Earlier this year, a good friend of mine texted me with the link to a web series that a friend of hers had written and produced. “You’ll love it,” she said. “It’s vampires and it’s musical theatre and I really think you guys would be friends.” Thus, I hit play on The Hunted: Encore, and then I promptly sent it to Sage telling HER to watch. A few weeks later, Sage and I met up for beers with the creators, Ned Donovan and Marcus Thorne Bagalà, to talk about their production company Charging Moose Media, The Hunted, and creating good work on a minimal budget.
Kim: Remind us again how you guys even came together and how the production company formed.
Marcus: We met in the summer of 2007 in the Maine premiere of All Shook Up, and we were both in the show. Which is not surprising for Ned, but it’s surprising for me. At this juncture in my life. And we were just friends, and we did a bunch of shit together.
Ned: His younger brother Sam is an incredible piano player/music director. And Marcus plays the guitar at an absurd level. And in high school, they both actually played at an absurd level. And so I like surrounding myself with talented people and making myself look more talented…
M: That’s actually a nice lead in to Charging Moose, because that’s exactly what we’re doing.
N: For senior year at my high school, you had to do a project. They give us two months off. I decided to put on a production of The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown with a very dear friend of mine named Genney Meyers, who is another actress in the city right now. We wanted to do the full orchestra, not the shortened down version. So I called Marcus and Sam and said, “Please help! I don’t know what I’m doing.” So they music directed.
M: Sam was 15. And he played it note-for-note.
N: He sight-read the piano score to The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown at 15 years old. Marcus played the guitar. And then we had two cellos, a viola, and a violin. We had a bass. And Marcus and I started working together pretty much all the time.
M: The real thing that led to The Hunted happening is in college, I was at Berklee doing film scoring, and Ned was at Ithaca and they did an old-school version of The Hunted that we don’t tell people about.
N: It’s so bad.
M: It’s really bad. I ended up scoring that.
N: I started handing Marcus off to the entire film school at Ithaca, because though the composition majors at Ithaca are insanely talented, they’re generally less film scoring based.
M: And it became a thing. People would call me. And then we moved to New York…
N: It started with the Christmas album, really. Marcus does this yearly Christmas album and he called me once he moved to the city with his then-girlfriend-turned-fiance-now-wife, saying, “We’re putting together a Christmas album like we’ve done for the last few years and we’re looking for people to come in and sing.” And every year we did a different theme. One year we did Whiskey and Wine, which is their band. One year we did live in his apartment.
M: We put like 15 people in my apartment and just recorded things…We tried to write a movie musical.
N: When we were in high school…
M: And it was god-awful.
Sage: What was it about?
N: There were three guys all chasing after the same girl, and she was playing all of them and she ran off with a fourth guy at the end.
M: And their friendship was strengthened because of that.
K: So then at what point were you like, we should make a production company?
N: We were fucking around and doing a thing for fun.
M: I think that’s still the case.
N: Yeah, we might still be in that phase, we just pretend like we’re professionals. I, for a good while, made most of my money as an actor. Then I joined the union and became super-unemployed pretty quickly, as happens to many people. So I was super-unemployed and feeling artistically stifled by auditions. And I’d been in a show a year and a half earlier, Once Upon a Mattress, and we used to laugh backstage because we would turn “Yesterday I Loved You” into a dub step number whenever it went into the halftime break. And then I was doing Damn Yankees and we would always joke that “Near to You,” which is a trio from the second act, should have been written by Muse. So I went to Marcus and said, “I want to make a small album of classic showtunes written for today’s radio.”
M: I had just decided to work freelance. For a while, I’d been working for another composer doing TV and movie stuff. And I had quit because I totally burned out. There was a spring where we were doing three movies and a TV show at the same time. And I was overseeing one of the movies so I wrote a bunch of it. And then I totally lost my mind because I was working 80 hours a week.
S: I don’t think it’s possible to be creative 80 hours a week.
M: No, and that was the thing for me. I don’t know how to be writing music right now. It took about eight months to disentangle myself from that. And it all ended on good terms. Basically when I quit, it coincided with Ned being like, “Yo, we should do this album.” So it became like the first thing that we were both doing with both of us having major life changes.
N: So we called a bunch of our really good friends. Rather than Marcus and I write the whole thing, we had a different artist write a track. So my friend Harry is an English teacher up in Ithaca, New York, who also happens to be one of the best punk singers I’ve ever heard. So we had him record “There is Nothing like a Dame” like a Blink 182 track. And our friend Scott programmed all the computer beats for Hamilton, so we had him design two tracks for us, and we got Oak who plays Hercules Mulligan to rap a Sondheim song for us. So we were planning a 5-track EP and it turned very quickly into an 11-track album. That was released in March, and it got great feedback. That is on our website, www.chargingmoosemedia.com.
