Interview with Gale Anne Hurd and Natalie Chaidez, Executive Producers of Syfy’s Hunters


By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

Is there any genre more fun (and at times, more relevant) than science fiction? Zombies and superheroes, time and space travel – all parts of sci-fi, but one subgenre that hasn’t gotten its due lately is aliens. However, thanks to Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, the Terminator series), Natalie Chaidez (Heroes, 12 Monkeys) and their team, aliens are about to get the recognition they deserve.

Hurd and Chaidez are behind Hunters, Syfy’s latest series. The show is based on Whitley Strieber’s Alien Hunter and is about the “disappearance of a decorated FBI agent’s wife, which leads him to a secret government unit assembled to hunt a group of ruthless terrorists called ‘Hunters’ who do not come from this world.

I recently spoke to Hurd and Chaidez about the world created within the show, its cool alien makeup effects designed with the help of “Australia’s Greg Nicotero,” their passion for the project and how they feel it reflects today’s political climate, and more.

Each of you comes from a sci-fi background. What is it about your prior work that makes you uniquely qualified to tell this story?

Natalie Chaidez: I would say I’ve done time travel with 12 Monkeys, I did superheroes on Heroes, and I was really excited to take on aliens and do a series on aliens. Working on other sci-fi dramas on television made me ready to do Hunters.

Gale Anne Hurd: I’ve been a fan of science fiction since I was first able to read. Also, this is an adaptation of Whitley Strieber’s novel and I’ve been a fan of Whitley’s for years, going back to films like Wolfen and The Hunger. I find his work is very topical and lends well to adaptation.

Since you brought it up, what can fans of the book expect from the show in regards to faithfulness, etc.?

NC: The series departs from the books. The books are really a jumping-off point. I think what they do share is this sense of a secret world, a world beyond what we can see. A world where aliens are real. That sense of conspiracy, that sense of horror, and dread and the unknown, I think is something both the books and the show share and Whitley’s been very involved in the process. He’s been out to the writer’s room, he came to the set. He came all the way to Australia, which was really fun. He loved it. He has a brief cameo in our finale, so he’s just been great and really fun to work with.

Alien stories, stories of people with powers – they’re a dime a dozen. Why is this show so special?

GAH: There aren’t actually shows right now that deal with not only aliens among us, but also the metaphor for the terrorism that’s going on in the world today. Science fiction is always one of the best ways to examine an issue where people come to it without preconceived notions, without bias, because of someone’s religion or ethnicity. And we can really get into a topic that is probably not otherwise dealt with without some sort of bias.

NC: Yeah, if anything the show is too topical. It’s frighteningly prescient really, and I really think that sets it apart. There isn’t really a show that’s dealing with that stuff through the lens of genre. It really does set it apart and like Gale said, that’s what science fiction has done. With Battlestar [Galactica], and going back on and on, that’s really exciting. I will say the other thing that’s really different is we really get in to the body horror of the aliens, which is something there really isn’t…I mean, obviously Gale’s shows do, but alien shows right now don’t really lean as far in that direction as Hunters does.

Natalie, I know you were very thorough in creating the history and world of the aliens in the show. Can you tell me more about this process and anything surprising you may have learned from the field experts you spoke to for your research?

NC: What didn’t I learn?! It was so fun and really started with me asking questions about the big ideas. Like, what bothers me about other premises about aliens – if they’re here, why haven’t they attacked? What’s taking them so long? That sort of led me into researching the Hunters. I had a consultant very early on that I first made contact with more than three years ago now named Seth Horowitz who at the time was a Brown University neurologist and we worked from the ground up. The other thing I became interested in is, because I didn’t want to do what you’d expect with the traditional iconography of alien shows, that led me into sound and the idea that Hunters are sound-based creatures. Seth Horowitz is an auditory scientist who specializes in hearing and so he and I designed the creatures from the ground up. What is their planet like? What is their atmosphere like? What’s their hearing like? When we brought them to Earth, what does that mean in terms of human form? And that led us to the sonic weaponry they use and whether they communicate through sound or language, which then we worked on the development of their language. So much development that we did, which was so fun! It eventually went into the idea of them sending their messages through music and getting down to me asking Seth, “If the aliens had this kind of hearing, what kind of music would suit them best for their messages?” He said, “Probably some sort of New Wave.” So that’s kind of how we determined the music in the show, because of the frequency levels, honestly. After we did more of the world building, we then had a fantastic prosthetics producer named Justin Dix who worked with Seth and he started from the ground up – he drew the anatomy of the Hunters and really built our creatures from the inside out. And that went all the way from the development of the Hunters all the way to having a movement coach come in and look at the anatomy and work with Julian McMahon and Britne [Olford] on how you move differently in human form. I love all this stuff and it was a really, really fun part of the project and one that everybody embraced. Everybody from Justin to the cast to our composer have really bought into this world.

So you know this world inside and out!

