Interview: 'Hunters' Showrunner Natalie Chaidez On Conspiracy Theories And Alien Biology

Syfy's new series Hunters could be a cross between V and Homeland. An FBI agent discovers a terrorist organization called Hunters, who are actually aliens from another world. Nathan Phillips and Britne Oldford play agents pursuing the Hunters, and Julian McMahon plays the main Hunter.

Hunters is produced by Natalie Chaidez and Gale Anne Hurd, adapted from the book Alien Hunter by Whitley Strieber. We got to speak with Chaidez, who also used to produce Syfy's 12 Monkeys, after her Hunters panel for the Television Critics Association. Hunters premieres Monday, April 11 at 10PM on Syfy. 

How has doing double duty between Hunters and 12 Monkeys been?

I did most of 12 Monkeys stuff at the beginning of the season. I helped Terry [Matalas] and Travis [Fickett] break season two and then I peeled off because Hunters was shot in Melbourne, Australia. So basically I went from June 'til December and lived and shot in Australia.

Is that show more cerebral versus Hunters?

There's action in both. I think Hunters is a little bit more of a grounded world because we're talking about politics. We're talking about terrorism. We're trying to keep the world as grounded and realistic as possible, and obviously 12 Monkeys is an apocalyptic fable although a great deal of season two does take place in contemporary time.

Is Gale Anne Hurd the ultimate producer?

Oh my god. I had such a crush on Gale. Gale is the ultimate producer. She is across everything from the macro to taking on the studio and networks, managing that, all the way down to: have you taken a picture of that gun in that actor's hand to make sure it fits? I don't know how she does it spread across Walking Dead, Fear, a new show, her other development project than Hunters. She was on the set in Melbourne. She was giving notes on script. She's been by far the best producer I've ever worked with and you understand why her projects look so good once you've worked with her.

I don't know the source material. Is the science and alien species of it directly from the book?

No, it isn't. The book was very much of a jumping off point and inspired by. I actually worked pretty closely with a Brown professor named Seth Horowitz on the development, anatomy and the physiology of the home planet and the hunters. It grew out of conversations with Seth about the planet, about what kind of being would inhabit that planet. Not that we see very much of that in season one, but it grew out of that. It kind of departs from the book.

So it's one alien race, not multiple?

In season one, yes.

Is the first season very serialized?

It's extremely serialized. It's heavily character driven and following a cell of one group of hunters and what they're doing on Earth. I can't reveal what they're actually doing but it won't be what you think they're doing and what every other aliens have been doing on TV for a long time. It has a good twist.

What was strong enough Hunters that pulled you away from 12 Monkeys?

I mean, basically I wrote Hunters. I wrote the pilot and Terry and Travis wrote 12 Monkeys. So it was really the opportunity to do my own material. Also, 12 Monkeys was stable and was up on its feet. I didn't need to be there day to day for it to have a really strong second season which I'm really proud of. And the opportunity to work with Gale, the opportunity to launch another show for Syfy and for the studio who asked me to do this. You can't say no. You can't say no to another series.

Hunters - Nathan Phillips

Is developing a show for Syfy different than being hired by Syfy to work on 12 Monkeys?

Yes, it was. I had actually developed the show with Syfy for several years, and then I was actually asked to do 12 Monkeys during that process. When I did 12 Monkeys for the first season, probably because of the success in production of 12 Monkeys, they then ordered Hunters.

You're shooting in Australia, but is Hunters set in a big American city?

It's set in Baltimore and around D.C. but Hunters are an international terrorist organization, so we do episodes that are in Afghanistan. We go to Colombia. We go to Turkey. We go to visit a couple of other places that Melbourne plays in the show pretty successfully.

Why Baltimore?

I wanted to do an urban city near DC that was a little bit gritty. Baltimore's been in the news lately and it was just an interesting place that, other than The Wire, is not seen too much on TV. I have to say, as you might imagine shooting in Australia, it was difficult to get [accurate]. It's not the show's strongest point, depicting Baltimore.

How many of the first 13 did you write?

Let me see, one, two, I think I wrote three and a half. I had a very small team of maybe four or five people. One guy came from Orphan Black which was pretty exciting, a writer named Tony Elliott. I had a small team and we wrote them all up front which is kind of different from American television. It's kind of the way European television is done. I've been in the TV business for 20 years so that was a different experience, which was cool. It allows more lead time so when you're building stuff, you're building pods, spaceships, alien creatures, it really gives you the lead time to develop it.

The new X-Files showed there's a much bigger contingent of people who are open to the idea of alien invasions in real life. Does that change the way you approach a show like Hunters?

