‘Hunters’ Showrunner Natalie Chaidez on How Her New Syfy Show Will 'Scare' and 'Provoke'

The genre veteran puts a new spin on the alien invasion story. 

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Syfy’s newest show Hunters is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, even if it does have some sci-fi precedents. An alien invasion story about an elite squad of government commandos tasked with taking out evil extraterrestrials among us, loosely adapted from from the book Alien Hunter by Whitley Strieber, is a unique spin on the genre.

Making aliens scary again was a major focus of creator Natalie Chaidez, an industry vet who is a jack of all trades on the show — serving as the showrunner, executive producer, and writer behind it all. She had some good help: legendary executive producer Gale Anne Hurd (who helped create some of the most iconic movies and TV shows of all time like Aliens, The Terminator, and The Walking Dead).

We spoke with Chaidez about her sci-fi experience, working with her heroes, and building a mythology from the ground up.

You’ve been developing Hunters with Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd for Syfy for a few years, even before your work on 12 Monkeys for the network. Why do you think it took so long for this story to reach the small screen?

In the midst of developing Hunters with Gale I got a call from Syfy asking if I wanted to be the showrunner on 12 Monkeys, and I leapt at the opportunity. Syfy was very pleased with what I did on that show, and I think it was a big part in getting Hunters picked up.

Did your success with 12 Monkeys help out with the decisions made on Hunters?

Definitely. I helped a little bit with breaking the stories in the second season of 12 Monkeys, but then I went to Melbourne to shoot Hunters for 5 months. I think people were pleased creatively with the first season of that 12 Monkeys but also with the fan and critical response. I was really proud of that season, and it really went a long way to them trusting me with another show like Hunters.

You’ve also worked on shows like Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the V reboot, and more. What in particular draws you personally to the sci-fi genre?

I grew up a bi-cultural kid in Los Angeles. My mom is Mexican and my dad was white. I always felt like a little bit of an outsider, and I think like many people who are drawn to genres like sci-fi, because you find yourself in other worlds. It’s that outsider perspective, because you say to yourself. “I don’t really fit in.” So I think that originally drew me to science fiction and fantasy as a girl. Then I had a son, so when raising him I lived it all over again.

What did you grow up watching or reading in those genres?

The classics. I would also read science fiction anthology books that you sort of just pick up too. Then I discovered things like Blade Runner and Alien and Aliens.

What’s it like working with someone as iconic as Gale Anne Hurd, who made those movies, including The Terminator, and is someone whos a pioneer for women working in sci-fi?

Gale’s work was like a revelation to me. When I saw Sarah Connor for the first time it was like, “Oh shit! I’ve never seen anything like this!” At that time, just the way Sarah looked, you’d just never seen a woman like that before. Now it’s pretty common to have someone that’s so lean and buff, but at the time it was just, “Oh my god.” It was a turning point for me, and her movies came around about the same time that I started writing movies out of UCLA film school.

Chaidez (left) and Hurd, executive producers of 'Hunters.'

Frederick M. Brown / Getty

You’ve said the impetus for the show was to make aliens scary again. Why do you think audiences had become desensitized to aliens?

There was a level of familiarity with the imagery. Walking into an alien movie or TV show, people knew what was coming. We weren’t seeing anything original. Otherwise there’s this sort of “friendly alien” concept from Close Encounters and E.T., so aliens had just become a little bit defanged.

One of mine and Gale’s goals was to introduce new iconography for aliens. To not do lights in the sky or Roswell, and to flip everything you think you know going into an alien series.

How did you do that?

By asking myself what I didn’t like. Like if they’re here and they’re so powerful, what’s taking them so long? It kind of led me to the idea that they’re here, but they’re not all powerful — they’re desperate, and hungry, and there’s not that many of them. That led to the allegory that they could be terrorists.

I wanted to do something different. That led me to a neurologist from Brown University named Seth Horowitz, and he and I collaborated about the planet, their anatomy, and how they’d operate on earth. It gave it a level of originality because we approached it from the inside out.

Why did you want to dive in and be that thorough if most people won’t know those details?

Because it’s fun! But you also just want to know so it feels cohesive. 90 percent of the stuff Seth and I talked about will probably never make it into the show.

What about the look of the hunters. Can you talk a little bit about trying to achieve a certain look for the aliens who are superficially humanoid but still very much not of this world?

Gale and I felt really committed to doing practical effects. Gale comes from the great tradition of Roger Corman, where she started working with James Cameron building all these little ships in Corman’s studio — that’s how they met.

Early on we were lucky enough to find a great prosthetics guy in Australia named Justin Dix, and he’s like the Greg Nicotero of Australia. He came in and we started the same way with the world building with Seth. He said he wanted to start from the skeletal system, and so he and a concept artist and Seth built both a native-form hunter and a human form hunter.

We also worked with our actors who play human-form hunters, like Julian McMahon and Britne Oldford, and had them train with movement coaches. We had the coaches study the hunter skeletal system and had the actors crawl around and figure out how you’d move differently. The actors really embraced that.

Why did the aliens-as-terrorists angle of the show appeal to you? It’s a very unique take on an alien invasion. Was it just the perfect kind of allegory?

Very, very much. I think that’s what great science fiction does. It can take on big ideas and even take on political ideas in a way that can provide social commentary from a distance. We go for it.

We started developing the show three years ago, and unfortunately some of the ideas in the episodes are awfully prescient. So hopefully it’ll be a way to deal with people’s fears. Terrorists are the monsters of our time. Period. That’s what we’re scared of. They’re everywhere. We don’t know when we’re going to be attacked. So for me the allegory and analogy rings true and makes perfect sense.

What can fans expect from the first season of the show?

People will be scared. People will be provoked. People will think. I also hope we give people a great ride.

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