M: Super free…because we are not legally allowed to sell it.
N: Backtracking a little bit, when I was in college, we did this horrific version of this show The Hunted. The Hunted is the longest running web series of all time. It’s been in circulation since 2001, run by a guy named Bob Chapin. It ended up spinning off, because a lot of people did it around the country. The guy who trained me in stunts – I do stunts and fight direction when I’m not acting – did one that I cowrote for a contest Bob ran, and we came in second. And so Bob called us and said, “Do you want to keep going? And Mark was moving to St. Louis and I was going to college. So he asked me to keep going, just using acting kids at Ithaca College. And that was The Hunted: Expulsion. And it wasn’t good, but it was a good time.
M: It was your first directing thing, my first scoring thing.
N: It was my first writing, it was real bad. Really my first time acting on camera and let me tell you right now, I consider myself relatively good as an actor or I wouldn’t do it for a living, but it’s bad. Bob called us right after we released “Give My Regards,” saying, “I listened to the album it’s incredible and I’ve always wanted to do the Dr. Horrible version. Do you guys want to be in charge with making the musical episode?” And we were like, “Sure!” And he was like, “Great, there’s a contest ending in three weeks, please submit! And I wrote him back and I said, “No. If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do the HELL out of it.” What Bob was thinking we were going to do was take a song and parody the lyrics and do a thing, instead Marcus and I put our heads together and wrote a 30-minute, four-episode, all original music spin-off of The Hunted.
M: Still in an extremely short amount of time.
N: We wrote our first drafts when you were on your honeymoon.
K: Your wife must have LOVED that.
M: It was the day before we were going to fly out and I woke up and Megan was reading. And she was like, “Yeah, I’m reading Ned’s draft of the web series…it’s really fucking good.” And Megan’s probably the least likely to give out compliments for anything.
N: And I also wrote her as the lead.
M: Well that helps.
N: I think she would have been more critical, I feel…Cause the whole point is that everyone plays themselves. All The Hunted affiliates are male-led. So when we were going to a musical and a new spin-off, I was like, I don’t want to do another dude-run Hunted because there’s a lot of those. Let’s create one around a girl. And I knew Megan was a Krav Maga instructor, she’s like a bad ass. If we’re going to make an action musical, I’m going to call my friend who’s actually like an action star and who can sing better than almost anyone I know.
S: And who do you think of when you think a vampire slayer?
N: You think of Buffy. Then I drank an entire bottle of whiskey and wrote a first draft.
M: Then we shot it in three days.
N: We recorded the music in two weeks.
K: That’s crazy.
N: We had a crazy situation with one of our actors. The idea was that Megan runs her own Hunted that absorbs the college cast…So, Max [from the college version], about 36 hours before we filmed, we got a call from SAG and they were like, “Hey, Max needs to join SAG if he’s going to film with you.” And Max was like, “I’m not ready to join.”
K: That’s such a major decision for an actor too.
N: And with our really niche web series, that’s maybe not the time to jump into SAG. So Max had to pull out. So we call our friend Adam, who I did a musical with, he’s an ex-lawyer. I picked him up from his film shoot and drove him straight to Marcus’s studio to record all of his songs.
M: The funny thing is, we didn’t actually finish. He lipsynced for the other guy [in places].
S: Just like Zac Efron in the first High School Musical.
K: You had said when we had drinks before…
N: Side note: we have drinks a lot.
S: And we’re drinking again.
K: ‘Cause the music all is very ’80s hair band.
M: That was mine – Ned fought me on it, and I was like no, that’s what vampires sound like.
S: They’re SUPER DRAMATIC.
N: I really wasn’t into the idea. But we had a different composer on every song, so Marcus wrote “Here Come the Vampires” with Megan. And he played for me his idea for “Here Come the Vampires,” and I was like, “Godammit, you’re right, okay.”
K: And it worked. It’s so funny. You had different writers for every one, but they still sound so very similar.
N: What you’re doing right now is giving props to Marcus Thorne Bagalà sitting to my left.
