Representation in films and television isn’t only about race and ethnicity. It’s also about giving deserved respect to genres and recognizing the allies who do the work to ensure those stories are appropriately told. That’s what director Dan Trachtenberg achieves with the science-fiction horror flick “Prey,” while working hand-in-hand with Indigenous producer Jhane Myers. The Hulu film is among the nominated contenders for outstanding television movie, making Myers the first Indigenous woman ever nominated for producing at the Emmys.
“Those conversations were not hard,” Myers tells Variety about working with Trachtenberg. “He was open. Plus, with Amber [Midthunder] being Native and most of our cast, it was organic. That’s what makes this film remarkable. I can tell you this: until this day, we’ve never argued.”
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Myers, a Comanche and Blackfeet American Indian, has long advocated for Native language, cultural advising and advancement in the entertainment industry. Trachtenberg credits the film’s success to Myers’ involvement. “Jhane bears an emotional resemblance to Naru,” he says. “Finding her and having her influence, not only in the obvious things but her being in touch with the culture bears of her tribe, and working with the costume designer to make the wardrobe.
Trachtenberg likewise received love among the Hulu film’s impressive six Emmy noms — for directing (limited or anthology series or movie) and writing, which he shares with scribe Patrick Aison.
“Prey” is the seventh installment in the “Predator” franchise. It stars Amber Midthunder as Naru, a young Comanche warrior in the Great Plains in 1719 who fights to protect her tribe against the primitive villain with advanced weaponry that threatens their existence.
In a conversation over Zoom, Variety spoke with the two Emmy nominees about their experience in making the film. In addition, they discuss their upcoming projects, including the final season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and an new documentary about the “Nelson Mandela of the Americas.”
Variety: It’s so cool to see the Television Academy significantly embrace a science-fiction/horror film like “Prey.” Why do you want to do this film, and how does it feel to see the genre represented?
Trachtenberg: My biggest takeaway from the nomination is how awesome it is for voters to nominate what is ostensibly Predator Part 5. Something that I always wondered growing up while idolizing John Woo, Jackie Chan, and James Cameron — Why aren’t those movies nominated for awards? Certainly, movies have broken through over the years, but it’s cool that now the movie that Jhane and I made is one of those things.
My desire to make a Predator movie first came with wanting to make an underdog story. I also wanted to do a period-sci-fi film, which I had been thinking about forever. I was asking myself, was there a way to do that? Instead of peanut butter and jelly, would this be peanut butter and chocolate or some other bad metaphor for a bad mixture? The predator, being the sci-fi element, was great at unlocking the mix. We were telling a story about this creature with an ethos that is looking for a trophy, looking for the alpha, and we have a character that’s separate from that story, who in her own culture is trying to prove herself worthy.
Myers: During the pandemic, I wasn’t working, and I was interviewing for jobs. The studio called and asked if I was interested [in ‘Prey’]. When they sent me the script, I was so excited. Because No. 1, I’m a Comanche and Blackfeet. To see something around our culture that is totally inclusive of our culture was amazing. When you read scripts like this, you’ll have a dash of native content. This was 100% through and through.
This is your second feature directing effort, coming after “10 Cloverfield Lane,” which was another refreshing take on another franchise, “Cloverfield.” Are you looking at any other franchises, considering you’re seemingly good at revitalizing them?
Trachtenberg: Nothing that I could admit to [laughs]. It does happen to be the case that when I’m done, I’m working on various movies and TV things, some of which are originals, and some are based on other things. I tend to get pulled toward properties with an established IP that isn’t already firing on all cylinders. That’s exciting to me because it’s like an underdog. I love underdog stories. I always felt like I was less equipped than those around me. I imagine many of us think that way. I consider movie IP the same way. What is the thing that no one else believes is being taken seriously? Part of the inception, unlike Prey, is what if we did this crazy thing? Then, I get sucked into that vortex.
Even though it wouldn’t have made sense considering this takes place in the 1700s, was there a thought of finding a way to give some cameo to either Arnold Schwarzenneger or Danny Glover from the first two ‘Predator’ films?
Trachtenberg: I don’t know how to do things, but I’m learning how to do things. I did learn there was an attempt to have Arnold in ‘Predators’ (2010). All I’ll say is — there’s still time for those guys. They’re still around, and wouldn’t that be awesome?
What can you tell us about your upcoming directing stint on the next season of “Stranger Things?”
Trachtenberg: That’s the big part of the strike. I have read my episode, and I had been prepping the episode before the strike. I can tell you that it’s awesome. I haven’t really done an episode of a TV show. I’ve stuck to doing pilots and movies, but ‘Stranger Things’ is a laser into my heart. The Duffer Brothers are incredible, and we have so much in common. With this being the last season and hearing a little bit about what could be an episode I could do, I got excited.
I don’t think ‘Stranger Things’ falls into a category of television seasons like ‘Game of Thrones’ where the pilot is cool, slows down, and the last two episodes are the big battle. I can tell you, and pointing to other seasons, there is rock and roll throughout the entire season.
What are you working on Jhane next to ensure you’re not the last Indigenous producer to be recognized?
Myers: In this situation, culture and diversity are the first to get cut. I’ve survived that before, back in 2009. We have so many native creatives, and everyone is using this time to finish the things they couldn’t because they were working. Hopefully, when the strike is over, everyone has new work to pitch, and it won’t be many years before we see another ‘Prey’ installment. My background is in documentaries. I have one meaningful one about a prolific person throughout the Native community. I can best describe him as the Nelson Mandela of the Americas.
“Prey” is also nominated for music composition, sound editing and picture editing. The film is now streaming on Hulu—the final Emmy voting rounds close on Aug. 28 at 10 p.m. PST.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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