Jon Marcus’ web series Hunting Season is a witty, fast paced, and fun commentary on the lives of three twenty something gay men navigating the sea of singles in NYC. Inspired by a very popular sex blog written by a blogger with the main character’s name, the show is anything but G-rated. Sex scenes happen so fast you could’ve sworn you were just grocery shopping, but it’s half satire and half "very real" reality, according to Marcus, who had a lot to say on the nature of sex, dating, and modern culture in our recent interview.
So I guess I’m gonna jump right in. For any readers who haven’t seen the web series, do you want to give a brief rundown of Season 1 and where the characters are at the start of Season 2?
Sure, Hunting Season is the story of Alex, a writer in NYC, who’s recently broken up with his boyfriend and is enjoying all the choices he has being young, attractive, and single. He is caught up in trying to figure out what he wants, and so he starts a sex blog to write about all the adventures he’s having — the sort of embarrassment of riches. Season 1 follows him through meeting a guy who really wants to date him and meeting a guy who’s sort of his ultimate physical fantasy, and how he juggles the two of them. How he deals with his ambivalence about not knowing what he wants. And then with Season 2, we jump forward in time a little bit — it took us a while to put together financing and get everything together so we decided that rather than jump right back in where we left off, we were going to take a leap forward and really go deeper into the lives of all the characters, not just Alex.
I like that you’ve gone more in the ensemble direction. What would you say to the idea that this is sort of the gay man’s answer to Sex and the City?
Well I find the comparison incredibly flattering, I love Sex and the City. It’s just such an iconic and brilliant show, and completely groundbreaking. I also feel like there’s a lot about it’s that different from Hunting Season. I think the similarity is in using the lens of an artistic process to make sense of what you’re going through while you’re single in New York. But it’s definitely the best case scenario to invite the comparison because it means that we’ve connected in a way that they connected with people. I’m flattered even though it wasn’t my intention.
I guess the next natural question for me then is, what was your intention? What is the statement that you’re hoping to make with Hunting Season?
Well, you know, one of the joys of making a show is that you don’t have to have a thesis; you can sort of sneak it in and let people take what they want. I wanted to shine a bright light on a section of the culture that wasn't allowed to be talked about. It’s sort of amongst gay men in the know. And I thought it was ripe for discussion, laughter, germination and confronts head on the ways that people deal with each other, the ambivalence in the face of endless choice. So it’s sort of a comedic presentation on that.
Do you feel like Hunting Season is an accurate representation of gay culture in New York right now?
Well it’s a very accurate representation of a slice of people. I mean, gay culture is a funny term, I don’t know if anyone knows exactly what it means. But in terms of representation, I’d say about half of the feedback I get from people is “oh my god, that’s a story about my life.” And the other half says, “oh my god, that’s so outrageous that would never happen.”
Yeah, for some people it’s a total fantasy and has nothing to do with their lives and it’s fun to watch but for some people it’s very, very, very, accurate.
You open a lot of discussions in the show, I’m just curious, are there any “answers” that have really revealed themselves to you in writing this show?
I just want to make sure I understand your question, because I can read it a whole bunch of ways, do you mean have I found the answer to life?
Maybe! Have you?
No, what I’m asking is — you start a lot of discussions about, you know, an open marriage or the idea of dating the guy who hates everything you stand for — so, I’m just asking if you’ve stumbled upon any moral realizations through writing the show.
It’s an interesting question because I feel like I had a point of view that I wanted to present, but after really getting into inhabiting these characters and having to both focus on and represent all sides of what people might be feeling — you know, I wrote some really terrible things that people I know have done and I thought, what must be going through someone’s head doing something like that? — and I think that the process has led me to a place of less judgement about how people get where they are. Rather than having an answer that comes down on one or the other side of a question, I feel like we live in a society where everybody’s ready to attack people for any reason, and I try to push people’s understanding each other a little bit more.
To follow up on that, you touch lightly on the subject of Grindr and dating through apps, which I think is something that is particularly taboo but also particularly rampant, and I’m just curious about how you feel that it has effected dating in modern times.
How I personally feel or how the show feels?
Are they different?
