It wasn’t long ago when a big budget movie premiering on streaming was considered a bad sign for a film. Why would a studio pass on a theatrical release if it had a potential box office hit on its hands? In 2022 Prey showed why that way of thinking about modern media was already obsolete. The Predator prequel—starring Amber Midthunder as a young 18th-century Comanche Nation warrior named Naru taking on the iconic movie monster—was a success with both critics and fans alike. Now it’s breaking another misconception about the supposed limits of streaming. Prey is getting a traditional home release from Disney’s 20th Century Studios.
How did it manage to do what few other streaming releases have? To find out we talked to director Dan Trachtenberg about the process that brought Prey to disc, why he cares so much about bonus extras, the film’s deleted scenes, and whether a physical copy is prelude to a sequel.
Nerdist: Considering Prey debuted on Hulu rather than in theaters, how surprised are you we’re even talking about a home release right now?
Dan Trachtenberg: I don’t know how often this happens. I do know that this is happening for three big reasons. One because fans demanded it. There was an intense demand and I was forwarding that enough to my higher-ups to get interest.
The second part is the interest from the higher-up, Steve Asbell, who runs 20th [Century Studios]. He did not become the head of a studio because he’s got business acumen, went to school for that, or rose the ranks through Hollywood stratagem. It’s because he’s a movie nerd. That’s why he is what he is, and that’s why he’s so good at what he does. He loves movies and he’s specifically a nerd for Predator and Aliens and stuff like that. So he also wants to make sure his boxset on his shelf is complete. He demanded it alongside everyone on Twitter and Instagram messaging me. That’s why we’re here.
The third part is just me, because I also want to have that stuff. I was very much raised by bonus features, by HBO behind-the-scenes making-ofs, and then, eventually when DVDs came out, audio commentaries. I really loved the idea of being able to participate in that myself and contributing to what could be the next crop of filmmakers and fans of appreciating the movie in a fully invested way.
You anticipated my next question. We’re a similar age and grew up with DVDs when they always had a director’s commentary. Since you already addressed why it’s important to you to do them, what do you think people who love the movie will get out of your commentary that they might not have picked up on without it?
Trachtenberg: I really wanted to assemble the commentary with an actor and also the technicians, the D.P. and the editor. Sometimes I have enjoyed actor commentaries because they’re more fun and you get a sense of what the camaraderie was like on set. Then the technician commentaries are more informative. I really wanted to combine both concepts.
One of the interesting things is we recorded the commentary and Amber brought up a scene cut out of the movie that was integral to her performance. And it’s from that conversation in the commentary that let us say, “Oh, let’s put that on the disc then.” So we hunted that down. I had totally forgotten about that scene, and now that’s on the disc.
The scene was [Amber] and a little girl having a conversation. Her performance in it was a super subtle, small thing. We hadn’t shot much of the movie yet before doing that, and when we did it was like, “This is the pace, this is the tone of this character.” Also it was a scene between a hunter and a young girl, a scene you don’t often see in the middle of this kind of genre. It was also setup for keeping Naru’s bow clean, which came back later in the movie. It was tough to lose, but we had to. I’m so happy that we could include it on the disc.
Editor’s Note: Prey’s home release also includes a pre-vis (previsualization) deleted scene that only exists as an unfinished animated sequence.
Pre-vis is something non-filmmakers never get to see. And some of the pre-vises I’ve seen in my life, not even just for my film, are oftentimes cooler than the movie. Maybe people will see this and think the same thing for a sequence that was going to be very challenging to make. It was a big treetop chase. The execution could have gone awry. We almost could have done it. It was going to be a tight squeeze.
Because I frankly was so nervous about failing the execution, I sort of let it be a bit of a bargaining chip to allow other stuff and things that I had a little bit more confidence in to get more time. But I’m happy it’s on the disc now. Especially because one of the things I love so much is a very clever use of the cut clamp that Naru uses against the Predator. I was sad to miss that. But if we had that in the movie, we would not have had the montage sequence of her preparing, setting the traps, the final bait sequence, which not only helps for clarity of story, but is also very, very Predator ‘87 in tone. That sequence allows for her to seem a little bit more clever inside, so it was a good trade, I think. And now people can see it.
