Arts

Best. ‘Predator.’ Ever.

A Q&A with ‘Prey’ producer Jhane Myers

At a recent screening of the new 20th Century Fox film Prey, a packed house learned exactly why representation in film matters—and that people are thirsting for Native content created by Native people. The newest entry in the long-running Predator series, Prey takes things back to the 1700s and Comanche land, where a young would-be hunter named Naru (Amber Midthunder, Fort Peck Sioux Tribe—and a New Mexican, btw) runs into the nefarious space monster. SFR caught up with Prey producer Jhane Myers (Comanche and Blackfeet) to learn a little more about how a sci-fi action movie turned out to be an important milestone in cinematic history—and you can catch our full review in the Movies section.

SFR: We’ve seen it before when Hollywood gloms onto Native America, but this point in time feels different. Do you think we’ve finally rounded a bend that’ll allow for Native storytellers to tell their stories in film and television more regularly?

Jhane Myers: I think we rounded that bend simply because the Sundance Institute produced a lot of really good filmmakers. So before, when we wanted Native films and representation, the pool was small for Native writers, directors, producers, but once the Institute had that program, a lot of people went through that. At the screening last night, we had five people in the audience who were Sundance fellows—and that’s not even including me, so I guess we had six. And you know, we need to have representation, but we need to be there to execute it, so to me that’s the big difference I’ve seen.

I’ve been in the industry for a while, but now the pool is much larger. You have Sterlin Harjo, Sierra Teller Ornelas...last night in the audience we had Razelle Benally, who worked on Dark Winds; Ashely Browning, who’s working on the Emma Stone production; Ross Chaney, who went through the institute; also had Charine Gonzales, who has been working in the PBS area. You have all of these people—and that’s the turning point. You can say you want this, but if you’re given the chance, you really have to use it and execute it.

What makes the Predator franchise a good fit for an Indigenous story?

The timing is right, and for me, because I like action/adventure and I grew up on the franchise, I think that when I read the script and it had all this Native content, I was thrilled. Most of the time when you’re brought in to produce, it’s maybe 20% Native content, but this one had no boundaries. It was like, ‘Oh we want to do it with the Comanche, we’re setting it 300 years ago.’ All [the Comanche] have [from that time period] is our oral stories, which is a natural way of telling the stories to us, but there aren’t a lot of artifacts or photos from that time. But when you’re doing action, you can add that fantasy element and you can kind of play with it.

New Mexico artists have their fingerprints all over this film, from painter Nocona Burgess to musician Robert Mirabal. What sort of freedom did you have to enlist talent for the film?

I was hired as a creative producer, and [director] Dan Trachtenberg—who is brilliant and did 10 Cloverfield Lane—gave me the script and said, ‘What can we do to be more authentic?’ That was a pleasure. Almost never do you get that freedom. Usually productions are getting their info from other movies, and we know for Native culture that’s mainly fictitious. Being able to use my creative freedom, though? If you didn’t have a Native producer on set every day…everything in there is totally of the Comanche world.

The Predator in Prey has an almost primal look. Can you tell us about the monster design?

That was the beauty of setting this film in the 1700s. We didn’t have to go by the typical Predator book. This could have been the great granddad of all Predators, and we got to work with his design and change him. We made him more slender and athletic. Think about the franchise, too: The tech is better, so now it doesn’t look like a tall guy in a monster suit, it looks more real. Dan and I worked hand in hand with [effects studio] ADI, and because we brought him back in time, I wanted his helmet to look more skull-like, I wanted him more feral-looking. Or his weapons—some things are the same, some are a little different.

In the script, he’s jumping from tree to tree, so I said he needed to have a dewclaw if he’s doing all this jumping. I go rock climbing, and sometimes you can barely be hanging there with your small toe every bit as powerful as your big toe, so I wanted him to have this visible way to do that.

This is the first mainstream film to ever be fully dubbed into Comanche. Was that an important facet from the start for you?

Yes, it was. That’s what I live for. I’m enrolled Comanche, I’m also Blackfeet, and I just really wanted to bring something home to my community. I guess my mantra is that if you have Native content in your film and the film depends on it, I think you have to go the whole way and make it 100%, and you need to have that Native language as well.

Dan had this whole script, and across the top it read ‘All dialogue in Comanche,” and I was like, ‘What? Yes!’ We weren’t able to do that, but we were able to infuse some Comanche into the film. So when the studio execs saw it, they said since it was going to be streaming, why don’t we do an option to stream in Comanche? But there’s not a template on how to do that. When people have put other films into a Native language, they have, like, a year to do it. In this film, all of the actors reprise their roles in Comanche. If you listen to the English version and the Comanche version, you’ll still hear Naru doing their part. It’s really an eye-opener, and I hope it opens a lot of doors. Usually when it comes to Native culture, they say, ‘Do it all in Native? We don’t have the budget for that.’ There are all kinds of excuses because it hasn’t been proven, right? Now it has been proven. We’ve launched a movie in the Native language. People think we’re no longer living, that we’re in the past, and even though this movie is set in period, we’re still doing this, we’re still speaking, and hopefully it’ll mean more speakers. Just think—film is such a great medium and appeals to such a broad audience, so imagine kids asking their grandparents how you say this or that in Comanche. If I’m only known for this, I’ve succeeded in life.

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