ComingSoon.net Visits the Set of Shane Black’s The Predator
April 2017: We arrive at the studio in Burnaby, Vancouver on day 34 of 66 for 20th Century Fox and director Shane Black’s The Predator. The crew, including noted director of photography Larry Fong (Super 8, Watchmen), is setting up an action scene set near a baseball diamond. We’re seeing the back of the young Jacob Tremblay’s Rory, who is wearing some kind of strange metallic Predator glove and being chased by a dog, first a real pit bull and then… a Predator dog, and not the kind you know. Tremblay runs towards Boyd Holbrook and Olivia Munn, who are stationed behind a car, as they help ward off the pack of alien hounds.
A true sequel rather than a reboot, The Predator is set in present day, 30 years after the events of the first Predator from 1987 that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and… Shane Black! Although Black’s wisecracking mercenary Hawkins was dispatched fairly quickly in the original, the writer/director never lost his fondness for the franchise, and always saw potential in it, even proclaiming on DVD extras shot in the early 2000s that there was “still gas in the tank” for the series. Now the filmmaker behind The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3 has reunited with his old Monster Squad co-writer and pal Fred Dekker (the duo were known affectionately as “Black & Dekker”) to revitalize the series, which also included the LA-set Predator 2 in 1990, the off-world 2010 sequel Predators, as well as the two less distinguished Alien vs Predator films.
“There’s a maturity that comes with liking adult themes and adult subject matter, seeing Oscar-winning films, but every once in a while I’d say, ‘Boy, I’d just like to do a Predator movie,'” Black stated. “Fred and I just thought, ‘Let’s make an old school, hearty and heartfelt war movie.’ The elements were spies, romance, mystery… just stuff as much genre into one pack so you can literally unpack different facets of the movie, which is sort of a stew that represents to us the genre movie that we would’ve loved to see when we were young.”
Despite getting to see some shooting during our set visit, including the aforementioned Predator canines, a massive alien spaceship set and a costume trailer full of old school practical Predator outfits, much of the plot remains a mystery. That mystery continues even after the more recent release of a cryptic teaser trailer, although in talking to Black and the cast we are able to piece together some of the new film’s plot.
“There’s a basic premise that has to be honored every time you make a Predator film: Whatever the plot turns out to be it has to, at some level, represent a hunt,” Black states. “But beyond that I think there’s infinite variability. We tried to take the existing mythology and take it a step further. Ask some questions about why Predators do what they do? What would be the next step for them? How do we up the stakes so that there’s not just a single Predator hunting a group of soldiers? Who are the soldiers? How are they different? What’s the heroic quotient and how do you make it not just guys with tough talk and big arms? What happens when the Predators get a little more ambitious? Maybe it’s not just a weekend anymore.”
“Quinn’s kind of… you find him doing mercenary work in Mexico, basically collecting a paycheck,” says the film’s lead Boyd Holbrook, who made a big impression in last year’s Logan. “There’s something that the government wants to put a lid on that I witnessed, and I get into the VA and I’m sort of teamed up with these guys, in my opinion, unfortunately. You know, they’re a bunch of bozos, maybe schizophrenic, or maybe, I don’t know, PTSD. Real issues. So I think I’m stuck with these guys, and what changes throughout the film is that we become the unit, a group of soldiers that we can fundamentally relate to. And I become their leader.”
This “bunch of bozos” Holbrook is referring to are The Loonies, as played by Thomas Jane (The Punisher), Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Augusto Aguilera (Chasing Life).
“We’re all part of Group 2, which is group therapy at the VA hospital,” says Jane, who plays Baxley. “We’re all there in group and then somebody flipped out, turned over the coffee machine and caused a ruckus, then the M.P.s came and threw us on a bus, shackled us up and are taking us down to the big hospital where they’re going to lock you up for a few days. That’s when Boyd gets thrown on the bus with us because he’s seen an alien and they want to cover that sh*t up.”
