Q&A: Director/Actor Robert Chapin on His YouTube-Spawned Vampire Actioner “THE HUNTED”News Abbie Bernstein
Here’s a relatively little-known fun fact: one of the longest-running series on the Internet concerns vampires with swords. Created in 2000 by Robert Chapin, THE HUNTED has spawned over 100 episodes made by people all over the world, available on THE HUNTED’s YouTube channel. Now, THE HUNTED has been made into a feature, directed by Chapin himself (who also gets story credit), written by Tex Wall and Andrew Helm, and currently available on Vimeo.
In THE HUNTED, Chapin plays an underemployed actor named Bob, who gets bitten by a vampire and consequently becomes one of the Hunted. The Hunted are a small group of humans, bitten but not turned, who use cold steel and fighting technique to fend off vampires while trying not become bloodsuckers themselves. A renaissance man in his own right, FANGORIA caught up with Chapin—also a visual FX artist (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS) and stunt performer (ARMY OF DARKNESS)—talks about what his onscreen world of fighting the undead.
ROBERT CHAPIN: THE HUNTED web series was originally created because I was teaching a sword-fighting class called ACTING ACTION. I realized that the students needed some goals; they could learn all day long, but they wanted to put that into practice, so I came up with [THE HUNTED].
The idea is that people could create their own episodes, which is still very new in Hollywood. Films still have yet to figure out how to leverage user content in marketing their films, and I believe the best possible way is to actually have a show that has professional content, but then you embrace fan content and make it part of the show. So THE HUNTED has been created based on user content. Pretty much anyone can shoot an episode.
FANGORIA: How did you decide it should be vampire-infected people fighting vampires with swords?
CHAPIN: Right about that time, BUFFY was big, HIGHLANDER was still around, and I knew I wanted to shoot it low-budget. Vampires had been done a lot in very different ways, and reality TV was just taking off- COPS was still big at the time- so it was putting those elements together and knowing that we were going to shoot reality TV[-style] to keep it simple, and we needed an antagonist. All we needed to do is maybe some vampire teeth and some glowy eyes occasionally.
It was done tongue-in-cheek [because] on the Internet, if you take yourself too seriously and if your production values didn’t hold up, it was death . But if you could make people laugh, that’s a huge step in the right direction.
The way we justified the swordplay on the show is, over the years, nothing else will work on vampires. They’ve become part of society, and like cockroaches, they have developed an immunity to everything else. The best way to kill a vampire is to take their head off with a sword.
FANG: How did you decide it was time to make a feature film version of THE HUNTED?
CHAPIN: The natural progression was to go from a web series to a TV show to a feature film, and I figured, “Let’s just go straight to features.” Kickstarter made it possible for us to leverage our fan following into financing the feature, albeit a very low-budget feature.
After twenty-some-odd years in the business in L.A., I have contacts with visual effects artists, production companies, studios, buddies who loaned us their RED camera to shoot the entire film in 5K, and then connections with stunt people who were willing to help us out, and brilliant actors who came on board, and we set it up as an eighteen-day shoot. Dr. Jessica Cail [who displays her professional expertise on NOVA’S SECRET LIFE OF SCIENTISTS], my wife and our brilliant executive producer, has never done this before, but did a great job at getting deals.
When I first came up with the idea for the show, I had written a [feature] script which was meant to be low-budget. It was very limited locations, cast and action. The original script wasn’t about me; it was about some other guy who just happened to get caught up in this world of THE HUNTED. When we finally got around to shooting the feature, I had shown the script to a couple of writers, and they said, “No. This is a good script, but it’s not the show any more. You need to write a script that’s an origin story, based on [the Bob character, played by Chapin].”
So we took a year to rewrite the script, and I found Tex Wall, brilliant writer. I just said, “Go nuts.” [Wall’s script] had twenty locations, a cast of fifty, a full burn, a cop chase, a high fall, a huge theater for the ending of the film.
But one of the things I did have going for me is that I’m a visual effects artist. So I knew at this point that a lot of the crazy CG stuff that would seem impossible for any indie film, like blowing up a building or setting someone on fire, actually didn’t scare me as much as the rest of the production, which was just the logistics. At that point, something in the universe woke up and decided, “Okay, I’m going to use everything in my power to shut these guys down.” [laughs] I’ve written a blog about this, and it reads almost better than the movie itself.
FANG: Why was it easier for you to set people on fire than have them bleed copiously? In low-budget, it’s usually the other way round.
CHAPIN: [Blood] is one of the more difficult things to deal with in a low-budget film. If you’re covering people with blood, trying to replicate that blood throughout the entire show is virtually impossible. We’ve got a couple very specific scenes [with blood], but blood gets very messy, and continuity is a bitch. So we opted for dark clothes, in case we were bitten, and then making sure if someone had blood on their face, they were going to wipe it off for the next scene.
FANG: But you do have fangs…
CHAPIN: One of our first sponsors is a company called Vamp Fangs, who does these wonderful prosthetic fangs, that you can just self-mold in a microwave. But there were a few times where we were moving so fast, we didn’t have time to get people their fangs, so I just put them in in post.
FANG: You have a big practical stunt with someone being set on fire…
CHAPIN: One of my specialties in visual effects is creating realistic fire for movies, but our stuntman, Banzai Vitale, who has been in TRUE BLOOD and BUFFY, said, ‘We’ll do this for real. Just set me on fire.’ We did have all the precautions. We had safety people standing by, and gel, and twenty-pound canisters of CO2. But it worked out well, and he did a fantastic job.
FANG: There’s also a shot where you, playing Bob while he’s very drugged up, jump off a roof naked and land on your face on cement…
CHAPIN: The stunt was done in two parts. I do take a thirty-foot face-off into a [portable] pit. It was pretty hairy for the takeoff and the landing, because we had a fairly small airbag, and a [hastily put-together] takeoff point. In the second shot, I’m standing there and jump onto the ground face-first, just from the ground. And we use the magic of visual effects to seamlessly blend the two of those and animate between them, and it comes across as a single shot.
FANG: Your friend and colleague actor/swordmaster/fight choreographer Anthony De Longis, who’s played vampire overlord Vincent Marlowe in some HUNTED shorts, is in the feature …
CHAPIN: Poor Tony. He’s willing to just jump in there and do whatever and God bless him. Vincent Marlowe is basically a businessman who sees the Slayers as not much of a threat, really—he’s amused by the whole thing.
FANG: Now that you’ve made THE HUNTED feature, are you still encouraging fans to make their own HUNTED Webisodes?
CHAPIN: One of the main reasons for the film is to kick-start the web series again. If you create an episode, there is a contest ending June 17, 2016, and it’s $1,000 for Best Episode, $500 for second and $250 for third, and the people who are going to be judging it are writers, producers, stunt coordinators, casting directors and film critics, so you’re going to get people to see it. [Whether it wins or not], it then becomes part of the series.
FANG: If people want to put splatter in it, that’s okay?
CHAPIN: Oh, yes. We’ve had people lopping off arms and legs in the episodes and doing all kinds of splatter stuff. There have been funny episodes, there have been serious episodes, there have been dream episodes. I’m looking forward to seeing where the fans take the show, because it’s gone in directions I never would have guessed.
You can check out the full gallery from THE HUNTED below!