Special to ICT
Jhane Myers knew what she wanted to achieve with the hit film, “Prey.” She wanted a film about a strong, Indigenous woman with an all-Native cast and crew.
She got that and more — a popular prequel to the “Predator” series that hit highs in the film industry no one could have predicted. The movie, with a version in the Comanche language, broke Hulu records for a new film or series.
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And it is even generating Oscar talk for the foreign language category, though it would need to be released in theaters to qualify. But it could be eligible for any number of other awards as well.
Myers, Comanche/Blackfeet, was the creative producer of the 20th Century Studios movie, starring Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers, Michelle Thrush and Dane DiLiegro.
The five-year project endured a studio upheaval, with 20th Century Fox selling to Disney, and was filmed in Alberta, Canada, on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation Reserve during quarantine protocols and the pandemic.
The filming began with a pipe ceremony for the Native actors and crew, with two pipe carriers and two smudge men.
“It was truly such an honor for us,” Myers told ICT. “I have never started out a film shoot that way.”
An early release at International Comic-Con in San Diego on July 21 set the stage for social media buzz and turned skeptics into fans for the formal release on Hulu Aug. 5.
The film drew praise from Rolling Stone, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Forbes Business and Rogerebert.com, and actor Jesse Ventura, who starred in the original 1987 “Predator” film, lauded it as “thoughtful, creative and wonderful film.”
Myers, who is also an artist, spoke with writer Alex Jacobs for ICT via Zoom about the film. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ICT: In our initial conversation, the first thing you said was, "I just wanted to make a good movie with a Native woman hero." So, it sounds like you really pulled it off, with a little help from your friends.
Myers: It was really exciting; what a great opportunity. We filmed during the pandemic, so everything had stopped. All my film projects had been put on hold due to COVID. I started interviewing for new projects, and the last one that came to me, across the top of the script it said, “All dialogue in Comanche.” So, I was, ‘Yes!” I’m Blackfeet and Comanche but enrolled in the Comanche Nation, so it was exciting for me, but what really sold me was this was a Native Woman. This is the fifth installment of the franchise and there’s never been a woman lead. It’s always been muscle-bound men. But having a woman, a Native woman, in the lead as a hero, people can identify with that, with the sense of family they see, with a brother and sister. And do brothers and sisters always get along? No. So a lot of people can see themselves in that. We’re all not muscle-bound superhero kind of people. But now we have her, Naru, a Comanche woman, who fits in that space. That is exciting to me.
You know I don’t know what I’ll be remembered for in my career, but if this is it, I’ll be thrilled, because it’s really been an honor for me to use all my vast resources, being a fine artist, a traditional artist, working in museums, working in films, everything just culminated in this, working all my life coming down to this moment. That’s why you see Native representation everywhere.
In the end. I put my heart and soul into this project so it would be an authentic reflection of Comanche people.
ICT: How did Dan Trachtenberg, the director, find you? Did he come to you directly?
Myers: I’ve been producing for over 20 years, and there aren’t a lot of Native producers. We have a lot of talent directing, acting, and writing. I had just interviewed at Marvel. And the executive vice president of 20th Century Studios, Scott Aversano, reached out when he called Marvel.
“Hey, I’m trying to find a Native producer. Have you talked to anybody that stood out?
“Yes, we just talked to this woman named Jhane Myers.”
Then he reached out to IllumiNative and asked, “Can you give me a list of people?” And [producer and IllumiNative narrative change strategist] Heather Rae said, “you don’t need a list; you need one person, and she meant me.”
He called me and said, “I just have to meet you because everyone is giving me your name.” And so we did a Zoom. He told me about the project (at the time titled, “Skulls”). I was very interested and he told me, “I want to introduce you to our director Dan Trachtenberg, who co-wrote the film with Patrick Aison.”
Dan at the time was up in Toronto shooting the pilot for “The Boys.” He was all tired, because you know what it’s like working in film, 14 –16-hour days, and he had to interview me on his weekend, so I felt bad for him. I couldn’t really tell how he was feeling. He just kind of sat there, asking me questions about Comanches, my upbringing, what I could bring to the project. And I didn’t know whether I had it. But I knew when I saw “Predator” that I wanted it, so I pulled out all the stops, emptied my bag of tricks. Pelted him with all kinds of information and things that I am capable of. Then Scott Aversano the VP called me on Monday and offered me the job.
ICT: You're dealing with a big project. It's a feature film, and you're dealing with layers of historical and cultural references, even genre references. You have worked on different projects and films, but this seems like a crossbreed, a hybrid, part of a legacy, with layers of narratives from other films. How did that work out and develop for you?
