PREY Exclusive Interview With Director Dan Trachtenberg On The Film's Brutal Ending - SPOILERS

PREY Exclusive Interview With Director Dan Trachtenberg On The Film's Brutal Ending - SPOILERS

Prey is now available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, and to commemorate the occasion, we were able to sit down with director Dan Trachtenberg to talk about the film's goriest moments and a whole lot more!

By RohanPatel - Oct 03, 2023 12:10 PM EST
Filed Under: Movies

Ahead of today's 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray launch of 20th Century Studios' acclaimed sci-fi actioner Prey, we were able to catch up with director Dan Trachtenberg to talk about the biggest and bloodiest moments from his critically acclaimed Predator prequel and offer a few teases about what could conceivably come next in this ever-evolving universe. 

We kick off our conversation by getting into casting Amber Midthunder as Naru and the unique energy she brought to the role, before he breaks down a number of the film's key sequences, including the river sequence where the Predator fought a grizzly bear and the show-stopping finale where Naru makes her last stand against the Feral Predator.  

Since we spoke in the midst of the WGA strike, he wasn't able to speak on any conversations surrounding a potential sequel, but his answer was still interesting, to say the least... 

Watch our full interview with Dan Trachtenberg below, and please remember to SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel for more exclusive content!

ROHAN: When you were writing the character of Naru, who goes on this incredible journey in the film, how much of her characterization was on the page? And how much changed when Amber came on board and brought her own unique energy? 

DAN: Interesting question. I mean, I would say it's 100% on the page, and then 100% what she was able to do with it. I love underdog stories, I love sports movies even though I'm not a sports person. This character is more me than any other character I've directed, and the story is straight from from my heart and Patrick, the writer really laid out all those elements on the page.

That said, there's a few things Amber - a thing that is not on the page that came from a conversation between Amber and I, but was delivered in a way that I never could have expected is the end of the movie. Like literally, the end, when she defeats the Predator, and lets out this primal scream. It's a war cry. It's a Comanche war cry, but it feels like this massive cathartic release, and an F-U that just comes from pure emotion. Every time I watch it, I get chills because it doesn't feel like a performance of a beat, it feels like someone is going through a thing, and it just so happens that she was terribly sick throughout the filming of that sequence, that whole sequence and this was one of the last things we did, so it literally is her just letting it out.

So, yeah, I mean, she brought immeasurable things to it. It’s one thing to read something that is so much scene description, and it's another thing to see a performance and capture so much emotion and physicality and allowing us to be in the head analyzing, all those things without words, you know, so often without words, so it was a great little alchemy between us.

ROHAN: When you and Patrick initially came up with the concept of this film, what was that lightbulb sort of moment about the franchise that made you realize the future of the series was in the past not the future? 

DAN: Well, the idea before it was a Predator movie, the thing that I was stoked on was making a period film, making an intense tale of survival where you also infused a science fiction element. That's where my brain was first. I really wanted to tell this underdog story, a coming of age story, a tale of proving, really focusing on that, but not it just being a period piece.

I wanted it to be something more and then, thinking that through made me realize I didn't want to just invent a creature. I'd been through that, I invented some creatures before and the process of just like, ‘Oh, well how can we change the design? And what is this about?’ So, it became more is there anything that already exists, could this become a part of something bigger than itself? And, then the Predator entered into the arena, entered my brain space.

It was like, oh my gosh, the Predator is hunting, looking for the strongest, looking for the Alpha, and here's this character that I'm already interested in that is trying to prove themselves and is not seen that way from her peers, you know, not seen that way from her band, and now not going to even be seen that way to even be hunted by the Predeator.

That was the ‘oh my gosh moment,’ yes, we can make a special Predator movie, and then remembering the gun from the end of Predator II that had a date on it and it was like, oh my gosh, this really could feel like an essential and necessary part of that franchise. So, that's where we started.

ROHAN: You did a really fantastic job of making the film look and feel accurate to the time period. What went into pre-production to make sure you got everything right in terms of Comanche culture? 

DAN: After writing the first treatment, like getting the story out, our first early draft or something, we then reached out to Comanche advisor Juanita Pahdopony and Dustin Tahmahkera, her nephew, to see, is this right? Are we doing this the right way, just based on our own research and does this seem like the right thing. We started working with them, and, at that time, they gave us a lot of textbooks and when I went through them, it was always like the first chapter is this time period, and then we got into the 1800s, then we got into the Wild West, you know, and, and those are very heavily documented in media and where there's more written record, but we wanted to set the movie where there was very little written record, especially from the Comanche perspective, a lot of it is from a Western gaze, or an European gaze, a colonial gaze. I felt like we can't make this movie with just an advisor and some research and whatever, like this needs to be, you know, part of the cool of this movie will be how real it is, how authentic it is.

So, getting a producer who was Comanche herself, Jhane Myers - it couldn't be done without her. She was absolutely essential. Not only for her instincts, and her research and connection to her tribe, and to put in the historical accuracy, but also just for her instincts, for everything, for even the genre moments, you know, that there be her voice represented in all the fabric of the whole thing, and her friends and her family and everything that's informed her, that perspective is infused in all the little decisions in the movie. So, even like a genre moment like Amber, her character Naru whistling to bait the Predator at the end when she's in front of big beard - that came from Jhane.

We were wrestling with Amber’s performance in the scene, like how can we make this cool? Not just from a delivery perspective, but I just felt like it was missing something and Jhane’s like she should whistle, because in Comanche, and I think in the southern plains in particular, tribes whistling at night was a big like, you do not whistle at night, because that will invoke evil spirits or demons and come get yours, you know, it was bad. So, that became this cool little genre moment and a great character moment and a necessary piece of that scene that comes from these instincts that I certainly don't have, you know, and it's so gnarly that Amber refused to do the whistle. So, she just mouthes it, and then when we were shooting, our AD did the whistle, and then later, we had someone else in the sound design doing whistles because it's such a sensitive thing. So, yeah, having Jhane and having the movie be authentic was primary.

