By Scott Essman
Based in New York City, the new vampire-slaying musical series, The Hunted: Encore, is the result of a dynamic interaction among many key creative cast and crewmembers. Airing on their website, www.thehuntedencore. com, plus other platforms, the eight episodes of the show, a spin-off of the long running web series, The Hunted, represent season two of a hybrid project which posits onscreen action with Broadway-style musical compositions.
The series’ star, Megan Dorn-Bagala, has a BFA in Musical Theatre from The Boston Conservatory and has been in Actor’s Equity Association for three years. “Having shot season one,” she said of The Hunted: Encore, for which she also co-wrote an episode, “I had a good idea of who the character was and where she was coming from. We had a pre-shoot read through and on set camera rehearsals. We did rehearse all fight sequences extensively prior to shooting, as well as blocking it in the space, and for camera.”
Needless to say, Dorn-Bagala, a natural performer, most enjoys the shooting process. “I love being on set,” she conveyed. “There is something so amazing about the energy of a group of people working toward a common goal; the focus and drive is unparalleled—I love the camaraderie. [Director] Crystal Arnette is brilliant—Crystal’s aesthetic is so clear, that she is able to communicate what she is looking for very quickly. When you’re not matching her aesthetic, she’ll let you know.”
In unison is Dorn-Bagala’s husband, musical director of The Hunted: Encore Marcus Thorne Bagala, who has been writing music for National Public Radio’s acclaimed radio show and podcast This American Life for just shy of two years and was the synth designer for the first two seasons of Showtime’s The Affair. “I studied film scoring and songwriting at the Berklee College Of Music,” he said.
“My songwriting major had a concentration in musical theater writing.”
When producer, co-writer, editor, and performer Ned Donovan decided to bring in Preston Max Allen to write the majority of the songs for season two of The Hunted: Encore, Bagala’s primary tasks including finding ways to take the songs and “sprinkle just enough analog 80s synth vibe to bring them even more into the world” of the show. “A modern action project has specific scoring needs,” he said, pointing to ‘big drums’ and musical drama. “We looked for places we could use that vintage 80s horror feel to enhance and play with the heightened nature of the show. We also had much more cinematic visual language this season, thanks to Crystal [Arnette]. Once we had established the sound of the show for the music team, we then found places we strategically break that, and, in doing so, enhance the humorous moments.”
For Bagala, his chief duties on The Hunted: Encore took place before the commencement of principal photography. “Due to the nature of shooting a musical, the songs were 85% locked before we shot anything,” he said. “When the picture was finally passed back to the music team, we ended up cleaning things up and finding little places here and there that we could enhance the picture with some extra orchestration. All the music was recorded in my home studio in Astoria, New York, [and] most of the instruments were played by either me or Will Melones.”
In the end, Bagala noted that the idea of what a modern musical can be and sound like is drastically expanding. “When you can look at what’s on Broadway now and see shows like Hello, Dolly next to Hamilton or Waitress,” he related, “I don’t think you can say that ‘musical theatre’ is a genre so much as a form of storytelling — I definitely think that’s how we approached The Hunted.”
Entirely self-taught filmmaker Crystal Arnette studied at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in their School of Drama before making her own films with Canon’s DSLR series of cameras. Once she moved to New York City, Arnette continued to work as an actor on all types of sets, absorbing all of the knowledge she could. Soon, her own filmmaking career beckoned, which now has included creating hundreds of videos, many of which advertise off-Broadway ventures.
On her sets, including The Hunted: Encore, you will never find her in a trailer between set-ups. “I’m usually in video village, watching setups, watching takes, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” she stated. “Through my projects over the past six years, I have refined my vision and taught myself every aspect of the filmmaking process.”
For season two of The Hunted: Encore, Arnette came on board just four days before principal photography began. “While I did not have a hand in sculpting the scripts, most of casting, or location decisions,” she revealed, “I had full command over the look of each song and episode from filming to post-production. In post-production, since I am also a professional editor, I worked closely with Ned [Donovan] on the edits of every episode and did some finishing editing on two of the episodes.”
Arnette explained that in the narrative parameters of The Hunted: Encore, an actual filmmaker is following Megan Dorn-Bagala and the Encore team, documenting what happens to them. “For season two, Ned and Marcus wanted to make the songs true music videos,” she said, “so it meant each time a song begins, the style of filmmaking completely changes. The magic of the series is that it works — you buy that the scenes are this guy’s documentary, and that the songs are full music videos, and they were likely made by the same person.”
