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Creator's Corner » The Hunted - Bob Chapin
Tell us about your sci-fi web series.
The Hunted is a sword-slinging, vampire-hunting internet series that's a cross between Buffy and Reno 911. The show follows a group of people who have been bitten by vampires and are trying to prove their existence to the rest of the world.
The series is one of the longest running shows on the internet (thanks in part to the $0 budget) and it's the first show to be based on content created by fans, affiliates, and filmmakers from around the world. It's Youtube with a plot.
To promote the idea, we've created a series of contests with cash prizes ($1000 for first place) and judges made up of Hollywood professionals - directors, writers, producers, agents, stunt coordinators, etc. For our latest contest info and list of judges, check out www.thehunted.tv/contest.html
Where did the idea/concept for your web series come from?
In 1999 I was teaching a swordplay / stage combat class in LA called Acting Action and I realized that my students would benefit from some practical experience. I originally had us performing live chess games at renaissance fairs, but that was just way too much work. What's more, LA was more of a film town and I had a lot more interest and respect putting together a film project.
I was also interested in trying my hand at a film production company since I had all these skills lying around. In addition to being a swordplay instructor, I was also an actor, writer, musician, visual effects artist, and computer programmer. Here was my chance to also gain experience as a director, composer, editor and producer.
Our first project was a short called The Ultimate Deathmatch Workout - a spoof of the Tae-Bo fitness craze where people lost weight (and limbs) by sparring with swords. It was silly fun and it proved that a film project was the way to go. But we needed an idea that could work as a regular show.
About that time, I saw a cable access show called Have Sword Will Travel which was produced by another swordplay / stage combat group directed by Bobby Lento. It was pretty raw, but they were doing it. And you have to give props to anyone in Hollywood who has the initiative to actually do something rather than just talk about it. However, their show was set in a fantasy world, which I believe made it difficult for them to come up with locations and wardrobe on virtually no budget. And like most independently produced shows, it's impossible to compete with feature films and TV shows of the same genre that have million dollar budgets.
So I took an inventory of the assets that could serve us best for a regular series on no budget. I would set it in modern day (allowing us to use everyday locations and wardrobe) and shoot it reality-style (a-la Cops), which allowed us to shoot gorilla-style using existing lighting and sound on whatever cameras we had.
At the time, shows like Highlander and Buffy were big, and vampire lore (death by decapitation) gave us a rationale for the swordplay. We tweaked the vampire legends even further to say that vampires had developed an immunity to everything - so no stakes, garlic, holy water or crosses, which further emphasized the need for a regular swordfight (otherwise, you could just shoot the suckers with a crossbow). Furthermore, they wouldn't burst into flames in daylight, which meant that we didn't have to shoot all our scenes at night which would require costly lighting.
Finally, I decided that the show was to have a campy feel to it in the style of Buffy. Audiences tend to overlook a tight budget and other issues if you can make them laugh. For production value, we would have to rely on action, acting, cool locations, tight storylines, and the occasional cameo from my buddies in Hollywood.
But rather than releasing the show on a cable access channel, I decided to take advantage of a budding new distribution medium still in it's infancy. Internet video had some serious limitations due to bandwidth (56k modems were the norm), but it was obvious to me that this was going to be big - even if all our episodes took 20 minutes to load and looked like a fuzzy postage stamp. This, by the way, is the reason our titles are so big in our early episodes.
Ten years later, a lot has changed. Most of the shows that started the same time as The Hunted were long gone - having run out of money after just a few episodes. Thankfully, we had no budget, which allowed us to produce 18 episodes which I authored into a 2 DVD set. But I was finding it more and more difficult to make time to write, shoot and edit the episodes.
Meanwhile, as I expected, broadband DSL had come online, so no more fuzzy postage stamp - yay! What I didn't expect was content distribution sites like Youtube sprang up virtually overnight and completely took over the internet. Computer editing software and cameras were more accessible to the public and user content suddenly became king. Web shows were revitalized, but still couldn't compete with the sheer volume of content that Youtube and the world's population could deliver.
I realized then that the future of our show would rely on user content - allowing fans and filmmakers around the country to shoot their own Hunted episodes. It would be like CSI-Miami, Vegas, New York. Actually, it would be more like Cops, and the concept of the show allowed episodes to be shot by virtually anyone anywhere.
