After seven long, hard, and thick (sorry I’m getting off track) seasons, Where The Bears Are is coming to an end. The deliciously campy web series has made audiences around the world giggle with delight, as we followed the hilarious misadventures of Nelson (Ben Zook), his boyfriend Hot Toddy (Ian Parks), former porn star Wood (Joe Zietl) and struggling actor Reggie (Rick Copp).
The final season of WTBA premieres in September, which will culminate in quite the emotional ending for not only the audience but for the actors themselves. Ben, Joe, and Rick gave Instinct an exclusive about the longevity of their series, their favorite guest stars, how uncomfortable the sex scenes are to shoot, what to expect for season seven and their unending gratitude for the fans of the series.
Can you believe that you made it seven seasons? You outlasted some of the biggest comedy series of all time…and my most recent orgy!
Ben: You NYC guys have all the fun! As far as seven seasons go, I am pretty shocked we have been fortunate enough to get to do all seven. However, strangely, in the back of my mind I always thought we would do seven seasons because we are such huge fans of The Golden Girls and that is how many they did.
Rick: When we were doing season one, we thought it would be a one and done sort of thing. We had no idea about Kickstarter or a worldwide fan base or any of the tools we have used to keep the show going for seven seasons. It was truly an unexpected gift, but it’s because of the fans, oh, and a few fundraising orgies. No scratch that! That’s just a joke. Mostly.
Joe: It’s such a huge achievement that we have made seven seasons. We never thought when we started that we would have been fortunate enough to make all of them. We were just focused on getting the one season out there. We were blown away with how well it was received and how passionate our fans have been.
Each season has a common theme but are completely different from the rest. Do each of you have a favorite…and why?
Ben: It’s sort of like picking a favorite child. I love all our seasons for different reasons. But, if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Season three because we got to shoot for the first time with a big budget thanks to Kickstarter. And we got to shoot three days on a jumbo jet set and the last three episodes of that season on the airplane are incredible with guest stars Drew Droege and Chuck Saculla. It’s sort of like “Bear Plane” as we spoofed disaster movies and I loved it. It was also an easier season for me personally because there wasn’t any personal drama happening in my life. My father passed away during season five and my Mom passed away during season five and those events hovered over me, which can make the process of shooting comedy more difficult.
Rick: I think my personal favorite season was season five. Season three is a close second because I loved shooting on a real jumbo jet set for the big climax when Wood has to land an airplane and there was also a favorite Marx Brothers type season in a morgue where we do a lot of physical comedy with a dead body, which I thought was loads of fun. Season five was my favorite though in terms of the storytelling, bonafide cliffhangers and large stakes that really stood out for me personally. We took a 180 degree turn with our basic premise and suddenly we were a comedy spy show with earth-shattering stakes. It was crazy and fun and yet we were able to keep our characters grounded with storylines involving the ever-evolving relationship between Nelson and Todd and a romantic triangle that threatened Wood and Reggie. All of this character-based stuff happening around a wild and crazy shootout in a Mexico village with a James Bond type villain and his hot pro wrestler henchman! It was a dream come true to write!
Joe: I really am proud of our very first season. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing. We were still getting our footing, figuring out our characters and working with a new crew. But I think it really holds up as a great season. I love how we started the series with this iconic shot of the camera traveling up this big hairy body in bed to reveal that he is wearing a C-PAP machine and then ultimately he is in bed with a hottie that he doesn’t remember sleeping with, all with the 2001 theme playing underneath. It just came together and really set up the style and tone of our show in the first few minutes of the series.
We also lucked out with several other key players that really helped brand and give our show the look and feel that it has today. Our amazing DP Jeffrey Wylie, our wonderful composer David Maddux, our unbelievable editor Eduardo Aquino and David Zukofski who created our iconic them song.
Speaking of favorites, you’ve had some great stars along the way. Who was the one you wish you could have back just one more time?
Ben: Once again, I love ALL of our guest stars, but Margaret Cho was probably my favorite to work with. She and I are old friends and worked together back in the 90’s in an indie movie I directed called Can’t Stop Dancing! Getting to act with her again was a blast. She’s a very kind and generous person and I am grateful for her support over the years.