M: Well, not just me. So, basically when Ned pitched the idea to do multiple composers, I was like, “That’s great, but that’s be a fucking trainwreck.” So we have to figure out how we have a bunch of composers and still have it sound like a cohesive piece. So we had all these composers come in and then they funneled all the music through me and my partner Will, who mixed all the music and arranged half of it. So the composers wrote all these awesome songs and we listened to them and said, “Okay…”
N: How can we rock them up?
M: Like the song Danny wrote was like a really kitschy musical theater song.
N: Everyone check out Danny Bernstein, he’s an amazing composer. So he wrote our song, but it was like, piano-y – it was the sidekick song.
K: I LOVE that song.
N: Once we listened to it, Marcus was like, “How can we make it sound like the Beatles?” So that was how we found a rock “in” on it.
M: So Will just did an amazing job of turning it into a Queen/Beatles kind of thing. And we kinda did that with all of them.
N: We also had the benefit of Andrew Mayer, the guy who comes in on the motorcycle…
M: Blade. The guy who plays Blade.
N: So, Andrew Mayer and I were working on a new musical off and on. And he’s a stunt man, he does fights as well. He’s also an insanely accomplished violinist. He’s currently in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812…So as soon as I knew we had Andrew, I called Marcus and said, “We have an electric violin, which he has custom-built, that Andrew calls his AXE.”
M: It was a missed joke.
N: We were trying to figure out how to use it as a weapon without hurting it…so once we were done filming The Hunted, now we have two very high quality musical projects that have nothing to do with each other, except that they’re both remarkably niche in their own genres. So we said, “We have all these random projects, maybe we should create a production company and have an umbrella under which they all live.” That was the founding of Charging Moose.
K: And where did the name come from?
N: We’re both from Maine, and we wanted something that spoke to home.
M: And also my nickname in college was also Moose. That just happened.
N: We had three names we really liked that were all taken, including one by potentially a porn company that’s owned by one of the Baldwins?
S: Gotta be Billy.
K: I like the concept of Charging Moose too, because it’s not steamrolling, but yo, we’re going to come in there and fuck shit up.
N: We actually didn’t think of the pun until drunk.
M: We were talking about the logo and it was like…
N: *drunk* “What if it’s a moose…that’s plugged in?” It’s weird and kitschy, which kind of describes all our projects to date.
M: I have a very light background in working with production companies here, and they all take themselves SO seriously and we don’t take ourselves seriously at all.
K: Also your bug is very important. Whenever I go see a film, it’s like, oh, I like that one, that one’s creative.
M: Bad Robot was…
*Commence group freak out about Bad Robot*
N: So Arden Barlow is in Mass and she’s a flash animator who’s made a successful flash series dealing mostly in lots of great LGBT content, so I reached out to her through a friend, and she ended up making our bug, which is a moose that runs at you but then runs out of power and a little plug comes in and plugs him in.
S: When I started watching the series, I was like, “Okay people are talking, people are talking, people are talking,” and then there’s a stunt moment.
N: Megan kicks the shit out of me.
S: And I was like, OH. That looked…I was expecting that I’d be like, “Oh, that’s nice,” but it was CRAZY more professional than I was expecting.
K: I had the same reaction too.
S: Something I don’t expect out of web series is that level and when you talk about being a stunt man and knowing that fight choreography, I feel like that’s what really sets it apart.
M: We had a long conversation about this yesterday that our M.O. is trying to figure out with our extremely limited to zero budgets how to do the things we want to do to either compete or get close to…
N: Do something quality as High Maintenance or Broad City.
M: My dream is to do a web series on an iPhone that could go up against a real TV show.
S: Do you feel comfortable saying or dancing around how much you spent on the web series?
N: 2016 was a hell of a year for so many reasons for everyone. Me personally, I kind of had a really terrible year, my father passed away in February. And I took a ton of time off my life, including my art. I was living in his house in Pennsylvania and going slowly insane and selling all his things, settling his estate. It was really rough and that was when we were in the midst of making the album and the album kind of saved my brain because it gave me something to do while sitting in an empty house in Allentown by myself. I knew that we were going to be filming right around my birthday, which I figured was going to suck. So I decided to self-fund The Hunted out of my life insurance fund. So The Hunted had a larger budget than we’ve ever had or probably will for a while. We probably spent around eight or nine thousand.
M: Which is still very modest.
K: Especially for how it LOOKS. Like, the production quality is so good on it.
N: Our video partner Garrett is an unbelievable video DP, cameraman and video editor. At the end of the album, I recorded a song for my dad that we shot a music video for…We brought him in on The Hunted, and he handled getting our camera together, he found our sound team. We had good mics, which, to me, makes all the difference.
