The early part of 2014 I was forwarded a promotional teaser for a new and breathtakingly provocative film that was being produced. I heard about it previously in passing, but with the deluge of low budget, poorly produced web series that are debuted daily, I played it no mind. This mindset immediately changed after I viewed the teaser for BAIT by Lee Hayes. I reached out to the executive producer himself and he assured me after final filming and editing, The Flyy-Life would be granted an exclusive interview. True to his word, following his highly anticipated premier at the intimate and chic Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C, Lee and I connected for an in-depth discussion about who he is as an award winning novelist and the intricate pieces that makes up the phenomenal production of BAIT. Before discussing BAIT, it’s imperative that we highlight this is not another amateur production. Lee Hayes is an award winning novelist with six highly acclaimed books under his belt. Passion Marks, A deeper Blue; Passion Marks II, The Messiah, The Bad Seed, and editor of the exotic anthology Flesh to Flesh. Lee graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Sociology and received his Master of Public Administration (MPA) from The Bernard M. Baruch College, City University of New York. Lee’s previous novels are best described as different, compelling, thrilling and thought provoking. He has an international following with his highest visibility in both France and Germany. Lee’s original strategy has been to avoid the common themes that tend to infiltrate LGBT artistry -such as HIV and “coming out” stories- and focus his skill-set on more original themes that are prevalent in our community but not largely discussed. Themes such as mental illness and online hook-ups serves as his muse for the current project and this is where BAIT comes into fruition.
BAIT is a short film and a series that debuted in September to a sold out crowd and left the audience mesmerized and in awe. The film explores the new dating realities- and dangers- of trying to find love in the age of social media and dating applications where we often know the intimate details of a person’s life, including their body parts, sexual preferences and habits long before we know their real name. This thrilling project centers on BAIT, a new mobile dating application that tells the user exactly how close they are in proximity to another user who also has a profile on the site. The next hook-up could be miles away or standing right in front of you! BAIT revolves around Emanuel Woods, a beautiful young man that’s a psychopath who uses the new app in his desperate search for love and acceptance in a virtual world full of pretenders. When Emanuel is disappointed and his feelings are hurt by lies, he lashes out in violent and deadly ways. This is not the first time lead character Emanuel has killed. The film picks up with Emanuel casually and comfortable holding a telephone conversation with a friend while the dead body of his “date” lay on the floor stabbed and bleeding to death. If you’re on BAIT, then beware- the knife in your back may be a keystroke away.
LH- First, let me say that BAIT is a very different kind of film that I wrote and produced to expand the collective cFL-onsciousness about who gays in movies are and can be. BAIT is a film and series based on an original that examines the ways in which we “hook-up” with people these days, particularly using these GPS-enabled apps like Jack’d, Grindr, BAIT (in the film) etc. It occurred to me that these apps, while intended to break down the barriers of meeting people, also diminishes us as individuals because they limit our thinking; and, if someone doesn’t fit into a narrow box of stats then they are summarily dismissed. But, even beyond how these apps reduce us, there is a clear and present danger about using these apps, especially when you are meeting people in the dead of night and going to someone’s house or inviting them to your house based solely on what you see online. These people, after all, are strangers and the Internet is filled with stories of online hook-ups ending very badly, including robberies, rapes and murders.
FL-In producing the series, what went into the making of the first episode and the mindset of the writer?
LH- I wanted to create a wickedly entertaining episode that was not only memorable, but also relatable and filled with twists and turns that are unexpected. With the beginning of any movie, series or book, the writer has to create the world in which their characters can exist and to create situations that are believable, but not predictable.
FL- The newest episode picks up at a conversation with the lead character after what appears to be an online connection gone badly. Describe the mindset of the lead character and what leads him to such extreme antics.
LH- Emanuel is the lead character and the serial killer in the BAIT world. Emanuel is positively diabolical in every imaginable way. He is cunning and calculated, beautiful and beastly, and he uses all of his incredible gifts to torment not only those around him, but strangers who are unfortunate enough to come into his sphere of influence through BAIT. In the opening scene, there is a dead body on the floor and Emanuel is stepping casually around the body, eating cereal and talking on the phone as if the body doesn’t exist. Clearly, this isn’t his first kill. So, immediately the viewer learns a great deal about Emanuel and where the story is going.
FL- Cyber connects and catfishing is a major aspect of your plot. Why did you feel it was so important to write from this aspect and what would you like the viewer to walk away with?
LH- I think this is critically important because these dating/hook-up apps have, for many, become the predominant way in which they meet others. In using these apps, we are moving farther and farther away from real human connection. One of the characters in BAIT says something to the affect of, “we have so many ways to connect nowadays using technology, but so many of us remain alone and lonely.” I am certainly not anti-technology and not even really anti-dating apps; however, like anything in life, there has to be balance. I have been with people and we go into a new neighborhood and they log on to see who’s around and their attention fades from the moment and is directed toward a potential hook-up. In my ideal world, people would live less online and more out loud. We spend so much our day with a phone in our hand on Facebook or these other apps that we miss the world around us. We spend an excessive amount of time taking selfies and photos of everything that we miss the magic of the moment. A photograph can capture the image, but if you lose the emotion with it then you’ve lost the essence what you’re trying to remember. It’s all about balance. The same with these dating apps; you can use them, just be safe with them and don’t let them be your primary source for intimate human contact. You can make contact, but it’s rare to make a real connection from these apps. My intent, as a writer and content creator, is always to entertain; but, I also want us to really think about the dangers we put ourselves in for sex and how the use of these apps really affects our perceptions of the world.
