Prey is the fifth installment in the Predator franchise, set hundreds of years before the original movie. Set in the Northern Great Plains in 1719, the movie follows Naru, an accomplished Comanche healer and tracker who yearns to become a warrior. Although overshadowed by her brother Taabe, a skilled hunter, Naru sees her chance for the big hunt, a rite of passage in her tribe. Naru will face a much more sinister and dangerous threat than anything she or the others have seen before.
Prey is directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Patrick Aison. The movie is produced by John Davis, Jhane Myers, and Marty P. Ewing. Prey stars Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Dane DiLiegro, Michelle Thrush, Stormee Kipp, Julian Black Antelope, and Bennett Taylor.
Related: Predator: 8 Ways Arnold Schwarzenegger Can Appear In Prey 2 Despite A 268-Year Gap
Screen Rant spoke with director Dan Trachtenberg about his installation in the Predator franchise, Prey. He discussed shooting on location and revealed how sports movies were an inspiration. Trachtenberg also broke down the importance of showing the Predator lore to a new audience and tapping into an earlier era of this world.
Dan Trachtenberg On Prey
Screen Rant: Dan, look, I love Prey! I’m so happy. I got to revisit it over this weekend. October 3, it’s coming in 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD. I’m sure everyone can’t wait. Can you talk about the world-building and why you decided to start at the beginning of the Predator story?
Dan Trachtenberg: I don’t even know if it’s the beginning of the Predator story. Great point. It is the beginning of this Predator, the Predator in this movies needs the first time he’s ever been to Earth, or it’s ever been to Earth. Frankly, I did not come at it from thinking of “Oh, I’d like to make a Predator movie. What Predator movie could I make? Oh, what if I went to a different…” It actually was thinking of Naru’s story and trying to thinking of a movie that could be as nonverbal as possible, just as action oriented as possible, but also wanting to feel as emotional as that possibly could.
So I thought of an underdog story. Taking the engine from a sports film and putting that into this other kind of genre. And then what is your protagonist that we never see? Native American and Comanche in particular. And all of those thoughts, while still wanting for it to have a science fiction component. Period and sci-fi coming together has not always been successful. I was really trying to figure out, well, is there a way that it could be? And that’s when Predator came to mind because it wouldn’t just be arbitrary and look at the science fiction thing. Actually the predators thematic, that it goes on hunts looking for the strongest thing, and we’d already be focusing on a character whose peers are saying, “You’re not, you’re not it.” And she’s wanting to be it and also was questioning herself in my head.
And the Predator doesn’t even look at her doesn’t even consider her, that was like, okay, cool. That is a movie that doesn’t feel like I’m just throwing a hat on that, that really feels like a great mixture. And then it was like, okay, well wait, if this is set in the 1700s and that means that’d be before Predator. Actually, I should say before it was even 1700s it was just, what is pre… As early as possible I wanted to tell a story about this people in this culture that we don’t often see usually it’s in the 1800s. It’s in the western. I just want to be focused on them.
And then I realized there was that gun in Predator 2. I was in the shower when I was thinking, and as soon as I got in the shower I ran to my phone to Google, what was the date on the gun? It’s 1715, and it was like, “Holy crap, there!” We perfected it beautifully aligned with Predator lore, and what I was already interested in doing with the film.
That is incredible. That is incredible that you had that thought in the shower, and had that foresight in mind. I love this character of Naru. Can you talk about how you wanted to differentiate her strength from the other members of the tribe? And also how you wanted to differentiate her from other Predator heroes we’ve seen in the past?
Dan Trachtenberg: What I love, even though I’m not physically represented at all on screen except for maybe I have a beard now so then there’s a bunch of bearded people, this was a very personal story for me. It’s my feelings. My heart is beating in the movie. Why I wanted to put it out there, why I’m always interested in this kind of stories. I think that a lot of people feel the way that Naru feels. A lot of people feel like they are capable of more than is outwardly seen yet also question and hope that they have that within them, and hope they have the guts to prove it to themselves and to others.
It’s why we we do sports. It’s why we pursue careers with any sense of ambition. I think anywhere you are in the world that’s a very specific feeling that is felt by, I would imagine, almost all of us. So that is why I focused on her. That kind of story is very different than the kind of protagonist that we certainly saw on the original Predator. Arnold represents the wish fulfillment. It’s like, oh, I’m watching that and saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if I had all those muscles? If I was that way? Could I kick it?”
Just exhilarating to see a character kick butt on screen that is Uber capable. And Naru is the other thing and that is, what if I was there? What if I, but just a little bit better, but could I pull it off? Could I be posed with a seemingly impossible task, still rise to the occasion, figure it out, and handle it? So yeah, that’s kind of how that came together.
When I originally watched Prey, when it first came out on Hulu, my girlfriend had never seen the Predator movies before. So this is kind of a new way to introduce such a famous character to her. Were there any elements you wanted to set up with Prey for people who hadn’t seen Predator before?
Dan Trachtenberg: Actually the first cut of the movie we did not do our job in making it for people who had not seen Predator. Really took for granted what the rules are of a Predator and so we had to kind of learn the hard way after screening for some friends and family that we had missed that. We very much wanted this to be for anyone. For it to be great movie first and then a kick ass Predator movie second. So what we found was we really need to make sure the movie retaught the audience that it was an alien coming to earth looking for the Alpha following the hierarchy of Predator and Prey on this planet and a Trophy Hunter.
