You can take Maine filmmakers out of Maine, but they tend to carry their Maine roots with them. Even to a musical nightmare version of New York City, where sexy vampire hunters do battle with the un-dead on darkened streets ringing with the sound of electric guitars and clanging swords. At least that’s the lesson learned by talking to Maine natives Ned Donovan of Portland and Marcus Thorne Bagala from Gray, whose horror-comedy-musical web series “The Hunted: Encore” is currently slaying ’em at film festivals all around the world.
The series, about a group of vampire slayers with killer moves and equally impressive pipes, according to series executive producer, writer, editor and stunt coordinator Donovan, could be most accurately described as an “action comedy rock musical mockumentary.” Featuring wall-to-wall fight scenes and a full score of a soaring, guitar- and synthesizer-driven rock (including songs like “It Only Takes One Bite”) from Bagala, who’s written music for shows like “The Affair” and “Ray Donovan” and films like “Cell,” “The Hunted: Encore” has been racking up dozens of awards at film festivals, including a recent “Best Musical Comedy Webseries” win at Baltimore Web Fest. The series and its creators (collectively known under the Maine-specific title Charging Moose Media) are also preparing to head down to Brazil, where “The Hunted: Encore” has been invited to compete in the Rio WebFest.
Watch the trailer:
Donovan and Bagala might be taking this second season of their entry in the long-running “The Hunted” web series universe all around the world from their current NYC base, but they’ve been creative partners ever since they grew up together right here in Maine. Since high school, both Bagala and Donovan have worked together on projects like a hard-rocking album of reimagined Broadway show tunes, a project that caught the attention of legendary Hollywood fight coordinator, stuntman and visual effects artist (he did the falling rose petals in “American Beauty,” among other things you’ve undoubtedly seen), Bob Chapin. Chapin, who created the vampire-hunting web series “The Hunted” way back in 2001, has long invited fans and other filmmakers to make their own entries in the still-ongoing “The Hunted” universe, and contacted Donovan and Bagala to see if a musical entry in the undead franchise would be up their alley. The rest, as they say (or sing), is history.
Their musical rendition of NYC vampire world of “The Hunted” has allowed Donovan and Bagala (alongside Bagala’s wife and writing partner Megan Dorn, who has the lead in “The Hunted: Encore”) to continue their partnership, this season expanding their storytelling in new directions.
“In the first season, the mockumentary format meant that everything was in one long take,” explained Donovan. “That’s still true in Season 2, but we sort of learned that we were allowed to film in the way we should have, so everything now explodes into a music video with every song.” The pair explains that those long takes and full-throated songs are no problem for their cast, many of whom are working New York theater actors, including the likes of Andrew Mayer, recently of the Broadway show “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.”
That wealth of talent extends to Bagala’s professional equipment, facilities and musical colleagues as well, giving “The Hunted: Encore” a huge advantage over the average internet entertainment enterprise. And while the whole “cheeky, action-packed vampire slayer musical” concept inevitably invites comparisons to the cult classic “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” musical episode “Once More With Feeling,” Donovan and Bagala stake out their own vampire musical bona fides. Contrasting “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon’s “commentary on musical theater” with the “spoof of the vampire genre as a whole” of “The Hunted: Encore,” Donovan and Bagala (both admittedly big “Buffy” fans) have created their own musical horror universe where, as Donovan puts it, Bagala’s unique talents (“He’s brilliant, but he won’t say that”) and background in guitar-based rock make their series its own, hard-rocking, hard-kicking beast.
Like the series’s New York – where vampires and vampire hunters alike are compelled to belt out their feelings while belting each other – Donovan and Bagala’s New York is constantly humming with activity and song, much of it with a Maine accent. “Every time we come home,” said Donovan, “we meet with Maine filmmakers, and we’re always looking to get our work in front of those eyeballs. With ourselves, and people like Marcus’s brother Matt and some others, we’ve built this sort of enclave of Maine artists and friends in New York. Making this cool thing, we’re continuing what we’ve been doing, but not just in Maine any more.”
And while “The Hunted: Encore” has been wowing viewers all over the world, the vagaries of the internet entertainment economy remain a challenge for filmmakers, even ones with so singular a story to tell. “There’s nothing out there like it,” said Donovan. “Like it or hate it, you’ve never seen a show like ours, which is a draw for people. That said, that hasn’t necessarily translated into views very well – connecting to a larger audience, that’s always the hard part.”
Still, the team behind “The Hunted: Encore” is pleased with the success and is exploring the idea of a third season, depending on some pending (but intriguing) locale and financing plans. “We’re able to call in favors from people who a series with our budget has no business working with,” joked Bagala. “It’s a passion project where we can stretch ourselves and be creative and have fun, all with really top-notch everything to work with. In a way, we’ve accomplished what we were hoping to accomplish in terms of creative ability. It’s been a real creative and learning experience, and now we’re looking outward with this skill set and this amazing team we’ve put together.”
“The Hunted: Encore” is available for your eyeballs (and ear holes) online on streaming sites YouTube and Seeka and through its website, thehuntedencore.com. And, should you find yourself humming along with the series’ vampire-slaying soundtrack, you can purchase the Season 1 and 2 soundtrack albums at chargingmoosemedia.bandcamp.com, where you can enter the code “Maine” and get a hometown discount of 25 percent off.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Friday-Sunday: “Liyana.” Enchanting, genre-defying documentary about a group of young siblings from the tiny African country of Eswatini who transform their family’s traumatic history into a series of fables about a heroic girl whose adventures are animated for the film.
Monday, Nov. 19: “Through The Repellent Fence.” This thought-provoking documentary follows a group of Native American artists as they construct a symbolic barrier along the never-more-contentious U.S.-Mexico border, consisting of a mile-long series of massive inflatable balloons emblazoned with an all-seeing indigenous “open eye” symbol.