Yeah, I think the show presents dating through apps as an act of life. I wasn’t intentionally saying like, “here are the issues.” I think for me there’s some good and bad things about it. Personally, I think that it’s wonderful to be able to have something that connects you with people, and I think that the digital technology that we have is pretty amazing as far as its capacity to bring people together. But as a result of that, I think we tend to see ourselves a little bit more as commodities. When you measure your worth through a series of stats and photos, I think there’s a tendency to look at yourself like a product and that can be a really destructive way of thinking. So, I don’t think internet dating is morally wrong, I just think it has some self esteem issues that go along with it.
That’s a fascinating point, it’s rare to hear about the problems with commodifying oneself as opposed to commodifying others. My next question is about the actual sex in your show. Can you talk a little bit about the process of working with actors in such an intimate space and making that comfortable in such a sex heavy show?
Yeah, I’d be happy to talk about that. It’s really such an important part of the show that everything feels real and believable and that the characters and my amazing actors give off the right kind of chemistry. So I told everybody from the very beginning what my vision was to ensure that I worked with people who were on board and wanted to participate in what I was doing for the right reasons. I really got lucky with my cast and the people that did have sex scenes on camera, well, everybody was nervous about it. I was nervous about it. It was all choreographed, we discussed ahead of time what the shots were, what the camera saw, and I wanted to make sure everybody felt really safe so that they could focus on being honest. Everyone who had a sex scene said that it was really scary the night before and then they got on set and, you know we had a closed set and it all went extremely professionally, and everybody kind of forgot that it was anything but TV. It’s uncomfortable for the actors having somebody adjusting lights, or putting camera lenses in their faces, and holding a position for a certain time, and holding an intimate position with someone they don’t know that well, and in many cases with someone who has a different sexual orientation than they do, and I think there’s a potential for lots of awkwardness. But everyone just put on such a professional face and wanted it to work, and I think that’s what led everyone through it successfully.
Are there a lot of straight actors on the show?
Yes, yes there were. I mean, I didn’t know who was gay before I cast them. But after I did, I realized I was making a lot of straight actors have gay sex on screen and some of them were more nervous than others but they all really embraced it — and the gay guys too, I feel like the sexual orientation of my actors didn’t make any difference in what it was like to work with them. Obviously, I really, really like the fact that I have some out actors in my show, I really support actors being out and being able to work as out gay men but people’s varying sexual orientations was something we all laughed about afterwards rather than something we worried about on set.
That’s so funny, I guess at the end of the day, it’s just acting.
Exactly, that’s exactly what it is. People always ask like, “were you having sex in that scene?” and everybody always laughs so hard because it was like the least sexy room in the entire world. Trying to keep the sweat off people’s faces, trying to keep equipment from falling over cause we had so little money, we were really doing our best.
You’ve mentioned the budget a few times and I have to say, watching it, I had no idea it was made on a shoe string. The production value is really very high.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. We worked very hard at squeezing every dollar that we had. Everybody involved in it sacrificed in order to help that happen. We’re being compared to HBO shows and it’s incredibly flattering because we made this with HBO’s catering budget.
Can you talk a little bit about how it was adapted from the blog?
Sure. It’s based on a very, very popular blog that I optioned many years ago when three gay channels came onto the scene. I thought I was gonna help them get a hit show that would help brand a gay network and none of them decided that that’s what they wanted to do, so I put it aside for a little while and then I revisited it when I decided to do a web series. And what you have to do to make a web series successful, is find an audience that isn’t seeing themselves on mainstream television and give them something tailor made for them. In Season 2, other than the idea of this King Kong character who had a strong presence in the blog, I really decided to just follow the characters and let them take on a life of their own and I didn’t really consult the blog or the author of it with any of the stories in Season 2.
Ok, so it’s sort of a jumping off point as opposed to the guide it was in Season 1. Is there a season 3 in the works?
Not at the moment, I think I’ve come to the end of self financing on Kickstarter, it’s almost as much work to get that done as it is to make the show. So Season 3 probably isn’t gonna happen unless someone steps up to pay for it.
Ok, well I hope they do, I want to see what happens with King Kong, he is dreamy!
Well thank you, I hope we do too, we’re all really excited about the show so I hope we find a partner and get to make more.
Hunting Season is now available on Vimeo on Demand.