Myers: I was really happy because I’m a big “Predator” fan. It was one of the first action movies I saw as a young woman, and I rewatched all the “Predator” films after getting the job. This was a time for me to call on – you know how Indian people are, we always support each other. If someone calls you for help, if you can help and it’s in your wheelhouse, you always help them. Because of my museum background I knew a lot of historians. I worked with a lot of people from my tribe, in pre-production, developing the script and adding those Comanche nuances. Being a creative producer I could do that because I am very hands on.
But some people really didn’t get it. “You’re making a ‘Predator’ movie?’” I said, “Why not? I want Native people to be in the mainstream. We should be in everything.’ A “Predator” movie is a good start, but let’s see us everywhere else. I saw this project not so much as a challenge but a great way to break a lot of barriers. And to really showcase Native people, Comanches, language, and showcase our talent in front of the camera.
ICT: You came in as a Comanche consultant and the producers talked about Comanche language from the beginning. I like how you’ve said you had to call in all your favors as a Comanche ‘auntie.’ Can you tell us how that part of the film came about for you?
Myers: I had to really flex like an auntie here. Originally, Dan had pitched it as “all in Comanche language” when it was 20th Century Fox. This project went through so many twists and turns. It was set to be greenlit, then it wasn’t because of the merger and they were trying to figure out all the different people in the different positions, and how they would house the studio within the Disney Kingdom.
It was during the pandemic, and nobody was going to theaters. So, in addition to the language component, we had theaters versus streaming, but we found one of the best caveats about streaming. Disney had said we couldn’t do it in Comanche, so I said, “What if we pepper some language within different scenes when there’s dialogue?” and they said, “OK.” But when they saw the dailies of the film they said, “The scenes that have the Comanche language really stand out.” And Dan and I were like, “Yeah, that’s why we wanted the whole thing in the language.”
So, they decided about two months before our due date to deliver a finished film to Hulu, “We want you to do a Comanche language dub.” Because on Hulu people have that access. If it was only in theaters, it would be a film either in English or in Comanche, not both versions. That’s probably why we have multiple watches, because people watch it in Comanche and then they watch it in English. So, when we got the greenlight to do that, I said, “Oh, my God, Dan, now we have to get this done and do it right away.” And that led to some more pressure, because all the actors wanted to reprise their roles in Comanche. That added an extra layer because there was no model until now, how to do this in a movie about to be released.
Most times, when we’ve had other studio films dubbed in another language like Navajo or Lakota, it’s been when a movie is completed. So, we were still finishing the film while we were recording the guide tracks. I flew back to Oklahoma, met our Comanche Nation Language Department director Kathryn Briner, called in my auntie favors and got our best linguist, Guy Narcomey, who wrote the Comanche Nation Dictionary. The two of them got together and we recorded all the guide tracks for the film, then I flew back to Los Angeles and Guy had to come to LA, and we had to coach all the actors to reprise their roles. That’s what's unique about this – you're not hearing voice actors, you're hearing the same actors. So, you’re watching in English and you’re hearing Amber as Naru, and when you watch it in Comanche, you’re hearing Amber speaking Comanche. So, you have all those same voices; all those voices match.
ICT: Everybody is saying, all the “Predator” fans would’ve gone to theaters to see “Prey,” and maybe it will make it to the theaters someday. But it seems cool that whole Native families can get to watch “Prey” at home or call their friends to watch it.
Myers: Are you kidding me? I got DMs all the time from people sending little videos saying, “Hey, we’re watching your movie at home with all our family.” Nocona Burgess, a Comanche artist here in Santa Fe, who’s one of the ledger artists in the end-credits, had a big outdoor watching party before Indian Market when all the people started coming to town. He bought Hulu and put up a big sheet in his backyard and had so many people who then went out and told more people. The reach is incredible. It would’ve been tough on some families to bring 20 people to the theater. We have numbers of how many people viewed “Prey,” but with all these watch parties, our numbers are probably bigger.
ICT: You brought up the end-credits. How are you dealing with everybody who wants to know about “Prey 2”? Because people have been talking since it was released.
Myers: Well, you know the end-credits had some little Easter eggs in there. But what was important to this movie was that it was accurate in all areas for the times. In the beginning, when I was doing a presentation to Dan, I was showing our small creative team what rock art looks like, what ledger art looks like, but during that time of the 1700s it would be hide art. We only had a very few examples from museums of what hide art looked like, but we have a lot of ledger artists and artists like Dallin Maybee, who paint on hide, and he also became part of our crew. Dan was intrigued with that and said, “What if we did something really cool with the end-credits and did an animation of hide art?”