To promote the idea and inspire filmmakers to create their own episodes, I created a series of contests with cash prizes and judges made up of Hollywood professionals - directors, writers, producers, agents, stunt coordinators, etc. But I didn't approach just anyone, I was aware that there was a vast talent pool out there of stage combat (swordplay) professionals out there - extremely talented folks with lots of time on their hands and a burning desire to one day work in Hollywood. Well, here was their chance to work on a show based in LA without ever having to leave their hometown.
To date, our first contest produced some amazing episodes and gave us three affiliates dedicated to creating even more content, and we're now holding our second contest with an all-star lineup of judges and sponsors offering $2300 in cash and prizes.
The big question right now is monetization. While this is all great fun, I'd like to someday pay my actors. In lieu of a paying sponsor or ad revenue from sites like Youtube or Blip.tv, I'm looking into the possibility of microfinancing our episodes - allowing fans to sponsor episodes, actors, and directors they'd like to see. Beyond that, there also the thought of a cable or broadcast show (which would cross-support the internet series) and a feature film.
Name some of your sci-fi influences. Any favorite movies, TV shows, novels?
I was one of those uber-geeks who was proud to say they saw Star Wars 50 times in theaters. And now I'm a huge Avatar fan. Unfortunately, I can't afford to see it in 3D IMAX 50 times, but it's still an awesome show. My top ten feature sci-fi feature films would also include Close Encounters, Logan's Run, Alien, Galaxy Quest, Matrix, Iron Man, Iron Giant, Spider Man, Terminator... ok, that's 11. Yea, too many cool films to list.
As for old TV shows, I was a huge fan of Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Greatest American Hero, Time Tunnel and the original Battlestar Galactica. I was blown away by the recent remake. The writing, the acting - awesome job! Funny enough, I may be working as the VFX supervisor on a feature film remake of one of my earliest sci-fi guilty pleasures, a show called UFO. The was Gerry Anderson's predecessor to Space 1999 and I'm sure it influenced a ton of sci-fi in the 70's and 80's.
Tell us about the technical production of your show. What camera & equipment did you use? Editing software & hardware? For visual effects, etc?
There's hardly anything technical about The Hunted. One of the reasons the show survived so long is that I made a conscious decision to make the show as no-budget as possible. Reality TV - existing light & sound, shot on the super cheap with no elaborate props, locations, costumes or effects shots (even though I specialize in visual effects).
The camera was whatever I could get my hands on - which works fine for the concept of the show. For our first episodes, I used an old hi-8 camcorder which unfortunately kept drifting in and out of focus. After that, I learned to look for a camera with a manual focus and an audio input. We went from a Sony hi-8 to a JVC mini-dv and then finally to a Sony HD SR-11. I made sure that we always bought a little handheld cam which made it easier to shoot gorilla style. I'm sure we would've been instantly shut down in a couple locations if we had a big professional looking cam, boom mic and lights.
For editing, I use a tricked out PC with Adobe Premiere which has had quite its share of problems over the last ten years. Unfortunately, the problems don't seem to be going away anytime soon thanks to the wealth of new formats and technology (HD is a hog). As a VFX artist, I use Maya, but most of the work (such as glowing eyes and tracking) was done in Shake or After Effects.
Can you tell us any interesting facts or trivia about your show? Any funny stories?
We tend to base our episodes on whatever resources we have on hand. In one instance, I was performing a swordfight at the Hollywood Bowl with my buddy when we decided to work it into an episode (Stalker 2). The story tied in so seamlessly with the episode, folks were wondering how we were able to get the LA Philharmonic and hundreds of extras in the background of our shots.
Another interesting point is that our cameraman (who we always refer to Mikey) is actually about a dozen different people. Whenever you see him taller than everyone else (I'm 6'5), that's probably me shooting.
What's interesting to me is that the show has been going on so long, it's sort of a time capsule. There are friends who are no longer in LA, couples who met on the show who now have kids, and a stunt buddy of mine (Kit) is now a lawyer living in Colorado - go figure.
You can find The Hunted online at www.thehunted.tv.
The Hunted: SciFinal Page