Rick: My favorite guest star was Brooke Dillman who made her first appearance in Season 1 as a Rachael Ray wannabe named Honey Garrett. She returned for our Thanksgiving special and then had a big part in season four when she had her own show Cooking Time with Honey Garrett on the same network, the Inquisitive Channel, as Reggie’s show Murder Time with Reggie Hatch. Brooke made me laugh harder than anybody, it was fun just watching her work, and it was tough keeping a straight face when I was in those scenes with her. I wish we had the opportunity to bring her back one more time and see where she is now in her life after getting dumped by her much younger closeted gay boyfriend Eduardo.
Joe: I love the scenes we did with Tuc Watkins. He played Nelson’s nemesis Dickie Calloway. He is such a great guy and is always willing to mix it up with Ben. They have been friends since college, so it was very easy to ask him to come on board the show. I think it was season two, when he and Ben were on stage doing bad improv together, that just cracked me up. So proud of him now as he is on Broadway in The Boys in The Band.
What was the most awkward or unintentional moment that happened while on set?
Ben: I danced in a jock strap that was WAY too small for me on a stripper pole in season two and my ball sack kept popping out of the jock! It was in front of all the crew members and tons of background actors in a bar scene. I think everyone could see my asshole too depending on the angle. Joe, our director and my husband in real life kept yelling, “Honey, we can see your balls!” And I would pop them back in. Hilarious.
Rick: For me it was in season 4fourwhen we shot on location around Catalina Island. We had rented a yacht once owned by Judy Garland, which was pretty gay and cool I thought, and we had a lot of scenes to get in one day, but everybody who didn’t take Dramamine got terribly ill on the ride over to Catalina and we still had to shoot. Our cameraman got stranded in a cove when his boat took in water, and then the small claptrap boat Joe hired to take us back to LA, which was basically a sailboat with a tiny engine, broke down half way and I thought we were going to be lost at sea. Luckily, we got towed into Marina Del Ray by the harbor patrol. But as all that was happening around us, Joe and I were shooting a chase scene on jet skis and I was riding on the back while he was driving and I warned him not to take such sharp turns, but of course as the director, he wanted to make it all look exciting so he didn’t listen to me and we tipped over and nearly drowned as I was wearing these flip flops and I kept curling my toes afraid I might lose them and the shots wouldn’t match. Imagine, these cheap flip flops that cost ten bucks, I couldn’t bare seeing them sink to the bottom of the ocean! But we got through it and I still have them to this day!
Joe: We had an actor call and cancel minutes before he was scheduled to shoot. Luckily one of the other actors in the scene had a friend visiting. He filled in and worked out better than the original actor. We couldn’t have been happier.
Were the sex scenes ever uncomfortable to film for any of you?
Ben: The first time Ian Parks and I ever worked together was our first bedroom scene in season one. We were complete strangers having just met 10 minutes before. Being that intimate with another actor in front of cameras and crew members is really awkward. We sort of "dove in the deep end" by asking everyone to give us five minutes alone before shooting. We just rolled around and made out with each other in the bed so that the scene would seem more believable. Hopefully it worked. The episode has over nine million views now, so I think we pulled it off.
Rick: I managed to avoid a full-on sex scene for four seasons, but finally in season five I couldn’t avoid it anymore due to the storyline of Wood and Reggie sleeping with the same man. I was uncomfortable the whole time, but my costar Ronnie Kerr couldn’t have been sweeter as he fake pounded me from behind. I was so worried about that scene because I had a lot of lines to remember as I simulated sex because Reggie was more concerned with getting the guy who was a reporter to write a column about his show rather than just enjoying having sex. I was also afraid my mother was going to see the scene, so I strictly forbade her to watch it, but then I found out she did and when I called and said, “I told you not to watch episode four!” She matter of fact responded with, “It wasn’t that bad. You talked the whole time."
Joe: The sex scenes are always uncomfortable to shoot. Our show isn’t a porn, but we want it to be sexy and fun. Most of our sex scenes are ridiculous. Since I am directing them, and sometimes in them, I try to keep the crew down to a minimum and we talk about the scene in technical terms and figure out where to place the camera to hide someone’s junk. It is never as sexy as it looks. I feel bad for Ian. Everyone else we are very nurturing with. Ian we just tell to put on the cock sock and let’s go. He is really great about it.
