“I got a letter from David [Weil, the series creator] and I was really moved by that. The letter told me stories of his grandmother and how personal this story was to him. It was a beautiful script and was also very personal to me because it’s a story that belongs to anyone that feels like ‘an other,'” Gomez-Rejon tells Variety. The story of “immigrants in existence and justice,” he continues, “is a world that is very close to me because I’m from the Mexican border. He and I talked about the plight of the outsider and discovering their place in the world, or a world they could create that becomes a place of their own.”
Premiering Feb. 21 on Amazon, “Hunters” is set in the 1970s and follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters living in New York City who discover hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. and set out on a bloody quest to bring them to justice. The series, created by Weil and produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Prods., has seen a full-tilt marketing push from Amazon, including a big spot during the recent Super Bowl.
After coming up under Ryan Murphy, working on such TV shows as “Glee” and “American Horror Story: Coven” (which earned him an Emmy nomination), Gomez-Rejon moved into feature films working on such critically acclaimed dramas as “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “The Current War.” Prior to “Hunters,” his most recent small-screen credit was Netflix’s “Chambers,” on which he was also an executive producer and directed two episodes.
“Hunters” made Gomez-Rejon want to continue his career in television because of its universal themes of “the human capacity of evil and ultimate goodness of man.” Ultimately, he says, he is “drawn to stories of unlikely heroes.”
Once onboard, he helped in assembling a below-the line team that includes costume designer John Dunn, production designer Curt Beech, editor John Petaja and cinematographer Frederick Elmes. “It’s really hard to talk about the pilot without talking about my DP Fred Elmes, because ‘Blue Velvet’ changed my DNA. I’ve known about him forever, the fact that he was available and interested was great. Some of the highlights included meeting with Fred for weeks to go over every shot until we found the truth that could become the template for the pilot,” he says.
The goal was to make “Hunters” feel as cinematic as possible, which in part accomplished by the 90-minute, feature film length running time of the pilot.
“I want everything to be screened at the Cinerama Dome, so I’m always approaching everything asking, “Is it worthy of the big screen?” Gomez-Rejon says. “The scope felt appropriate to the story because it is so big and has a larger then life quality to it along with that sweeping look. It has to have that feel so that when the shift happens in the tone and the reveal in the first episode, it suddenly goes into this other genre. I had a lot of visual research and shared that with every department to make sure we were all on the same page.”
Additionally, the cast, which includes the legendary Al Pacino in his first-ever TV series regular role, as well as Logan Lerman, Lena Olin and Carol Kane, adds to that large scope feel.
“Dan Fogelman, who produced ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,’ helped facilitate an introduction with Al because they worked together on Dan’s film ‘Danny Collins,’ Gomez-Rejon says. Getting to know the Oscar and Emmy winner ahead of production helped, and Gomez-Rejon shares that he, Weil and co-showrunner Nikki Toscano had many conversations with Pacino about the role and the show. “It continues on weekend rehearsals at hotels so that by the time we get to set, there is this familiarity between one another. I was most impressed by Al’s humility, intuition and empathy. And I felt privileged to be witness to his process — which will always be a mystery — and am grateful that he trusted me.”