“My character’s name is Coyle,” says Key. “I’m actually the bigmouth of The Loonies. Everyone deals with their trauma in a special way. Coyle’s is that he’s chock full of one-liners, which is a Shane Black specialty, right? Coyle and Thomas Jane’s character, Baxly, are Marines, so they’re buddy-buddy, but they’re also inexorably linked to each other because of a horrible tragedy that took place during the first Gulf War that Coyle is responsible for and Baxly and his crew were the recipients of this horror. Somehow they have a much deeper relationship, but it’s a militaristic, macho relationship. ‘F*ck you, shut up. You piece of sh*t. You told that joke again? Go to hell. You never got laid,’ which is just them saying ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ to each other over and over again in their own sick, twisted, psychologically maladjusted way.”
“Nebraska is kind of the man behind the man in a sense,” says Rhodes. “In regards to Boyd Holbrook’s character McKenna. He’s kinda like the guy who’s gonna help keep them on track, help them push and everything. He’s kind of the leader behind the leader of this motley crew.”
“His name is Lynch,” says Allen of his character. “He was chucked out of the army, joined the foreign legion. He winds up in group therapy with these other vets who have been affected by the trials and tribulations of war. He’s got a skill, which is sleight of hand.”
“I always favor real characters with real actors in these movies,” explained Black of his casting choices. “I’m happy to have someone like Jesse Ventura, he’s actually a fine actor as far as that goes, but the actors we tended to get for this are a cut above the average tough guy.”
“Fred Dekker, the writer, said he wanted to flip everything from the first movie,” said Key. “In the first movie there’s this sense of this extremely capable, cocksure team and we’re the exact opposite. We’re broken, we’re scared and we’re thrust into this position. It’s like someone took a sheet off a bunch of cowboys, blew the dust off and then smacked them in the ass and got them out in the action. There’s an inner hero in all of them that comes forth by necessity.”
The two anachronisms in our group of high-testosterone heroes facing off against the alien threat are Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) as an evolutionary biologist, and 11-year-old Jacob Tremblay (Room) as Boyd Holbrook’s estranged son.
“My character’s name is Rory and he has autism and he likes to make things and he likes playing games, he loves to play chess,” said Tremblay. “His dad’s a soldier, so Rory doesn’t really see him a lot. One day he gets this mail thing from his dad. Rory gets that wrist gauntlet in the mail. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it has this thing in it that’s called the T-drive, which is a key to some cool thing.”
“I play Doctor Casey Brackett,” says Munn. “This movie starts with two different stories. There’s Boyd and Keegan and Augusto and Trevante and Thomas Jane, and they are soldiers and their encounter with the Predator. Then, on the other side, this other storyline’s going on with my character, who is an evolutionary biologist. Because of her expertise and the things that she has been able to accomplish in her career, she was on a CIA list in case there was ever a connection with higher life forms. She gets called into the labs and gets to see what’s going on and try to offer her help and then… things happen. Then two stories merge into one.”
“The government is involved in this and it takes it to the level of what happens when the Predator strikes,” confirmed Black. “These incursions are not just a every-once-in-a-while phenomenon known to a few, but have come to the attention of an establishment that is actually set on preparing for and marshaling forces against these incoming Predator strikes.”
While early reports pegged The Predator‘s story taking place primarily in the suburbs, that’s a bit of a misstatement. There are scenes set in Rory’s neighborhood, particularly at Lawrence A. Gordon Middle School (named after longtime franchise producer Larry Gordon), which seems to be in the same bluescreen grassy field area where they’re shooting today in the studio. One shot shows Tremblay hyperventilating as the camera moves around him to focus on something that will be added later. It might have something to do with the Predator dog reference statues on set.
At the end of a new take headlights show up signaling the arrival of some saviors. Holbrook is firing a machine gun to protect Tremblay from the Predator dogs. He runs out of ammo and then Munn steps in and carries Tremblay away. After the first take the pit bull used in the previous scene barks through the take. The stand-in reference Predator dogs are made of blue foam, and the bottom jaw is similar to the Predator mouth but with a large maw lined with shark-like teeth.