FL- What has been the public reception of your project and how are your numbers looking?
LH- Public perception has been extraordinary! On December 9th will have our second public viewing in Washington, D.C. In September we made our debut and sold out the theater! I just learned that we have sold out again for the December 9 showing. We are setting ups showing in Atlanta and other cities and I’m thrilled about that.
FL- How do you think this plot could be relatable to the general public?
LH- Even though the target audience for BAIT is gay men, the plot transcends demographic lines. If you read the papers or news stories on the Internet, you will find thousands of stories about online dating situations that end badly for straight people, too. Straight people are using GPS-enabled apps and are meeting people online just as gay people are. So, the danger of online meeting isn’t regulated to gay people; the dangers are universal.
Plus, BAIT is just a damn good movie! Who doesn’t like a good movie about a serial killer? LOL
FL- As the plot thickens, what additional messages will you begin to engage the public with?
LH- As the plot thickens, you’ll definitely see the addition of new characters, gay and straight, with their own story lines and agendas. Even in this first part of BAIT, there is a powerful story about a recently-married gay couple going through serious relationship issues; so, BAIT isn’t just about murder. It’s the real story of real people going through real-life shit.
FL- Where do you see the business-line in 5 years?
LH- I’m certainly aiming for a television series and movies with theatrical releases.
FL- When it comes to distribution, what are your future plans to making it more accessible nationally?
LH- I’m still working through that right now and have a few options. People will have to stay tuned. And, the easiest way to stay in the loop about BAIT is to join my mailing list by going to the website at www.areyoubait.com and going to the “Contact” tab and entering your email address. People shouldn’t worry about joining; we only send out emails with something important is going on like the availability of a new episode or a casting call for new actors, so they won’t be flooded with email messages from us.
FL- Describe a normal day of writing/shooting for you?
LH- I’m the only writer for the series so I tend to do a lot of writing at night and on the weekends. I usually have an idea about where I want the story to go and then I write.
Shooting days came be exhaustive. We usually shoot only on the weekends and the days can easily be 10 hours. We start with set-up (lights, mics, the scene, etc) hair, make-up and then move into filming, doing each scene multiple times from different angles. The art of making movies is not a glamourous endeavor and can be a tedious, but I love it.
FL- What serves as an inspiration/muse for your work?
LH- I’m always looking for something new and interesting. I’m easily bored with content that isn’t fresh. I don’t like telling stories that have been retold a thousand times. Anyone that has read any of my books knows that my stories are very different than the usual gay tales of promiscuity, or coming out stories, or DL stories. And, I like to create whole, three-dimensional gay characters in which being gay isn’t a big deal, but rather just a part of who they are. My characters aren’t usually stereotypes or caricatures, but fully-developed people who happen to be gay.
FL- Many viewers may conclude that the piece is too sexually driven or graphic. What would be your response to them?
LH- the notion of sex and violence offends them, then BAIT is probably not the project for them, though the sex and violence in it isn’t gratuitous. The world is sexual. The world is graphic. I’m a creator that tells stories in the full light of day where we don’t have to shy away from violence and sex. It’s a part of our culture. And, I don’t use sex or violence to tell the story. Sex and violence, when appropriate, is integrated into the script.
FL- What has been the most difficult hurdle to cross in the success of your product?
LH- Filmmaking is an expensive proposition with many moving parts. Finding a team of like-minded, creative and passionate individuals was challenging at first, but it was worth the wait. And, pulling together the resources needed to create quality on a shoestring budget is challenging, but we made a way out of no way!
FL- Which character within Bait is your favorite and why?
LH- I probably shouldn’t say, but I love Emanuel. He is the villain that we all love to hate and he is completely unrepentant and unredeemable. I love the fact that he is a chameleon, the quintessential boy next door; yet, he is capable of unspeakable acts of violence and terror. For me, Emanuel speaks to the darkness in all of our hearts. What would we do or what are we capable of doing if we weren’t afraid of getting caught?
FL- Your work also addresses mental health issues within our community. How do you plan to utilize your platform to effectively handle the epidemic?
LH- I hadn’t actually thought of BAIT being a platform for mental health issues, although clearly there are disturbed people operating within the world of BAIT. As viewers immerse themselves in the stories and Emanuel’s issues (as well as others) come to light I hope a dialogue around mental health issues forms.
FL- What other projects do you have on the horizon and what can we expect from Bait in 2015?
LH- My ultimate goal is to turn my first novel, Passion Marks, which is about domestic violence in gay relationships, into a novel. Passion Marks is such a hard-hitting, in-your-face story that speaks to the real the issues of violence in intimate relationships in ways that we don’t often discuss. Here is an excerpt: EXCERPT
FL- Where can we find out more about the project?
LH- You can find out about BAIT in these ways:
FL- Lastly, how do you feel about Chicago and any plans of bringing the series here?
LH- I love Chicago and would love to bring the world of BAIT to the Windy City.