Tell us about this upcoming season and what we can expect from it.
Ben: It is our campiest season yet and revolves around a “Mr. Bear America” pageant in Palm Springs. Of course, someone is sabotaging the pageant. Very much an homage to Miss Congeniality and Drop Dead Gorgeous as well as Charlie’s Angels etc. Our characters are being stalked by a scary killer too! Perhaps it’s the same person who is sabotaging the pageant? You will have to watch the season to find out. Fans will also need to buy some Kleenex for the ending. It’s the series finale and very much a tear jerker. We cried a lot when we shot the ending. When something as wonderful as this, that has lasted seven years comes to an end, it's very emotional. I love this show and everyone involved in it.
Rick: Season seven is probably our campiest yet. We were inspired by a classic Charlie’s Angels episode “Pretty Angels All in a Row” where the angels go undercover at a beauty contest. This was a natural for us since bears have contests all the time except in ours we really lean on the tropes of a traditional beauty pageant which makes it really fun. Ben also wrote a spectacular pageant opening number which we hope will play in gay bars for years to come if we’re lucky. For me, I love the fact that Reggie is still with Rami, the Middle Eastern bodyguard he ended up with last season and that marriage might be in the cards and also, I love the book he’s promoting this season, Bearly Alive… How I Became A Crime Solver and a Sex Symbol! My favorite scene to shoot this year was Reggie’s book signing.
Joe: I think the most important thing about this season is that it is our last season. Ben and Rick worked hard to give us an emotional ending that our audience deserves after seven seasons. It is going to be hard to put this behind us.
Do you think WTBA will ever become a movie at some point?
Ben: All of our seasons are actually motion pictures that are sold as such on iTunes, Amazon etc., even though they are released as web episodes in the beginning. However, yes, if we could get a “studio movie budget” and do a big, expensive feature version of the show, it would be incredible. Who knows? Maybe someday we can make that happen.
Rick: We need a break for a bit, but yes, I would love to come back for a reunion movie at some point. Every season we’ve done has actually cut into a feature film and that’s how we market it and sell it as a download and on DVD. It’s the only option we have to monetize the show since we are not broadcast in television or have a studio or network behind us. But I think at least the three of us would be up for doing a movie. My dream would be to shoot it somewhere abroad.
Joe: Every season of our show is a movie, but I hope that several years from now we come back and make another movie. I will be sad if this is the very last time we visit these characters.
In closing, what would you like to say to the fans that have been with the show since day one?
Ben: I want them to know that I love each and every one of them. Just like they come to love our characters in the show and feel like they know us, I feel the same way about them. I know them and love them and am so incredibly grateful for their support and all of the love they have shown us for the last seven years. Everyone involved with Where the Bears Are is incredibly grateful for their love and support and for the opportunity to have this experience. It is because of them that we have been able to create this amazing show that I feel has made the world a better place. There is more joy and love and laughter in the world because of Where the Bears Are and we have our fans to thank for that.
Rick: You are the only reason this show has lasted as long as it has. And a very big thank for allowing us to do something we are enormously proud of. It’s very rare in your career when you do something that resonates with people. It happens once, maybe twice if you’re lucky for most people. And the fact that I can travel around the world, Europe and the Middle East and actually get recognized for a project you co-created, it proves to me that the show means something to people and that’s the greatest gift you can ever get from any kind of creative endeavor.
Joe: You guys are the reason that we have a show for 7 seasons. If no one had tuned in fr the first season we wouldn’t be here today celebrating 7 seasons. So thank you all. Especially those of you who have donated to our show. We literally could not have made it without you. Every season when we show the last episode and we have the photos of our donors during the end credits. It gets me emotional to think that these people believed in us and what we were doing so much that they gave us their hard-earned money so that we can live out our dreams and make this show that we are so proud of.
And lastly, just because this show is ending doesn’t mean you have seen the last of us. We are working hard now to flesh out what will be our next show. I can’t tell you what it is, but you can rest assured that it will center around a group of bears and it will be a comedy. Because that is what we do best. It will be fun to dive into a new character and see where the journey will take us.
For more information on Where The Bears Are, please check out their official website.