NC: I’m a little obsessed with it, if you can’t tell. To go to Melbourne and have a team that embraced it equally. I mean, Justin rolled up his sleeves even as I explained to him the breeding process. “I don’t think we can show it.” “What do you mean? Of course we’re going to show it!” He was able to bring these things to life, stuff I didn’t think we were going to be able to pull off. Gale’s background is very committed to doing stuff mostly practically and mine is digital effects and Justin was able to bring stuff to life I really thought we couldn’t. So I’m very excited and Justin built a great team that was equally committed to “Is it Hunter-y enough?”

GAH: In addition, what’s really remarkable is that Natalie had all 13 scripts completed before production started in Australia. And that enabled the show for us to know where it was going and create the practical effects and find locations and everything in a way that most shows don’t have that kind of opportunity. They may be getting a script a few days before production starts.

Talking about the makeup and special effects, I’m a big fan of another Syfy show called Face Off

GAH: Oh yeah!

NC: We love Face Off!

GAH: As you know, because I’ve been a judge multiple times!

Exactly! So I got really excited seeing the makeup and prosthetic work of the Hunters. I have a two-part question with this, but we’ll take it one at a time. One, what was the collaborative process like between you guys and makeup department/alien development department?

GAH: As Natalie started to say, it’s hard to imagine doing this season without Justin Dix. He is Australia’s equivalent to Greg Nicotero and the effects on The Walking Dead. He literally can do everything. He’s also someone who has directed before and produced before so he’s very much a partner, which is why he actually has a producing credit on the show. He was that invaluable. And his shop was actually in our facility that we fondly referred to as Broadywood. I’ll let Natalie expand on that.

NC: Broadywood was in a part of town that Melbourne considers rough, but in LA standards is pretty mild. We had a full facility and inside that facility, like Gale said, was Justin’s studio. So we worked extremely closely. I wish every person we’re talking to [for interviews] would have had the chance to go and visit it because it was magical. There were sculptors and casting going on and the walls had the artwork and we worked extremely closely all day long on every single gag, on every single idea, and it really was great. Justin would stroke his chin and say, “I’ve got an idea for that!” And he would come up with something better than I had imagined it and more ambitious than I had imagined so it was really exciting.

Also, Gale, what was your experience like being a guest judge on Face Off?

GAH: You know, I’ve been a guest judge, I think that was my fourth time?

That sounds right!

GAH: And I absolutely love the show myself. It is such a great group of people. The judges and McKenzie. And what I love is the fact that in a time where everyone thinks the solution is always CGI, I love that there’s so many passionate and talented people who are committed to keeping prosthetics and practical makeup effects alive. I just think the world of not only the show, but everyone who hopes to pursue this as a career. There’s so much talent out there and the good news is that it continues to be a growing field. You see more and more prosthetics and practical makeup effects on the sets of television series as well as features.

In doing research for this interview, I learned that you will be partnering with Spotify. How did that come about and how will that integration and partnership be a part of the show?

NC: It’s just so cool. So basically, I told you the development of the world and how the Hunters communicate through music and are sending these messages. So in the original pilot script three years ago, it referenced Spotify and our heroes are talking about using Spotify and somewhere along the way, I asked Gale like, “Do you think we could get the real Spotify?” So Gale asked and Syfy asked and Spotify said yes! So it’s been an amazing partnership. We went down to South by Southwest and met with them at the Spotify house. It also pushed the storytelling with the music. I think it encouraged me to go even further in a creative direction that interested me. And if you keep watching the show, we have quite a few montages where there’s a song and those songs are going to be on an exclusive Spotify playlist. It wasn’t a contrived way to put a Spotify ad in our show, it really was a very organic part of the storytelling and a really relevant one because sadly, as we know, that’s how terrorists are talking to each other. So it’s been really natural and really exciting and it’s been really cool to integrate the music into the show.

I want to touch briefly on the acting. One character that definitely stood out to me was Julian McMahon’s McCarthy.

NC: [Laughs]

GAH: Isn’t he the best?

He’s crazy! In fact, I was just watching him on Charmed this morning so to see his evolution between characters and that juxtaposition shows what a good actor he is. What can we expect from him this season?

NC: Julian as McCarthy is a wildcard. You don’t know what to think. He’s dangerous, he’s scary, and I’ve never seen Julian McMahon do anything like he does in some of our episodes. He’s obviously, obviously sexy and he really is a fun villain for the Hunter world.

Finally, it seems the show features a lot of metaphors for what goes on in our world today as you’ve mentioned, so what do you hope fans take away from it?

GAH: I hope it starts a dialogue with people. That people continue to talk about the show after the episode ends. That’s what I love about The Walking Dead, which is that people talk about it and people talk about what they would do in a zombie apocalypse and I think this can prompt the same kind of discourse.

NC: I hope fans have a good ride and enjoy the storytelling and also walk away, like Gale said, wrestling with some of the bigger ideas the show takes on.

GAH: With The Walking Dead, people can also enjoy it for its entertainment value and I think the same is true for Hunters. There’s a lot of cool stuff and fantastic acting.

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

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