ROHAN: How long did it take you to come up with the final showdown between Naru and the Predator? I mean, you're leaving bread crumbs throughout the entire movie, but how many different iterations did you go through before you decided on that setting for the final fight?

DAN: Yeah, I went through lots of different iterations, lots, especially because location wise, we were like, could it be here, could it be there, this location or that location, but we had a whole thing devised based on the way the geography of this location was and that falls through, then we went to this place and the sort of tent poles of it all were her using the terrain against him, the terrain that she knows so well, that we see her learning on-screen. Not just because we assume it, we actually see her doing it, dealing with a mud pit at some point and turning that against him, and then figuring out the way to kill it is not just to face it head on, but to get at it from the side, and disarming it step by step.

I really wanted it to feel like what would you do when you're overwhelmed. To systematically take this thing down and turn its own weapons against him and, by the way, things that Arnold figures out at some point as well in his own journey. What was key to me was that it needed to be clever, and there needed to be ferocity. I didn't want to just be like, ‘and she's so smart that she devises this trap,’ I wanted that to absolutely be there, and also what must be there is her and her buddy, her little Sarii, her dog, working together, needed that in this set piece, and then, also seeing her doing physical acts of daring too, doing some swashbuckling.

It's not just that, even thematically, it's not just that she embraces what her mom was giving her with the flower, and she realizes, oh, I shouldn't have shunned that from my life, I should embrace that, but also, she becomes physically more and more badass. Both things are necessary. It's not just, you don't need that, you need this, or you don't need that, you know, it's like, no, no, you need both. You need to rise to the occasion, and muster all that you can physically, but also be smart. So, that was a huge part of it and then, making sure the Predator moved and was ferocious in ways that we don't often see it move as well.

ROHAN: I'm not sure how much you're allowed to say, but what has your reaction been to the online chatter about fans wanting a sequel where the Predator takes on a samurai? Have you guys had any discussions about a follow-up?

DAN: Um… not at liberty to say. But, yes, have loved the conversations and when we were still filming, we were talking about the other things we could do.

ROHAN: I'm a big fan of the bear river fight sequence. It's such a visually striking and intense moment in the film and it's really where we first get to see what this Predator is capable of. Can you break down how it came together, cause it seems as though it's a healthy mix of CGI and practical effects? 

DAN: Yeah, that was all shot on location. So, there wasn't really much green screen used, other than, but even then, there's really wasn't, it was sort of shot up in the sky. The piece where she's inside the beaver dam, we recreated that, we didn't want to shoot that in the river. So, there's the piece where she gets out of the beaver dam, that is in the river and when she gets into it, that's the beaver dam.

Then, when we're inside of it, we were in a little pool on the parking lot outside of our stages and shooting up at the sky, and we had a little furry bear arm to represent the bear coming in, and we did some stuff even on location with a guy in stilts running around. So, the interaction with the river and the wildlife, all that stuff was usable when we took it into our digital arena.

But yeah, and then the bear is all CG, maybe there's a shot of like the furry arm that we let be practical, but, in general, she's there, the set’s there, everything's there. It's just that the bear is CG and the Predator as well. When the Predator was cloaked, we usually had a mo-cap performance help dictate or help guide, but obviously, when in cloaked form, he’s CG, and the blood coming on him is all CG, but the sequence was actually initially much larger and needed to come down to be able to afford to do it, and then, that's when we figured out the beaver dam section was like, oh, there's a way to limit how many VFX shots there will be, and the quality of them like looking through something and then, being more distant was very different than her being in the middle of the fight, interacting.

So, that box that we were put in, helped the movie be cooler, because now it's more suspenseful, and arguably much better looking than it would have been if we were out in the fray, you know, or in the middle of water. It was gnarly to accomplish.

ROHAN: Since we are talking about the 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray release, can you tell me what to expect from the alternate opening as well as the few deleted scenes that will debut on the upcoming release?

DAN: All of the deleted scenes, I put commentary over, so I am explaining things as you see them, which I think is cool. And, the alternate opening was when, A) It was in Comanche because at a certain point, early on in the process, they were going to be speaking Comanche, and then it shifted to English, which became an unsuccessful idea, and execution was very challenging, given all the language stuff that happens throughout the film.

So, that's part of the execution of it, and there's more of a dynamic established between her and the other tribesmen, the other hunter guys, it was just a little heavy handed in what we were trying to accomplish and setting up things that didn't actually bear fruit throughout the film and was less focused on her and her brother. That seemed like the thing we really wanted to focus on.

Then, there's a scene with her and a younger girl - it was the girl that shows up at the end of the movie, and she's there when Taabe comes back with the lion at the beginning as well - and there's just a lovely scene between her and this young girl, which also set up the dirty bow that she says, ‘Don't get your bowstring wet. You gotta keep it clean.’ And, then later on, that's why it snaps with the bear sequence. So, it had these lovely qualities to it, but just ultimately was sort of getting in the way of the momentum of the movie.

And, then we have a pre-vis action sequence, which is a tree tap chase that was super fun to come up with, and had a great, really cool, I think, clever use of the cut clamp, one of the Predator’s weapons, but ultimately, we just could not afford to do that sequence, and I frankly, the execution had to be so perfect for it to not feel outside of the aesthetic of the movie that I negotiated myself out of making it, so I'm happy to have it here on the on the disc for people to see.

Prey arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray™ on October 3rd!

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