I'm a conspiracy theorist and I'm convinced, I know the government is hiding a ton of shit from us. I think post '70s, post '80s, post the CIA crack cocaine conspiracy, I think we're living in an age where people acknowledge that there are secrets being kept from us by our government. I think maybe the progression from X-Files is yeah, they're lying to us. As opposed to: They're lying to us?

Are these aliens related to the ones who arrived at Roswell?

No, I wouldn't do that. Basically I said I don't want to take any of the things you think you're going to see in an alien show. I'm not going to have lights in the sky. I'm not going to have Roswell. I'm not going to have the conventions and what you think you're going to see in aliens because it would feel like you know that show. This has a completely different history, completely different iconography, completely different imagery than other alien shows because I just didn't want to repeat what's been done.

Is this season a closed arc?

Part of it is contained in the terms of one cell that the good guys are chasing. One chapter will close and another one open. I'm already starting to think about season two. I know the studio and network are already starting to think about season two and going back to Melbourne, so open ended enough to allow lots of good stories for season two.

What was involved in designing the alien biology?

It was really, really cool. I keep mentioning Seth Horowitz. He's actually a neurophysiologist by trade. We would talk about here's the planet, here's the body. There's a scene in 101 where we dig into the anatomy of the Hunter. Once we had that, we worked with Greg Nicotero from Walking Dead. He did the initial sketch of the native Hunter. We also did sketches of what human form Hunters looked like inside and we really just built it from the inside out, as opposed to just this is what it looks like on the outside. So it was a really exciting and evolved process from scientist to artist. We had a sketch artist and then onto Justin Dix, who's sort of our Greg Nicotero. We had an amazing prosthetics studio in Melbourne. Just a huge room where they were building all the Hunters. It was so incredible. We did mostly practical effects. That's a tradition that Gale comes from and we really believed it would give the show a grounded feel.

Hunters - Britne Oldford

What is Hunters' blood?

Their blood has a high mineral content so that gives it is silver shade. What is it in real life? It's lube. It's like a big vat of lube, of silver colored lube. It's embarrassing but it's true.

What else should we know about Hunters?

Hunters is a conspiracy thriller but it also has elements of horror. It's scary. It's about is there a monster inside of me? Is there a monster next door? How do we stop that monster? I really did want to make aliens scary again. I think that they've been a little neutered. And really just creating a whole new mythology for aliens that we hadn't seen before, and taking on the issue of terrorism.

Why have aliens stopped being scary? The H.R. Giger alien is still one of the scariest creatures of all time and that was even before they came up with the Queen in the second film.

Something happened in the last two decades that kind of neutered them for some reason. I think there was Gale's movie which was quite scary, and then there was something that happened that kind of neutered them and made them soft. It might be the fact that it's too familiar so there really isn't anything eerie or unsettling because we kind of know what's coming. Then I think Under the Skin was a real touchstone movie for me that kind of made aliens gooey and dark, just in a way that we haven't seen before. It might've been a combination of familiarity and overuse of hackneyed ideas so we're like, "Oh, I've seen that before."

Even when the Alien movies were out, there were family movies like E.T. and I don't think that compromised them.

Yeah, that's a good point. Attack the Block was kind of funny and scary at the same time. I really do think it has a lot to do with familiarity, that we've seen it and done it. We know there's something behind the suit and no idea of scariness behind it. That's something Gale and I have talked a lot about.

Who's the scariest alien on Hunters?

It's definitely McCarthy. I think McCarthy is scary because he is an expression of our own id. He is a hunter and he's unleashed and I think there's something really unsettling for humans to wrestle with the monster within. McCarthy is a hunter who just encapsulates rage, sexuality, hunger, just getting what you want and taking it. I think that's scary for humans. That's what we're scared of inside ourselves and it's what we're scared of the guy over there, that he's going to do that to us. As charming as Julian is, he was actually the scariest as well.

It looks like a lot of the show is in broad daylight. Are you finding terror in broad daylight?

It's a little bit of both. There's a scene that's a bombing in a public space. I think the idea right now that we could be in a hotel and a guy could walk in with an assault rifle or walk in with a bomb, and the idea that terror and monsters are invading our public spaces that we consider very space is definitely a part of the show. That counterpoint of being in a shopping mall or being in a music store, being in a very ordinary pedestrian environment. That said, it's hard to make prosthetics look scary in daylight. They're very vain and they like shadowy light, so we had to split the difference between liking that idea of terror in daylight and then respecting what con actually be done with prosthetics and monster builds.

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Hunters kicks off Monday, April 11 at 10/9c on Syfy.