M: Still ended up being extremely challenging to mix.
N: We only had two lanyards and one boom mic for between five and seven people.
S: Where did the idea come from to have your cameraman be a character?
N: That’s also Hunted lore. Bob’s thing is that his cameraman is Mikey. Our thing is that our cameraman talks. Mikey doesn’t talk.
K: And what was it like filming-wise with the guy who is multiplied?
S: You guys, the vamping joke made my life.
N: I’m so glad, because I came up with it after too many whiskeys and everyone thought it was SO STUPID.
K: And especially with how long it took them to get it.
M: I fought so hard on that.
N: I fought for that joke every day. Cause everyone tried to cut it on me and I REFUSED.
S: I mean my sense of humor falls around vaudeville, so like, perfect.
N: So John, who is another insanely talented individual, who is my college roommate, spent three years on the Once national tour.
M: And he spent three years learning every instrument under the sun.
N: John is one of my closest friends and one of our closest collaborators and he runs an incredible band everyone should check out called Common Jack. Common Jack is like an indie bluegrass-y folk band.
M: They’re folk rock.
N: We tried to make The Hunted: Expulsion Season 2, never happened. We wrote John as a vampire who is cloning himself, so that’s what we transferred over into Encore. It allows us to make a fun joke, and John’s so talented, he could play his entire song by himself.
K: That was my favorite section.
M: We did a lot of composite shots.
N: Right, so we locked to camera as wide as possible and our director Ryan set it up so John recorded the entire song standing in one section of the frame, then we spliced the four videos simultaneously.
K: So who edited it together?
N: Garrett mostly, and I would sit with him.
M: The way that we shot it was so that it was a surprisingly easy edit job.
N: What I really like about The Hunted is that it’s one-take. I like that it feels like a one-take show. So from an edit standpoint, everything we shoot is what we’re going to put together, because we don’t have another angle.
M: So it was more about picking takes…it actually made for an interesting, different kind of job.
N: A lot of the songs are shot four separate takes, but we need to splice them exactly so the music lines up.
M: And you have a lot less leeway because of that.
N: So there were moments where we had to add slow motion effects or we had to stretch a couple of things by a few seconds, because we’d edit it and find that the song had gotten screwed. That was the hardest part of editing.
K: And as far as picking locations, what was that like?
N: I wrote for what I knew I had.
K: What bar is that?
N: Halyards is my bar in Brooklyn. It’s a glorious bar in Gowanus and I’m really good friends with the manager and I go there for every Patriots game, and I called him and I said, “How much would it cost to rent it off-hours for six hours?” And he said, “Are you going to bring a bunch of people to Patriots games all year?” And he said, “Great.”
M: So we had it for a day.
N: And that was actually the last day. The first day we filmed the third ep at the Green Building in Brooklyn which is where Marcus got married and that’s how we found it. So the original location for the third episode was a park, then we thought about the logistics of bringing in power and sound…
M: It’s a logistical nightmare.
N: [The parks department] never got back to us and we’re like a week out and I looked at the forecast and it was rain, so I called the Green Building and they gave us the space. The lighting was beautiful.
S: It also made me think of all those Buffy scenes that are in warehouses.
K: And then the theater you filmed in?
N: That’s the theater under St. Mark’s down in Alphabet City. I always wanted it to be a theater, because John’s a theatrical dude and we decided that any guy who’s playing a full song instead of trying to kill us is a theatrical character.
K: You guys sitting in the audience and clapping for him, I mean come on.
M: It made for a really interesting space to do choreography in.
N: It was really small.
M: As you’re watching it, the thing you don’t realize is that there are people hiding behind bars. It was such a small space.
K: What are the plans for a Season 2?
N: I’m going to meet up with Preston Max Allen who wrote the opening number. They are going to be the sole composer on Season 2. The idea on multiple composers is most of the songs are introductions to different characters. We thought it’d be more interesting to have multiple composers because each song would have a different flavor.
M: There’s a logistical concern there too about time.
N: So Preston’s going to write all of Season 2 now that everyone’s established. We’d LIKE to get it done and releasable by Halloween, which is when we released Season 1.
K: Are you going to do any sort of crowd-funding?
M: Our goal as a company is to explore the absolute bare minimum of what we can do to still get a quality product and not spend any money, because we think it’s really interesting. And there’s a lot of fertile ground in it. So over the year, we’ve discovered a lot of different things that we can apply to that. And we’re also not huge fans of crowd-funding.
N: I always have trouble with crowd-funding when it comes to artistic pieces.
K: When I was doing my theatrical endeavors, we would crowdfund to raise money for the project. And if I do several shows a year and I’m turning around and asking my friends for money every two months…you feel like an asshole.
M: It’s not sustainable. I think it’s more about us saying how are we going to do this WITHOUT crowd-funding.
N: Now we have other projects that we’re hoping with help us build our coffers as a company, that will allow us to fund the more expensive projects.
M: Which will always be the web series.
N: For instance, we sold The Hunted Soundtrack. What we said to everyone is that we didn’t crowdfund, we didn’t ask for your money. If you enjoyed the show, please spend $10 on the soundtrack.
M: One of the reasons we don’t want to crowdfund is that ONE watch of the show, no one’s gonna get anything out of it other than the single watch…I think the idea is that we want to have lasting content that people will be excited about and enjoy multiple times.
N: And selling the soundtrack helps us to monetize it a bit. So it’s available on iTunes and BandCamp. BandCamp is nice because it gives more money to the artist than the rest, they take a much smaller cut than Itunes does.
M: But also you can listen to us on Spotify and iTunes music, and we get some money from that too.
N: We also released a Christmas album. It was 11 tracks: 6 hymns and carols and then five original Christmas tunes written for a more contemporary sound. But yeah ultimately we just want to created multiple sources of income that can fund the one big project.
K: I love that concept. It’s like you’re really trying to move towards being a self-sustaining company instead of turning to your friends and being like…
N: Please pay me to be artistic. And listen…we aren’t a proven commodity yet. We didn’t want to ask for money if people didn’t know what we had to offer.
K: Let’s switch gears and talk about your At the Table podcast, the I had the pleasure…no JOY…of attending one of the recordings. The basic concept is setting it up like it’s a table read or first rehearsal of a new work?
M: Yeah, that’s a good entry point for it.
K: You really want it to feel like a cold read almost. Like no one is sitting around and studying up on it first.
M: Yes! Often we don’t tell the actors who they are going to play until they show up, so it’s a genuine cold read.
N: Our artistic director is a brilliant woman named Rachel Flynn and that concept came from her? How do we tell other people’s stories? We started checking out other podcasts to see what else was out there because we didn’t want to take on someone else’s concept. No one has done this type of cold read podcast.
K: Which blows my mind because the concept seems so obvious.
N: We went to Rachel, who is both a director and actress, and asked her if she was interested in helping us vet new plays and directing the reads and just basically being the point person with this project. Having a point person is so important because if we want to have as many diverse projects as we aspire to, we can’t be in charge of everything because nothing will get done. So we brought in Rachel to be the showrunner. We’ve done 3 plays so far. The first show was Parched by Dustin Sullivan. We recorded that with four actors in Marcus’ apartment and then we sound designed it, so it was very different from the one you saw.
K: So it’s almost like a radio play.
M: Yes. It will vary with each play and how we see best to present it.
N: What format fits the PLAY best.
M: Cause sometimes it’s really fun to do it live with an audience, sometimes it’s more fun to create an immersive listening experience. Honestly, we feel like there are no rules with this. We’re marching into new territory and just seeing what works.
N: We started to think about it because so many podcasts seem to be…informative? I hate that word, but it is…they tend to be based around non-fiction or criticism. We wanted to create narratives.
M: Or really, blend the non-fiction and the narrative.
N: We have these plays and then we pair each reading with an interview with the playwright. Every month it will be the play and then discussing it with the playwright.
K: And those are all separate episodes?
N: The play will be act based, episode wise. The goal is, whether or not it works out because time is a thing, the first Monday of the first full week of a month will be a play. Two Mondays later, we release the interview with the playwright.
S: To wrap up, is there anything else you want to add?
N: If you’re a playwright, we’re always looking for At the Table submissions. We want all different genres, we’re looking for people writing for all different backgrounds. We really want to keep it diverse thematically. We’re looking for plays that people are shopping around to be produced because we feel like an audio recording is such a great marketing tool, you know? We’re not looking to own the play, we just want to put it out there. We are a full service audio/video production company. And we are actively looking for ways to create things that are new and exciting that no one expects.
M: We’re open to any sort of submission really.
N: If you have an idea, we’re willing to hash them out with you.
M: I feel like Charging Moose has two mission statements. One is how do we do cool shit with no budget? The other is telling cool stories, both our own and stories that our peers want to tell.
Since this interview, Charging Moose Media has released a total of 7 plays on their podcast available at http://www.chargingmoosemedia.