In a feature out on the Blu-ray you said you waited your whole life to make a movie with great action scenes. Did getting to actually do that with Prey satiate your appetite or does it have you craving more action film opportunities?
Trachtenberg: No, it doesn’t satiate. It’s challenging because I love the action genre so much. I grew up watching Hong Kong action movies and I’m desperate to really dive in and embrace the fun kind of choreography that blew my mind growing up. That’s why I put so much effort into that one sequence where Naru takes down the fur trappers. It’s the only bit of melee in the movie. That and Dakota with the arrows and fighting Predator are kind of what I would love to do more of. But I keep getting more interested in telling great stories.
I’m always let down in a movie when the action scenes feel like, “Now we’re setting the story aside and now you’re just watching martial arts unfold,” like the movie is setting up playgrounds for action. I have to always follow, “What’s the best way to tell the story through action?” Because I know that those are the movies I end up really loving exponentially more.
I haven’t quite found the perfect film yet where it can be all that specific kind of action and also be an emotional movie. Hopefully someday soon.
On the Blu-ray, you do exactly what I think a lot of fans of the franchise would’ve done in your shoes. You geeked out pretty hard over the actual Predator and his props. While you were making Prey how often did you have to remind yourself that you were actually in charge and not just a fan getting to do something really cool?
Trachtenberg: You get so caught up in pulling it all off that you forget about that stuff. Sometimes it’s cool when you see the first design of it. You’re like, “Oh my God, that’s so cool. I can’t believe it.” Then we’re back to business.
There were a few moments where someone in the tent would we’d be like, “All right Dan, they’re ready,” and we’d look at the monitor and there’s the Predator. And we’re like, “It’s a Predator movie. We’re making a Predator movie. This is not a fan film. This isn’t just that we have something inspired by the Predator in our movie. No, this is actually canonically now [a Predator movie].” It’s crazy. It was so overwhelming when it would occur. When I would be reminded of it, when my script supervisor, anyone would be reminded, it was like, “Oh my gosh.” But a lot of times you’re just looking at the task at hand and seeing how we can pull it off that you kind of forget what you’re really a part of.
The movie came out more than a year ago. What reactions—good, bad, both—have surprised you the most?
Trachtenberg: I’ll go the two ends of the spectrum.
I’ve seen tears at the end and it’s so moving to see someone react the way, because, oddly, this is a personal story for me even though I don’t physically reflect a lot of what any of the characters are or who they represent. But emotionally, the story between Naru and her mother, and the story of Naru and herself, what’s going on with her feels very much from my heart. So when I see tears it’s just awesome.
On the flip side, a surprising reaction at one screening very early on. Someone said, “How come the blood wasn’t acid?” I was like, “Oh boy, pop culture has failed this person.” They conflated Alien vs. Predator. It all became one thing in their mind. That or we haven’t been making enough Predator films.
Considering the movie was a hit with both critics and viewers, and it’s now getting a home release, I have to ask this question. Any chance we will get a Prey 2?
Trachtenberg: I mean, there’s always a chance. There’s always a chance. And while making the movie, we kept geeking out over, “Oh my God, wouldn’t it be cool if we did X?” And there’s a number of, “Wouldn’t be cool if we did Y? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did Z?”
We’ve all been excited about what else we could do that is special. Prey, to us, felt very special and unexpected for the genre. Are there other things we could do that are unexpected? Not just for a Predator film, but also for the genre? Those are the kinds of things that we’ve been thinking or started thinking way back then. And they have never stopped the whole way through.
Have any of those ideas made it onto a computer or a piece of paper?
Trachtenberg: I mean, we’re on a computer right now talking.
You guys are always too good at this.
Trachtenberg: I’m not at liberty to say. I’m not at liberty to say.
Left unsaid is where a potential Prey 2 would debut. Would it come to streaming or make the jump to theaters? Considering how many other preconceived notions this film has busted, there’s no point in speculating.
Prey hits 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on October 3 with over two hours of all-new bonus features.