Being Authentic: Patrick Aison and Dan Trachtenberg Talk 'Prey'
By Sonya Alexander • August 03, 2022
'Prey' screenwriter Patrick Aison and director Dan Trachtenberg speak with Script about tackling the 'Predator' IP, consulting with Comanche Indian experts, script development and more.
The Comanche Indians were supreme hunters and warriors. Unlike other tribes, they rode horses during a battle, which gave them an advantage. They also followed a ritual when they hunted. They prayed to the buffalo spirit before stalking their prey. In the latest installment of the Predator franchise, Prey, a Comanche tribe realizes something is hunting them that may not be human. Their primal instincts and fighting strategies are pitted against a rival who's just as ferocious.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) and written by Patrick Aison (Wayward Pines, Jack Ryan), Prey has an exquisite aesthetic and is action-filled enough to be on the big screen. It pays homage to the original movie while creating its own unique cinematic universe. The original starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, a worthy opponent for the alien warrior. Schwarzenegger delivered some iconic lines, helping cement the film as a classic. Some might think the Comanches would be at a disadvantage when faced with this space creature because they were considered "primitive," but despite the Predator's advanced weaponry, he's in their territory. He's a stranger in a strange land.
This fifth Predator film incarnation is set in 1719 amongst the Comanche nation. Female warrior Naru (Amber Midthunder) wants to prove she's just as worthy of a rite of passage as the male hunters, including her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). It's difficult to believe this is Dakota's first major role because he's electric on the screen. Amber as Naru is a far cry from the way Native American women used to be portrayed on the big screen back in the 50s and 60s. As a woman trying to prove herself to her tribe and herself, she's tough, sensitive, and shrewd. She conveys a range of emotions in just a look.
The concept of monsters wasn't new to the Comanches. A copious amount of Native American folklore includes beasts and bogeymen. The Skadegamutc, the Kanontsistóntie’s, and the Wendigo are just a few tenebrious life forms that inhabit Native American folklore. Patrick Aison was struck by this.
"It’s interesting that the concept of monsters seems to be universal in all cultures."
This monster was a different foe for the Comanche, though. He is driven by something more than mere survival according to Patrick.
"He has an ultra-competitive nature. Survival of the fittest at its best — or worst, depending on your vantage point."
When he first started writing the project, Patrick started doing research immediately.
"Dan and I were consulting with experts (Juanita Pahdopony, Jhane Myers, as well as others.) They were all extremely helpful."
This project didn't happen overnight but was a long time in the making. The writing process for Patrick was intensive.
"From starting the treatment to the movie coming out was about five years. In that time, I did something like nine official drafts. Of course, there were dozens and dozens of other drafts in there too. That might sound rough but luckily, I had excellent partners and it was a great experience. Good partners are the secret to happiness. I’m working with all of these people again and I’m thrilled about it."
From the germination of the idea to completion was a creative voyage for Dan.
"I started developing this a year after 10 Cloverfield Lane came out. And the last movie came out in theaters. And then, the Fox-Disney merger happened. And all those things really delayed this from getting going. But the main inspiration behind it was a confluence of a couple things. One was really wanting to make a movie that was primarily action-driven, mainly told visually, but not wanting that to just be fun, just be a good time, to wanna inject that with heart and emotion."
Director Dan Trachtenberg has been a fan of Predator since he was a kid. He distinctly remembers all the kids on the minivan headed to a karate tournament talking about the film, which he hadn't seen because he wasn't allowed to see R-rated movies when he was in the 6th grade. He wanted someone to write this who was as into the film as he is. Patrick was the one.
"Dan and I had wanted to work together for a while, and he came to me and asked if I was into Predator. I was!"
The film is very detailed. According to Dan, fans of Predator should pay attention.
"For fans of Predator, the way in which Taabe, Dakota's character, gets cut is in a very specific way."
Most people learn from every experience they have. Artists glean something different from every project they work on. Patrick had a blast working on Prey and this is his takeaway.
"After years of development, being on set writing alt lines that get shot 10 minutes after you deliver them is extremely fun. So, stay loose, have fun, and try interesting things.
What I love about storytelling is attempting to speak to the essence of the human experience. That and great action gags."
The title of the film diverges from the others in the series yet is still related. Dan carefully chose it.
"I thought, Prey has the exact same double meaning that Predator does. So, the title can function just like Predator. And while it's still being its own title, so that this movie could feel like its own movie which has sort of always been the drive for me in thinking about remakes or adaptations or sequels. Really hoping to make a movie that is a great movie on its own. And then when you include the IP and all the links of the franchise in it, it just makes it even better. It's not solely reliant on being that IP to be a good movie. And that's what I was hoping this could be."
The latest poster for Prey has the word “Ku?htaamia,” which is Comanche for hero's rite of passage. This 20th Century Studios film will stream exclusively on Hulu on August 5, 2022 and on Disney +, and will have an English version and one dubbed in the Comanche language.
For anyone interested in learning a few Comanche words, check out the Comanche dictionary: https://www.webonary.org/comanche/