There’s a new shot of Holbrook getting out of the car and wrangling with one of the dogs, who is trying to chew on his machine gun. Jacob has the ability to understand the Predator language because of his autism, which explains his strange hand motions during this scene.
“Hey buddy, are you alright?” asks Holbrook.
“I’m fine,” replies Tremblay.
“He’s estranged from his wife, he’s detached from his son, and I think the heart of the story is about reconnecting, being father to a son and getting all these loony toon guys who have no direction and give them a sense of purpose,” said Holbrook of his character’s motivation in the film.
“This was really exciting because I saw the first movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and I loved it and I wanted to be him for Halloween,” Tremblay told us of getting cast in the film. “Plus this is my first action movie so I was really excited about that, cause I’ve never done an action movie before. When I heard I could get the part I was like, ‘Yes!'”
The main Predator in the film is played by 6’9″ Bryan Prince, a parkour artist. We enter the costume van where we see the Predator costume made out of a lightweight foam. There’s also armor with a lot of battle damage that it obtains over the course of the film. He will also wear a space suit aboard his ship. His face and body is still the same iconic one designed by Stan Winston 30 years ago, with the dreads, the mesh, etc. Production also added a very samurai-esque back flap to the costume. Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of the Alien vs Predator series are once again providing the Predators this time out.
We then head to the big science facility set, which is composed of big Brutalist slabs of sharp-angled concrete. It’s a massive set with high ceilings. Meanwhile the Predator spaceship set is still being carved out of Styrofoam. It is curvaceous, dark and even has dreadlock connecting cables. The inside of it is 80-feet by 40-feet, and the outside is 100-feet wide. It’s a space meant for 8-foot-tall beings. The shoot scheduled for this ship will take 7 days out of the company’s schedule, which indicates a major set piece will take place here.
Also sitting around the massive studio space are a full-size purple chopper on a crane, a jungle environment, a bunker, a rocky environment. The Predator has all the earmarks of being a huge event film, which is exactly what Shane Black set out to make.
“I think the death of some of the Predator movies has been a dearth of really intriguing characters that have development,” opined Black. “But, beyond that, I think this one is bigger and it costs more. I know it costs more… I mean, we have a big budget, but we don’t have a BIG budget. The ambition level is the same as if we were allotted the kinds of resources we had on Iron Man 3.”
Our set visit ends with a bang, literally. The crew sets up for another take in front of the blue screened baseball green with Augusto, Tom and Keegan, machine guns at the ready. They begin blasting away, loudly, until their machine gun clips are empty and they switch to pistols.
“Watch your f**kin brass, man!” Key’s character yells at Aguilera.
“He hates it and doesn’t want it to be real,” says Key of encountering the Predator. “The other thing is Baxley, his cohort, gets to gloat. Baxley is a UFO theorist, so he’s like ‘Aliens, told ya.’ He kind of has to come to the realization relatively soon because once they’re threatening and coming at you, you just start shooting. Being a Marine you don’t have a choice. It’s gotta be ‘Get Some,’ there is no going home. He accepts it almost immediately.”
“I love what A camera is doing,” Black yells through a bullhorn.
“That’s what’s so great about Shane is that he’s an actor’s director, he’s also a writer,” says Munn. “You can get the tone of what he wants and then you can go play with it. He’s one of my favorite directors if not my favorite director so far, just because he’s so thoughtful for the actor’s experience and that the audience will care about the characters and he allows us to do things that make us more real.”
“It’s about the myth of alien incursion,” Black says as to what The Predator is, ultimately, as a movie. “It’s about watching the skies and basically just, guys who doubt themselves, who have skills, but don’t believe they’re truly capable of facing what they’ve been pitted against and it’s the thrill of the hunt. Waking them up again to the possibilities of who they are.”
As for the iconic Predator himself, who knows what lies in store once The Predator hits theaters on September 14.
“He has a huge soliloquy in the middle of the movie,” jokes Key. “You’ve never heard these clicks before.”