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YouTube series has dark humor in spades and plenty of bite

YouTube series has dark humor in spades and plenty of bite

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Director Melissa Martin was attacked by a small dog while making the Web series "Dog Bytes."

A Jack Russell living near one of their shooting locations went after Martin's dog Opie, who appears in the series. Martin intervened, and the terrier snapped at her instead.

At another point during filming, Opie had his own moment of artistic fatigue at the end of a shoot and tried to bite fellow performer Adrienne Wehr.

These incidents are totally in keeping with the odd little universe of "Dog Bytes" — a bizarre tale of extreme dysfunction in the backwoods.

Set in an isolated rural pocket that could be Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia or Ohio, the story centers on two women — Alice (Tammy Tsai) and Jane (Wehr.) The story opens in a kitchen, where Alice is making breakfast and Jane is sitting at the table with the boorish Randy, who hurls insults at her, referring to her repeatedly as a "dog." Her face is bruised, revealing that the abuse he's inflicting is physical and verbal.

What follows is what Martin calls "an 'American Gothic' tale of vengeance." It's filled with unexpected twists and turns and a vein of very black humor. To reveal much about the plot in the first five episodes would be a spoiler. But these women, while not dogs, do bite back.

Randy is played by actor, singer and director John Gresh. Also in the cast are former NFL player-turned-act or Jamie Silva and Mary-Jo Hennessy.

"Dog Bytes" is grotesque and violent, with a "Breaking Bad" sense of dark humor.

"If we were playing it in that totally gruesome vein, we might alienate a lot of people. It's certainly an acquired taste," Wehr said.

There's a lot going on beneath the surface of these characters, Martin says.

"They may all be completely without the magnets in their moral compass, but they're smart, even Randy, as awful as he is. Randy is an amazing antagonist," adding that Gresh is "so creepy" in this villain's role.

The series is the brainchild of "Dog Bytes" producer and star Tsai, who has several indie films and has a background in dance. Most recently, she was cast in a role in the upcoming TV movie "Cleveland Abduction: The Michelle Knight Story."

Tsai left the stage to help run her husband's business and became a yoga teacher before connecting with the local creative community. Then, in 2012, she started her own production company — Bad Lady Flicks.

"It was a scary process at first," she said. "You need to be fearless if you want to be successful."

She commissioned playwright Amy Hartman to write a screenplay for the short "It's A Dog's Life," which is now the series pilot. It made the rounds on the festival circuit, stopping in Berlin, San Diego and won the 2013 Gold Remi award at WorldFest Houston, and the Best Shorts Competition in La Jolla, California, in 2012. That success and the feedback from viewers encouraged them to expand the project. Martin wrote the next four episodes of the re-titled "Dog Bytes."

Instead of going the traditional route of shopping a short film to distributors, they opted to do a Web series.

"It's the Wild Wild west out there," Wehr said. "All the previous rules of distribution and content programming have gone out the window. We decided to ... put it on YouTube and see what happens."

The first five are posted on YouTube ( bytestheseries), and are linked through the series Facebook page:

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