Inspired by best-selling author Whitley Streiber’s novel Alien Hunter, and executive produced by Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, Terminator trilogy) and Natalie Chaidez (12 Monkeys, Heroes), who also serves as showrunner, the Syfy series Hunters is part crime drama and part sci-fi thriller, as it follows Flynn Carroll (Nathan Phillips), a headstrong FBI agent who’s trying to piece together the disappearance of his wife. His search leads him to a highly-classified government organization, known as the Exo-Terrorism Unit (ETU), who track and fight alien terrorists, and who can hopefully give him answers about what’s going on.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, executive producer Natalie Chaidez talked about how Hunters came about, how excited she was to work with Gale Anne Hurd on the project, the big questions viewers should be asking themselves while watching the show, making sure the story works as a human story and not just a genre story, that Season 1 is a satisfying chapter, how far ahead she’s thought about the storytelling, the luxury of having all of the scripts written prior to shooting the season, the most difficult decisions she’s had to make in regard to the storytelling, and what it’s like to be a showrunner.
Collider: Any time you can create your own world on TV, it must be so awesome and fun. Since this idea is from a novel, how did Hunters come about and how did you end up coming to it?
NATALIE CHAIDEZ: Gale [Anne Hurd] has been a fan of (author) Whitley Strieber for a long time. They go way back. She acquired his book Alien Hunter and was looking for a writer, and she brought me the book. The book is really a jumping off point. The mythology of the series diverts completely from the book, although we’re tied with Whitley. He came down to Melbourne during the shooting and he even has a cameo in the finale. But, I really did build my own world from the premise and the idea that we set up. I was a little daunted, taking on the alien genre. I was excited because it was Gale Anne Hurd. I was so ridiculously excited, but it also felt like it was a challenge. People watching TV hear “alien show” and they already know what to expect. I feel like there’s an idea in your mind of what you’re going to see and I was like, “I can’t do that show. I’ve gotta do something different.”
So, I really took time and built the world, and I started by asking the big questions of, if they’re here, how did they get here? What took them so long, if they’re powerful enough to reach Earth? I built the mythology for the show from the ground up. I worked with a neurologist named Seth Horowitz, who has been really instrumental in building the world. I feel like people expect lights in the sky and the imagery to be a certain thing, so I wanted to lead into sound and the idea that they’re sound-based creatures. That opened up a lot of the show for me. I worked on the design of the aliens with Seth, and we worked on their language together. We built the world from the inside out, and it was very fun. It’s the most fun. Ninety percent of the stuff Seth and I talked about will never make it onto the screen, but it’s in our heads. Hopefully, the pieces that get out will feel unique and different, and hopefully people will dig it.
What are the big questions that we should be asking ourselves, as we’re watching this first season, especially in relation to the characters?
CHAIDEZ: In relation to the characters, Flynn Carroll is a troubled FBI agent. His wife goes missing and that disappearance is somehow related to the Hunters. To me, the questions are, can you ever really know the person you love? Do they really love you? What are their secrets? What are they doing in your life? I think those are universal questions for anybody who’s ever been in a relationship. For Allison Regan, who is a Hunter working for the ETU, I think the question is about identity and where she belongs. It’s a classic story for science fiction, but one that I really, really relate to. I’m a bi-cultural person who grew up part Mexican and part white and was always feeling like, which world do I belong in? And I know that Britne [Oldford], being bi-racial, was also really drawn to that idea. It’s universal to want to find your place in the world. Regan’s story is a coming of age while Flynn’s is finding out who this woman is that he thought loved him.
The questions that you’re asking seem universal enough that you could take alien out of the equation entirely. Was that something that was really important, when you were setting this up?
CHAIDEZ: That’s a good question. It is what I like to do with science fiction. I worked on Heroes Season 1 and I feel like my rule for any genre story that I work on is that the story has to work as a human story. When the story becomes about the mythology or about the science fiction of it, it loses a connection to the audience. I love all of that stuff. I love alien stories. I love robots. I love superpowers. But I feel like something is lost when we, as genre storytellers, don’t start from the place of, who is this character? What do they want? How did they get there? That’s what I love to do the most, and I think that putting it in a genre world heightens it. I’m sitting in my home office and I’m working on Season 2, which possibly could happen, and I very much start with taking the characters through their arc of the season and figure out their character journey. And then, I layer in all of the other stuff that I want to dig into, but I know that has to come first. So, that’s a really good question. Sometimes shows can go off track and get too caught up in the mythology. Great shows stay the course with those characters, throughout the series.
How tricky is the balance of setting up questions, deciding which questions you want to answer, and figuring out what to leave open for a second season that you’re not sure you’re going to have?
CHAIDEZ: Season 1 is a really, really satisfying chapter. If that was it, it would be an excellent season and excellent story, and it would be self-contained. I’ve been on shows where it’s very frustrating for audiences. There’s always more story to be told. You turn over some cards, but it’s some blind faith, as a writer. You have to set stuff up for the long term because it could go for ten years. So, you just have to move forward believing and setting up the groundwork for that while, at the same time, being aware that it’s an ephemeral business and it could all go away tomorrow.
