filmmaker.
iF: What would your ultimate dream be for THE HUNTED?
CHAPIN: Well, first off, I wanted to give this one good shot. Now that YouTube’s out there, my dream for the show is that there is an extensive network of sword professionals out there and I know they would love to be part of this show. And here’s a way to have a show that’s based almost completely on user content and the way to have this work on several levels is that you have fans who are adding their own content to a site, whether it be YouTube, Facebook or whatever, and then have the second level of Internet shows that I help to produce that are a little bit more professional, using the resources that I have available, and then going to a level beyond that. There could be crossover between the fan videos and the Internet shows that we produce with THE HUNTED. I [am running the second] THE HUNTED contest for user-made content, with cash and prizes for categories including Best Episode, Best Action Sequence and Hottest Female Vampire.
Beyond that is to have a cable series based on it, and then of course go from there to theatrical. So to kind of cover all of the media with the show, to start very small, pretty much like SOUTH PARK, and go from a single little episode to a series and instead of going to Comedy Central or whatever, to just take over the Internet Webiverse and go from there and work up towards doing more broadcast TV or a cable series or a theatrical presentation. That would be awesome if that happened [laughs]. What’s cool about the show is that it’s so difficult to create your own work, even in Hollywood, where most people are waiting around for someone who has the money to foot the bill. Even if I don’t have the money, I’ve proved that I can shoot this show and enjoy shooting it on a zero budget, and I know other people have done the same thing and I’m hoping I can get more people involved in it. So the show doesn’t really depend on having a huge budget or getting picked up to enjoy producing, acting, directing or whatever you want to do. It’s a fun show, regardless of where it goes from here. I’m having fun doing it.