Before we articulated that in the movie there was a reaction to the sequence where it kills the bear or someone thought it was a vampire. Because they thought it was drinking the blood of the bear before we had sequences that were it studying the ant, the snake and getting the skull of the wolf and attaching to it. So before those kinds of things were in the movie. It was like “Oh, I don’t know what this is. The shimmering red thing and then it drinks blood.” So anyway, it took a few unfortunate reminders that this must be a movie for everyone, of course, and we need to make sure all that lore that is established in the other films we have in this one as well.
Well, it worked because after that I think we binged the next two Predator movies. So it absolutely worked. Now Prey explores intense survival themes. How did you approach capturing the psychological aspects of the character in such a gripping manner?
Dan Trachtenberg: Making sure the movie was very linked to Naru’s POV. To making it a very experiential film. So we really only see in large part what Naru sees. Hear and feel it as best we can. So playing with sound, focusing on the noises that she would focus in on, and letting the suspense build around her and towards her. As opposed to it being like the other Predator films [which] are a little bit more of a classic slasher film approach. Where you’re meeting a team of people and watching them killed by one. This is a much more specific, single protagonist oriented movie. Which just makes it all feel that much more emotional, and the suspense matters so much more because you care about her and her specific relationships.
Speaking of that, this film has such a unique blend of suspense and horror. How did you balance maintaining the tension throughout the story without overwhelming the audience?
Dan Trachtenberg: What I loved about the original Predator was for me growing up, it was the first time I’d seen a real genre combination. That was combining sci-fi, horror, and action. What I love about Prey is that it was a combination of science fiction, horror, and adventure. Adventure films are not a genre that we have too much of these days. Growing up, we had a lot of them, we had a lot of quicksand, slide, swinging from things, and swashbuckle.
So I wanted to infuse this movie with a bit of that language as well. Have moments of score that remind us of big epics, that, that I grew up with. So I think that and certainly her relationship with her dog and her relationship with her brother, all the emotional story makes the tension matter more. And then also, when it follows through with the with the action, it’s much more of a cathartic release. Because everything’s been building up and building up and building up.
Can you talk about the usage of practical effects and visual effects, and combining them both? Knowing when to us which one when the story called for it?
Dan Trachtenberg: Digital effects when it is literally impossible to do anything practically. Almost the whole movie was shot on location. So there was there was a lot on screen that is in camera. CG stuff was used to just augment what was there from landscape to snowfall to ash in the sky,. There’s a bit that I love that we’ve mentioned in the commentary in the movie that I’d forgotten about through the whole process of releasing the film, that was a big deal while we were making the movie, where Amber, when she climbs out of the water. After escaping from the Predator, she was wearing a wetsuit that was covering her arms. And it was very obvious and unfortunate that we had no other take because it was something that we were just racing to get there. In this pretty gnarly location at the bottom of a ravines and stuff.
So we were kind of screwed until we found an awesome digital artist who just in 2D found a way to comp skin onto her arms. So her arms are digital effect in that scene. I don’t think many people realize that or would notice that. And then there’s bits where to make the predator more believable. it’s all suit except when it’s hands. We’re very tight on his hands and it’s sniffing ash know that CG hands because his hands weren’t articulating, in the most refined way and sometimes we augmented some of the mandibles and the face here and there. Sometimes that’s really just it.
So it’s always playing a little bit of a zigzag game. You never know when it’s going to be practical when it’s gonna be real. So when you’re seeing a thing, hopefully you’re kind of lulled into it and tricked. And I would argue the moments that are blatantly CG are that way because there’s no element of practicality to it. What we’re at what we’re doing is so physically impossible. So it sort of proves that the methodology is sound. That most people don’t notice are those that were really combining both things.
Look, I love home entertainment releases because of audio commentaries. And you have a great one with you. Amber Midthunder, Jeff Cutter, Angela M. Catanzaro. I love audio commentaries, because it’s almost like going to film school in a way. It’s hearing it from your guys’s perspective. If there’s an audio commentary that you’d like young filmmakers to check out, what would be your choice?
By the way, it was my film school. Audio commentaries.
Was it really?
Dan Trachtenberg: Oh, yeah. I mean, I also went to film school but I think I learned as much if not more from listening to audio commentaries growing up than I did from movies. There’s several that come to mind that were personal to me that I enjoy listening to that I would said, Well, that’s probably not the most formative. I think David Fincher did some awesome commentaries. Steven Soderbergh.
I remember Traffic having a whole walkthrough of their post process that’s sort of beyond commentary. It was showing you the AVID if memory serves on the disk that was really insightful. It’s a great question there’s probably so many more but yeah I would look to the Fincher and the Soderbergh. I remember Nightmare Before Christmas also having a commenter, I think I got that before DVDs, that was super interesting. I remember having a VHS of commentary version that I got to like a comic convention or something, probably was bootlegged.
Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, this is the story of Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior, raised in the shadow of legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains. When danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her people. The prey she stalks: a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal.
Prey is available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 3.
Source: Screen Rant Plus