Amateur radio in science fiction
I had just returned from a long break overseas when I received a call from a young lady looking for help to hire some amateur radio equipment for a new science fiction TV show production being made in Australia. The series was called Hunters and is scheduled to debut in the US in April 2016. The scene being filmed required a spectrum analyser, an amateur radio transceiver, some antenna switches, a power meter and a tuner. I could supply most of the items, although getting a loan of a spectrum analyser may have been a problem.
I asked if the crew had contacted any of the local amateur radio suppliers and of course they had. The local suppliers had referred them to the radio club (EMDRC) of which I am a member. That’s how we managed to get hold of you. Can you help? We exchanged email details over the phone and I agreed to call back once I had a chance to think about it in more detail. Shortly after I received the following message:
Thanks for taking my call - I'm really hoping there might be someone in your club who can help us!
Just to recap - I'm working on a new American TV series called Hunters.
We are after a ham radio set up possibly including but not limited to - a spectrum analyser, an amateur radio, some antennae switches, a power meter and a tuning box. We'd love it to look as authentic as possible, but technically, it could be a few different pieces that look the part.
We'd need someone to come out on Monday to set it all up, then we'd be shooting Tuesday and Wednesday and the gear would be ready to be collected on Thursday. The radio equipment would be all set up and on, but no one would be operating it - in the scene the police discover the set up, but the bad guy has fled.
It's quite a big American show so we have insurance and security and we'd be happy to pay for someone to hire the gear and for set up.
Thanks Peter, any help or ideas greatly appreciated!
At the time, being in between work contracts, I had some time available for running around. It didn’t sound like much time was required although it presented an opportunity for the club to earn a donation for the hire of equipment. After all, this equipment sits idle in the club rooms for long periods of time, it might as well be out earning money for us. I spoke to the club officials who agreed to go ahead so I called back to discuss the requirements in a little more detail. We could supply what they needed minus the spectrum analyser although a PC these days can be made to look like one thanks to SDR’s and spectrum displays.
Much to my surprise the staging crew made an offer that was too good to refuse, a significant donation to the club for hire of equipment as well as paying me for my time. That settled, we made arrangements to meet on location with the equipment 10 am Monday morning. This was a two story private residence on a large allotment in Chirnside Park. The scene was to be setup in a small attic on the second floor. The space was already very tight and the stage builders were at work installing a dividing wall with a small door to close off the area even more. How they managed to get the cameras in there I don’t know.
The amateur radio setup
This shows the setup as I left it. Sitting on a table is the laptop and TS-2000 transceiver with two desk microphones and a table lamp. To the left hand side on top of the corner rack is the power supply, linear amplifier and antenna rotator controller. We figured this would be sufficient for the scene as the transceiver and laptop were to be the heroes of the scene.
The bad guys communications hub
The rest of the equipment, which came from elsewhere, consists of very old network switches, blade disk arrays, old audio mixing panels and one of the most ancient Panasonic communications receivers I had ever seen. The crew picked that one up from Radio Rentals minus its top panel which had been substituted with cardboard.
I left the scene Monday afternoon and didn’t get the opportunity to go back until Thursday, therefore missing all of the actual filming on Tuesday and Wednesday. When I arrived to pick up the equipment, the producers requested that the transceiver and laptop be available in the studio the following week for some additional filming. In the show, the equipment had been seized and was needed for forensic testing.
The following Monday I ventured out to Matchbox UCP studios in Broadmeadows with the TS-2000 and laptop in hand. I was hoping to see the set but unfortunately only made it as far as the props area, which I must say was interesting enough. There I met Lucy, the young lady that originally called me. She was holding what looked like a machine gun in each hand (props of course)! When I asked her about that, she laughed and called it an occupational hazard. There were all sorts of interesting bits and pieces about the place.
While I was there, Lucy told me that they were very lucky to find me and that the supplied equipment had been the star in many scenes. So much so that the producers wanted to hire more equipment for a final scene to be filmed at Avalon Airport. Even though none of it needed to be operational (just lights on for effect), the more equipment we could provide the better. I put out a call for help from club members and we managed to find enough equipment to build a very impressive looking amateur station.
This scene was setup inside an old hanger at Avalon Airport. This was the bad guys camping ground and their newest communications centre (as the police had raided the last site). The communications centre was built inside a shipping container with antennas mounted on top of the container (inside the hanger). I did point out that the equipment supplied was HF, VHF and UHF although the antennas they were using belonged to microwave equipment. Oh well, who’s going to notice, it’s all science fiction anyway.
The second location in a container
The above picture shows the radio setup with many HF, VHF, and UHF transceivers. The picture to the right shows the microwave dish antennas on top of the container (inside the hanger). In the right hand corner of the container (not shown) was all of the other equipment installed in the racks (shown in the previous picture). I’m still trying to get some actual footage of the scenes that were being filmed.
The dishes on top of the container
The producers were very happy with the end result of filming and all of the equipment was returned because they had finished the series for the year (2015). I'm hoping there will be more work for me this year (2016) as it was something completely different to my normal line of work. I'll keep you posted, watch this space.
About Hunters TV Show Production
From executive producers Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, The Terminator trilogy) and Natalie Chaidez (12 Monkeys, Heroes), Hunters is inspired by Whitley Strieber’s best-selling novel, Alien Hunter, in which the disappearance of a decorated FBI agent's wife leads him to a secret government unit assembled to hunt a group of ruthless terrorists - shadowy figures that may or may not be from this world.
The series stars Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek) as Flynn, a headstrong Baltimore FBI agent with a dark past trying to piece together the disappearance of his wife. Britne Oldford (American Horror Story) will play Regan, who is one of the government’s most valuable operatives and may be keeping secrets of her own. Julian McMahon (Nip/Tuck) portrays McCarthy, an unhinged junkie and Hunter cell leader.
Hunters will push boundaries by redefining what makes a terrorist and offer a unique crossover twist between gritty crime drama and sci-fi thriller. The series will premiere in the US in April 2016.
Note: if you would like to watch the trailer in Australia, search for Hunters Trailer on YouTube.