To realize the eight episodes for the show, Arnette filmed primarily with the Sony A7 camera, also utilizing a Canon 7D & Mark III used for many of the ‘vlogs’ and several additional angles for another specific sequence. For handheld scenes, Arnette and cinematographer Garret Kafchinski implemented a Zeiss zoom lens, while, for musical sequences, they often switched to using Zeiss prime lenses. “We primarily stayed on the 35mm, with notable exceptions on the [song] “How I Saved The Day” which uses the 18mm for its exaggerated wide-angle, and the verses of “In The End” which were on the 50mm to add shallower depth to the slow-motion portions,” Arnette detailed.
Co-star and visual effects supervisor Bob Chapin sought to get involved in production of The Hunted: Encore’s various scenes as soon as he could to inform key crewmembers which desired effects were going to be relatively easy and which other ones were going to take considerable time and money. “Most often, even when I’m working on TV and feature films, what you see is what you get, and you often have to rebuild a shot from scratch,” Chapin noted. “Fortunately I was on set for Encore, and I could tell the show’s director that it was entirely possible to hit someone with a car or jump 40 feet down from the rafters. I was also able to add fangs in several shots which saved precious time on set.”
Though he is a veteran of major productions, on The Hunted: Encore, Chapin aimed to use as a few effects as possible to minimize time required in post-production to create believable yet economical effects. “I think we ended up with about dozen or so shots for season two,” he explained. “Luckily I had time off from my day job, so I was able to breeze through it in
a few weeks. I typically use Maya and Nuke at work, but I have various other tools I use at home such as Mocha, After Effects, Premiere — whatever gets the job done!”
Noteworthy is that Chapin began work on the parent show, The Hunted, in the days of “video the size of a postage stamp that took 20 minutes to download on a dialup 56K modem.” Now, over 15 years later, Chapin has watched this show expand in every sense of that word. “It’s gotten exponentially easier to shoot content thanks to cameras, editing systems, software and hardware, but creating a project that can sustain itself has always been a challenge,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a simple no-budget concept that’s fairly easy for anyone to shoot. And thanks to a continuous stream of user content and our online fan base, The Hunted is still kickin.’”
Creative hyphenate Ned Donovan’s Charging Moose Media has received positive feedback on all of its projects to date, The Hunted: Encore being no exception. “Everything just continues to get better and better,” he said. “We have two albums, a podcast, and The Hunted. I was the stunt coordinator on a feature film that is now on Netflix and other video on-demand services, a zombie romantic comedy called Night of the Living Deb.”
Also a self-taught filmmaker, Donovan has training in fight choreography and stunt work and has served in that capacity on many stage plays and student films. With a BFA in musical theater from Ithaca College, Donovan brought numerous skills to The Hunted: Encore. “I am the show runner and executive producer for the series,” he said. “I wrote the first draft of the script for season one in May 2016, and we filmed it in July. I was also in charge of casting, location scouting, as well as stunt coordinating, along with Andrew Mayer.”
In concert with Marcus Bagala, Donovan brought in the series’ composers and worked with them to write and produce the songs for use in The Hunted: Encore’s first season. Additionally, for postproduction on season two, which was spread out between New York City, Maine and Los Angeles, Donovan handled all the editing and color grading, skills which he learned on his own. “I am intricately involved in every single aspect of the show, and I know it like the back of my hand,” Donovan remarked. “For me, the hardest part is not being able to fully invest 100% of my attention into being an actor because I’m making sure we get everything we need for postproduction, ensuring that food is available for everyone, making sure everyone is safe with their fights, and prepping shots, managing the locations, getting playback up and running for the songs.”
To finalize the eight episodes for season two of the show, Donovan edited in Final Cut Pro X, used ColorFinale to grade the footage, and utilized NeatVideo to clean up the artifacting in lower light situations. Photoshop was used to make the vlog frames, and Apple’s Compressor application was used for final exports. “The show is made to be fun, compelling, and funny, while still having interesting characters and worthwhile plot lines,” Donovan commented.
“We’re making a product that we feel is wholly unique in the landscape of web media, but it is a challenge still to be heard amongst the other web shows jockeying for position. In our minds, all you can control is quality, and we feel our show has that, so now, it’s about getting it in front of people, and letting them decide for themselves.”
The official soundtrack to The Hunted: Encore is available on Bandcamp with availability on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify.