When Horror Gives You a Laugh – Welcome to ‘Haunters: The Musical’
“I love it when a plan comes together!”
Those famous lines by John “Hannibal” Smith ring so true when one sits down and experiences Haunters, a new 20-part musical horror-comedy web series, produced, directed and written by J. Adam Brown and Blain Watters.
A perfect blend of modern references, old school-influenced horror, and a digital delivery vehicle, Haunters is a collection of bite sized content that feature a blend of various talents: acting, dancing, and of course, singing. The unique underlying story, paired with 14 original songs, brings together an experience that not only is fulfilling, but refreshing as well. It’s length is very similar to the short film model – nuggets of experiences – while extending the story into a series format. Whats also refreshing is the freshness of the music and songs. You only find 14 original songs ever being created for massive stage productions or big-budget films. The fact that the time and effort was taken to create original music for a show that is provided in mini pieces, and available only for everyone’s viewing pleasure for free online, is very cool.
We sat down with creators Adam and Blain to get a sense of where this project came from, their strategy in putting it together, and most of all, where they hope to take it from here.
1. A musical horror-comedy, featuring jerks, haunting of jerks, and a whole lot of twisted craziness in between. Where in the world do I begin with this?! Two high school buddies come together to create what is essentially a more fun way of looking at society as we see it today. Please do tell us more about the origins of Haunters.
Blain: Adam and I have been friends a long while.
Adam: We did a play in high school where we played two parts of a split personality. It was fate?
Blain: Yeah, fate. We had an idea for a reality series called Technology Vs. Horse. You’d have the Tech character using Watson to determine their best Tinder match, and the Horse character getting set up on a date by a Yenta.
Adam: Tech would wear a calculator costume. Horse would wear a….a…
Blain: A horse costume?
Blain: See? Not a great idea. Anyway, it became Haunters: Iggy is Tech, and Gent is old-fashioned, in fact he drinks many of them throughout the show.
Adam: Technology, and how it’s changed who we are is the holdover. Before the current scandal regarding user privacy came up for Facebook, there was a news story about an executive who quit, because he believed Facebook is destroying “the social fabric of how society works.” That sentiment is in the marrow of Haunters. We wanted to do a musical about a girl searching for who she is (pretty standard stuff) but ALSO focus on how living a life online can confuse that journey. How is that social media feedback loop shaping her? And what happens when she loses access to it? She’s invisible. We wanted to tell the story of what’s left of her after the screen goes dark.
2. What I find truly fascinating is that while the production features diverse styles of acting, it is very much a celebration of music with its 14 original songs, all recorded live on set! Did this project start with a passionate interest in music and build around that, or did the music sorta weave its way through as you were piecing together what you hope the project would?
Blain: J. Adam is obsessed with musicals. He grew up in musical theatre.
Adam: When I wasn’t playing the other half of Blain’s personality, I was singing at the Grand Theatre in Kingston. It’s where I learned that when musicals hit you the right way there’s nothing like it. They’re absurd stories where people sing their feelings. They’ve got emotive characters and material fit for a grand stage. Ghosts who haunt jerks? ‘Boo’ ya.
Blain: And our producer Davin Lengyel, when we brought him on board he was like: I’ll do it, on one condition, we record it live on set. And since we had no idea what that would entail, we agreed. We were naïve.
Adam: Friggin’ Davin. It was the best/worst decision we made.
3. I love musical productions. It’s certainly an opportunity to tell a story a different way, but also a chance to immerse the audience into the main takeaway of the moment. Recording musical songs live on set is one daunting task. What was that experience like? What did you feel was the biggest challenge in grabbing that clear audio that is very much needed to make the musical element shine?
Blain: Everyone says they had a good team, but ours was the best. Nearly everything was usable.
Adam: It had to be perfect or else the projects dies. We promised our audience every single note would be “live”. Overdubbing wasn’t an option.
Blain: The thing that held us back was the earpieces. When they were working they played the music track in our actor’s ears.
Adam: For the big numbers we usually didn’t have enough, so we had dancers moving to no music at all.
Blain: And other times the batteries would die…
Adam: The sun was setting, both on the shoot day, and what felt like our careers…
Blain: But it always seemed to work out in the end.
Adam: Always does.
Blain: Always will.
Adam & Blain: *Sniff*
4. The episodes are bite-sized-nuggets of cool performances, short enough to keep you wanting more (and boy does it get addictive) but not long enough to make you lose track of time. While I understand it’s a web series, what was the logic behind keeping them shorter than the traditional web series productions of today that hover around the 10-minute mark?
Blain: That was by design. Every time we sat down to write, we were very cognizant of writing a “stackable” narrative. One that we could break up into bite-sized chunks, but at the same time, fit together to be four episodes of TV (22 mins) or a feature-length film. We wanted all the options. So, we wrote each scene to potentially be the end of an episode. Each scene is a mini-story, with a beginning middle and end. Each one has a revelation. This is so we can cut it up multiple ways. The downside with this is the break-neck pace – even the songs do heavy plot lifting!
Adam: It’s true. Characters aren’t just singing feelings – but important plot elements! In terms of your question, we were getting a lot of contradictory advice about episode length. Even after experts made their case for 4, 7, or 12 minutes, there was the inevitable qualification: “…but who knows?” So we found the episode length in editing. We did whatever felt right for overall pacing.
5. Like everything in this world, nothing is free. Getting cast and crew together, building out the production, costumes, locations, etc, cost money. What steps did you take towards securing funds to make this a reality, and what sources would you say that aspiring filmmakers should look to for support?
Blain: We have the IPF, and OMDC to thank for our funding. The IPF is a great resource, they had our back through the whole production. The OMDC is a huge boon to Canadian content creators – their marketing fund is one of the reasons we’re talking to you, right now! You’re not gonna make money on a web series. So I’d say, look at web series as a way to pitch yourself: “look what I can do with what little I had.”
Adam: Not only in terms of production value but STORY too. The IPF and OMDC are a godsend for those who have weird/niche ideas that a broadcaster would never take a chance on. This is your opportunity to play. Even though we called in EVERY favour we had in order to “play”.
6. What plans do you have with this production looking forward? With stuff like Evil Dead: The Musical and all coming to the live theatre stage, do you foresee the stories or even the production as a whole going beyond a web series, and crossing over to another medium?
Adam: Even though I just implied that Haunters is an idea a broadcaster would never take a chance on – WE WANT TO DO A TELEVISION SHOW.
Blain: There have been a lot of successful TV musicals: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Galavant, Glee. It used to be that TV was for broad audiences, but now with so many channels, catering to a niche – and boy is Haunters niche – is working for the small screen.
Adam: Expand and refine Season 1. There’s so much we raced through – I wanna see why these characters are branded as Jerks. Like, how did Trog, the neanderthal in the series, wind up there? Can we do an episode 2001 Space Odyssey style to show his backstory? Did he spit on the monolith?
Blain: Adam, you wanna do this at Fringe or something?
Adam: So long as we switch roles and I get to play Trog. Finally.
Blain: We are two halves a split personality according to our high school acting catalogue so it makes sense.