How far ahead have you thought about the storytelling for this show? Is it even realistic anymore to have to think about five seasons worth of possible story, or do you just focus on what the next season could be with a skeleton of the season after that?
CHAIDEZ: That’s also such a great question. On really great serialized shows, you have to know enough that you’re not writing yourself into a corner. I have the big picture idea for what I’d like to do in Seasons 3 and 4, that would be a big game-changer. I think you have to change things up, in a big way, to keep things fresh, but I don’t have the specifics figured out. For Season 2, I definitely have everything worked out. I know most of the moves, and then I go in and work with my staff to flesh it out. I like to use the metaphor of a road trip, where you’re driving across the country and decide to stop in Austin and Nashville. You have these big tentpoles of places you want to get to, but the journey in between should be surprising. You can make a cool detour for people that you meet along the way, but you have the general sense of where you’re headed and some stops you’d like to make.
You had the luxury of having all of these scripts written prior to shooting. Does that change the approach on the production side of things?
CHAIDEZ: Yeah. First of all, I’ve been in TV for 21 years and this was the first time I’ve been on a show where everything was written before production started. What it allowed Gale and I to do was to increase the production value. If we need to build a hypothetical spaceship, you have the script. If you need to build a hypothetical monster, you have a script and you have the lead time. If you don’t have a script until the week before and you need to build a big prop, do a big stunt, or you need a big prosthetic suit done, it’s either not going to get done at all, it’s going to be prohibitively expensive, or it’s going to suck. But if you know three months ahead of time, you have the luxury to work on the design and throw out something if it doesn’t look good. Particularly on a television budget, you don’t have a ton of money, but having the scripts ahead of time really gives you time. We had a genius prosthetics guy in Australia, who’s this bundle of energy that builds everything himself. He’s like the Greg Nicotero of Australia. That’s how we found him. Greg Nicotero was like, “There’s one guy in Australia who can do this, and it’s Justin Dix.” So, having the scripts ahead of time allowed Justin to do great work and some really fantastic gags. When we got down there and saw the resources that we had with him, we really leaned into the body horror of the show. It’s really visceral, gross and creepy. It’s a dark, serious show.
A show like Hunters has so many layers going on with it. You’re dealing with the subject of terrorism, even though it’s cloaked in aliens, you had to cast actors for all of these really interesting characters, and you’re speaking to a world where all of this has a lot of meaning right now. What have been the most difficult or delicate decisions you’ve had to make, in regard to the story you’re telling this season?
CHAIDEZ: That’s a really smart question. The series has been in development for years, and unfortunately, it became more and more prescient as we got into production. The second episode is about a bombing, and in the wake of Brussels, that was really challenging. That was an awful, horrible thing. In terms of stuff we avoided, we were very careful about the casting, racially, and also some of the symbolism, just to avoid any direct comparison to non-alien terrorist groups. We were really cautious about that stuff. Beyond that, the show goes for it. To everyone’s credit, Gale, the network and the studio did not back off a show that was challenge, idea wise and politically. Gale did Alien Nation, which was a show about immigrants and immigration, and she was really cool about it all. The show doesn’t back away from the hard questions that it raises like, how do we deal with the monsters of our time? How far do we go? What happens to us when we have to make those decisions? Are they right? Are they wrong? How do we fight our enemy? That’s really what the series is about, on a bigger picture level. I think it’s thought-provoking and cool, and I hope that people not only enjoy the ride, but it makes them think a little bit.
As the showrunner of a TV series, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and you’re ultimately the one who gets the credit or the blame for the finished product. What do you most enjoy about having that much responsibility, and what do you most dread about having that much responsibility?
CHAIDEZ: The joy of it is the childlike wonder of having an imaginary world and having a bunch of friends that are going to bring it to life. Anybody that’s in this business hopefully started out wanting to tell stories and having stories in their head. And then, one day, you get to Melbourne, Australia and there are a bunch of people who are not only listening to your story, they’re building it. That’s the most incredible thing in the world. You’re living a collective dream and it’s really magical. It’s magical when people embrace the world and build on the world. There really is nothing like it. That’s really the pleasure of being a showrunner. The challenging part is really just the time demands. You have to get those key tenants who you can trust with creative stuff, so that it stays within the dream that you’re dreaming. The limitations of time and money are a frustration.
What do you remember about your first day on set as a showrunner? Was it completely terrifying to be the one who everyone looks to for everything, or did you immediately feel at home in it?
CHAIDEZ: My first showrunning was 12 Monkeys, and I didn’t create the show, which enabled me to have a little bit of distance. I have to say that I was not nervous, at all, because I’d been in the business for 20 years and I was really ready to make the jump into being a showrunner. I think that I was old enough, mature enough and had enough under my belt that it felt very comfortable. From working with some of the best showrunners in television, I’ve seen it done well and I’ve seen it done not well, and I knew how I wanted to do it. It’s been great. I absolutely love it. I look forward to doing my own shows and, in addition, I loved working with Terry [Matalas] and Travis [Fickett], and growing that world with them and empowering them to trust themselves and make a great show with me. I really enjoyed godmothering that project. Ideally, I’d like to work with other creators and help them, as well as do my own projects, which I’m developing, as well.
Hunters airs on Monday nights on Syfy.