So that just added another thing. I never had post-production that had so much work on it. So, I had Kaz Kipp, she worked with us in production and was in LA, so I hired her to coordinate the animation. But the Heard Museum Show was going on, so I visited and talked to artists, who I already knew. When they found out it was a “Predator” film, they said of course they would do it. The artists we used were Sheridan McKnight, Brent Learned, Nocona Burgess, Jonathan Thunder, J. Nicole Hatfield and Sandra Okuma. They all got together and created images for our specific characters and locations and once they had that “key,” they could replicate all the key scenes of the film. So, it was kind of a real cool thing to do, and they loved doing it but also it was an introduction. Disney has the best animation people in the world, but they never did a project like this. So I introduced them to our fine artists and our artists got to see this whole animation. So that was a real cool meld, and hopefully will turn into something bigger.
ICT: You sidestepped that question again about “Prey 2.” So no one really knows at this point?
Myers: Nobody knows. But the fact is, our movie has broken all the records. From my experience, when you pitch projects to different studios, they always say, “Oh, it’s a Native project and we’re not sure of what that market looks like. We don’t know who that would appeal to. Are Native people even movie-goers?” Well, this has broken all those barriers and ceilings. Next time I’m in a pitch meeting about my pow wow reality series, and they say, “We don’t know who it will appeal to,” you don’t think I’m going to pull out the “Prey” numbers and be like, ‘Well, the Kardashians appeal to people worldwide and we premiered on Hulu and we beat the socks off the Kardashians.”
ICT: We've been hearing a lot about Native content and representation everywhere for some time now. There are some coincidences with “The Revenant” and “Prey,” and so that era has been covered. But now we’ve got shows like “Rutherford Falls” and “Reservation Dogs” that bring us up to the current time. But this project seems different, and this time is different, isn't it? What does this project and the audience response tell us about future Native films and Native-led projects?
Myers: I think it is a unique time and I’ll tell you what the difference is. I came up through Sundance as a producer fellow even though I was working on a lot of different other projects for myself like short films, documentaries, episodic, even an opera. Twenty-five years ago we couldn’t have been able to do it. Fifty years we couldn’t have done it. But now we have the talent to do it. We have producers like me, we have Sterlin Harjo and the directors, we have all the writers, Bobby “Dues” Wilson. We have the talent that can fit those positions. I think that’s where you see the change. We can’t promote change unless we're sitting at the table, and you can’t get to the table unless we are experienced and worked our way there. We have Sierra Ornelas who went through the ABC program, and she also went through Sundance. She’s our first Native showrunner of a series, “Rutherford Falls.” Sterlin Harjo, the second Native showrunner, plus it's his show. It's an amazing time for us because we’re not just the people in front of the camera, we’re the creatives that can make those shifts because we are behind the cameras and we’re at those executive levels.
ICT: I like some of your answers in other interviews, they were the most Native answers. Like calling in your auntie favors, and the Hulu-lulu and carrying your knife with you on set.
(Myers told Vulture.com in August that Native people are cheering the movie with what is being called a Hulu-Lulu, patterned after a traditional Plains woman's victory trill or cry. She demonstrates her Hulu-Lulu whoop and laughs, then grabs a knife hanging behind her to show ICT.)
Myers: Yeah, because I’m a full-blood Native! I know no other way to answer! I carried my little knife around my neck with me on set because we were filming outdoors every day. We had a bear guard with us, because the bears were waking up and were hungry. I’m Comanche. I'm not going to let something attack me and not go down without a fight.
ICT: You’ve been doing a lot of traveling and presenting for the film, and you were in Santa Fe for Indian Market. How has the reaction been out there from fans of the franchise and from Native audiences? I saw a reviewer in London, England, saying how much she appreciated the Native woman hero.
Myers: This press junket has been really great, getting to travel around the country and internationally to meet the fans. As you know I’ve been in the film industry for quite some time, but finally being in my hometown, going to my IllumiNative panel and my Buffalo Thunder panel, that’s just a pleasure. But seeing all the Native people here and walking through Indian Market in Santa Fe, everyone coming up and saying how much they love the movie and how they saw it, where they saw it, who they saw it with, and that they made their family watch it. All the responses from Native people were important to me.
I think the responses overall from everyone were important, but I wanted to make a film that spoke to Native people, because rarely do we get a film where we are portrayed accurately. This has language in it, it has clothing, song, hair, makeup. It has everything yet it’s action-adventure.
Everyone was tired of the pandemic. They wanted a little fantasy. You get lost in this movie for an hour and a half. It’s a fun film. It’s entertainment.
“Prey” is now available on Hulu in the United States, on Disney+ in Canada and Europe, and on Star+ in Central and South America and other Spanish-language markets.
*Update/correction: Jhane Myers was creative producer for the film, "Prey." Her title was incorrect in the captions to two photos.
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